How can I craft a ring-free wedding ceremony?

Photo by jesse schafer photography
Photo by jesse schafer photography
We don't want wedding bands…ever.

So we decided on wedding tattoos, but this leaves us "finger-naked" for the ceremony.

I thought I hit a home run with the idea of using ribbon and "tying the knot" to symbolize the damn thing, but he wasn't too thrilled about that.

Got any ideas?

—Roan

To help me answer this question, I decided to pull on the expertise of two wedding officiants — my parents! They're both Internet-ordained ministers, and between the two of them they've married dozens of people, often helping couple craft their ceremonies from scratch. They have different styles of officiating, though, so may I present to you the first edition of DUELING OFFICIANTS!

In one corner, we have my father, the Reverend Dr. David Stallings. With a background in Zen Buddhism and Tibetan philosophy, he's a poet, and a former University professor. In the other corner, we have my mother, Reverend Therese Yakshi Charvet. She's comes from more of a Pagan/Wiccan perspective, with a focus on Earth-based religions and ceremonies. I presented them both with Roan's question, and here were their answers:

Reverend Stallings:

I think it would be desirable to create and exchange alternative pieces of jewelry, e.g. a necklace or amulet or even lighters, as mentioned in Offbeat Bride.

Another possibility would be to create short term rings that after the wedding could then be, for example, removed, opened by the jeweler, then closed on each other (like an infinity symbol) and put in a special box. Or deposited in a lake. Or buried somewhere. An alternative idea is a twist on the ribbon idea: distribute a long ribbon among the guests (using a helper or two, depending on the number of attendees), with each person winding the ribbon around their wrist, and passing it on. This creates some humorous situations, which is fine. Presumably no one has to go anywhere for the next 10 minutes. Once distributed and brought back to the couple, they tie it around their wrists as well, effectively joining all present. This is part of the essence of a wedding — sharing of selves in front of/with your community. A few appropriate words to this effect can be spoken by officiant or bride and groom. A fine touch is to subsequently cut the ribbon into individual pieces and distribute to each person attending the wedding, with the request that they tie it on a wrist and wear it for, say, a day or a week, along with the couple. This could serve as a fine surrogate for a ring exchange.

Reverend Charvet:

First off, talk it over between the two of you and find out what it is about the ring-exchange that you DO want—a symbol of some sort, right?? Find out what resonates with both of you about the underlying symbology of wedding rings.

Once you have a handle on what you want it to mean, then look for another symbol to express it. At my own offbeat wedding, a hula hoop was used as the substitute for the ring exchange — it was dropped over us, encircling us on the ground. Be creative! The important thing is that you both understand and feel connected to the symbol, whatever it is! Good Luck!

  1. i think you and your fiance need to sit down together and watch "count of monte cristo" and then see how he feels about the string/ribbon idea!

    2 agree
  2. If you're getting the tattoos *instead* of rings, why not keep them covered/not show them to each other until the ceremony, and have the other person "lift" the covering to reveal the tats?

    Of course this only works if their in a body location you're okay with sharing :P.

    There is also the idea of taking a moment and 'marking' one another, similar to the tattoo idea, just for the ceremony. Each pick a color of ink, and roll a finger in it, and place a fingerprint on the other person. "with this print I mark you as my partner…"?

    Something like that.

    5 agree
  3. Friends of mine had exactly the same dilemma. They shose to plant a kiss on each other's tattoos -drawing attwntion to their 'rings'. It was terribly sweet, far sweeter than anything else I've seen

    5 agree
  4. So maybe I'm simplistic here, but is any symbol necessary? Isn't the meaning in the vows and the love? The visual/physical symbols of rings and ribbons and balloons and hula hoops, aren't they all just icing on the cake? If they have personal meaning to the couple they have a place in the ceremony but otherwise a physical symbol of the marriage is just consumerism.

    Cate – who knows she is standing out on a limb.

    5 agree
  5. So the environmentalist in me has to say, not a big fan of the "releasing balloons" idea, as they'll just deflate and come down somewhere, creating unnecessary litter.

