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Often, we get asked by our couples who choose eloping “What do I do for my ceremony?” An elopement ceremony is different than a traditional wedding ceremony because there’s more freedom to create something that you both feel represents you as a couple. We wanted to share a few ideas for what to do during your elopement ceremony, whether you choose to have a self solemnizing ceremony on a mountaintop or a intimate wedding ceremony with a few close family and friends.

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What To Do During a Self Solemnizing / Self Officiating Ceremony:

Self solemnizing is an old quaker tradition and is sometimes called a quaker wedding. This is an incredibly popular option for couples who are eloping, especially in Colorado. You are technically “marrying yourselves”, as in you are the ones officiating your own ceremony. You are able to perform a legal self solemnizing ceremony in four places in the US: Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington D.C. The marriage is legally valid anywhere in the US but those four places are the only places you legally get married without a separate officiant. You can still have a self solemnizing ceremony in countries or areas that don’t recognize them if you do the paperwork before or after your ceremony—most of couples our couples who have international destination elopement do the paperwork before or after their trip for ease. Many consider signing the paperwork to be a government issue and not as meaningful to them as saying their vows in a way that’s deep and personalized.

The four most common elements of a self solemnizing, self officiating or quaker wedding ceremony are not unlike the four most common traditional wedding ceremony elements.

Vows

Vows for elopements tend to be personalized and handwritten. Some couples choose to have their vows be a surprise to the other person. When they say them, it’s the first time the other person is hearing them which tends to bring out a lot of emotions. When writing your vows it’s helpful to think about what you want to promise to the other person and what you want to tell each other. The best way to read your vows is to write them out by hand. You can get custom vow books, write them in the back of your favorite book to gift the other person after, or write them on nice stationary—so you don’t have read them off your phone.

Couples have also written vows or sections of their vows together before their ceremony. These are predetermined promises that they want to collectively agree on. This keeps part of the ceremony still a secret surprise but can ensure that you still say specific promises that are important to you.

Rings

Rings are long standing tradition as part of a traditional wedding ceremony as symbolism of love that has no end or beginning and is eternal. We frequently see them exchanged by our couples during their elopement ceremonies as well. Some couples have engagement rings as well, some don’t. Some choose to get tattoos instead of wedding bands. Couples creating their own rings has also gained popularity recently. This is a particularly meaningful way to create something together that will last a lifetime.  It’s really up to the couple, their personal preference and what they feel fits themselves the best. Many couples also choose to surprise each other with the ring they’ve chosen. The other person hasn’t seen the ring they’ve picked out before the big day. It’s almost like Proposal 2.0 and creates some very fun emotions which are great for photos.

Real Couple: The grandfather of a groom was an extremely talented metal smith. The bride surprised the groom with a beautiful custom ring designed by his father and grandfather with the beautifully intricate metal etching done by his grandfather. He had never seen it before she pulled it out to put it on his finger. This was a really special and meaningful surprise and beautiful to incorporate into their elopement wedding ceremony.


The Kiss

Similar to traditional wedding ceremonies, a kiss at the end helps couples who are eloping end their ceremonies. Some couples also want to pronounce themselves as married after their ceremony, which is very cute when they do a self solemnizing ceremony. There’s usually lots of cheering and laughing at the end, especially if they choose to pronounce themselves.

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Celebration

Once a couple has finished saying their vows, exchanging rings and the big kiss, they usually do something to celebrate their new marriage. Please, if you’re going to celebrate by throwing something in the air, pick up every little piece. Leave no trace and don’t litter when you plan your elopement. Biodegradable confetti can be purchased. We’ve also had couples choose local native to the area wildflower petals to throw. Don’t throw seeds or wildflowers that aren’t native to the area; these can be very damaging to ecosystems. Rose petals are also fairly easy to pick up. Just ensure that you make sure you pick up every piece.

Champagne popping is very popular. The best tip is to shake the bottle a crazy amount. You really can’t shake it enough. The only mistake people make when doing a champagne popping is to not shaking the bottle enough.

Cheering and yelling is also very fun after a self solemnizing or self officiating ceremony. It’s really fun to scream on the top of a mountain top when no one is around. Some couples also want to jump in a nearby lake or ocean when they’re done. However you choose to celebrate, make sure it’s meaningful to you.

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What to Do During a Two Person Elopement with An Officiant:

Having an officiant with you or a witness with you is still an elopement ceremony. In addition to the traditions listed in the self-solemnizing or self-officiating ceremony above, we’ve seen couples add other meaningful elements to their elopement ceremony if they have an officiant.

Sage Smudging Ceremony

Sage smudging ceremonies are about clearing the energy, especially the bad energy and replacing it with healing, positive energy. All that’s needed for a sage ceremony is a bundle of sage, some way to light it and a bowl. Some couples choose to say an affirmation or have a prayer said over them during the sage smudging ceremony, either privately or out loud.

