Perhaps you have wondered where the phrase, “tying the knot,” come from? The expression refers to the traditional early Celtic marriage ritual of Handfasting.

“Handfasting,” the ancient word for a wedding, was traditionally recognized as a binding contract of marriage between a man and a woman before weddings became a legal function of the government or a papal responsibility of the church. After the wedding vows and ring exchange, the couple’s hands were bound together with a cord that was tied in a “love knot,” signifying the joining of their lives in a sacred union.

Today, handfasting is a symbolic ceremony to honor a couple’s desire for commitment to each other, and to acknowledge that their lives and their destinies are now bound together. During the Handfasting ceremony, the couple’s hands are tied together with one or several colored cords or ribbons, symbolizing the desire of the couple to be united. The cord is often kept by the couple in a box or ornate bag as a reminder of their vows. Handfastings, done in the past as a commitment for a year and a day, can be combined with ring vows and a license to make it a legally binding contract.

Each of the cord colors has its own special symbolic meaning. The cords can either be several colors twisted into one cord and used for a single cord ceremony, or each color can be draped individually up to six cords. Each cord should be at least 48″ (4 ft.) long, so the ends can all be tied together. For more than two or three colors, ribbon usually works better than cord or rope.

Here are some of the meanings attached to the colors:

  • Red: Will, love, strength, fertility, courage, health, vigor, passion.
  • Orange: Encouragement, adaptability, stimulation, attraction, plenty, kindness.
  • Yellow: Attraction, charm, confidence, balance, harmony.
  • Green: Fertility, luck, prosperity, nurturing, beauty, health, love.
  • Blue: Safe journey, longevity, strength.
  • Purple: Healing, health, strength, power, progress.
  • Black: Strength, empowerment, wisdom/vision, success, pure love.
  • White: Spiritual purity, truth, peace, serenity and devotion.
  • Gray: Balance, neutrality, used in erasing, canceling, neutralizing, and return to the universe without repercussion.
  • Pink: Love, unity, honor, truth, romance, happiness.
  • Brown: Healing , skills and talent, nurturing, home and hearth, the earth.
  • Silver: Creativity, inspiration and vision, and protection.
  • Gold: Unity, longevity, prosperity, strength.

In centuries gone by, handfasting was a popular custom in the British Isles. In rural areas, it could be weeks or even months before a clergyman happened to stop by your village, so couples learned to make Handfasting, an Ancient Wedding Tradition.allowances. A handfasting was the equivalent of today’s common-law marriage — a man and woman simply clasped hands and declared themselves married. Generally this was done in the presence of a witness or witnesses. In Scotland, marriages were considered the office of the church until 1560, when marriage became a civil matter rather than a church sacrament. After that time, marriages were divided into “regular” and “irregular” marriages.

At one time, betrothal — the solemn exchange of vows of intention to marry — was as important a step as marriage itself. Some of the ceremony once common in betrothal — such as exchanging rings or a formal kiss — later became part of the marriage service as that progressively became more important.

We don’t know a lot about the rules in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest, but the betrothal ceremony seems to have been marked by the happy couple joining hands. It seems that in Northern England and Scotland, handfasting marked a first stage of marriage, a temporary contract that lasted a year and a day. If at the end of that time no child had been born and the couple didn’t want to continue, the betrothal lapsed.

The ceremony’s name has become known again in recent decades because it has been adopted by modern Pagans such as Wiccans. The culmination of the modern ceremony often takes the form of a couple jumping together over a broom, another borrowing from ancient custom. For today’s Pagans, however, the ceremony is marriage, not betrothal. Some even have a complementary divorce rite called handparting!

“Accept the children the way we accept trees—with gratitude, because they are a blessing—but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.” ― Isabel Allende

We at Forever, Together, Seattle Wedding Officiants always welcome children in our ceremonies, and the more, the merrier!

Whether you have children from a previous relationship, or have other young family members, you might consider making these kids a part of your wedding ceremony. There are many meaningful ways for a child to be included, but since kids can be unpredictable, you’ll want to make sure they are playing an appropriate part for their age, and that you’ve done everything you can to make them comfortable.

Roles in the Wedding for Older Children

  • Junior Bridesmaid/GroomsmanThey will wear an outfit similar to the other members of the bridal party, and fulfill many of the same roles as they do (they need not attend bachelor/bachelorette parties or showers :-)
  • Reader – They will read a passage about marriage or love during the ceremony.
  • Escorting the Bride There’s no reason why your child can’t be the one to walk you down the aisle.
  • Serving as an UsherThey will help guests to their seats, pass out programs, and do everything the other ushers do.

