Post Summary: Below is a list of 15 unique elopement ceremony ideas to help you plan the most meaningful ceremony possible, whether you’re eloping in private and want to incorporate something that’s special to the two of you, or you’re eloping with all your family & friends and want to include them in the ceremony somehow!
Last week, I published a blog post about How to Elope Intentionally to serve as a guide for couples who want to have the most meaningful elopement day possible. I compiled all of my top tips about how to be intentional throughout the planning process, from choosing your location to hiring your vendors, and I wanted to expand on one specific part a little more this week: your elopement ceremony! While you can absolutely have a simple, traditional ceremony if that feels right to you, I’d encourage you to think outside of the box a little bit and come up with unique & meaningful ways to reflect your personalities, interests, and values. After all, it is only one of the biggest, most important moments of your relationship thus far – why wouldn’t you want it to be as incredible as possible?
Your ceremony is just one of the many ways to create an elopement experience grounded in intentionality and meaning, so I highly recommend checking out that blog post, too. Without further ado, let’s dive into 15 ways you can incorporate intention & purpose into your elopement ceremony!
15 Unique Elopement Ceremony Ideas & Inspiration
1. Have a private vow exchange
I absolutely adore this new trend that’s become more popular in recent years: having a private vow exchange before or after your ceremony! This is a great option for couples who would prefer to keep their vows intimate & private, or for people who get nervous in front of crowds and would rather not have to share their deepest feelings with a group of people watching/listening.
More and more couples have been opting for first looks before their ceremony as a way to spend extra time together, and now, I’ve been seeing a lot of couples incorporate a private vow exchange into that first look, too. However, there are a few other ways to do it:
- You could have a private vow exchange without doing a first look, if you’d rather do it after your ceremony – this way, you still see each other for the first time when you’re walking down the aisle, but you get to have your moment in private afterward.
- You could exchange your vows on a totally different day than your official ceremony – e.g. the day before at an intimate location of your choice, or the day after during an adventure session with just the two of you in your elopement attire!
If you opt for a private vow exchange, you can keep your official ceremony pretty simple with just the traditional vows to recite, or you could totally still incorporate other rituals/activities that are meaningful to you (like the ones on this list).
2. Have a unity ceremony
Unity ceremonies are one of the most popular ways for couples to add an extra layer of meaning into their wedding ceremony. Typically, a unity ceremony involves some sort of activity or ritual that symbolizes the two of you joining your lives, committing to each other and strengthening your relationship.
There are a TON of options, and you can really make a unity ceremony look however you want – you could incorporate a hobby or an aspect of your personalities, come up with something that’s special to you, or pick from one of the more common unity ceremonies such as:
- Planting a tree or flowers together, as a symbol of your love & commitment to growth in your relationship
- Handfasting, to symbolize the binding of your two lives
- Pouring sand, to symbolize the two of you uniting as one (also a great option for blended families)
- Lighting a unity candle or lantern together
- Releasing butterflies, to symbolize the start of a new chapter in your lives
- Mixing a unity cocktail, for a fun and personalized (& yummy) way to represent your joining as individuals
3. Sage smudging
Sage smudging is a spiritual purification ritual that originates in Indigenous communities, and involves burning sage to clear negative energy, cleanse a space, and promote healing. It’s a beautiful and simple ritual that you can do at any point in your ceremony, and will usually involve your officiant burning the sage next to you & waving the smoke around your heads and bodies. Feel free to set a certain intention together for this ritual, or incorporate a meaningful affirmation to help guide the cleansing & help you begin this new phase of your relationship on a strong, positive note!
4. Incorporate cultural traditions
If you or your partner come from a culture that has special wedding rituals or traditions, and it’s important to you/your family that you take part in them, incorporating those into your ceremony can be super meaningful! If you each come from different cultures, you can absolutely each add your own rituals to your ceremony, or maybe you partake in the traditions of your partner’s culture – it’s completely up to the two of you and what would be the most special.
