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How to: make ceremony magic

The heart of your celebration comes and goes in a flash, but these simple twists will ensure you get the most out of every moment

As everyone arrives

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The tradition: Guests are greeted by background music, a bit of light classical if supplied by the venue – think Verdi’s Four Seasons or Lakme (the British Airways music) – or a couple-compilation.

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The twist: Play your all-time favourite tunes while your guests take their seats (check the playlist with the registrar or minister first, though) and include fun explanations on your order of service, such as: Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys – the first song we ever danced to together; Someone Like You by Van Morrison – because it came on the radio just after he proposed.

The aww factor: Friends will recognise your songs, and know from the get-go how much thought has gone into your day. Cue the rustle of tissue packets.

All photography by Constantinos Tsiliacos

Your entrance

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The tradition: Bride arrives on the arm of her father/stepfather/male relative and her bridesmaids follow her down the aisle.

The twist: Build up to your big debut by sending flowergirls, pages or your own children down the aisle first. Or break with tradition and arrive with your groom. Whoever escorts you – groom, dad, mum – set a relaxed tone by holding hands rather than gripping their arm for dear life. Holding hands is a gesture guests will really notice and once your bridesmaid has your bouquet, there’s nothing to stop you linking hands during the vows: your groom will be glad of the reassurance too.

The aww factor: So you have to recruit more youngsters than initially planned – what price are a couple of floral circlets or teeny-tiny waistcoats compared to the gasps of delight as your little ones arrive looking super-sweet and slightly overawed?

The vows

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The tradition: Religious and civil ceremonies both have statutory declarations that you have to repeat by law, although you’re usually free to embellish (with permission – no surprises on the day, please!).

The twist: Keep personal promises warm-hearted by talking about shared aspirations like the children you’re going to have in your house with the big red door. Light a candle to remember loved ones, or learn a few words of each other’s language if you come from different backgrounds (hats off to the bride who learned her vows in Welsh). Be sentimental, but not schmaltzy: guests would rather blub than blush.

The aww factor: If you have children, include them in a circle as you make your vows and there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

The rings

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The tradition: The best man is asked to produce the rings (patting pockets madly to fake forgetfulness – yes, people do still smile at that one!).

The twist: At a small wedding, ask your ushers to pass the ring boxes among your guests before you exchange them so that everyone can make a secret wish or give them a blessing before passing them on. Or ask an usher to carry the rings to both your parents and grandparents on a ring cushion.

The aww factor: Younger guests might giggle, for close family, this is a touching way to dedicate love or a prayer. A few lower lips might start to wobble.

The readings

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The tradition: Close friends or family deliver short readings or poems (one of which is usually biblical for a church wedding).

The twist: Something you or the reader has penned themselves is deeply personal but, if inspiration hasn’t struck, have little ones read a few lines about what love is instead – super-cute. Don’t be afraid to choose funny pieces, but if you choose song lyrics, be careful of Gavin & Stacey-style squirming (Dawn and Pete’s rendition of Ben, anyone?).

The aww factor: Ask the guests who’ve been together longest – we’re thinking grandma and grandad – to read something together and watch those emotions go through the roof.

The address

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The tradition: Ministers and registrars say a few words of introduction and give a short speech about the nature of marriage. Unless they know you personally, this can be pretty generic.

The twist: Decide together the top three things you love about each other or write a paragraph each about how you met and fell in love and ask the official to use this as the basis of their welcome. Most are only too happy to say something a bit different and grateful for the heads-up.

The aww factor: Broad smiles and a fuzzy warm feeling all round as the registrar recreates the tale of the first date/meeting the parents/proposal night.

The kiss

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The tradition: Just like they do in the films, the official has the option to say, ‘you may now kiss the bride’. Cue anything from a shy peck to a full-on clinch.

The twist: Surprise your groom with a burst of confetti as your lips meet. Have your MOH stand by to pull a confetti cracker.

The aww factor: Spontaneous delight and applause (giving everyone the chance to dab their eyes a little after the moving part of the ceremony).

Signing the register

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The tradition: Usually a musical performance as you sign on the dotted line.

The twist: With gentle music, people tend to talk over it, glad for a gossip after sitting in silence, so if you want to raise the rafters with a choir – male voice, gospel or Glee-style – go for it. Give your groom a pen engraved with your married names, sign the register with it and bring it out for those milestones in your lives together: writing thank-you cards; Valentine’s cards; invitations to your children’s christenings. If there’s space, include a note of thanks to guests or quote on the last page of the order of service – we love the bride who chose the line ‘A lifetime with you is like some heavenly day’ by Bob Dylan. Guests will have had time to read while you’re busy sealing the deal.

The aww factor: If you have musical guests, an acoustic guitar performance from a cousin or an a cappella song from your BF should have you wiping away a tear, not to mention everyone else.

Your big exit

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The tradition: Deed done, you walk back down the aisle to a piece of music, while guests elbow each other to get a great shot of your big moment.

The twist: Take your time and relish every second – you’ve been planning this for months. Stop at as many pews or rows as you can, blow kisses and pose for pics. Ask if you can stash bubbles under each seat so guests can shower you as you go past, or arrange for a surprise song that your groom loves. It could be one with your own private meaning, or a fun one to make him laugh out loud. The best choice we’ve heard for ages? Morecambe & Wise, Bring Me Sunshine!

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The aww factor: Anyone who hasn’t shed a tear probably will at this moment, as the women dash off to repair their mascara and the men mutter about how they must have something in their eye!