Roles in the Wedding for Younger Children:

  • Flower girl – A flower girl is usually a young girl between the ages of 4 and 8 who has a special connection to the bride and groom. Perhaps she is a niece or cousin, or a family friend. She follows behind the bridesmaids (sometimes before and sometimes after the maid of honor) with a basket of flowers, scattering them down the aisle.
  • Ring bearer – A ring bearer is usually a young boy between the ages of 4 and 8 who has a special connection to the bride and groom. He may be related to them, or just be a family friend. He walks down the aisle immediately after the flower girl, or last bridesmaid, with the wedding rings tied to a small pillow.
  • Bouquet holder – Hold’s the bride’s bouquet during the ceremony (expect it to get a little squashed!)

Making Children Comfortable During the Wedding Ceremony

Children might not do everything you think they will during the ceremony, but whatever they do will probably be cute and entertaining. A favorite story concerns a little boy walking up the aisle with the rings. Every few steps, he turns around, makes a ferocious face and growls at the audience. The crowd laughs, of course, but no one really understands why he’s doing this. Later, his dad asked him what was going on, he answered with all seriousness, “I was the ring bear!”

Here are some things you can do to make them more comfortable:

  • Assign them a helper, ideally another member of the wedding party who can keep an eye on them, hang out with them before the ceremony, and take them outside if they start to cry.
  • Bring a change of clothes for the wedding reception. This way they can eat, run around and play with crayons or other toys, without fear of ruining their nice clothes.
  • Practice walking down the aisle, until they are comfortable with it. Show them exactly where their parents will be sitting. Consider buying them a book that talks about being a flower girl or ring bearer.
  • For a child whose parent is getting married, include them in the ceremony. This may mean asking your Wedding Officiant to mention their names several times, it may mean doing a Family Medallion, Unity Candle or Blending of the Sands ritual that makes them feel like an important part of your new family. You can also include the children in your vows to each other. Having a part to play in the wedding ceremony often makes a child feel less anxious about the marriage.
  • Whatever happens, be patient. Children may get suddenly shy or uncomfortable with what’s going on.

In the end, the best advice is to let them do as much (or as little) as they are comfortable doing.

“Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites chaos.” – Francis Ford Coppola
Okay, before you read any further, bear in mind that each “nightmare scenario” on this list is worst-case. I’ve included pretty much every catastrophe, major and minor, that could occur at your wedding, but based on over six years’ experience as a Seattle wedding officiant, I’ll add that most likely, everything will go just fine. If they don’t, then your wedding will just be more memorable for the mishaps!

If one (or more) of these nasties does find its way to your wedding, the best advice is to soldier on! Remember: nobody will know that the Groom wore a borrowed tie or the dessert served by the catering company wasn’t the one you ordered, unless they hear it from you! If anyone asks, act as if it was supposed to happen!

  • Say what?:
    Occasionally, invitations are printed with the wrong names, dates or other miscellaneous items gone awry. This is compounded if the wedding announcer, or (gasp!) even the wedding Officiant, reads out the wrong name.
  • “Wedding” Time:
    You want your guests to remember your wedding for how beautiful it was, not for how late it started! Sometimes, this happens because a particular person (like the maid of honor or best man) or item (like the cake) is either AWOL, or stuck in traffic.
  • Fashion Faux Pas: This is the most frequent wedding day mishap. Some examples: the dress is delivered late, has fitting issues, tears at the seams while putting it on, gets stained, has a bad zipper or someone steps on it.
  • The Other Shoe: There are pretty much only three things that can go wrong with shoes: they’re misplaced, they don’t fit or they’re damaged.
  • Faint Praise: With all the wedding excitement (and stress), it is not unusual for a stressed-out bride to start feeling light-headed, get a killer headache, go on a crying jag, panic or get cranky. Other bride-related boo-boos include a breakout the night before the wedding, swollen eyes or a beauty treatment or medicine that suddenly turns against you.
  • Makeup:
    Your wedding day is one day when you want to look your best. Unfortunately, things can go wrong when the makeup artist is late, never shows up, makes a mess of your hair or makeup, or you have a makeup melt down from rain, sun or emotional overheating.
  • Decorations:
    Almost all weddings run into issues with the decorations: flower arrangements are wrong, lighting is lousy, linens are wrong for the theme, items are missing or damaged (e.g., runners, centerpieces, etc.). The list goes on and on.
  • Play it again, Sam:
    There are lots of wrong turns the music can take: the DJ doesn’t show up (we have actually seen this one happen ourselves), is inexperienced, obstinate, or unwilling to respect your wishes; the music is inappropriate or poorly selected.
  • Food, Glorious Food:
    Sometimes, despite your best efforts to give your guests the culinary experience of a lifetime, you can still end up with culinary disaster: dishes you never requested and don’t want, poorly prepared or low-quality food.
  • Let ‘Em Eat Cake:
    Virtually anything can go wrong with the wedding cake: it falls, tilts, melts, gets dropped or smooshed by some hapless guest or vendor.
  • Drunks, Show-offs and Blowhards:
    Anyone who’s seen “The Wedding Crashers,” knows that almost every wedding (except the ones that use bouncers), is “graced” with uninvited guests or guests who never replied to the RSVP. Sometimes, unruly or otherwise belligerent guests who bother others or try to steal your thunder (or the spotlight). Occasionally, you may even have to deal with inebriated guests who present a danger to themselves (or everyone else).
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away:
    Sometimes, your plans run into weather problems, and there’s not much you can do about it. Unexpected showers, severe heat, even strong winds have wreaked havoc with more than a few outdoor weddings.
  • Throw the Book at ‘Em:
    Sometimes, you find out your vendor or venue has you double-booked. Sometimes, your booking mysteriously disappears or gets cancelled. Sometimes, services promised by a vendor or venue turn out to be non-existent or unavailable. Transportation of food or decorations gets botched (usually due to a shortage or delay of transport vehicles).
  • It’s So Hard to find Good Help These Days:
    Friends you’ve enlisted to help with the preparations show up late, or not at all. Vendors who were so accommodating at the interview – DJs, musicians, caterers or even (dare I say it) Officiants – turn out to be inflexible, unprofessional or obstinate, renege on their contract, get lazy or sloppy.
  • Missing Wedding Rings: |
    Once in a blue moon, in the chaos that happens just before the wedding, you can lose track of the rings. This can happen regardless of whom your entrust with their safekeeping.

