Symbolic Gestures for your Ceremony

The unique thing about having a Humanist marriage ceremony is that you and your partner get to decide on everything. Your celebrant will meet with you and help create a script that is personal and meaningful to you both. There are lots of different things you can include to make it really personal.

Have you thought about any symbolic gestures for your ceremony? You may have seen the handfasting or drinking from the quaich before? Perhaps you have never been to a Humanist ceremony and have never seen or heard about symbolic gestures.

Some couples prefer simple ceremonies and some couples want to include more than one symbolic gesture. It is entirely up to you.

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Here is a list of other symbolic gestures you may wish to consider for your marriage ceremony.

  1. Candle Lighting
  2. Elements Well Wishing
  3. Sand Ceremony
  4. Planting a Tree
  5. Exchange of Flowers
  6. Gathering of Flowers
  7. Gifts for Mothers
  8. The Mexican Hug
  9. Release of Doves
  10. Release of Butterflies
  11. Release of Balloons
  12. Wedding Band Warming
  13. Heart Entwining

Candle Lighting

The Bride and Groom each light a candle each, to symbolise their separate lives before their formal union as a married couple. In a partnership of equals, such as the one which they have, each partner cares for the other through both the difficult times and the good times. They will share the laughter and the tears, the joy and the sadness, as well as the companionship and tranquillity of simply being together. But at the same time, they will continue to respect each other’s individuality and uniqueness and this is symbolised by the two candles.

The Bride and Groom then light a third candle symbolising the joining together of their lives in marriage.
The three candles will shine forth as symbols of both their togetherness and of their continuing individuality.

Elements Well Wishing

As a unique way to symbolise a union is to celebrate life’s essential elements. A well-wishing is said to all the elements. Earth, Air, Water and Fire.
There are many ways of doing this, depending on where the ceremony is taking place.

Sand Ceremony

A marriage is symbolised by the pouring together of two individual containers of sand, representing the Bride and the Groom and all that they were, all that they are, and all that they will ever be. As these two containers of sand are poured into the third container, the grains of sand can never again be separated, as you will now be in their marriage.

Planting a Tree

The tree symbolises a Bride and Groom’s hopes for the future as well as the beauty and wonder of life. Whether a tree grows to be tall and strong depends on the nurture it receives. No tree grows alone – they all need the soil, the sunshine and the rain. So too, a marriage needs to be nourished and a Bride and Groom will be there for each other through all the seasons of their life together – to support, love and nurture each other.

Exchange of Flowers

The language of flowers, has its roots throughout history. Using flowers to send a message probably dates to prehistoric times as symbolic use of flowers is mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions, in Chinese writings and in both Greek and Roman mythology.

And so, the bride and groom exchange white roses, which symbolize purity, charm and innocence.

Gathering of Flowers

As your guests arrive, present them with a flower. Each one of these flowers is different, each one is beautiful, and each one will add its own unique qualities to the bouquet that will made when they are gathered together. All of your guests have each brought their own qualities to their relationships with you, their own beauty, their own colour and their own influence… And now as they gather together for this most special of occasions, a nominated person will gather these flowers together, each flower representing their place in the bride and Groom’s lives.

The beautiful bundle of flowers represents the colour and the beauty that each and every person brings into your lives, and with the placing of each flower, the bouquet changes, each flower playing its own part in influencing how the final bouquet will look and feel. This bouquet will now be the centerpiece of this ceremony, and the dinner and party to follow.

Gifts for Mothers

This wedding is also a celebration of family. It is the blending of families, separate up to this moment, but united from this day forward – blending their different traditions, strengthening the family tree. Mothers cry when their children hurt and welcome pain and burden to give their sons and daughters the gift of life.

The Bride and Groom, to honour this blending of families, present a rose to their mothers – to thank their parents for the many sacrifices they have made and for their unconditional love so freely given to their children.

Mexican Hug

You’ll be aware of the tradition in some churches of shaking hands with the people around you during a service. Well, this is more of modern twist on that.
Now you all know what a Mexican wave is don’t you? So you start with the bride and groom giving each other a hug, they will then hug someone else, who’ll hug the person next to them and so on, until every single person in the room has been well and truly hugged!

You never know – you might have started something – maybe another couple will meet and fall in love at the wedding!

Release of Doves

For thousands of years, white doves have been a traditional symbol in wedding ceremonies. To the ancient Egyptians, the dove represented quiet innocence. The Chinese saw it as a symbol of peace and long life. To early Greeks and Romans, doves symbolised love, devotion, and caring. It was also the sacred animal of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love. White doves at a wedding therefore symbolize love, peace, and good luck. As you may know, doves usually pair up for life, so they are a beautiful representation of the lasting commitment that the Bride and Groom have made. It is said that if doves are seen on your wedding day, a happy home is assured.

Release of Butterflies

The butterfly is one of nature’s most symbolic and beautiful creations and is a lovely symbol of new beginnings and rebirths. What better way to celebrate the beginning of a new life together than with the releasing of butterflies on your wedding day?

There is an old Indian legend about making a wish as you release the butterflies, so as they are released everyone makes a wish for the Bride and Groom and wish them much happiness as they take this first step in their married lives together.

Release of Balloons

The balloons represent each of the Bride and Groom’s lives, but as they are joined together as you are now joined in marriage. And as they are released, they make their journey through the sky.

A word of caution – If there are going to be a large number of balloons released, be aware that you will need permission from the local/nearest airport as they are considered a hazard to aircraft. The requirement to inform the Civil Aviation Authority is only where a very large number of balloons (5000+) to be released, but if in doubt, check first. The Balloon Association website is a useful source of information (

Also be mindful of the ecological implications of releasing balloons! It is possible to get biodegradable balloons made from natural latex, the sap of rubber trees and the manufacturers claim that these have the same decomposition rate as an oak leaf (about 6 months)

Jumping over a Broom or Besom

In past times setting up home and getting officially married often took place months apart. This could be due to not having a resident notary to perform the ceremony or to have a trial period before committing to the legal marriage.

To give the union a standing in the community the couples would declare their intention to “Live over the Brush” and would in front of family, friends and neighbours literally jump over a broom. The broom was then kept in the shared home as a symbol of the union and to encourage good luck. The also broom symbolises the sweeping away of the past and the fact that the happy couple are now starting a new life together

Wedding Band Warming

This is a really lovely gesture that includes your friends in family during the ceremony itself. It allows the Bride and Groom to acknowledge that they know too that it is often with the help and support of those around them, as well as from each other, that will get them through the harder times that they may face in the future. Before taking their vows the celebrant will ask the Best Man to pass the ring (tied together with a ribbon) to the front row from where it is passed around all of the guests to hold and to add their own thoughts, wishes and hopes for their marriage.

Alternatively, even though the best man has been looking after the rings, you could ask a young niece or nephew to come forward and polish up each ring as hard as they can so that it is as shiny as can be for Bride and Groom.

Heart Entwining

This is when the Bride & Groom symbolically tie their hearts together.

Taking two wicker hearts, the Bride and Groom tie them together with woven ribbon so that they are joined together.

This represents that as the happy couple join their lives today without hesitation and with open and trusting hearts. Whatever they encounter, they will encounter it together, so they take each other’s hearts and with it their commitment to love, care and cherish for each other. The hearts, now tied together to represent their marriage.

If you’re thinking about having a Humanist ceremony and would like to know more about having symbolic gestures in your ceremony then please feel free to get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!

If you’ve already decided on having the handfasting why not purchase some beautiful ribbons, have a look here.

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