ELOPEMENT CEREMONY IDEAS—WHAT TO DO DURING YOUR ELOPEMENT CEREMONY
Your elopement location has been selected (maybe it’s high up in the mountains, in an old-growth forest, or on an epic sand dune).
Your elopement dates have been set (perhaps you picked a Fall elopement so you can chase the changing colors, maybe you’ll ski through powdery snow before your elopement day).
Wherever and whatever you carefully selected for your elopement ceremony, the logistics have all been worked out.
Only one detail remains. The inevitable—but totally understandable—question:
“WHAT EXACTLY DO WE DO DURING THE ELOPEMENT CEREMONY?”
As an adventure elopement photographer who has helped hundreds of couples celebrate their unique “just us” days, I’ve gotten pretty used to fielding questions about the marriage ceremony. Even though I’ve heard it time and again, I PROMISE it’s always a valid question.
To me, it makes sense that couples, who are already in the midst of planning their non-traditional, epic elopements might come up with questions or concerns once they start really thinking about their actual elopement ceremony.
By the nature of the wedding industry, the whole wedding ceremony tends to conjure up a lot of traditional—maybe even religious—imagery that’s often laced in grandeur and huge expectations.
But that’s not what you’re about, and that’s not what your elopement is about, either. It’s understandable you’d have questions, like:
It’s a non-traditional wedding ceremony, so do we say vows?
We’re not in a church and we’re not religious—can we have a non-religious wedding ceremony?
What about ring bearers—wait, do we even need to bring rings?
Do our vows have to be said a certain way to be official? Do we have to have wedding officiants?
The shortest (and best) answer I can give to you is: you can (and should) do exactly what you and your partner want to do during your elopement ceremony.
It’s your special day and everything is entirely up to the two of you.
Do you want to have a non-traditional wedding ceremony with non-religious wedding vows? Go for it. Do you want to have a wedding ceremony outline that you and your partner can follow along with? That sounds great! Do you want to treat your elopement less like a wedding and more like a commitment ceremony? That’s perfect, too.
That’s the beautiful thing about your elopement in the first place, right?
You’ve taken that brave step to throw tradition to the wind and pledge your lives to each other in a way that’s wholly unique and beautiful to you both—why not keep running with it?
We encourage you to have the elopement ceremony you’ve always wanted by including whichever unique moments, celebrations and details that mean something special to the two of you.
VOWS ARE A SWEET & SENTIMENTAL CHOICE
Marriage vows, no matter how they’re communicated, are always powerful.
But know this—your vows don’t have to be cut-and-dry or copy-paste. Just like you’ve chosen to have a unique elopement, you can choose to have unique vows, too (whatever that looks like for the two of you).
No matter what kind of ceremony you choose to have— self-solemnizing, with just an officiant, or with close family and friends around— vows are a beautiful way to express the emotions you’re feeling about the newest adventure you’re choosing to embark on together.
Typically, elopement vows tend to be personalized, handwritten and filled with genuine emotion.
Some couples choose to surprise their partner with their vows and sometimes couples work on their vows together. Some couples create custom vow books to hand write their vows on the day of their elopement, some have scraps of paper they’ve been scribbling on for months that they cobble into part of their wedding ceremony outline.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this—it’s your day, your vows and your elopement.
When you’re standing there (on a mountain peak, beneath a waterfall, kayaking in an alpine lake, wherever) looking into the eyes of the person you’re promising to spend the rest of your life with, all that matters is that you’re there together.
All that matters is that you’ve found the person you couldn’t imagine adventuring through life without.
RINGS: A NOD TO SYMBOLISM
A lot of the couples that I’ve been privileged to photograph on their elopement days, have chosen to include rings as part of the ceremony.
Wedding rings are a long-standing tradition that’s often included in ceremonies because of the symbolism— no beginning, no end. It’s the infinite power of love in a tiny package.
Even if you do want to include the traditional sentiment of the ring, you don’t have to go an entirely traditional route. Some couples choose to have rings tattooed onto their fingers together. Some choose to surprise their partners with rings (which, is sort of like a proposal all over again and is always sentimental). Other couples will choose to go entirely creative and actually craft their rings together.