If mayhem does strike, you pretty much have two options. You can go ballistic – cry, scream, tear your hair or fume about it all the way through the day – or go with the flow, and do it with dignity, style and grace. Assuming you decide the second option is the better alternative, here are some ways to accomplish it:

  • Be prepared.Have your maid of honor or best friend (or both) carry an emergency kit just in case. This kit should include (but not be limited to) these ten essentials:
    1. Necessary medications (including anti-anxiety meds if you think you’ll need them)
    2. Safety pins
    3. Tape (regular and double-sided)
    4. Essential toiletries, hairspray, lotions, deodorant, etc.
    5. Breath mints (no kidding – for the kiss!)
    6. Makeup and eye drops
    7. Healthy snacks (e.g., PowerBars or fresh fruit)
    8. Tissue and/or hand towels
    9. Extra matching jewelry, lipstick and nail polish
    10. Stain remover wipes, mending kit, baby wipes and white chalk (for stains the wipes can’t remove).
  • Let someone you trust handle any unexpected disasters, so you’re free to be the center of attention and revel in your wedding celebration.
  • Make a schedule for everyone and, within reasonable limits, insist they stick to it.
  • Try to bring all the essential items ahead of time and store them in a safe place at the venue. It’s always better to be early than late!
  • Don’t allow anything that might stain anywhere you might be, and don’t eat or drink anything that might stain.
  • Allow only essential people in your dressing room: Crowd=Mess, and Mess=Mishaps.
  • Weatherproof your makeup and if, for some reason , it gets trashed , discreetly remove it with baby wipes (enlist your maid of honor or else you might end up making it worse).
  • Use eye drops to remove redness, and special eye to reduce swelling. Don’t use ice – it will dry your eyes and make them itch.
  • Ask the venue to arrange extra chairs for unexpected guests.
  • Try to ignore disruptive guests, but if they you can’t, ask someone to have a discreet chat with them or their companions.
  • Have slices of ‘secretly’ cut regular cream cake available if your wedding cake gets trashed, dropped or delivered late.
  • If your DJ is late, connect an iPod or MP3 player. Even better, if there is a decent singer among your guests, ask them if they’d be willing to sing without instruments while you arrange a new plan.
  • Have umbrellas available in case it rains. This is especially important if you live in western Washington, where the weather is unpredictable even in the middle of Summer.

If you’re like most people, your wedding day is something you’ve been planning for a long time. Emotionally, you have a lot invested in making it right, and while it’s perfectly okay to strive, and hope for the wedding of your dreams, you should never forget the real reason you’re there: you are marrying your best friend and true love. If things go south on you, try to stay calm and enjoy even the not-so-perfect experiences.

One thing you are sure to regret, more than the mishaps, missteps and minor catastrophes, is wasting precious time worrying about things you can’t change, instead of participating in the festivities…that are all about you! Never forget that weddings should be a celebration. Your only worry should be how to have as much fun as you can!

