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 why it made me 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 you need for your wedding is to make vows and sign the register.
Yet we continue. Because that’s how it’s always been done. Because that’s what everyone else does.
But it’s totally understandable.
Maybe you don’t know where to start with your plans. So you turn to media outlets for help, ideas, and advice. But the trouble is: they uphold the importance of a “perfect day” and are eager to make you worry your wedding won’t match up. So rather than risk getting it wrong, it seems safe to stick to the norm.
Or perhaps you just don’t know what you want. Even the most self-aware among us can still unconsciously accept what we believe and hush our intuition – and as a result, follow a tried and tested path. Noticing this in ourselves is tough.
And even if you do have a clear idea of which traditions are for you and which aren’t, it’s hard to go against the grain. You might meet resistance and disapproval from other people – and it takes courage to brave that and stay true to yourself – especially if someone else is paying.
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.
Why do I care so much?
Well, as a documentary wedding photographer, I’ll capture the feelings of your day, so you can relive every moment. So 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 ignored your dislike for being in the spotlight because “everyone does a first dance” – and then spent the entire dance feeling awkward … guess how you’ll feel when you look at the photo?
You deserve photos you love. Photos that make you feel good, and like you. And that starts with planning a wedding that’s you.
Wishing you the courage to invent traditions that honor who you are and what you value. To set and maintain your boundaries. And the self-awareness to know what that is. 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.
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? 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 being given 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? Pick a fast track and get everyone on the dancefloor together. Or do something completely different like a first roll of the dice at a pop-up casino or a first scoop from the ice cream bike.
- 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.
- Got fur family? Add your dogs to the guest list. But be sure to read this article first.
- 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 day looks and feels like. In fact, it’s a must. Because loving your wedding photos starts with loving your wedding.
Enjoyed this article?
Come and explore more wedding photography tips and planning advice
(Psst! It’s all free.)