Wedding Ceremonies (Different Ceremony Types Explained)

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What are the different types of wedding ceremonies?

Marriage represents the union of two people, usually with a promise to honor that union. The ceremonies often involve vows, prayers, passages, blessings, or symbolism to reflect the sacred commitment.

Although most wedding ceremonies share some basic similarities, differing religions, beliefs, and customs result in significant variations.

Types of wedding ceremonies include traditional or religious marriages, interdenominational or interfaith unions, civil ceremonies, military weddings, elopements, destination weddings, “green” celebrations, and non-legal unions (commitment ceremonies). They differ based on a couple’s customs and may be formal or informal.

A bride and groom having a religious wedding ceremony. This is for the article called different types of wedding ceremonies.
A wedding ring exchange during a Catholic wedding ceremony

This article includes a list of eight different types of wedding ceremonies and the fundamentals of each. Here is what we cover:

Traditional Or Religious Wedding Ceremony

Long ago, marriages began as a family endeavor with little to do with religion. Most unions were privately dealt with through the state and designed to create an alliance between two families.

Over time, however, marriage evolved into a religious ceremony.

In fact, the most recognized types of weddings are religious ceremonies.

With over 10,000 distinctive religions worldwide, there are tens of thousands of different types of religious wedding ceremonies. Each is diverse, reflecting a variety of traditions and beliefs.

Let’s look at three of the most popular religions in the world and their respective wedding celebrations. 

A Catholic wedding ceremony at Princeton Chapel.
A Catholic wedding ceremony taking place at Princeton Chapel

Catholic Wedding Ceremony

The Catholic Church had very little to do with the union between two people throughout the earliest part of its history.

In fact, it wasn’t until after 800 AD that the Church became involved in marriage. A few centuries later, weddings became one of the sacraments.

Today, Catholic wedding ceremonies must take place within a house of worship.

Here are some other things to expect during a Catholic wedding:

  • Introductory Rites
  • Hymns
  • Reading from the Old and New Testament
  • Psalm
  • Gospel Acclamation
  • Gospel Reading
  • Homily (Sermon)

During the wedding sermon, the priest focuses his speech on the Catholic theme of marriage before exchanging vows and wedding rings.

Once the couple finishes their vows, the attendees engage in the Prayer of Faithful and, usually, a prayer led by the couple.

While some couples prefer to hold Mass during their Catholic wedding ceremony, it isn’t required.

A Jewish wedding ceremony. The groom is breaking the glass.
The breaking of the glass taking place at a Jewish wedding ceremony

Jewish Weddings

As with all religious wedding ceremonies, the Jewish wedding varies depending on the family. However, most practice common themes that include:

  • Ketubah (Marriage Contract)
  • Chuppah/Huppah (Wedding Canopy)
  • Breaking of Glass

Jewish ceremonies involve two distinct phases — the kiddushin and the ni’suin.

The kiddushin is the engagement (betrothal) ceremony, where the couple dedicates their lives to one another.

Usually, the man presents the woman with a ring or other gift of value.

The ni’suin is the actual marriage ceremony.

Once complete, wives are bound to their husbands and prohibited from all other men.

Historically, the kiddushin and ni’suin occurred on separate occasions, usually with months or even a year in between.

Today, these ceremonies are typically held together.

Islamic

Muslim weddings are known as Nikah. These ceremonies are considered a sacred, prophetic tradition in Islam and are seen more as a contract than a religious sacrament.

Nikah is the only recognized ceremony in which an Islamic couple may be legally married. The ceremony cements the union in the presence of Allah (God).

While Islamic wedding celebrations vary depending on the sect and family, the basics are the same.

Let’s look at a few of the common themes in Muslim weddings:

  • Ceremonies are held in a place of worship. During a traditional Islamic wedding, the ceremony occurs in a Mosque where the men and women in attendance are segregated.
  • There is no exchanging of vows. Instead of the exchanging of vows between a bride and groom, an officiant recites passages from the Qu’ran and presents a khutba (short sermon) about marriage and expectations for husband and wife.
  • Traditional Muslim weddings are simple. Although modern Islamic weddings may be elaborate and extravagant, traditionally, these weddings were low-key, especially compared to Western ceremonies. The concept prevented a couple from starting their marriage with a heavy financial burden.

During the Islamic ceremony, a husband and wife repeat the phrase, “Qubool,” which translates to “I accept.”