“Just as these grains of sand can never be separated, our prayer for you today is that your lives together would be longer than the time it would take to separate the individual grains of sand.”

The “Blending of the Sands” ceremony is a beautiful and meaningful alternative to the “Unity Candle” ceremony. Like the Unity Candle, the combining of different colored sands symbolizes the joining of two individuals, and also the joining of their families, as well. We at Forever, Together – Seattle Wedding Officiants have performed this wedding ritual many, many times and no couple has ever been disappointed that they decided to include it in their Seattle wedding.

The Sand Ceremony, as it’s often called, requires at least two small jars or vases, and one larger one: the two smaller jars from which you’ll pour the sand, and the larger, or “Unity” jar, into which you’ll pour it.

Each of the smaller vials of colored sand symbolizes the separate lives of the bride and groom and their families, and can be used later to display fresh flowers following the wedding. The larger, or “Unity” jar, containing the combined sand, can be put on prominent display in your new home, as a constant reminder of your special day!

If your wedding ceremony is being performed on a beach, you can also have the wedding Officiant or minister scoop up a little beach sand with a sea shell and pour it into the Unity jar to symbolize the foundation of your new relationship, and also to give you a lovely memento of your wedding by the sea. Sand from the desert, the mountains or a favorite vacation spot can make the pouring ceremony uniquely memorable and personal.

You can buy colored sand at Michael’s, and most other arts and crafts stores. Small glass jars or vials are usually found there as well. A nice touch is to pour the colored sands into a small “heart-shaped” bottle. Later, you can melt some wax over the top of the combined sands to seal and hold the sand in place, and cover it with a cork or lid. You can even have your names, wedding date, or any other information etched in the Unity jar prior to the ceremony.

After the wedding Officiant or wedding minister reads the appropriate ceremony text (or any text you prefer), you and your partner pour your two jars of sand into the Unity jar. You can do this all at once, or take turns. The more turns you each take, the more layers of colored sand build up in the Unity jar and the more beautiful the keepsake. It is also traditional, though not required, to leave a small amount of sand in each individual jar to signify that, although you are now joined as one, you are each still free to express your own personalities. The combined sand makes a wonderful wedding “souvenir,” and a beautiful reminder of the promises you made on your wedding day.

If you would like to include friends or family members in the sand ceremony, just purchase as many extra jars and additional colors of sand as you need. The number of people you include in the ritual is limited only by the number of jars you want to buy. As non-denominational wedding Officiants, We have seen the Sand Ceremony incorporated into virtually every possible type of ceremony, from the most traditional to the most eclectic, and we’ve performed it with as many as 12 couples participating. If you have the room, the more, the merrier!

To learn more about the Sand Ceremony offered by Forever, Together, and the different options available for performing it, please visit our Sample Sand Ceremony page.

Reprinted here with the kind permission of Reverend Judith Johnson. To read more of her blogs, purchase a copy of “The Wedding Ceremony Planner,” her bestselling book on the topic of wedding ceremony design, or learn what she’s passionate about, please visit her website at

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Most couples want a wedding ceremony that speaks to their unique values, beliefs and life circumstances, but beyond a few inspired ideas, many are at a loss about how to put it all together. Having designed and officiated at hundreds of wedding ceremonies, here are my 10 top secrets to creating the ceremony of your dreams:

1) Remember that the ceremony is a sacred ritual and the most important part of your wedding day.

The marriage ceremony is rich with traditions that cross cultural boundaries and date back to ancient times. If a contemporary marriage ceremony does not include this sacred dimension, it runs the risk of being little more than the creation of a legal union. Like digging a well to tap into the aquifer, a ceremony that draws upon the sacred dimension connects a couple into the mystery of two becoming.

2) The wedding ceremony is a theatrical production and you are the producers/directors.

A seamless wedding ceremony is a carefully choreographed production. This theatrical dimension requires balancing the creation of a meaningful ceremony with careful attention to the details. Thinking everything through ahead of time and having a thorough rehearsal allows the members of the wedding party to confidently perform their parts, which will make the ceremony appear effortless to your guests.

It’s important that you take charge. If you have advisors, let them guide you through what decisions need to be made and what your alternatives are, but don’t let them make decisions for you. Even when you have a bridal consultant, be sure that all decisions affecting the ceremony are made by you.

3) A great ceremony strikes a balance between personal expression and tradition.

The rules governing the content of a wedding ceremony are those of the church and state. Religious traditions have their own specific way of performing the wedding ceremony and may not be open to the idea of personalizing the ceremony for individual couples. State laws specify such things as the minimum age for brides and grooms, the need for a qualified officiant, and the speaking of vows in front of witnesses.