THE FIRST KISS TO BEGIN THE REST OF YOUR ADVENTURE
The first kiss as an officially married couple is hugely symbolic—it’s not just a stopping point for your ceremony, it’s the beginning of your new adventure together.
Because of the epic sentimentality of this, a lot of couples choose to incorporate this as part of their elopement ceremony—also, admittedly, it’s hard to resist smooching your partner after pledging your lives to each other.
Some couples will self-solemnize, announce themselves as married, and declare that the newlyweds must kiss (usually followed by a lot of laughing and cheering). Some couples kiss and immediately pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate—no matter where they decided to elope.
If you want to kiss your partner to close your elopement ceremony, we think you should go for it. Be suave, be sweet, be silly—no matter how you want to smooch, just be yourselves and love every minute of it.
CELEBRATE YOUR CEREMONY YOUR WAY
Tons of couples choose to have unique celebrations immediately following their elopement ceremony. It’s always been a blast to see how each couple chooses to celebrate the conclusion of their wedding ceremony.
Some couples hurl confetti in the air. Some toss flower petals or seeds. A lot of couples love to pop champagne to toast their elopement. I’ve even seen some couples take the moment to let loose and scream as loud as they can from the top of a mountain or cannonball into an alpine lake.
Just a quick note for all those celebratory moments: remember, you’re in the wild, so abide by the leave no trace policy and be wholly respectful of nature.
If you want to have confetti, you should—perhaps choose to purchase biodegradable so you don’t have to spend endless amounts of time cleaning up every scrap. If you want to toss wildflower petals or seeds, that’s a beautiful idea—just don’t throw seeds or petals that aren’t native to the area so you don’t damage the ecosystem. Want to pop champagne? Good. My advice? Shake that bottle as hard as you can to get a giant, explosive celebration spray out of it.
The options for your elopement ceremony are absolutely endless and that should be overwhelmingly exciting. Figure out what you both want to do to celebrate and just do it—it’s your day, after all!
CEREMONIES WITH A UNIQUE TWIST
Whether you’re planning to marry yourselves (which you can do in 4 states!) or want an officiant to marry you (which, by the way, I am legally able to do for you), you can always choose to integrate unique, meaningful elements into your elopement ceremony.
Not all ceremonies look the same—that’s the beautiful thing about choosing your wildly unique way to go about this.
SAGE SMUDGING CEREMONY
This ceremony is all about energy—more specifically, all about cleansing the bad energy and replacing it with positive, healing energy.
This ceremony is fairly simple, too—it just requires a bundle of sage, a way to light it, and a bowl. Some couples choose to have their officiants say a prayer, a blessing, or affirming words out loud while they light the sage. Other couples choose to quietly say their own prayer or affirmation themselves to make it more personal.
Either way, if a sage ceremony is something you want as a cleansing, healing part of your elopement ceremony, you should go for it!
HAND FASTING (CORD) CEREMONY
This is a timeless Celtic pagan tradition, meant to symbolize the binding together of you and your love.
Though these ceremonies can happen however you want, typically, an officiant helps you both tie a braided rope around your clasped hands. That being said, if you’re planning to self-solemnize and don’t want an official officiant there, I can help perform this part of the ceremony, or the two of you can wrap the braid around your hands together (a great testament to teamwork).
In the past, we’ve even seen each guest at the elopement say a blessing over their own mini cord, then tie the cord around the couples’ hands.
This is a beautiful way to involve the people closest to you in your elopement ceremony because it makes your guests feel like that they’re joining the two of you together (both literally and figuratively).
CULTURAL OR RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES
Some couples choose to integrate cultural or religious traditions into their elopement ceremony. My advice? Do what’s most meaningful for you both.
In this case, it can be helpful to have an officiant walk you through the steps of these traditional religious or cultural ceremony points.
As a side note, it can also be nice to have an officiant there to act as a guide through your elopement journey.
Sometimes, couples have a whole list of things they want to do during their elopement ceremony, but sometimes the emotions are running much too high and it can be easy to let a moment slip away.
Unity ceremonies are absolutely beautiful symbols of the choice you’re making to merge your life with your partner. The best part about a unity ceremony is that it really can take on any shape or form.