The couple repeats the words three times before signing a marriage contract to legally binds the marriage.

A groom is showered with flower petals during a Hindu wedding ceremony
The groom getting ready to enter the ceremony site at a Hindu wedding

Hindu

Hindu weddings (Vivaha) are one of the most sacred rites in the religion. These ceremonies incorporate rituals and traditions from ancient Hinduism.

Below are some of the fundamentals of a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony:

Hindu weddings are performed based on Vedic traditions.

The first ceremony performed during a Hindu marriage celebration is the Ganesh Puja.

The priests invoke Lord Ganesh to remove any obstacles in the way of the couple.

Later, the bride and groom exchange garland (which symbolizes their acceptance of one another), and the groom’s scarf is knotted to the bride’s shawl to represent the strength of their union.

Priests officiate the wedding in Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is the Hindu language, and, according to tradition, the wedding takes place in this language.

If necessary, it may be translated into English by the priest.

Grooms are idolized.

During a wedding ceremony, grooms are considered a representation of Lord Vishnu, so the family reveres him — they wash his feet and extend various offerings.

Traditionally, they’ll present him with Madhuparka (curd mixed with honey).

Hindu weddings are lively.

These wedding ceremonies involve music, singing, dancing, chanting, and plenty of action (We have photographed three Hindu weddings and it was amazing to see these fun celebrations).

The groom smashes a clay pot to symbolize his power to overcome obstacles in the marriage.

A holy fire is lit to “dispel darkness,” and the bride and groom walk around this fire before rushing back to their seats in a lighthearted race.

The winner is said to be the “ruler of the household.”

Perhaps the most important part of a Hindu wedding ceremony is the Saptapadi, or “Seven Steps.”

The tradition involves the couple taking seven steps together, representing the beginning of their journey as husband and wife.

Interdenominational Or Interfaith

Interdenominational weddings are marriages that occur between people of different Christian faiths (i.e., Lutheran and Catholic, Baptist and Methodist, etc.).

Every Christian denomination has its own views on these types of marriages, with most accepting them as long as the bride and groom agree to continue living in the power of God.

The Catholic Church, however, requires that the bride or groom receive permission from the diocese prior to marrying anyone of a non-Catholic religion.

If the diocese provides consent, the Catholic spouse must vow to continue living as a Catholic and promise to raise their children in the Church.

Interfaith ceremonies are a bit different.

These are marriages between a couple from two completely different religious backgrounds.

Usually, the couple plans a marriage that honors the traditions of both faiths, preventing them from having to host two separate religious ceremonies.

Non-denominational or interfaith clergy typically officiate these weddings, though some couples opt to bring in two separate clergies of different faiths who work together to conduct the wedding.

It’s important to note that many different religions do not honor nor permit interfaith weddings.

They may require conversion before proceeding with a marriage.

A civil wedding ceremony taking place at City Hall
City Hall wedding ceremonies are so beautiful!

Civil Marriage Ceremony

Civil wedding ceremonies are brief, informal celebrations where the legalities of marriage are at the forefront.

These ceremonies are handled and officiated by a Justice of the Peace, judge, mayor, or other city officials.

Most often, they occur in a courthouse or city hall.

Due to the lack of space and the informal nature of the ceremony, many couples opt to only host a few family members and friends.

Legally, however, only the bride, groom, legal officiant, and witness must be present to confirm the marriage.

During civil ceremonies, couples typically exchange simple vows provided by the officiant or written themselves. 

Some couples opt for the civil ceremony and nothing more, whereas others may marry in a civil ceremony prior to hosting an actual wedding.

Others may opt to only have a civil marriage but host a reception afterward. This is all up to the couple.

Couples who’ve already legalized their marriage in a civil ceremony may still have a religious ceremony or Blessing of a Civil Marriage.

For Catholics, a religious ceremony after legal marriage is called a Convalidation.

A sword arch at a military wedding ceremony
Military wedding ceremony swoard archs.

Military Wedding Ceremonies

When a bride and groom are both active in the United States military, they’re provided a military wedding, if desired.

These weddings are very similar to traditional Christian weddings in the United States, though there are a few differences, such as:

Attire

Either the bride or groom dons their military uniform.

Those serving as groomsmen or saber bearers must also wear their uniforms if they’re commissioned officers.

Rank

During a military wedding, the ranks of the bride and groom are included in the wedding invitations.

