5 wedding traditions and how to make them your own
Since wedding planning-season for 2021 is now in full force, we thought we’d take a look at some of our favourite wedding traditions for you to consider. Some of them are old traditions, and some of them are newer trends that are turning into traditions. Either way, we love seeing how our couples put their own spins on them. We’ve had the pleasure of capturing many of these moments in our work, and hope their stories can inspire you to follow your gut and choose what you love when it comes to planning your upcoming wedding.
Here’s What We’re Going to Cover:
- The first look
- Engagement photos
- The wedding aisle
- First dance
- Something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new
Traditional or Modern?
When it comes to wedding planning, many people feel like they’re being forced into a box – either the “traditional” box or the “non-traditional” box. These categories can feel frustratingly limiting, and usually there’s some other pressures at work too.
For example, do any of these questions sound familiar?
- Are we being too traditional? Will people think it’s stuffy?
- Should we be more traditional? Will people be disappointed if it doesn’t follow the “script” they’re familiar with?
- Is this too non-traditional? Will people think we’re weird?
Notice the trend there? These questions are all about what other people think.
Oh, the mental gymnastics that can come along with wedding planning – wondering what other people will think of us, trying to make everyone happy… but also getting frustrated that you can’t just plan it exactly the way you want! And to add to that, for many couples, it’s the first time you’re making big life decisions together, and yes, that is a learning curve for everyone!
This is all normal, and if you’ve been experiencing some of this tension over wedding planning, you are not alone. (We’ve written another blog about how to reduce stress and relax on your wedding day – read it here!)
Don’t Get Stuck In a Box
But here’s the question we want to ask in this blog: why should you have to choose between traditional or non-traditional? If both of those categories make you feel uncomfortable, you can make your own category, special to you and your fiancé that will help you start your life together in a way that feels authentic to you.
Only you and your partner will know what is right for you, and no single decision is “better” than another.
(Well, unless we’re talking about cake. Obviously chocolate is better than vanilla… *wink wink* Nah, just kidding, you do you!)
Quick Inventory: Wedding Tradition List
Here’s a quick little exercise to get you thinking about what you like in some of the most common, western wedding traditions. Without putting too much thought into it, write down what initially comes to mind when you hear the word. (Yes! Nahh! Bleh! Aww, yes! Heck no! …etc.)
- Having a stag and doe –
- Having a bachelor/bachelorette party –
- A church ceremony –
- White dress –
- First kiss at the ceremony –
- Having a wedding party –
- Doing a full dinner –
- Full veil cover –
- Full-length sleeves –
- Ring bearers and flower girls –
- Having dogs/pets there –
- Giving-away the bride –
- Bouquet toss –
- Choreographed first dance –
- Father-daughter / mother-groom dance –
- Wedding cake cutting –
- Bride and groom games at the reception –
- A dance party –
- Traditional wedding vows –
- Write your own wedding vows –
- Having a “head” table at the reception –
- “It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony” –
- A diamond ring –
- Having a holiday-themed wedding (Christmas, Valentine’s, New Year’s, Canada Day, etc.) –
Creating Your Own Wedding Day Vision
There is so much room for variation, creativity and piecing together the things that speak to you to make a whole new wedding day vision – one that is unique to you, and memorable because of it!
What we love about the wedding traditions we see is the way our couples blend elements together to make them their own. Traditions aren’t about following rules, checking off boxes, or compromising your values to make other people happy. Don’t get us wrong, traditions can be really lovely, but only when they are actually meaningful to you! (Yes, that means you get to pick and choose what you like, and what you don’t like).
We have heard time and time again from our couples and their guests that the most memorable moments of the wedding have been the unique decisions that “felt like them.” … the outdoor wedding where everyone sat on hay bails. The hilarious couple who had funny signage everywhere. The relaxed atmosphere of a backyard wedding. Or the beautiful toasts that were heartfelt and left everyone wanting to be a better person after.
Our Five Favourite Wedding Traditions
We recently took some time to reflect on the work we’ve done in five years as wedding photographers.
As we narrowed down traditions to our five favourite, know that we chose these based on a few factors:
- How versatile each tradition could be to different types of wedding styles, locations, themes
- How they appear in photos
- And how easy they are to personalize to the couple
So let’s look at this first one:
The First Look
Whether your first look happens in a quiet moment before the ceremony, or as you’re walking down the aisle, there is still a dramatic effect to the lead-up of that moment that makes the first look so exciting and special.
First Look at the Ceremony
The longer-standing tradition is for the groom to first see the bride as she is walking down the aisle, sharing the first look with your other guests. When the music is playing, the light is shining down on the aisle, and your gorgeous dress is flowing behind you – this makes for an intensely emotional moment that can almost feel “cinematic”.
There aren’t many times in your life when the attention is all on you, all at once, with such deep adoration, and it isn’t wrong to want that either! When the doors open, and the whole audience stands and turns to get a glimpse of the bride, there’s a collective magic that sweeps through the room and the pictures prove it – memorable photos of your groom’s face when he sees you for the first time, the misty eyes in the audience, and the big smiles on your bridesmaids’ faces.
Many of our couples have done their first looks during the ceremony, and have cherished it.
First Look Before the Ceremony
Just as many couples, however, have opted to have their first look happen before the ceremony, in an intimate moment, just between the two of them.
You don’t have to be an introvert to enjoy this quiet moment – sometimes if you know you’re going to have to turn on your “extrovert” for the rest of the day, having a few moments just to yourselves before the whirlwind begins is so comforting. We love taking photos of these moments and finding a setting to match the atmosphere – like a quiet little corner of the garden, or in a secluded area of vineyard out of sight or in a private courtyard. These can produce some truly magical moments that are so full of raw emotion, intimacy and romance.
