Traditions for modern weddings

Meaningful ways to incorporate new and old traditions into your wedding

Wedding traditions. Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Don’t know that the heck to do with ‘em? Read on for ideas on how to tackle wedding traditions – including how to make them feel right for you and why that’s important for your photos.

Picture this: It was mid-pandemic. My PJs and fluffy slippers were on double-duty to make lockdown comfy. And life as a wedding photographer was complicated. Weddings were under severe restrictions and the guest number limit was flicking between 15 and 30 loved ones. Naturally, micro-weddings became my bread, butter and seedless raspberry jam. But they were few and far between. So, like many people, I spent a lot of time in the Insta rabbit hole.

One particularly dreary day, something stopped my scroll:

“… time-honoured traditions that make a wedding …”

I didn’t even need to read the list of “must-have” traditions before steam erupted from my ears. Cake-cutting. Bouquet-toss. First-dance. According to the article, these are “essential” for a wedding to be a wedding. I saw red.

Here’s what made me so cross…

The truth about wedding traditions

It’s simple: Traditions do not make a wedding. People make a wedding. Love makes a wedding. There may be a place for traditions – but they do not make a wedding.

You don’t have to follow a tradition because a magazine says it’ll make your wedding perfect. Or because Debrett’s says it’s the correct etiquette. And you definitely don’t need to work a tradition into your wedding because your great aunt’s next-door neighbour’s sister’s daughter’s boss’ wife said so. Just because other people think it’s right, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

The only thing that’s mandatory is making your vows and signing the register.

Yet we continue. Because that’s the way it’s always been done. Because that’s what everyone else does.

But it’s totally understandable. Maybe you simply don’t know where to start, so you turn to the media who set impossible standards of perfection and are all too eager to make you worry whether your wedding will match up. Or perhaps you think certain traditions are questionable, but find it hard to go against the grain and do something different.

But now more than ever, it’s time to question everything. It’s time to stop unconsciously following traditions, think about why we’re doing things, think about what makes us happy, and be ourselves. And in doing so, give other couples permission to do the same. Because you deserve more than a wedding day timeline of traditions. You deserve a day that’s nothing but love.

Why do I care so much?

Well, as a documentary wedding photographer, I’ll capture the feeling of your day, so you can relive it. All the emotions you experience on the day will come back when you look at your photos. Take a first dance photo. The picture may be aesthetically beautiful, but if you spent your entire first dance feeling awkward under the spotlight, guess how you’ll feel when you look at the photo? And I bet a year’s supply of bourbon biscuits you won’t like the picture.

The wedding traditions I ship

Now, let’s not get too hasty and knock wedding traditions completely.

Because no matter how things change, traditions are symbolic. They remain constant, bring us comfort, and keep us close to our loved ones even when we’re apart. There’s nothing like a big ol’ dose of nostalgia.

But only when you’ve intentionally chosen the traditions because they’re right for you.

For me? There are definitely some wedding traditions I can get behind. Cake? Always a brilliant idea. But saving the top tier of the wedding cake? Er, not likely. And I find some traditions totally weird. Breaking cake over the couple’s heads? Hard pass.

How to make wedding traditions your own

Traditions are best when they’re meaningful to you. So start there. Does the idea make you feel good, happy, and excited? If it feels good to you, go for it. If not, toss the tradition. And if you’re unsure, ask yourself “why, why, why …” over and over until you get to your underlying thoughts.

And remember, it’s not just about dropping traditions. You can also twist an old classic or start a completely new tradition.

Here are some super special adaptations my couples have served up. I hope they give you some inspo to make your wedding you.

  • Want a warm and loving twist on giving the bride away? Try these words: “Who gives their blessing on this marriage on behalf of the family?”
  • Want to involve loved ones? Frame photos of your VIPs cutting their wedding cake next to your wedding cake.
  • Want to celebrate as only you can? Think about the ways you usually mark a special occasion. For Vicki, this was a chocolate wedding cake baked by her mum who made chocolate cake for any celebration as she was growing up. Birthdays, Christmas, family get-togethers … always celebrated with chocolate cake.
  • Not into a romantic first dance? Make it a fast track, get everyone on the dancefloor together, or do something completely different like a first roll of the dice at a pop-up casino.
  • Want your say on the day? Brides making speeches. Couples making joint speeches. Mums making a speech. This is your wedding. Your rules!
  • Not into allocating sides … Let your guests pick a seat.
  • Don’t want to walk down the aisle to Canon in D? Ask your organist to play the title track of the first movie you went to see together. Or anything that feels special to you!
  • Want to get ready together? Pah – stuff tradition and do it! Do what makes you both feel good.
  • Nature lover? Do more outdoors and have your first dance, cake-cutting, and speeches outside. It’s very untraditional in the UK, but if the weather plays ball, you’ll love it.
  • Don’t like dresses? Not into suits? Don’t worry about what you should wear. Wear what you want. A jumpsuit. A short dress. Converse instead of shoes. A waistcoat and rolled-up sleeves. It’s your outfit.
  • Want all your best friends in your wedding party? Don’t have bridesmaids; have bridesmates.
  • Typical wedding food not your taste? Serve hot chocolate. Or cocktails. Or bowl food instead of a buffet. Doughnuts instead of dessert. Street food vendors instead of canapés. Go wild!
  • Want a sunset ceremony? Tear up the traditional timeline. Have dinner before your ceremony. Design your day around what you want.

Ultimately? Do you. Make your wedding yours. And remember it’s okay to question the status quo and do something different. You’re the authority on your wedding. You get to decide what your wedding looks and feels like. In fact, it’s a must. Because loving your wedding photos starts with loving your wedding.

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