Here are a few cultural traditions that are often included in wedding ceremonies, or at some point during the wedding celebration:
- Chinese tea ceremonies
- Traditional dances
- Native American vase ceremonies
- Bread ceremony
- Mexican wedding lasso
5. Incorporate religious traditions
Same goes for religious traditions! If religion or spirituality is important to you and/or your partner, it can be incredibly meaningful to include rituals that represent your beliefs in your ceremony.
Here are some common religious rituals & traditions that couples might include in their wedding ceremony:
- Getting married under a Chuppah (Jewish)
- Breaking of the glass (Jewish)
- Washing each other’s feet (Christian)
- Rope braiding (Christian)
- Getting married under a Mandap (Hindu)
- Varmala exchange ceremony (Hindu)
- Lighting of candles (Greek)
- Paebaek ceremony (Korean)
6. Paint a canvas together
This is technically a type of unity ceremony, but I thought it was so creative that it deserved its own spot on this list. If you want to have some fun with your unity ceremony and make it a little more artistic, consider painting on a blank canvas together! You’ll start off with a blank canva that represents the start of a brand new journey together, and the different colors you paint on the canvas represent the different emotions & experiences that lie ahead. It’s a very symbolic unity ceremony that can really represent whatever you want it to – you could take it even deeper into the metaphor and look at the mix of colors as the blend of your individual lives into one, or the spots where the colors stay separate as a representation of your independent personalities that will still exist in your marriage. Honestly, just have some fun with it!
7. Incorporate your pets
If you have pets, I’m guessing they’re a pretty dang important part of your life together, so they absolutely deserve to be a part of your elopement celebration! Dogs are probably the easiest pets to incorporate into your day, but you could totally get creative with other pets as long as it works with your location. You can include your pets in your ceremony in a variety of ways:
- Have them be your ring bearer
- Walk down the aisle with them, and/or have them sit/stand at the altar with you
- Dress them up in matching elopement attire
- Have them put their paw print on your decorative marriage certificate
- Incorporate them into your decor/signage
8. Give each other gifts
I know a ton of people whose love language is gift-giving, so if you love giving & receiving gifts in your relationship, incorporate that into your ceremony with a gift exchange! A lot of couples will do this before the ceremony, either during their first look or in separate rooms while they’re getting ready, but you can absolutely do it before you say your vows, exchange rings, and make things official. These gifts can be as big or small as you want – some common ideas include curated keepsakes/memorabilia (e.g. a special sign for your home with your wedding date), a surprise boudoir photo album, framed versions of your vows, jewelry/watches/accessories, or a fun experience that you can do together in the future (e.g. an epic Jeep tour in the desert for your honeymoon). There are no rules!
9. Exchange love letters
If you like the idea of exchanging something extra during your ceremony but don’t want to necessarily swap gifts, write each other heartfelt letters beforehand and exchange them during your ceremony. You can read them to yourselves, or read them aloud in front of your guests – it’s totally up to you and what you’re both comfortable with. Reading love letters silently while you hold each other’s hands is a great alternative to exchanging private vows in front of your friends and family; you’ll feel all those emotions together, but won’t have to recite it all out loud with an audience.
10. Include your family
Having my family at my own elopement was extremely important to me, and it’s a non-negotiable for a lot of other couples, too. There are so many beautiful ways you can include your family in your elopement whether they’re physically present at the ceremony, or you’re having a private elopement and they’re there with you in spirit.
If your family will be present at your elopement:
- Have a ring-warming ceremony, where you pass your rings around & each person puts their well-wishes into them
- Invite them to share blessings, advice, or encouragement during the ceremony
If you’re not inviting family to your elopement, but want a way to include them:
- Have them write you letters beforehand to read aloud during the ceremony
- Have them record audio or video and play it during your ceremony
- Facetime them before or after the ceremony to say hi
- Livestream your ceremony for them to watch back home
- Have somebody take a few Polaroids of your ceremony to gift to your loved ones when you see them next
For more ideas like these, check out my full blog post about How to Include Your Loved Ones on Your Elopement Day!