When a couple is getting married outside the auspices of a particular religious tradition, they are free to customize their ceremony as long as they honor the laws of the state where they are getting married.

Creating a wonderful ceremony is a matter of balancing the opportunity for expressing your uniqueness with the comfort of the common ground of tradition. Going too far in one direction or the other creates a ceremony that is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Be careful not to throw away all the elements of tradition. For example, when presenting ceremonial elements in my book, “The Wedding Ceremony Planner,” I chose to loosely follow the structure of the wedding ceremony found in the Book of Common Prayer, since eighty percent of Americans are Christian. That is why this common root of Christian wedding ceremonies is so familiar to most people. It also provides a logical sequence of events that allows the ceremony to reach crescendo with the sharing of vows, the ring exchange, the final blessing, pronouncement, and the kiss. I recommend that couples put their signature on their ceremony in the content of the elements they choose to include rather than in their sequencing.

4) Make sure you and your ceremony officiant have a comfortable working relationship.

The role of the officiant in a traditional religious ceremony is governed in large part by the rules of that religion, while interfaith and ecumenical ministers have much more freedom to customize your ceremony with you. Remember that you get to choose who marries you, and it is very important that you have a comfortable working relationship with him or her. Our job as clergy is to guide you and to serve you, and some of us do a better job of that than others.

It is not uncommon for couples to be intimidated by members of the clergy. We have personalities, and strengths and weaknesses in how we perform our jobs, just like everyone else. You are entitled to an officiant who cares about you and wants to help you to create the wedding ceremony that is right for you, even if it means he or she needs to go above and beyond the call of duty.

5) Allow your ceremony to be unique, but not a cliché.

Some couples try too hard to be unique, and end up including elements in their ceremony that are either disappointing, cliché or offensive to some of their guests. For example, one couple planned to have butterflies released during their recessional. Unfortunately, when the cardboard containers were opened, half the butterflies were dead. At another wedding, the groom, accompanied by his rock band, played a song for his bride in the middle of the ceremony. This mini jam session left many traditional guests horrified.

6) Be very clear about the time and location of your ceremony.

Some people believe that weddings never start on time. However, most couples plan the time of their reception based upon the assumption that their ceremony will start on time. Remember, the later your ceremony starts, the more time and money you will lose on your reception. It is a good idea to either be clear that your ceremony will start on time, or build in a time cushion by scheduling the start time fifteen minutes before you actually plan to begin. Just be careful not to put those who arrive on time in the position of having to wait too long.

Similarly, it is important to give your guests clear information about your ceremony location. Some couples choose locations that are aerobically challenging or simply inaccessible to elderly or physically challenged guests — including women in high heels. Be sure to include an excellent map and directions with your invitations. Also, strategically place signs, balloons or ushers to guide your guests to the wedding site. Another good idea is to provide the cell phone number of someone willing to serve as a contact person for guests who get delayed or lost. Give your family and friends the gift of a ceremony that starts on time, at a user-friendly, easy to reach site.

7) Keep it short and simple.

You can create a beautiful and memorable ceremony that takes no more than 15 or 20 minutes. In my experience, a ceremony that goes much longer than that runs the risk of creating fidgety, bored, and impatient guests. For example, you may lose the attention of your guests by including more than two readings.

8) Just breathe. Be present. Be joyful.

Your wedding ceremony is when you will first see all of your guests and they will see you. This may be a bit overwhelming or anxiety producing. I have seen many a couple come before me with terrified smiles on their faces and no air moving through their bodies. That’s when I remind them “Just breathe.” It is so simple, yet sometimes challenging for a couple to let go of all concerns so they can bring their hearts and minds present. Once they get to the altar, all the bride and groom really need to do is to look into the eyes of their beloved and just breathe and feel the joy in their hearts. What a magnificent moment in life and what a shame to miss it because you are worrying about some detail or find yourself overcome with nerves.

The greatest gift you can give yourself and each other on your wedding day is to be fully present in the loving that brought you both to this moment. You can only focus your attention on one thing at a time. So, let it be the joy, loving, and gratitude you feel to be joining together in marriage, rather than worrying about whether or not the caterer got your message about the olives. Just be fully present in your loving.

9) Remember that your wedding day has only 24 hours.

While this is one of the most important days of your life, it only has 24 hours like any other day and will come and go before you know it. The more you obsess about your wedding, the less you are likely to enjoy it. Have fun planning your special day, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to make it the most perfect and spectacular wedding that has ever existed on planet earth.