Handfasting or Cord Ceremony

Handfasting is a Celtic pagan tradition. It’s simply tying braided rope around the clasped hands of a couple and symbolizes binding two together. It’s helpful to have an officiant or witness who can perform this ceremony for you.

Personalize Your Ceremony

An officiant can make elements of your ceremony a surprise for you. You may not know everything that’s going to be said which can lead to very serendipitous emotions.

Real Couple: A bride was very close to her sister. They had planned a destination elopement and the officiant was their only witness. As a surprise, the sister worked closely with the officiant to make the ceremony unique and personalized for the couple. Even though her sister wasn’t there and the couple was eloping in a foreign country, it was a beautiful surprise done with love. It was unexpected but very cute.

Cultural or Religious Traditions

Having an officiant is helpful to perform specific cultural or religious traditions that may be important to you during your elopement ceremony. If you’re worried that you’ll be too emotional or focused on other things during your ceremony, it’s nice to have someone who can walk you through the steps and make sure that you do everything that you want to during your ceremony.

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What to do During Your Elopement Ceremony if You Have Other Guests

If you have an intimate wedding with other guests, there are other fun ways to involve your guests in the wedding ceremony so that their importance is felt.

Handfasting

Similar to a handfasting ceremony done by an officiant, couples have had guests at their elopement ceremony perform the handfasting ceremony. Each guest was given a mini handfasting cord. One by one, they came up, said a blessing over the cord and couple, and tied the cord around. Each guest felt like they were part of the joining of this couple figuratively and literally.

Readings

Pick a favorite passage from a book or poem or a piece of scripture. Break it into parts for how many guests you have. Then the guests read the parts in order so they’re all a part of the reading.

Blessings

Having guests at your elopement ceremony is a very personal decision and each guest there is important to you as a couple. There are many ways to involve them in blessing you as you start your married journey together. First, you can give everyone who attends the opportunity to write a short and sweet bit of advice to share with you during the elopement ceremony. Keep it to about 100 words or less.

Before the ring exchange, pass the rings around to each person in attendance. Each person has the opportunity to say something privately or out loud, whichever is preferred.

Involve Their Talents

If you have family members who are particularly skilled at playing music or singing, involve them in the elopement ceremony. They can perform a special song that’s meaningful to you as a couple. Music played intimately for a small group of people is very powerful and emotional.

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What to Do No Matter How You Elope

Whether you choose to self solemnize and elope completely alone, or you choose to have a small number of guests surround you on your wedding day, there are traditions and unique elements to incorporate into your elopement wedding day.

Surprises

Surprises are so fun during an elopement because they elicit a genuine emotional response. You can surprise each other during a first look or another part of the day but surprising each other during your ceremony is also special. Some couples have surprised each other with special gifts or by doing something special for each other.

Real couple: A bride collected letters from their family and friends who loved them and supported them but weren’t going to a part of their elopement day ceremony. The couple read the letters together during the day and as part of their ceremony. It was beautiful to watch them read letters of love and support and was a total surprise to her partner.

Make Space

We all sadly have loved ones who are not with us physically anymore but with us in spirit. Take a moment during your ceremony to pause and be silent and think of loved ones that were lost. You can also bring a memento of them as part of the ceremony or incorporate something from them into the day.

Unity Ceremonies

There are many different ways of creating unity during an elopement ceremony. At the basic level, you want to have two pieces that you mix into a third piece. The unity ceremony represents binding something together that’s very difficult to break apart. Some couples choose to do a more traditional unity candle, but this isn’t as common as it’s difficult to do outside. Sand is also very common. You can use two different colors or kinds of sand. Then pour them together into a vase or bottle. One couple even combined a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine together in a unity ceremony.

Planting a tree together is also very popular and can be done alone in a self solemnizing ceremony or in a way that involves your family and friends who are attending the ceremony. Bring sand or soil from a special place and have your guests to the same. Then take turns pouring it into a pot and planting a tree.

Real Couple: A couple who was self solemnizing got two big easels and two big canvases. They each picked a color of paint and painted their canvas a solid color. While the paint was still wet, they squished the wet canvases together and swirled them around. When they took the canvases apart, they had two unique but similar canvases. They pronounced themselves married and had two pieces of cool art to hang on their walls!

There are many ways to make an elopement ceremony unique and special. Most of all, think about what the two of you care about and what or who you want to be a part of your day physically or in spirit. If you have other ideas to make an elopement ceremony special, share them below!

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HEY THERE!

We're Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We are adventurous elopement photographers & guides based in Colorado that travel worldwide to help fearless couples like you create your unforgettable, wildly different wedding experience—that is completely yours.

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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 creative, laid-back, documentary approach to your adventurous wedding photography—we would love to help you make your adventure elopement dreams come true.

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