How to Choose Wedding Ceremony Readings

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If you’re looking to have a wedding ceremony that’s super-personalized, readings are a great way to do it. Wedding ceremony readings also allow you to give loved ones (particularly those who may not be in the wedding party) a special role in your big day, and share your and your partner’s feelings for each other in a unique way.  Interested in including readings in your ceremony but stumped on where to begin? Here are some tips to help you get started choosing the right wedding ceremony readings.

Talk with your officiant.

If you’re already selected your wedding officiant, talk to him or her about including readings in your ceremony. Some religious ceremonies might not be conducive to additional readings, so it’s important to make sure that your officiant is onboard with the idea. If so, he or she can be a great resource to provide suggestions for readings that will enhance your ceremony, ones that will match your personality and style. Your officiant can also determine when the most appropriate time would be during the ceremony to include readings so they feel natural and seamless.

When do readings take place during the ceremony?

Typically, readings take place toward the beginning of the ceremony, after the officiant has made their introduction and before the wedding vows. However, depending on your ceremony style, your officiant may have suggestions for other appropriate times for ceremony readings. 

How many wedding ceremony readings do you need?

We usually recommend limiting the number of wedding ceremony readings to one or two. Too many readings may cause your ceremony to drag on, and your guests to get a bit bored (not ideal!). If you have a lot of loved ones who you’d like to be readers, remember that multiple loved ones can perform a single reading, each person reading a short portion.

Religious or secular?

You, your future spouse, and your officiant will need to discuss if a religious or secular reading would be best for your ceremony. If you choose a religious wedding ceremony reading, you’ll likely select a passage or verse from a sacred text, or a religious poem or blessing. A secular reading can be a poem, book excerpt, song lyrics, or even lines from a movie or television show.

Think about your readers.

If you’re having trouble choosing wedding ceremony readings, it might help to think about the people who will be speaking at your ceremony. If you’ve selected a young child to speak, a passage from a children’s book would be appropriate. Or your best friend who’s a Shakespeare buff might enjoy reading a passage from the Bard. Obviously it’s most important that the readings reflect you and your spouse, but tailoring the readings to your readers can help you sort through the options—and help your readers feel even more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd.

How long should a wedding ceremony reading be?

The readings portion of your ceremony should last no more than five minutes, and each individual reading should be one to three minutes each. Before selecting a wedding ceremony reading, time yourself reading it very slowly and clearly to see how long it will take to present at your ceremony. Any individual reading longer than three minutes should be edited down or you might want to consider a different passage.

Read carefully.

Make sure you read the text of any potential wedding ceremony reading very closely—and ask others to read it as well. You want to make sure that the words are meaningful of course, but also that they feel appropriate for the occasion. Don’t include readings that contain unsavory language or would make your guests uncomfortable for any reason. Your readings should be uplifting and while they can be emotional and sentimental, have a generally positive message.

Pick a classic.

There are many popular religious and secular readings that are frequently read at wedding ceremonies. These include 1 Corinthians 13 (which starts with “Love is patient, love is kind…”), “How Do I Love Thee” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, “On Marriage” from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, “I Carry Your Heart With Me” by e.e. cummings, and excerpts from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Obviously there are many more, but these are some tried and true examples.

Choose your favorites.

An easy way to choose a wedding ceremony reading that reflects your personality is to select an excerpt from a poem, book, or song lyrics that you and your future spouse already enjoy. Think about your favorite writers, and passages that might be ideal for a wedding. Usually, wedding ceremony readings focus on love—but there’s a wide range of what’s appropriate. Readings can be emotional, sweet, romantic, or even funny—as long as they feel true to you and the style of your ceremony.

Think outside the box.

Don’t be afraid to choose a nontraditional wedding ceremony reading, particularly if you’re having a more casual ceremony. Check out such readings as “Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali and “A Lovely Love Story” by Edward Monkton (this one includes dinosaurs!). Lyrics from favorite songs can make for unique ceremony readings, as can quotes from movies—you can even have several guests recite lines of dialogue.

Get personal.

If you and your future spouse have a history of writing to one another, you can have your loved ones read your love letters aloud at your ceremony. Yes, we know this may enter the realm of “oversharing,” but it can be super-sweet and personal. Of course, you’ll have to make sure that the letters are wedding-appropriate (let’s not get too intimate here!), and that they are a reasonable length. We’ve even seen couples’ emails or Google chats used as readings to great effect!

Include the whole crew.

You don’t have to choose just one or two readers—you can have all of your guests read together. Include a reading’s text in your program, and have your officiant ask all of your guests to stand and read it together at a particular point in the ceremony. This can unite all of your and your future spouse’s loved ones in a very symbolic way. You’ll truly feel surrounded by love.

Display wedding ceremony readings in other ways.

If there are a lot of readings that you want to include in your ceremony but can’t for time purposes, there are other ways that you can share them with your guests. Print the reading in your ceremony programs, quote them on signage, or even include a passage from a reading in your thank-you speech at the reception.

Remember: Wedding readings are optional.

If you’re really stumped on finding the right reading for your ceremony, it’s important to remember that wedding ceremony readings are completely optional. Don’t include a reading in your ceremony just for the heck of it—make sure that it’s something that fits the tone and style of your wedding day. Your guests will be thrilled to be present for your wedding ceremony, whether or not you include a reading.

A few popular wedding readings:

We’ve compiled a list of a few of the most popular non-religious wedding ceremony readings, including those from movies, literature, and more. 

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Shawn Slovo

“Union” by Robert Fulghum

The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach 

This wedding reading from literature thoughtfully explores what it means to be soulmates. 

Paradise by Toni Morrison

100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

Every Day by David Levithan

“Marriage is Like My Old Car” by Marie April Gismondi

“How Falling in Love is like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali

“The Art of a Good Marriage” by Wilferd Arlan Peterson

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

“I Carry Your Heart with Me” by e.e. cummings

“Us Two” from Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne

All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum 

Marriage Joins Two People in the Circle of its Love by Edmund O’Neill

“Sonnet 116” by William Shakespeare

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