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  • Writer's picturePeter Roehrich

How A Unity Ceremony Can Add To Your Wedding

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Photo of couple during handfasting ceremony. Modified from Kam Abbott CC-SA
Handfasting in wedding ceremony

You've heard of "tying the knot", you know, it's what you're about to do! But why do we use the phrase when we are talking about weddings?

The History of Knots

Ancient Celtic pagans made joining two people in a wedding ceremony tangible by physically wrapping cord around their hands. The pagan Celts called it handfasting. This tradition was common in Celtic weddings, becoming a fixture of their wedding ceremonies, with ornate cords. While it's no longer practiced in every wedding, handfasting is a beautiful way to visibly symbolize two people's commitment to one another. And the knotted cord becomes a treasured keepsake of the couple.

Handfasting, or literally tying the knot, isn't the only way to make a physical representation of your relationship. Here are a few other rituals you can incorporate into your ceremony.

Unity Candle

A unity candle is a candle lit by both sides of the couple simultaneously. It typically is a large, sometimes ornately decorated, pillar candle. The bride and groom, bridges, or grooms light smaller candles so that they may touch the flames to the larger candle's wick, lighting it. Sometimes the family of the couple light candles first, using them to light the couple's candles; the family involvement is to show that the relationship is supported by the couple's extended family. (Some couples may wish to light the candle without family, which is completely fine and doesn't detract from the ceremony.) After the central unity candle is lit, the couple may leave their candles lit, symbolizing that they retain their individuality, or blow them out to symbolize that their lives are permanently joined.

This isn't without operational risks, particularly when outdoors. A gentle breeze may extinguish the candles, and that could be awkward!

Tree Planting

The couple may like the idea of planting a tree seedling together as a metaphor for the relationship growing over time. I love using a tree to symbolize a relationship; small and unsteady at first, nurtured the tree grows strong with time. On the other hand, for a long established couple, this may not be the right imagery.

This is also not without operational risk however. Planting a tree means digging in dirt. That could spell disaster should some dirt make it onto a wedding dress.

Love Letters

The couple could pause during the ceremony to pen (brief) love letters to one another. These letters are then sealed in a container to be opened and read in the future, such as on an anniversary. This is a lovely and romantic way to extend the magic of the ceremony into the future.

In this ritual, the couple often drives nails into the top of a wooden box (that the love notes have been placed in). If I may offer a pro tip: pre-drive the nails so that one whack of the hammer is all that's required, or use a box that is already assembled with a small slot in the top to deposit the letters. A copy of the vows can also be dropped in the box.


If highlighting that two individuals come together to form a new union that is a hybrid of both appeals to you, a sand ceremony might be in order. To do this, sand of different colors is poured from glass containers into a third, larger container. The bride and groom, grooms, or brides, do this together at once. Then the officiant explains that the sand grains become intermixed, and cannot be separated.

Using contrasting colors of sand helps with the visual impact. You could slightly modify the ceremony to use very (and I mean very) small gravel of different colors.


The couple could mix wines to illustrate two becoming one, similar to the sand ceremony. Typically this is done with a white wine (riesling, anyone) and a rosé. Each member of the couple would pour a small amount of wine from a glass container into a third, then they could sip the wine if they wish.

These ceremonies can be very romantic and full of symbolism. Your officiant will help you pick out a ceremony (and there are plenty of others as well) and will explain to your guests, either before or during the ritual, what they represent.

Images in this post used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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