We sat down with Hannah Nielsen-Jones, a Life-Cycle Celebrant and the founder of River and Root Ceremonies, to inquire how bridal showers, bachelor parties, and wedding ceremonies themselves can be more meaningful through the inclusion of ceremony and ritual.
Liz: Hi Hannah!
Hannah: Hi Liz!
Liz: I thought I could ask you a couple questions, would that be all right?
Hannah: That would be fine! I'm excited!
Ritual Helps Us Be Present
Liz: Awesome. So I would love to talk to you about ceremony and ritual. You sometimes hear people who are planning a wedding say, "I'm just excited for the party!" But I have to say my wedding ceremony was the best part of the day and what I remember the most. I think there are a lot of people planning weddings who really desire an intentional ceremony. Could you talk a little bit about the importance of ceremony and ritual?
Hannah: Yes! Ceremony and ritual help us acknowledge change and transition in our lives. You can think about the difference between a meal that starts with a toast or saying grace versus a meal that just starts. In the former, everyone takes a moment to settle in and be present with each other before eating, and in the second we just start right in and we don't necessarily stop to be present.
Liz: I like the way you said that. Could you say more about how they help us acknowledge change and why that is important?
Hannah: Yes! It's important to acknowledge change so that we can begin new chapters in our lives with clarity and intentionality. We can give thanks and honor what was present in our lives before the change, recognize what we want or need to release, and call in what we desire to be present in the new stage. Acknowledging change helps us move through the cycles of our lives.
Liz: So you've mentioned being present twice; it makes sense that ceremony prepares us to be present in a moment.
Hannah: It calls us to pause the mundane hustle and bustle of everything. It is a container for the bigger things/feelings that we don't always remember are happening.
Weddings are an Opportunity for Intentionality
Liz: So with weddings, we often just think of the wedding ceremony as the opportunity for reflection and presence, but are there other moments during the wedding process where ceremony and ritual could be introduced?
Hannah: There are many! There can be ritual around the planning process — even just taking a moment to pause before each piece of planning can be a ritual (and can sometimes help the planning from spilling into every waking moment). There can be ritual and ceremony involved in pre-wedding gatherings, from engagement parties to weekends or times away with friends and family. Asking for reflection or shared wisdom, or intentionally creating space with people to share some deeper things, can be so meaningful. Often I find that people are so ready to get deep at weddings and during planning, but they need an invitation from the person getting married — a little signal that says yes! we can go there! Also after the wedding ceremony itself there are opportunities for ritual if you are sharing a meal together, or another group activity.
Liz: Oh I love that. You think the people surrounding a couple really want to be intentional during the wedding process as well?
Hannah: I think some do! Many of us are in this space because we love being a part of a transformation and a transformative process. It can get a little buried under all of the administrative/bureaucratic business... but I think that at our core, the energy that comes from being around people who are choosing this momentous adventure and leaping into their future together with hope and daring (ie, people getting married) draws us and sustains us.
Bridal Showers Can Be More than Games and Mini Quiches
Liz: I love that. So let's get a little more concrete. What are some ways that we can incorporate ceremony and ritual into, say, a bridal shower?
Hannah: Taking a moment at the beginning, once a critical mass of people has arrived, and asking everyone to be present for the gathering. Another idea is that you could ask people to prepare a quote, a saying, or a reflection about partnership or marriage that they would share during the shower — or ask people to bring that, and offer time during the shower for people to write those down and collect them to look over later (sometimes that's easier than asking people to share out loud — you know your crowd and what is more comfortable for them). You could make this even more specific with a prompt. Another possibility (likely for a smaller group) could be a preparatory ritual for the person getting married — creating a spiral path out of scarves on the floor for the person to walk into and then out of, to be welcomed by the guests in a way that acknowledge their status as to-be-married, or creating an altar together with objects contributed by guests and the person getting married, and sharing something about why each object was brought to the space.
If you have a friend who is willing and able to be the convener and hold some of the deeper space and energy for the bridal shower so you don't have to do it, that is ideal... but sometimes just being clear that you want something beyond the mini quiches and party games is enough for folks to get it. Not that I don't love mini quiche. Who doesn't love mini quiche?
Can Bachelor Parties Be Intentional?
Liz: (laughs) Great point. Those are awesome ideas. So what about, say, a bachelor party?
Hannah: Symbolic objects can be a great way of getting a little deeper — asking each person to bring an object that symbolizes their relationship to the person or couple getting married and sharing why they chose that object. Again, being open about the intentionality of the gathering and the time together: "We are here to celebrate X before [person's pronoun] gets married and to be together in this last chapter of X's bachelorhood." Are there activities that were particularly important or meaningful that can be a part of it? Even just taking some time to think about what feels important and meaningful, and making an effort to articulate that, can make a huge difference. A client who had eloped realized that he wanted a bachelor party after the fact, and he wanted to play one last game of touch football with his college friends (luckily no one landed in the ER...) and then have a steak dinner and smoke cigars. The clarity of the vision he had was really great and made it easy to implement. There was some intentional sharing of memories and reflections over dinner, but the center of the party was the game. It's the doing together (eating, sharing an activity) and the intentionality around doing it together that can make something into a ritual. If you can tie that into something bigger and deeper in yourself and in your loved ones, even more so!
New Ideas for Wedding Rituals
Liz: Beautiful. What about with the wedding itself? Do you have any fresh ideas for rituals that perhaps folks haven't come across in their google searches?
Hannah: Start with what feels important to the people getting married. I firmly believe that each of us, when we give ourselves the time and space, can identify some larger symbols or elements that keep showing up in our lives. If the people getting married can do that, then the ritual can relate to that in a way that feels fresh and authentic. Share a glass of wine and/or seal a special bottle in a box to be opened a year or five years later with a love letter in it. Bring in nature, whether by repotting a plant together as part of the wedding, or by going on a walk or hike together before the wedding itself. Think abstractly about what brings you together and what you love to do together, and then shrink that down to something that can fit into wherever you are getting married — and then take the time to explain it to your guests because that can be beautiful.
You can also ask your officiant for ideas, or ask me! I love talking to people about creating rituals! It's also important to remember that many weddings have a ritual in it already: the exchanging of rings. If you can relate to that in a fresh way, it becomes a cornerstone of the wedding.
Hannah Can Help You in the Midst of Creative Drain
Liz: If they want to ask you, what should they do?
Hannah: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll figure out a time to chat about it!
Liz: Awesome. Do you have any final thoughts or comments?
Hannah: I'm aware that for many folks, the ceremony of the wedding is something that people can get really excited about when they get engaged and start planning... and then the whirlwind of decisions and dates and contracts and everything kind of consumes you, and the ceremony becomes something that you come back to later on, often when you are experiencing decision fatigue or inspiration drought. I've met with people who feel deep sorrow about that — about wanting a really special, meaningful ceremony, and who feel like they left it until too late. And so my message is: IT'S NOT TOO LATE! You can figure it out, and/or we can figure it out together. If you feel a spark of desire for deep connection that needs to be nourished, you can have that.
Liz: Beautifully said. Thank you, Hannah!!
Hannah: Thank you, Liz!
Hannah es disponible para realizar ceremonias en Español tambien
Hannah Nielsen-Jones is a Life-Cycle Celebrant and the founder of River and Root Ceremonies, providing officiant services, ceremony co-creation, and consulting for people in the DC Metro area and beyond. She believes that we all deserve ceremonies congruent with who we are that authentically reflect our lives, our stories, and our hopes for future chapters we have yet to write.