    14 agree
  6. you cn now get eco friendly balloons from most party shops , i have used them for a friends funeral wrer we all let balloons take her away on the wind :o)

    4 agree
  7. My fiancee and I are also getting tattoos and not exchanging rings….though we're getting the tattoos after the ceremony. We decided however, because I come from a Peruvian background to exchange "arras" in place of the the traditional ring exchange. The tradition of exchanging arras is to exchange "coins" with each other to symbolize the future wealth and abundance of the marriage.

    Perhaps instead of exchanging "rings" you could exchange an object of some meaningful between the two of you?

    I dont know…just offering some advice.

    1 agrees
  8. I went to a wedding where they placed symbols of the life they wanted to create into a bag and then buried it. For instance he put a jelly bean in represent good taste. She put in a rubber chicken for humor that she would bring. There was also a piece of doll furniture to represent keeping perspective on the small stuff.

    3 agree
  9. My dilemma is that I do want a ring, but my fiancee will not be wearing one. I am fortunate enough for my grandmother to have given her beautiful vintage set to my then boyfriend to give me before she passed away. He, however, doesn't want a ring, and it doesn't mesh well with his career (as an archaeologist.) Although I am more than fine with this, I feel like I should reciprocate somehow when he gives me my band. Any great brainstormers out there…?

    0 agree
    • Yes rings do get pretty beat up during fieldwork but we archaeologists don't spend ALL our time in the field. And there are times when we Archie's do get dressed up and hit the town. So perhaps a ring to wear when not in the field? Also as an archaeologist in her 40's, the intense fieldwork cannot last forever. The spirit may be willing but the flesh does get weak, particularly the knees. So having a ring to wear after he moves up to project director and spends most of his time at a computer writing up sites his field crew has done the fieldwork for might be nice.

      0 agree
  10. I have an engagement ring I love. the diamonds are from my mother's original ring (3). Now I is shaped unusual and i would need to have a band designed around the ring. Do I have to have a band?

    0 agree
    • I've got an unusually shaped engagement ring, I have a plain wedding band and swapped my engagement ring to my right hand after the wedding. There are a bunch of non-traditionally shaped bands out there, especially if you just need one that curves around a larger center stone. The wedding police will not ticket you for not having a band but there are options other than custom.

      0 agree
  11. as mother of the bride….i'm into tradition. my daughter loves her engagement ring and does not want to wear a band with it. It's an unusual shape. but her future husband will wear a band. Any suggestions on how to do this?

    1 agrees
  12. In response to Fran, I recently got married and decided because my engagement ring was quite unusual that I wouldnt wear a band although my husband was having one – so I just took my engagement ring off the day before and gave it to the best man and we exchanged rings as normal on the day. We also exchanged coins (we got married in Ireland and it is traditional there. As my husband works as a coin dealer we exchanged pieces of 8 (pirate treasure) although as the priest remarked, they were probably stolen property!

    1 agrees
  13. ok, not to dampen the suggestion about releasing locks of hair…
    but balloon releasing is major issue for wildlife.
    Please dont encourage this.

    thanks!

    4 agree
  14. I am getting married this summer in a traditional Iroquois ceremony that does not involve a ring exchange. Instead, the bride and groom exchange items in baskets that symbolize how they are going to take care of each other throughout their marriage. We have simple bands that we're exchanging privately the day before.

    2 agree
  15. I'm getting married next fall. My groom and I are exchanging roses in place of rings and then exchanging rings privately during the cocktail hour before pictures. As a private, intimate moment for us before we join our families in celebration.

    2 agree
  16. My fiancee and I are choosing to do a wedding toast in which we fill the other's glass instead of exchanging rings. I think it's going to work out perfectly!

    2 agree
  17. Some American Indian tribes exchange bowls instead of wrings. The bowls can be decorative or plain. And they can either be empty or full of things that symbolize you intend on bringing to the marriage.

    0 agree

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