Enjoy discovering and expressing what aspects of your wedding day are truly important to the two of you as individuals and as a couple. Just remember, this is not an Olympic event. It is the celebration of your commitment to each other and the beginning of your journey together as husband and wife. Have a heartfelt and delightful day.

Don’t set yourselves up for disappointment by buying into unrealistic expectations and then falling into post-wedding depression because the day has passed and you are no longer the king and queen for the day. Your wedding day is meant to be a gathering of loved ones to witness and celebrate your union and to launch you into your life together as husband and wife. That brief 15 or 20 minutes called your wedding ceremony is what the day is all about — your entrance into the sacred and joyous covenant of marriage. Then you party, and then you have the rest of your lives together to fulfill your vows by loving, honoring, and cherishing each other.

10) Delegate, have fun, and keep your sense of humor.

Do plan ahead, paying careful attention to the details, and delegate implementation of your wishes to friends, family, and professionals. Once you have set your plans in motion, let them go. Do not carry them with you throughout your wedding day, comparing what actually happens to what was on your list. What you planned for was your image of perfection, which never actually happens. Remember to keep your sense of humor handy and to enjoy the serendipity as it unfolds. Be open to the unexpected blessings and surprises that are sure to come your way.

May you and your marriage be blessed in all ways, always.

“Rather would I have the love songs of romantic ages, rather Don Juan and Madame Venus, rather an elopement by ladder and rope on a moonlight night, followed by the father’s curse, mother’s moans, and the moral comments of neighbors, than correctness and propriety measured by yardsticks.” – Emma Goldman

* * * *

The word “elope” is defined by Wikipedia to mean, “to run away and to not come back to the point of origination.” The term “elopement” is most often used to refer to a marriage conducted in “sudden and secretive fashion,” sometimes involving a quick getaway from your place of residence together, with the intention of getting married.

Maybe you’ve decided you don’t need a large wedding ceremony, and an elopement sounds pretty good to you. If you’re like most couples, you’ve probably considered Idaho or Las Vegas, mainly because you can get a marriage license and be married on the same day in both states…but if you’ve also considered all of the added expense, travel time, stress and distance, it’s a lot of hassle to go through just to save a little time!

Why not elope right here in Washington state, without the hassle of booking a judge or reserving a venue? Washington doesn’t require a blood test, so all you have to do is visit the County Recorder’s office, pay about $65 for your License, and wait a measly three days. During the waiting period, you can find a local, non-denominational wedding officiant who’s available on short notice.

The reason for utilizing a non-denominational wedding minister is that they’re authorized to perform virtually any kind of wedding ceremony – civil, religious or spiritual – and most have flexible schedules and offer very affordable pricing. A simple online search for “non-denominational wedding minister” should bring you plenty of names to contact.

You can elope virtually anywhere and usually without much hassle or expense: your own backyard (or that of a friend), a local or State park, a restaurant or the beach. Usually, if the location is nearby, there won’t be any travel fees. Non-denominational wedding ministers are used to performing weddings in unusual locations, and most have a favorite place, or places, where they regularly marry eloping couples. Be sure and ask your potential wedding Officiants about their preferred location, as this can help you decide on the one you would like to work with.

As with any Washington wedding ceremony, you still need two witnesses to the elopement. If, for personal reasons, or reasons of privacy, you’d rather not have friends or family attend, or be witnesses to your ceremony, and your wedding location is reasonably public, you can usually elicit the help of folks hanging out or passing by. Most people are overjoyed to be part of such a happy event…and bring home a fun story to tell their friends and colleagues! If that won’t work for you, then your Officiant may also be able to provide witnesses for a small additional cost. In any case, it’s not necessary for you, or your fiance, to know the witnesses personally.

If you decide not to include wedding vows or a ring exchange (neither is legally required), the Officiant will simply ask you if you take one another in lawful wedlock, pronounce you husband and wife, and sign the official papers.

It may sound romantic to proclaim your love before 300 people…but be sure that’s really how you want to be married. Maybe you don’t want to be the center of attention for the 25 friends and family members you actually know or the 275 assorted great aunts you’ve never met, second cousins you haven’t seen since 1958, husbands and wives of your daughter’s co-workers…or total strangers!

If you decide, instead, to make the day just about the two of you, and not about guest lists, venues, hairdressers, rehearsals, a “something for everone” buffet, or pleasing everyone in your two families, then an elopement may be just what the doctor ordered!

As Seattle wedding officiants performing nearly 100 non-denominational weddings every year, we have an opportunity to experience lots of different wedding venues, from the most elegant to the most rustic, from the reasonably priced to the “OMG!”  Based on our experience, we’ve determined that most wedding venues (at least, the ones we’ve worked with) come in four basic “flavors:”

1. Wedding venues that treat both vendor and couple like royalty.  These are obviously the most desirable venues, and tend to book up pretty early every year.