11. Honor those who can’t be there
Another way to include your love for your family & friends in your ceremony is to honor those who can’t be there, and pay respect to their memory. You can do this through having a moment of silence during your ceremony, playing a special song that they loved, or that reminds you of them, sharing some words about them, or incorporating photos of them in your ceremony. I’ve seen couples place a framed photo on a chair dedicated to their loved one’s memory, or hold a photo of them during the ceremony. Incorporating mementos of their life into your elopement can also be a really special way to honor them, such as wearing a piece of jewelry they passed down to you, or including their wedding ring in your detail photos. It’s up to you to decide how you want to honor their memory and their role in your life/relationship; there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
12. Incorporate music
Music lovers, this one’s for you! Maybe one or the both of you are musicians, maybe you just love listening to certain music together, or maybe there’s a special song that holds meaning to you both (or represents a meaningful moment in your relationship). Incorporating music that holds some sort of significance into your elopement can be so beautiful, and can be a really emotional way to celebrate such a big step in your life together! You could sing a duet during your ceremony, play instruments, hire a musician to perform, or simply play a specific song that you both love on a speaker while you walk down the aisle.
13. Have a candlelit ceremony
There’s nothing more magical than getting married under the starlight😍I’m personally obsessed with elopements that are held after the daylight fades away – at sunset, with colors painting the sky behind you; at dusk, with lanterns lighting up your ceremony, or in the complete dark, with only the light of the stars & a few candles shining around you. Having a ceremony under the stars with a focus on soft candlelight creates SUCH a romantic & enchanting atmosphere! You don’t have to be afraid of the dark when it comes to your elopement, because we can create freaking spectacular photos even after the sun goes down 😉
14. Get matching tattoos
If you want to add some extra excitement into your elopement, getting matching tattoos together is such a fun and unique thing to do! It might technically be best to do this before or after your ceremony rather than during it, since even small tattoos can take a while to complete with setup/cleanup and all, but I’ve freaking loved seeing some couples do this to mark their commitment. You could get each other’s initials, the date of your wedding (in plain numbers or even Roman numerals), a little “‘till death do us part” piece, tattooed wedding bands instead of real ones. . . the sky’s the limit! Bonus points if you hire your tattoo artist to be there long enough for some of your guests to get tiny tats if they want to 🙂
15. Bury a time capsule
Lastly, if you’re patient enough, then burying a time capsule is a super fun way to commemorate your special day! Compile meaningful mementos such as love letters, keepsakes from your elopement, Polaroids from the day, notes from your guests, a bottle of champagne, and anything else that would be exciting to open up in a few years. Open it on a future anniversary (e.g. your 5th anniversary), or open it each year and add new letters/mementos to reflect on your continued journey together.
As far as actually burying it goes – if you do want to bury it underground, make sure you choose a container that won’t expose your mementos to the elements and potentially cause damage! The safer option may be to store it somewhere in your home instead, or have it serve as decor if it’s in an aesthetic container; this way, the items inside won’t be damaged over time, and you’ll always have access to it, even if you move homes, cities, etc.
Now that you’ve got these 15 unique elopement ceremony ideas to help you plan a super special day, remember that the MOST meaningful ceremonies are the ones that genuinely reflect your relationship & your values. Don’t incorporate any ideas that aren’t in alignment with your true personalities just because somebody told you you “should,” or you feel pressured to – take the ideas that make sense to you two, and leave the ones that don’t. Feel free to mix and match these ideas, or create your own unique ceremony ritual/tradition that speaks to your authentic love story! I can’t wait to see what you end up planning – I’d love to document it all for you so that the beautiful memories will last forever!
There are plenty of opportunities to incorporate fun activities into your elopement outside of just your ceremony – be sure to check out my list of 100 Unique Elopement Ideas + Activities for an Epic Celebration!
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In order to make your dream elopement day happen, it's super important that we connect and that you feel comfortable with me! The best way to do this is to reach out and schedule a call so you can learn more about me and I can learn about you two so i can document what's real + the most important to you.