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  • Writer's picturePeter Roehrich

The Unity Ceremony

Incorporating a unity ceremony into your larger wedding ceremony is a beautiful way to illustrate the joining of two people, which of course, is what weddings are all about. Unity ceremonies are nothing new, and many are quite old and steeped in tradition.

So What is a Unity Ceremony?

A unity ceremony is a ritual performed during the larger wedding ceremony to physically represent the merging of two lives and two spirits in a marriage. Many couples find it appealing to use a visual metaphor to complement the spoken aspect of their ceremonies. They can be something that just the couple participates in or can involve other loved ones from each side of the couple, particularly when blending families with kids.

The unity candle has long been part of many Catholic weddings. In this ceremony, couples individually light candles (such as tapers) and then together touch their respective flames to the wick of a larger, central candle (like a pillar). Replete with warmth and light, this ritual highlights that the couple is greater together than they were when separate.

A sand ceremony is an evolution of the unity candle. As outdoor weddings became popular, unity candles had a propensity to blow out with the slightest wind--not the best for the metaphor. Couples would start the ceremony holding individual vessels of sand (usually with some contrast in color for best visualization). As the ceremony progresses, they pour the sand into a third vessel, either simultaneously or in alternating pours. Mixing sand, or glass beads, emphasizes that the wedded couple is something new, inseparable, and when different colors of sand are used, an entity with more complex character than the original, divided vessels of sand.

Photo of couple mixing white and blue sand as part of wedding ceremony.
Mixing sand illustrates merging two lives through marriage.

Jumping the broom is a ceremony that originated when black enslaved people in the southern United States or Carribean married. As these couples were not permitted to celebrate their marriages in churches, jumping the broom entered as a way to mark their union. The ceremony is still practiced. During or at the end of the larger ceremony, the couple literally jumps across a broom laying on the floor.

Photo of man and woman couple jumping the broom as part of their wedding ceremony.
Couple jumps the broom as part of their wedding ceremony. CC BY-SA 2.0 Lisa Henderson

Handfasting traces its origins to Celtic traditions. As the couple holds hands, the officiant or a loved one wraps a cord around the couple's clasped hands. The ends of the cord are then tied, symbolizing the union that is formed between the couple. The couple slides their hands out from the cord, keeping the knot intact.

Why Have a Unity Ceremony

A unity ceremony adds visual and tangible interest to the larger ceremony. There are times when words fail, and one of those times is when describing the profound meanings of marriage. A unity ceremony can step in to fill this void.

Unity ceremonies provide a means of incorporating loved ones in the larger wedding ceremony. For example, a couple blending families may ask their children to light the taper candles during a unity candle ceremony. Or family and friends could accompany the couple in gathering sand from a special location.

How to Plan a Unity Ceremony

When you decide to feature a unity ceremony in your wedding, it is a good idea to talk with your officiant early about it. Your officiant can help you decide which unity element best suits you by talking through the symbolism--and mechanics--of different options.

After you settle on the type of unity ceremony, you can work on the details. Do certain colors hold significance for you? If so, you might choose candles in those colors. Or, if there is a beach that is special for you, sand from that beach might feature in your sand ceremony.

Talk with your officiant about why you selected the ceremony that you did, including special meanings of the details. Your officiant can use this in crafting remarks that explain to your guests why you made the choice you did.

Make sure your photographer or videographer is expecting the unity ceremony. You won't want to miss out on great pictures of you and your beloved mixing sand or tying the knot.

After the Ceremony

Following the ceremony, the objects used in the unity ceremony become treasured keepsakes. Seeing and holding the objects from your unity ceremony will conjure memories of that special day.

A few unity ceremonies are intended to leave the couple with a physical memento to look back on at special dates, like anniversaries.

Tree planting is a great unity element to add to a wedding. The tree, small and vulnerable to uprooting in its early life becomes a strong fixture with nurturing, just like a couple. The newlyweds can plant the tree either in a planter or in the ground, care for it, and watch it thrive.

A love letter box is a great keepsake from your ceremony and opening it in the future, such as on an important anniversary, is romantic. After this ceremony, the couple has a box, sealed in some manner, containing their missives.

For couples doing a sand ceremony, the merged sand can then be kept as a memento, or even transformed, such as being blown into a glass sculpture. Couples, alternatively, can pour their sand into an empty hourglass to be tipped on important anniversaries, further mixing the sand.

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