Traditionally, the idea of a unity ceremony is that you’re taking two pieces of something and turning it into a third, singular piece (usually, it’s something that becomes stronger once the two pieces are united, which, we think is a powerful sentiment).
Some couples choose to go the traditional route and light a unity candle (though, this is harder to do during an outdoor adventure elopement).
Other couples might choose to mix together two different colors of sand in a single vase.
I’ve seen a couple combine two bottles of red and white wine together.
I’ve even watched couples plant trees together as part of their unity ceremony.
I once had a couple that planned a beautiful unity ceremony during their self-solemnizing elopement. The couple chose two easels and two canvases. Then they each picked a color and painted their canvas a distinct solid color. While the paint was still wet, they squished together the wet canvases and swirled them around, creating two similar —but distinct—canvases.
Not only did they have a beautiful symbol during their elopement ceremony to announce themselves as one, but they also had gorgeous pieces of artwork to hang in their home that would forever remind them of their elopement day.
Want to combine bits and pieces of other ceremonies you’ve seen? Do it. Do you want to create a elopement ceremony that’s never been done before? I can’t wait to see it. Your ceremony should be entirely personal and totally up to you.
If you’re planning to have an officiant marry the two of you, there’s always the idea to leave room for surprises. It’s possible that you might not know everything that’s set to happen during your ceremony.
For example, I was lucky enough to work with a couple where the bride was incredibly close to her sister. But, because the couple planned a destination elopement, the sister wasn’t in attendance at the actual elopement ceremony.
As a surprise, the sister teamed up with the officiant to personalize the ceremony and surprise the couple with sweet sentimentality. Sure, the bride’s sister was in a totally different country, but her love for the couple could be felt from thousands of miles away.
TIME FOR UNIQUE TALENTS
I’ve seen couples use their unique, individual talents to express their love for their partners during their elopement ceremonies and honestly, it’s amazing every time.
Whether it’s singing an original song (or one that’s meaningful to the two of you), playing an instrument or giving a handmade gift, Including your unique talent as part of your pledge to your partner is an amazing way to begin your new adventure together.
MAKE SPACE FOR THOSE WHO COULDN’T BE THERE
Your elopement is a unique, memorable experience that should be filled with positivity, joy, and love. That being said, even the most joyous occasions can feel briefly hollow if there’s a special person in your life that isn’t physically with you and can’t be there to celebrate your elopement.
Making space can be a meaningful, special gesture that honors a loved one that isn’t with you physically, but is with you spiritually, emotionally or in your heart. Making space can take any form you want. Maybe you physically leave standing room for a loved one who has passed on, maybe you take a meaningful moment of silence to honor that person, perhaps you take a second to say a few words or include a memento into your ceremony that reminds you of them.
This should be entirely personal and meaningful to you.
CUTE AND EXCITING SURPRISES
Surprises are by no mean required to have a dreamy elopement ceremony, but I do find that some couples truly love the genuine joy that can go hand in hand with a surprise for their soon-to-be spouse.
I was part of an elopement once where a bride collected a ton of letters from friends, family and people who loved them. The bride surprised her partner with the letters on their wedding day and they read them together as part of their ceremony. It was such an emotional thing to witness—the two of them overwhelmed with this beautiful surprise from people who loved and supported them but couldn’t be with them on their day.
If you’re the type of couple that relishes a good surprise, consider adding in something totally unexpected for your partner. The look of pure joy and shock on their face will be a beautiful addition to your elopement ceremony.
I AM ERIN! I AM AN ADVENTURE ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER BASED IN ARKANSAS. I TRAVEL WORLDWIDE TO HELP FEARLESS COUPLES LIKE YOU CREATE A WILDLY UNFORGETTABLE WEDDING EXPERIENCE
ARE YOU READY TO CREATE YOUR OWN ADVENTUROUS ELOPEMENT?
If you would like help dreaming up your intimate wedding day, a customized elopement location idea list just for you, planning tools, vendor recommendations and a laid-back creative documentary approach to your adventurous wedding photography—I would love to help you make your elopement dreams come true!