In the excitement of deciding to elope and sorting out all of the logistics, a lot of couples don’t think about their actual elopement ceremony until well into the planning process. And then they suddenly realise that they’ve never been to an elopement ceremony before, and don’t really have a clue what to include.

As someone who has been photographing weddings and elopements since 2015, I’ve seen many different ways of making your ceremony an unforgettable part of your wedding day experience. Here is some inspiration on how to create a ceremony that’s perfect for you.

What Is An Elopement Ceremony?

An elopement ceremony is a free ceremony — sometimes called a symbolic or commitment ceremony—that is focused on you as a couple and your emotional commitment to one another. That means you can create an entirely unique ceremony based around you, your partner and everything you both love best.

Is An Elopement Ceremony Legally Binding In Europe?

To make your elopement ceremony legally binding in Europe or in any other country, you will need to get a marriage license according to the laws of the country where you want to elope.

This can be time-consuming, expensive, and most importantly it limits where you can go during your elopement (there are very few marriage officials who are willing to climb to the top of a mountain). That’s why most couples choose to sign the legal paperwork in their home country, and have a symbolic elopement ceremony in a place that is meaningful for them.

What Should You Include In An Elopement Ceremony?

Many people choose to keep some traditional wedding elements in their ceremony, such as exchanging vows and rings. But I’ve seen couples create all kinds of wonderfully unique ceremonies by adding small personal touches to make the day memorable to them.

Handfasting

This age-old Celtic tradition is a beautiful way to accompany your wedding vows. It involves winding a cord or ribbon around both of your hands, bonding you in your new life together. You could also involve your friends and family in your ceremony by asking them to make a handfasting cord for you.

Tree Planting

If you’re nature lovers (and you probably are) plant a tree together during your ceremony and you will have a permanent, natural reminder of your special day. Remember to check with the landowner before incorporating this into your ceremony.

Sharing A Toast

Lots of couple pop a bottle of bubbly during their ceremony. But you can make a toast more personal by sharing a drink that means something to you, such as the drink you had on your first date or something brewed in your favourite destination.

Mixing Sand

Each of you brings a bottle of sand in your favourite colour or from a favourite place. You can then mix the two types together during the ceremony, creating a beautiful piece of sand artwork unique to you both.

Song Writing

If one or both of you has musical talent, bring along an instrument and play each other a song during the ceremony. Or better still, write a song especially for the ceremony.

Read A Poem or Your Favourite Quote

If you’re not so musically inclined, you could write each other a poem or read a quote from your favourite book or movie.

Create A New Tradition

Don’t know which tradition to include in your ceremony? Why not start your own tradition on the day, and then celebrate it every year on your anniversary. It could be a poem, a dance, a song or anything else you like.

Do I Need An Officiant To Elope?

If you’re having a non-legally binding ceremony, then you don’t need anyone to officiate your ceremony.

However of course if you would like an officiant, then go for it! Many people choose to have a close friend or family member officiate their ceremony, and there are also many professional celebrants who are skilled at creating a ceremony that’s right for you.

Can My Friends And Family Come To The Ceremony?

While many couples choose to elope alone, others choose to have close friends and family at their elopement ceremony. Both decisions are totally ok, and there are lots of ways to make your friends and family part of your ceremony whether they are there or not.

If your friends and family are present you could try one of the following:

Officiating

Ask a friend or relative to officiate the ceremony. Having an officiant who knows you both well adds an extra special touch to your elopement ceremony.

Sharing Stories

Encourage all your guests to tell their favourite story about you and your partner. You’ll be reminded of many beautiful moments in your relationship, and it is guaranteed to generate a tear or two.

Ring Warming

If you’re exchanging rings, pass the rings around the group and ask everyone to hold the rings between their hands while making a wish for your future as a happy married couple.

If your friends and family are not present, you can still include them in your ceremony. Here are a few ideas:

Letters

Before the ceremony, ask your closest friends and family to write a letter or message to you both which can be read out during the ceremony. Again, this is often one of the most emotional moments of the day.

Videos

An alternative to the letters, get your friends and family to make some short videos about you and your partner and play them during or after the ceremony.

Making Something

If you have crafty friends and family, ask them to make something you can wear or bring to the elopement. This could be a bouquet of flowers, a hair accessory or a handfasting cord (see above).

How Do I Write Wedding Vows For My Elopement Ceremony?

Most couples choose to exchange wedding vows during the ceremony, but this is normally one of the hardest parts to prepare. If you search “how to write wedding vows” you’ll probably find a gazillion posts about it. But so many are geared towards traditional wedding celebrations and just won’t feel right for your intimate elopement.

When you elope, you have the freedom to be your truest selves, and to express your most intimate thoughts and feelings in your vows. An elopement ceremony is a safe space to share them without having to worry about what other people might think. And even though I’m there as your photographer to capture it, I’ll always stand far back and shoot from further away for your vows so that you have complete privacy at that moment.

There’s definitely no right or wrong in how to write your vows, so focus on what feels right for you. If you’re currently stuck with writer’s block, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Describe how you felt when you first met, or the first moment you knew you were in love. 
  • Make some promises to your partner for your married life together. Married life is full of all kinds of challenges, from small arguments about loading the dishwasher to whose family to spend the holidays with. Make promises that are real and meaningful to you. They don’t all have to be serious either. They can also be fun.
  • Tell each other what you are most looking forward to about married life.
  • Each list 5 (or more) things you love about the other person. Celebrate your individual quirks.

When you start writing your vows, write them out as a draft first, as you’ll probably find yourself making changes as your wedding day approaches. On the evening before or the morning of your elopement, write them out as a final draft. Some couples choose to write their vows in a keepsake vow book, which can be a lovely memento of your day and the vows you made.

The most important thing to remember when planning your elopement ceremony is that the day is about you. At an elopement, you don’t have to please anyone else but yourselves. So embrace it, do what feels good for you and your partner, and have the wedding day you’ve always dreamed of.

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