The family altar: a low-maintenance yet highly-sweet family wedding ceremony

Guest post by Maria
All photos by Carly Bish Photography
All photos by Carly Bish Photography

When my honey and I got married, there was less of an issue of managing how people felt about a gay wedding, and more of an issue sorting how to involve our very different families — my big family with big personalities, and her organized family that is less comfortable emoting and extemporizing in public. We knew we didn't want to be “given away” by our dads. My parents are divorced but hers aren't, and we wanted a way to involve our parents that was equivalent without pairing up the parents too much.

Something I came up with, that wound up being one of the sweetest parts of our ceremony, involved each of our family members, with minimal friction and lots of opportunity for creativity and sweet moments. We wound up calling our idea the “family altar.”

All photos by Carly Bish Photography

I dreamed this up in a way that felt sort of Pagan-adjacent — lots of Pagan folks have altars that have objects of evoke different elements/deities/the presence of a particular moment or idea. For our family altar, we asked each of our family members (each of our parents, her two siblings, my three brothers) to find a small object to represent their wishes for our marriage, and suggested things like feathers (to symbolize hope, or communication), or driftwood (to represent travel), or stones (for a grounded marriage). We planned on having this about halfway through the ceremony, having each individual family member come up and put their object on the family altar as explain what it symbolized to those assembled. We gave everybody 30 seconds to talk, which was ultimately enough.

Our families were both intrigued by the creativity in the task we set to them, but also nervous about the open-endedness of the assignment. But on the day of the ceremony, everybody had really lovely objects, and surprised us with their thoughtfulness. My sweetie's sister made us beautiful paper pansies, which symbolize thoughtfulness in Victorian flower language. My mom found small statues of a duck and a basset hound — an homage to the last duck we ever had and our old hound, who were friends, and would walk around the block together — to symbolize our companionship.

© Carly Bish Photography,

It's a good way to involve your family if they have a hard time playing nicely together, or you want to give everyone an opportunity to shine without micromanaging, or if there are not enough short poems to satisfy everyone who will feel disappointed if they do not get a chance to talk at your wedding. It gives your family members the opportunity to come up with really personal, sweet things to share with you, and it is a relatively low-maintenance ritual that doesn't take up too much time during your wedding ceremony. I really encourage you to give it a try!

We are hoping to assemble these things in a shadowbox for posterity. (But that aspect of post-wedding wrap up is still on the to-do list. At least the thank you notes are done…)

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Comments on The family altar: a low-maintenance yet highly-sweet family wedding ceremony

  1. Wow, this is so lovely and the perfect inspiration for what I’m hoping to achieve at my (someday soon probably maybe) backyard wedding. Wonderful that everyone got to participate in a heartfelt way. Congrats to you both!

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