Redesigning Wedding Ceremonies for 2020

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (19/07/2020)
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Rituals |
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white masks printed with red hearts and
                      embroidered namesEver-changing COVID-19 rules and guidelines around  weddings have made it clear that weddings are considered a high risk for transmission. As the celebrant, I have responsibility for what happens during the ceremony, and that includes the safety of the couple and their guests.

While developing my own COVIDSafe plan for the ceremonies I officiate it became very clear just how many parts of the ceremony now need a different approach in order to keep everyone safe. So I've been working on developing new safer adaptations that don't compromise the emotion of the occasion.

I've also taken into account the government rules, regulations, and guidelines, together with advice that social (physical) distancing is not expected between people who live in the same household.

Important: If no-one attending your wedding has COVID-19, then there is no risk of transmission. The problem is that a person can be pre-symptomatic but infectious, or asymptomatic and infectious, so the wise course of action is to ask your guests not to attend if they are unwell or have any respiratory or COVID-19 symptoms and to:
  • alert your guests ahead of time that all social distancing guidelines will be adhered to at your wedding and that you will also have infection control protocols in place, eg provision of hand sanitising stations plus small bottles of hand sanitiser on each seat
  • alert guests that their contact details will be collated and kept for the required period of time
  • ask guests to bring their own pen to sign your guest book, or better still, ask them to send you virtual messages of love to print out to create your own guestbook
  • ensure all surfaces that you and anything required in the ceremony may come into contact with are thoroughly cleaned before the ceremony
  • avoid the throwing of petals, confetti, etc or the blowing of bubbles.
  • live-stream your ceremony for your guests who are unwell or feel uncomfortable attending


Traditionally, where seating is provided, it is generally theatre-style in rows with a middle aisle. The safer option is arranging the seating in bubble groups where each group of chairs is separated from other bubble groups. Each bubble group should be clearly labelled (something hanging off the back of one of the chairs so that guests can easily identify where they should sit is recommended), and, where you have a number of bubble groups, a seating plan for the ceremony is a good idea. As is adopting an airline boarding practice of inviting groups to take their seats in turn to prevent congregating at the entrance, particularly important for an indoor ceremony.

Where you have decided to provide limited seating for selected guests or have all guests standing consider applying the family bubble grouping to where people are standing. If in your own backyard the spray that landscapers use to mark out the ground works well - and comes in blue, so could be your something blue!


I have always encouraged couples to stand together, facing their guests while I stand to one side. Not only is this better for the photographs, it turns out it is good social distancing practice as well. But I also would move in behind the couple to hold the microphone, when one was needed, for the saying of their vows. I am no longer doing that.

Traditionally, the wedding party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, etc) is deployed, standing quite close to one another, on either side of the couple. Bigger bridal parties will need to be assessed and positioning adjusted, taking into account whether or not the individuals are part of a bubble or not.

The walk down the aisle

I dealt with the aisle itself in detail in an earlier blog post Down the Aisle, Social Distancing Style, the main message of which is the need to widen the aisle and put measures in place to keep guests from stepping into the aisle.

Best practice to ensure great photos of the bridal party entrance is to ensure 3 to 6 metres between each person in the processional. That more than meets social distancing guidelines. Where care needs to be taken is when they line up ready to make their entrance and what happens at the end of the aisle when they move to take their places for the ceremony.

Music and singing

Expert advice is that activities that may propel more droplets into the air should be avoided. These include the playing of any mouth blown (wind) musical instruments due to both deep breathing and emissions from the instruments, and group singing, shouting, and cheering, all of which involved projected expulsion of air from the lungs.   Furthermore, it is strongly suggested that if you have a soloist singer, that person should be at least three metres away from any other person. String instruments are safe, but social distancing of the musicians may require a rethink of where they should be positioned. If using recorded music, delegate one person (only) to manage it to avoid the risk of contamination.

While transmission of COVID-19 has been recorded within choirs and other group singing events, so far none has been recorded where the vector of transmission as been the Great Highland Bagpipe. Dr Robert Gray, Senior Fellow and Consultant Respiratory Physician at the University of Edinburgh, a piper himself, only 2 weeks ago expressed the view that the bagpipe is a reservoir for viruses from respiratory secretions and are therefore mouth-blown bagpipes are more risky than other musical instruments. Because, however, the sound of the bagpipe can be heard from some distance away, judicious positioning of a piper at an outdoor ceremony should pose little risk to others.

Participation in the ceremony

Traditional ceremonies include readings, where individuals who otherwise have no role in the ceremony, make their way forward in order to read. In the interest of minimising movement, where possible, have the person read from their seat. Otherwise, ensure they are seated where it is easy for them to keep the required distance from everyone else as they make their way forward to a socially distanced position. Either on the aisle or on the outer edge of the seating would work.

The ring exchange

While I generally avoid touching the rings myself, the various ways in which the rings can be presented can involve several people touching them, or them being placed on surfaces that could be a source of contamination. Once your photographer has taken pre-wedding details photographs of the rings they should be cleaned and kept in a secure receptacle, such as a box, until they are formally presented to you for the exchange of rings. The person presenting the rings should do so efficiently (to both of you at the same time), while maintaining as much distancing as possible for that moment.