Side note: If a part of you wants your first look to happen before the ceremony, don’t worry about stealing the joy of the “first look” moment on the aisle, that will be an emotional moment with your partner, and your loved ones no matter what. You may even find this gives you the best of both worlds!
Which one of these descriptions feels most like you? It may be one or the other, or it may be both! Remember, this isn’t about checking off boxes, it’s about creating an experience that you love.
We love that engagement photos have started to become a tradition in the last few decades. Your engagement session is truly the first time when everything starts to feel real – you’re getting married, you’re in love and the world is going to know it when you share your engagement photos in social media posts and save-the-dates.
As photographers, our goal is to create photography experiences that not only deliver you amazing photos at the end, but help you enjoy time together while your pictures are being taken. Booking an engagement session after the proposal and in the midst of wedding planning gives you an opportunity to do a few important things:
- Spend some quiet time just the two of you, as you have your photos taken
- Get used to being in front of the camera so you’re camera-comfortable on your wedding day
- You’ll have photos you can use on your wedding day as well (we especially love when the matted space around the photo is used for guest signatures)
While engagement photos have become a commonly practised tradition, they are something you can make entirely your own. From the poses to the location to your wardrobe, this can be a way of starting a theme for your wedding or even for the interior design in your home together.
The Wedding Aisle
For some people, the thought of who should walk them down the aisle has never crossed their minds. They have had a vision of their father walking them towards their partner ever since they answered with a resounding “Yes!”
But to others, the idea of their father walking them down the aisle isn’t so simple. Maybe he is not in the picture, or you have a complicated relationship. Maybe your mom served as both mother and father to you growing up, and asking her to walk you down the aisle feels like you’re honouring your unique relationship. Or another family member, or maybe both parents walking you feels right (this is traditional in a Jewish ceremony!)
Maybe you feel good walking yourself down the aisle with confidence and grace if the idea of being “given away” makes you uncomfortable.
You know by now that all we care about is you and your partner having the wonderful wedding day of your dreams. Whether that includes your someone walking you up the aisle is entirely up to you. You want to feel great during that walk to meet your partner, and you deserve to feel that way.
No matter who is involved in your walk up the aisle, the photos we take of the walk are always a treasured part of the wedding album because of the passage it represents to a new chapter in your life (and the spectacular look on both of your faces as you do).
These photos will live on and tell the story of your wedding day for years to come, so the only thing you need to do is feel good about who is joining you up the aisle.
Having a first dance at your wedding is pretty standard. It comes along with cutting the cake, the white dress and the romantic, croony sounds of Ed Sheeran. But…what if you hate dancing? What if the song that means the most to you and your partner doesn’t lend well to a public dance in front of all of your family and friends?
Well, it’s up to you! The first thing to ask yourself is: “do I want to dance in front of a group of people? Does that feel good to me?”
If you answered “yes”: Awesome! It’s time to decide when you want it to take place. Do you want to kick off the reception with a loving dance? Do you want it to break up the meal, and ensure everyone is sitting at their tables when you get to grooving? Or do you want it to signal the start of the dancing portion of the evening?
The next step is to choose the song that you want to dance to. Check out this list of 50 popular songs here.
If you answered “yes, but” : Great! Let’s figure out what changes you want to make this tradition your own. Do you want to start off just you and your hunny, and then have other people join in? Will you forgo the traditional romantic ballad for a heavy metal banger? Do you want your first dance to be choreographed? Do you want to change into a different outfit for the dance? Go for it! There is no wrong answer when it comes to customizing this tradition to your big day.
If you answered “no”: Cool! Passing on this tradition is entirely your prerogative. If it doesn’t speak to you, or if the thought of slowly swaying underneath a disco ball while 200 sets of eyes watch you, makes you cringe, then you are entirely right to pass.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
This tradition is probably the one most often featured in the movies. Screenwriters love a last-minute special moment where a precious family heirloom is gifted from mother to daughter. But where does this saying even come from? This famous wedding recipe derives from the Old English rhyme, “Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe.” These items are said to ward off the Evil Eye, which, according to Reader’s Digest, was a curse upon the bride.
As wedding photographers who have captured over 100 weddings, we have seen many interpretations of this classic rhyme. Brides have chosen to make this traditional their own from everything to blue hair, a blue manicure, to parsing out the rhyme between members of the bridal party. Sometimes the “something old” has been represented by the groom’s cufflinks, handed down from a grandfather.
If you decide to carry this tradition forward, we can get some gorgeous detail shots of the 4 items you chose. We love shots with a story behind them, and you’ll love explaining to your guests the special meaning behind your grandmother’s pearl necklace, or how your veil is actually borrowed from your sister.
However, if the old rhyme doesn’t mean anything to you, and you would much rather invest your energy in other wedding preparations, then you should do that instead. Don’t worry, there will be no shortage of gorgeous details to take photos of at your wedding! (And though we haven’t seen a peer-reviewed scientific study to confirm, we can be pretty confident that forgoing this tradition will not lead to bad luck or evil curses.)
The most beautiful wedding traditions are ones that mean something to you and your partner. Please take this as your permission to disregard any tradition that feels outdated, or inauthentic to you and your loved one.
Our favourite wedding ceremonies have been the ones that change traditions to fit them, not the other way around.
We love how this quote from the book A Practical Wedding sums up our thoughts:
Weddings, as presented by the wedding industry, are parties with a very strict formula: Ceremony, cocktails and appetizers, sit-down dinner, first dance, dance party, send off. … But the truth is, weddings don’t need any of these prescribed elements. So stop thinking about throwing a wedding, and start thinking about throwing a party.
So as you plan your wedding, ask yourself, “what kind of party do I want to have?” and go from there!