2. Wedding venues that treat the couple like royalty, and let wedding vendors pretty much fend for themselves..

3. Wedding venues that treat the couples like money machines and wedding vendors like necessary evils.  Luckily, there don’t seem to be many of these around anymore.

4. Wedding venues that aren’t all that nice to anyone. These definitely do exist, and no, we’re not gonna write about them!

One venue that is definitely a Type 1, and one of our favorites, is The Grand Willow Inn in Mt. Vernon (17926 Dunbar Road  Mount Vernon, WA 98273. (360) 428-5071. Owner: Connie Weech).

The Grand Willow Inn - Front Gazebo.

The Grand Willow Inn – Front Gazebo.

There are plenty of reasons we love working at this place (and why you should seriously consider getting married here), but the most important reason is probably Connie, herself.  In the words of one happy couple, she is “caring, thoughtful, thorough, always reachable, will help you through any problems no matter what, knowledgeable, just plain awesome!!”  No argument from us!

Not only does she get personally involved to make sure virtually every facet of your wedding goes perfectly, but she does so with compassion, humor, insight and imagination. We’ve been privileged to do a dozen or so weddings at the Grand Willow, and have never had cause for even the smallest complaint.

And while we’re on the subject, we don’t want to leave out Connie’s “right-hand woman,” Sarah, who helps keep everything running smoothly and never loses her sense of humor!  Together, Connie, Sarah and the rest of the superb Grand Willow crew provide an “island of calm” in what often seems like a “sea of chaos.”  :-)

But hey, don’t take our word for it!  See for yourself! For more information, photos and tons of great reviews (all well-deserved), visit them at the Grand Willow Inn website, and have a great wedding!

“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.” ― Neil Gaiman

* * * *

Okay, the wedding is four days away and it’s time to ask yourself this crucial question: Are you turning, slowly but surely, into “Bridezilla?”

Look around. Do you see fear in the eyes of everyone in your Bridal party? Your wedding vendors?  How about total strangers? Do small children hide under the table when they see you coming?  Weddings with all their emotional involvement, anxiety and that sometimes-desperate longing to get it all absolutely perfect, can turn even the most reasonable and placid individual into a hair-tearing, appliance-throwing psychopath.  It can happen to anyone…but it doesn’t have to happen to you.  As with most everything else in your life, you can decide what type of bride you want to be.

To help you over that hurdle, here are some “pearls of wisdom,” gleaned from our 400+ weddings, to help you avoid becoming everyone’s worst nightmare (including your own)!

  1. Make Time to Relax.  This should be Job One!  We can all agree that marriage is kind of a big deal, right?  You have made a life changing choice here…but it doesn’t have to stress you out.  Every wedding brings with it a certain amount of hassle; organizing it all is enough to get on your last nerve. When that happens, you need to remind yourself that you chose to do this, you wanted to do this.  Make whatever time you need to relax in whatever way you please; maybe a warm bath or a long drive out of town.  The preparations can get by without you for a few hours, and these moments of relative sanity will bring you back to yourself, ready and able to tackle the next task…but calmly.
  2. Be a good listener.  Everyone and their brother will offer their opinions and “sage” advice; everyone will have wisdom they wish to impart to you.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the “help,” especially when you’re dealing with friends or (more likely) relatives who can be a bit too pushy with their “wisdom.”  Hear them out, take a deep breath and thank them for their help. Be gracious and appreciative,  and then dump all of it if you want to – it’s your wedding!  But don’t be surprised if, occasionally, you actually hear something that makes sense, and helps you with your planning.
  3. Be nice.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s really what everything comes down to. Your friends and relatives are usually thrilled and proud to be part of your wedding party. Don’t make them regret it.  Find a way to keep everyone busy enough that they feel  helpful, without being demanding or overbearing.  Before the big day, figure out everything that needs to be done, figure out who could help you and in what way, and then…use everyone to their best advantages. Utilize their native skills to help you get your jobs done, but also give them a chance to do something they’re good at. Weddings are a celebration!  Make yours fun, and don’t let it become a chore for those who have stepped up to help you.
  4. Take a break.  Make sure you allow time just for you and your fiancé, now and then, a little or a lot, just to kick back (see #1, above).  This helps you to handle the stressful moments calmly, gives you something to look forward to during the chaos of planning, and keeps you and your fiancé connected as you get closer to the big day.
  5. Stay loose. Expect the unexpected, celebrate the day, embrace the possibilities…and resist the impulse to imagine how it will all turn out.  When you have throngs of well-wishers in a confined space and free-flowing booze, things tend to take on a life of their own.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, and if something does go sideways – and by the way, as a non-denominational wedding minister since 2007, I’m here to tell you something almost always does – try to just roll with it. Tell yourself that it could always be worse (it could, believe me).  The bottom line is that none of this matters. You have just married the one person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.  What could be better than that?