Rituals (mini or sub-ceremonies)

A feature of modern civil marriage ceremonies is the wide variety of rituals (sometimes called mini-ceremonies or sub-ceremonies). The level of transmission risk varies from low to high as many rituals involve multiple people touching items used in the ritual. I have looked at each of the more popular rituals in detail, particularly those that pose a medium to high risk, and am proposing alternative methods of carrying out the ritual that maintain the original intent, retain the original symbolism, but decrease the risk of transmission that might result from contamination from surfaces that the items used come into contact with, or people who might touch them.  That said, if you restrict participation to people who are in your bubble (in other words, those who live in the same house with you) you could be a bit more relaxed about who is involved in the ritual. However, any surfaces that the ritual items will come into contact with should be thoroughly cleaned before the ceremony.
  • Handfasting
    Handfasting usually involves people handling the cord(s) or ribbon(s) and standing close to the couple while tying their hands together. To minimise the risk
    • Have the tying done by a member of your household
    • Do the tying yourselves. While this will require a complete change in mindset and some nifty choreography, it is not only doable but can add much to the symbolism and meaning of this ritual.
  • Honey Ceremony
    While honey is sterile and anti-bacterial, fingers are not. So the cultural custom of the couple dipping their little finger (pinky) into honey and touching it to one another's lips, is risky as there is always a risk that they may have inadvertently touched a contaminated surface between washing their hands and participating in the ritual.
    • If you wish to stick with tradition and use your fingers, thoroughly sanitise your hands immediately before carrying out the ritual
    • Use separate spoons - small demitasse spoons are ideal, but teaspoons would do
  • Loving Cup/Wine Ceremony
    Sharing of food and drink is actively discouraged, for example, the cake you ceremonially cut cannot be shared with the guests, and buffets and grazing tables where food and serving utensils can be contaminated are banned. As normally carried out, a Loving Cup or Wine Ceremony involves the couple drinking from the same vessel. As you will most probably already be living together, sharing a drink would appear to pose no added risk as long as other people don't handle it. However, if your wedding is being held in a venue or restaurant, I strongly advise that you adhere to the rules, avoid the shared Loving Cup ritual  and adapt the Wine Ceremony
    • Blend the wine, pouring the white and red wine into a jug which you the use to pour into two glasses so you each drink from your own glass. A slight tweak to the narrative is all that is needed.
  • Ring warming
    Because a ring warming maximises contact between the guests and of the guests with the rings and/or the container in which they are passed around, is a high-risk ritual as it is usually carried out. However, it can be adapted to minimise the risk
    • Restyle it as a ring blessing where, just before you exchange your rings you holds them up for the guests to see and while I ask everyone to focus on the rings as they make a silent wish or say a silent prayer for the marriage 
    • Have one person, preferably a member of your bubble, warm and bless the rings on behalf of everyone having immediately prior sanitised their hands
  • Rose ceremony
    There are two broad versions of the Rose Ceremony - either the couple exchanges roses or they present them to others, usually their mothers, as an expression of gratitude. Generally speaking the roses are laid on the signing table until it is time to give hand them to you to either exchange or hand to your  mothers.
    • Place the roses in a long florist box or in a narrow vase to minimise the risk of a third party contaminating the roses
    • Allow your mothers to take a rose out of the box rather than handing them to them.
  • Sand ceremony
    A Sand Ceremony
    requires very little adaptation to make it COVID-19 safe. 
    • Sanitise all the containers before placing them on the table
    • If involving additional people, have them come forward one at a time
    • Provide a box to place the containers in after the ceremony plus hand sanitiser for the person who packs them up.
  • Unity Candle
    The Unity Candle ritual traditionally involves a member of each family (usually the mothers) lighting a taper candle on either side of the Unity Candle which is then lit by the marrying couple, each using the taper candle lit by their mother. Minor adaptation would be all that is necessary.
    • Provide two lighters or boxes of matches so your mothers do not have to share
    • Have your mothers come forward to stand on either side of the table, at a distance, and step forward to light a taper one at a time rather than together
    • As your mothers do not have to touch the tapers, there is no need to sanitise them after your mothers have lit them, however care needs to be taken not to contaminate the candles when placing them in the candle holder.

The Kiss, and kissing and hugging in general

Australia has not yet prohibited marrying couples from kissing, but all the guidelines, both Federal and State, are clear about no hugging or kissing or mingling with guests. Using hand signals, including sign language, can somewhat fill that empty space.

Witnesses and the signing of the register and certificates

"Normal" practice includes everyone using the same ceremonial pen, usually provided by m, and the witnesses and the celebrant being in close proximity to the couple during the signing. This is where the legal reality of the signing is hugely beneficial. Contrary to common belief, no-one is witnessing anyone's signature. What we are all doing is documenting that we have witnessed the marriage. Therefore there is no legal requirement for everyone to be up close and personal during the signing. I strongly advise, however, that each person uses a separate pen (black ink) and that all hands are sanitised immediately before the signing to ensure that the certificates and register are not contaminated. To the best of our knowledge, COVID-19 lives on paper for at least 24 hours.


Multiple people using the same microphone constitutes a risk. While a PA system isn't required for a small ceremony, where there is a larger number of guests you will need amplification. Sanitising the microphone between users really isn't a practical option during a ceremony, however ensuring that there are enough microphones available so that you don't have to share is doable, within limits.


Masks are not mandatory in Australia, yet. However, wearing of masks is advised for certain individuals. One of the kindest things a marrying couple can do is to normalise the wearing of masks. Where you have frail or very elderly guests I don't think it is over the top to request everyone wears a mask both to protect them and to normalise the fact that they may be wearing a mask.

Social distancing badges

A fun way of reminding guests to social distance is to give everyone a button-type social distancing badge. There is quite a wide range available from promotional product companies and they are not expensive. Google is your friend here. Or if you know someone who owns a badge making machine, you can buy the blank buttons and let your creativity run wild.

Contact Tracing Record

It is a requirement that a list of everyone present is kept. If you are having your wedding at a venue, it is the venue's responsibility to collect and keep these details. If you are having a backyard wedding, it is your responsibility. I will provide a template and assistance.

Thanks for reading!

Jenny xxx Let's talk
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