What is an Alternative Wedding?

Social media is full of posts and groups about alternative weddings, but what is an alternative wedding? Alternative means a different way of doing something or a substitution for what was requested but is unavailable. So is an alternative wedding a wedding done differently or one that is a substitute for a wedding that is unavailable?

What is an Alternative Wedding?

Everyone’s definition of alternative is personal to them. Some are alternative people who lead an alternative lifestyle so naturally they would have an alternative wedding.
Some want a wedding with the elements of a traditional or recognisable wedding but want a different venue or do not want any guests present.
Some had an unattended wedding either abroad or during the covid restrictions and want a wedding celebration with their families and friends present.
Some do not want to or are unable to legally marry but want a celebration of their commitment to each other.
Some have family expectations which may cause a divide if legally marrying.
Many have a simple, unattended marriage at a registration office then have a wedding ceremony later in a place of their choosing.

Marriage or Wedding

A marriage ceremony is different to a wedding ceremony, but to many they seem to be the same. The main difference is a marriage is a legally recognised union between two people who are legally allowed to be married and agree to it. They do not have to love each (harsh but true), they just need to fit certain criteria, agree to it, and make declarations in front of two witnesses in a place approved for marriage by the local council.

Marriage ceremonies will have certain restrictions in place in relation to words said and music heard. Currently in Wales and England wedding celebrants are unable to perform legal marriage ceremonies even if they are held in a council approved building or place.

A wedding ceremony is a celebration of unity and love, marking the next stage of a relationship. Weddings are about love, their story, and can include unity ceremonies and handfasting during the ceremony, not afterwards (as what happens in some registration office ceremonies).  Music or wording heard are without restrictions if they contain any religious words.

Weddings can take place anywhere regardless of the venue being council approved. This includes outdoors on beaches, in woods, in a field, in a garden or other places. Weddings with a celebrant in England and Wales aren’t marriage ceremonies.

alternative wedding

Alternative Weddings

Some examples of different kinds of alternative weddings:

A Goth Wedding

A Goth wedding for two women both wearing black dresses, held on an evening in a nightclub they attend with their friend’s band playing the music; a celebrant created and led wedding. This is labelled an alternative wedding because they are part of the Goth subculture. 

A Woodland Wedding

An outdoor wedding held in woodlands for two people wearing cloaks and ivy crowns. They have a handfasting ceremony, and a broom jumping; a celebrant created and led wedding. This is referred to as an alternative wedding because it has Pagan wedding customs.

A Festival Wedding

A festival themed wedding for a woman and a man held in a tent in a field with the Bride wearing a rainbow colours dress, the Groom in a short sleeved shirt, jeans, and Vans. Their dogs are their ring bearers; a celebrant created and led wedding. This is categorised as an alternative wedding because it is held outside, and their clothing isn’t deemed to be traditional wedding clothing.

A Summer Wedding

A wedding for a non-alternative man and woman held in a hotel on a summer’s day. The Bride is wearing a white wedding dress and the Groom a navy blue suit.  The Bride’s parents have Christian beliefs and the Bride’s Mother wants to read a religious poem which her Mother read out during the Mother’s church marriage ceremony. The Groom’s parents are atheists; a celebrant created and led wedding. This would be called an alternative wedding due to the personalised ceremony content not following traditional wording.

A Hollywood Themed Wedding

A Hollywood themed wedding for two Grooms held in a Ballroom of a stately home. Everyone is asked to dress as their favourite Hollywood actor or in black tie or ballgown Oscar awards style attire. The Grooms were married in LA in an intimate marriage ceremony there, unattended by anyone and want to write their own vows; a celebrant created and led wedding. This would be classified as an alternative wedding because it is a themed ceremony for two people stating their own vows who are already legally married.

A Beach Wedding

An intimate beach wedding ceremony for two people who do not want to be legally married but want a wedding style ceremony to exchange vows and rings. No guests, no cake, no reception, no wedding party; a celebrant created and led wedding. This would be called an alternative wedding because the elements of what is associated with a wedding do not take place.

A Polyamorous Halloween Wedding

A Halloween wedding for a thruple with everyone dressed in fancy dress a celebrant created and led wedding. Because this is a Polyamorous wedding with three people not two and everyone is wearing fancy dress, this would be an alternative wedding.

All these weddings are different, but all are classed as alternative weddings. All these weddings have two common grounds. One, the desire to want to have a ceremony to mark their union, two they are all created and led by a celebrant.

An alternative wedding is a wedding which is completely personalised to those the day is about. People in love celebrating their union in front of families, friends, work colleagues and other important people to them.

People who choose to have an alternative wedding do so because they want to inject their personality, beliefs, circumstances, lifestyle, style, and choices into their day without restrictions or traditional expectations.

What Happens During an Alternative Wedding

However, around 85% of alternative weddings (from personal experience) do still choose to have the traditional wedding elements. These include:

Inviting people to attend the day
Arriving by specific transport
Having a photographer/videographer capture the day
Hair and make-up done on the day
Wearing a wedding dress (although most aren’t white)
Having a wedding bouquet and flowers
Having a wedding party of people involved in the ceremony
Walking into the ceremony to music with a family member
Saying vows to each other
Exchanging rings
Signing a certificate
Leading out together to music
Having a meal/eating after the ceremony
A drinks toast to the newly weds
Speeches/addressing of guests
An evening reception with food/drinks
Cutting a wedding cake
A first dance

Unlike non-alternative weddings, anything can happen during an alternative wedding. Arriving by tractor, a cheese wedding cake, mead toast, exchanging bangles rather than rings, walking into the ceremony together, or having street food vendors rather than a sit down meal are alternative ways to have what have become recognised parts of a wedding day.

What is expected from an alternative wedding is a memorable and joyous time with the opportunity to have guest participation and the choice of including unity ceremonies. Alternative weddings are creative, unique, fun, romantic or anything they are required to be.

If you would like to have an alternative wedding created and led by an experienced alternative wedding celebrant, get in touch.

Top image by: Alternative Images UK Middle Image Assassynation