What types of wedding ceremonies are there, and what do I need?
What kind of ceremony do I need?
There are many kinds of wedding ceremonies in the world and an almost infinite number of variations. Here are some basic categories:
Civil ceremonies are the weddings conducted by government officials (like a County Clerk or Justice of the Peace) to solemnize a marriage license. They are usually brief and, by definition, nonreligious. If you marry in a County Clerk's office, you will receive a civil ceremony.
An elopement wedding is conducted with few or no guests in attendance. Couples choose elopement ceremonies if they are introverted or shy speaking in front of others, want to share their vows only with their partners, if they wish to enjoy a stress-free and romantic private ceremony before their public wedding, or they have reasons to conceal their marriage (e.g. violent ex-spouse, celebrity or whistleblower status).
"Spiritual but Not Religious" Weddings
The number of "nones" (that is, people who hold spiritual beliefs but are not affiliated with a religious denomination or community) has sharply risen since the turn of the century. Often defining themselves as "spiritual but not religious," couples who choose this type of ceremony usually derive content from the wisdom traditions and philosophical texts that have influenced their personal belief systems. Spiritual Humanist ceremonies may also fall under this category.
The term "non-religious" applies to a wide range of ceremonies: spiritual in tone but not beholden to any specific religious dogma or ritual requirement; a ceremony with a humanist or romantic emphasis; an atheist wedding; or a civil ceremony.
Usually performed by non-denominational/interfaith clergy; in some instances, two clergy members of different faiths create and conduct the wedding cooperatively. Incorporates elements honoring both families' traditions and cultures and may include secular material at the discretion of the couple/officiating clergy.
Culturally-based ceremonies derive their content from a couple's national, ethnic, or cultural origin. Often, cultural weddings are performed separately from a civil, religious, or more "mainstream" ceremony; sometimes cultural rites are melded into an inclusive traditional or modern ceremony.
Custom (or "Bespoke") Wedding Ceremony
Couples work with a writer or officiant to create a unique ceremony based on their values and style. Custom ceremonies may be completely original or weave classic and modern wedding elements into the couple's chosen narrative. Personal vows and involvement by friends and family members are two practices frequently seen in custom ceremonies.
Simple Wedding Ceremony
In keeping with the tenets of "voluntary simplicity" (consciously forgoing conspicuous consumerism in order to reduce the impact on the environment, support sustainable businesses, and increase a spiritual sense of existence) a couple may choose to keep wedding-related spending and products to a minimum. Flowers, food, and location are often provided cooperatively by friends and family. Simple weddings seek to create a sense of community and emphasize the meaning of the wedding ritual over material trappings and pageantry.
Green weddings emphasize environmentally responsible practices, such as zero waste, low carbon footprint, sustainably and organically farmed food and flowers, etc. Green receptions often accompany a simple wedding ceremony (see above) that may also reflect the couple's commitment to living harmoniously with the earth.
"Offbeat" weddings consciously subvert the look/feel/values of the culturally received "white wedding" by incorporating unusual locations, content, wardrobe, and rituals. Most eschew high wedding budgets and emphasize individuality, creativity, and community participation.
Theme Wedding Ceremony
Theme weddings are fun and memorable. Themes can be derived from almost anything: historical recreation, vintage wardrobe, art, film/literature/television, music, hobbies, and more. Locations may be made central to a theme--beaches, rodeos, gardens, circuses, monuments, museums-- as well as holidays or hobbies. Themes infuse the ceremony material as well as reception decor and activities.
A rapidly growing subset of themed weddings which derive their look/feel/content from science fiction, game, fantasy, technology, cosplay, or comic book fandom. Y'know, for geeks.
A non-legally binding ceremony to express and confirm love and faithfulness between two people who cannot or do not wish to marry legally. They have no set format or requirements. Once the only ritual of union available to same-sex couples, commitment ceremonies have mostly fallen by the wayside since the Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality in 2015. As a result, commitment ceremonies may be legally dicey; for example, it is a violation of California law to conduct a wedding ceremony in the absence of a valid marriage license, so the intent of a commitment ceremony could easily be misconstrued.
Renewal of Vows
A ceremony for already-married people who wish to reaffirm their love and commitment. Because it is not a legal wedding, the presence of a qualified officiant or witnesses is not required. A renewal of vows may reenact a couple's original wedding ceremony or incorporate new content, often new vows to honor the next phase of the marriage. Many couples renew their vows on each anniversary.