A few more bits of wisdom to keep in mind as you get closer to the big moment:

  • Don’t lose sight of what’s important. Be sure the wedding doesn’t mean more to you than the marriage! A wedding is just a formality, as much for your audience as for yourselves. In the cosmic scheme of things, only the marriage matters.
  • Deep breaths actually do work. So does going outside for awhile to get some fresh air.  Use these simple, but effective techniques whenever you feel the “Bridezilla” in you getting anxious to wreak havoc.
  • On your wedding day, accept that there is nothing more that you can do. You’ve planned, you’ve prepared, you’ve organised. Now it’s time to have faith that the people you’ve hired (like your wedding Officiant!), and selected, will get you the rest of the way.

And finally, if you’re ever in doubt as to whether or not you have crossed the line into Bridezilla territory, ask someone whose insights you trust. If they really care about you, they will let you know honestly (and hopefully, gently) if you’ve gone over the edge.

“I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.” – Groucho Marx

* * * *

Now that virtually anyone with $35 in their checking account can become an “ordained” minister, couples often wonder why they should pay a professional Wedding Officiant.  For most of us, funds are limited and anyone who goes to the movies knows that  weddings can get very expensive.  Why not just ask Uncle Charlie to get “ordained” online, and have money to spend on a few more margaritas when you get to Puerta Vallarta?

This is a fair question. There’s plenty of unbiased evidence around that, when it comes to finding the right person to perform your wedding ceremony, as in most other areas of business, you get what you pay for.  Sadly, most wedding professionals have heard horror stories about weddings that were total disasters because the bride and groom made choices based on price, alone. This is almost never a good idea. Your officiant is a crucial part of your special day. This person is the guardian of the wedding ceremony, the person connected to you forever by sealing your relationship in the eyes of both the law and your family and friends. It has been said that “while your wedding Officiant may not make the ceremony, he or she sure can break it!”

We’ve done some asking around, and based on what we’ve heard, and our own experience, here are some pretty good reasons we’ve found for hiring professional wedding Officiants (specifically, us :-)) , and letting Uncle Charlie enjoy the wedding from the audience:

  1. Flexibility.  You decide to totally change the ceremony 15 minutes before the scheduled start time.  You decide you want to write the entire ceremony yourselves.  The bride decides she wants her dad to read a traditional blessing…in Cantonese!  The groom has a falling out with his Best Man at the last minute.  A groomsman faints during the ceremony (you told him not to lock his knees). Someone drops the cake!  After performing nearly 450 weddings, there’s not a whole lot that we haven’t seen. When things start to go sideways, a professional Wedding Officiant will know how to keep it all from falling apart.  How would Uncle Charlie do?
  2. Personality.  Your wedding is, or at least, should be, a celebration, a joyful and fun experience for everyone involved.  Does the prospective Wedding Officiant have an easygoing nature, an upbeat personality, a good sense of humor?  How about style, and grace, and the ability to improvise?  All of these attributes come in handy if something unexpected occurs during the wedding ceremony (and by the way, something almost always does).
  3. Experience.  Performing a wedding ceremony is more than just reading a script.  It requires empathy, insight, inflection and understanding of what you’re trying to say to your audience, and to each other. Anyone can read well with a bit of practice, but the professional Wedding Officiant can take the words you’ve chosen for your ceremony and give them life and resonance.  A lackluster Wedding Officiant with a boring ceremony – like most of the weddings we’ve all been to – can leave everyone cold and uninspired.
  4. Patience. This should be a no-brainer.  Things change, weddings start late, someone forgets the Unity Candle, couples get choked up and can’t get through their vows, kids won’t stop screaming.  A professional Wedding Officiant will take this sort of distraction in stride, and become an island of transquility in a sea of chaos.
  5. Peace of Mind.  This may be the best reason of all for hiring a professional Wedding Officiant: knowing all you have to do is make it to the altar (sometimes enough of a challenge by itself) and the person you’ve hired to perform your wedding ceremony will take care of the rest.

So, the bottom line: you should choose a vendor based on reputation, on service, on background, on experience, and always hire the best you can afford. The vendors you choose for your wedding ceremony and reception have a lot to do with just how successful (and stress-free) everything turns out.