Ceremony

After the official wedding ceremony, the Arch of Sabers is conducted, symbolizing the welcoming of the bride and groom as a union into the army.

Military chaplains or officers usually officiate military weddings, but the couple may opt to have a clergy member instead.

A same-sex wedding ceremony taking place with two brides saying their vows.
Two amazing brides saying their vows during the wedding ceremony

Commitment Ceremony

Cornell University defines marriage as “the legal union of a couple.” However, many people see the legalities of marriage as mere pieces of paper.

As such, many couples opt for a commitment ceremony, a non-legally binding wedding ceremony to symbolize their union.

During a non-legally binding wedding ceremony, couples may write their own vows, perform their own scripture readings, and use their own symbolism based on their own spiritual beliefs, and cultural traditions.

In some cases, they may even draw from a variety of different customs.

There are no specific requirements for this type of wedding ceremony. Formats differ depending on the couple.

They can be religious, non-religious, formal, informal, eco-friendly, and so on.

Historically, non-legally binding wedding ceremonies were the go-to for same-sex marriages, as they weren’t granted the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court legalized marriage among all couples in 2015, thus, these non-legally binding ceremonies have seen a sharp decline.

Before hosting this type of wedding ceremony, check the laws within your state.

Some states, such as California, have laws against hosting weddings without a valid marriage license.

Additionally, if you want the government to legally recognize your marriage, you’ll want to have a legally binding ceremony beforehand.

We wrote a great article with some non-traditonal wedding eremony ideas.

You can check it out here: Fun and unique non-traditional wedding ceremony ideas.

Elopement

Decades ago, “to elope” meant to run off in secret to marry.

Today, however, the definition has changed quite drastically.

Now, the term is often used interchangeably with a brief, spontaneous destination wedding.

These wedding ceremonies often involve little to no planning.

Many couples choose to elope without informing friends and family, only announcing their marriage after arriving home.

However, others invite a handful of family and close friends to include them on their special wedding day.

Elopements are inexpensive wedding ceremonies and do not require the long, drawn-out process of planning an elaborate wedding.

A bride and groom groom getting married in Mexico at their destination wedding.
A gorgeous destination wedding ceremony in Riviera Maya, Mexico

Destination Wedding Ceremony

Destination weddings aren’t always the exotic events on tropical islands that most people imagine.

These ceremonies don’t have to take place abroad.

In fact, they can take place within a different city where the bride, groom, and their respective families spend a few nights away, whether in a cabin or a beachfront property.

These wedding ceremonies tend to be more intimate than others as they’re more expensive.

Couples usually only invite their closest family and friends so that they can afford transportation and accommodation costs.

Some may choose to host an elaborate reception with more attendees once they arrive back home.

An eco-friendly, green wedding taking place in a field
A gorgeous outdoor eco-friendly wedding ceremony

Eco-Friendly Wedding Ceremony

According to Syracuse University, the average wedding ceremony in the United States produces over 400 pounds of trash.

With waste disposal making up part of the 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, this is a worrying trend.

Fortunately, humans are starting to realize the impact we have on the environment.

As such, many couples have begun turning to eco-friendly weddings to prevent their special day from negatively affecting the planet.

Some fundamentals of an eco-friendly wedding ceremony include:

Sustainable venues and vendors

Green weddings typically involve venues and caterers with carbon-neutral status or those that donate to environmental charities.

Additionally, couples usually opt for a location that reduces the amount of air and vehicle travel necessary to cut back on carbon emissions.

Zero-Waste Decor

To take a stand against waste, green weddings often incorporate recyclable or biodegradable materials for invitations, menus, and decorations.

The decor might include macramé made with all-natural string, potted plants, or items made from naturally-occurring materials (i.e., sticks, stones, pinecones, shells, etc.).

Locally-sourced foods

Eco-friendly weddings often utilize caterers that use locally-sourced ingredients and offer at least some vegetarian dishes to cut back on CO2 emissions.

Couples may also choose to purchase alcohol from local wineries or breweries.

Second-hand attire

The bride, groom, and their respective wedding parties may opt for vintage or second-hand clothing to wear during the ceremony.

Alternatively, they may choose to have custom-designed attire from a small business that uses locally sourced fabrics.

Eco-friendly or “green” wedding ceremonies may be religious, non-religious, and even non-legally binding. Therefore, the specifics of the ceremony depend on the couple.

Let us know how many different types of wedding ceremonies you have been to.

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