Updated December 16, 2014.
I’ve ranted before about couples choosing impersonal wedding readings – like the ubiquitous “Love is patient, love is kind…” But I’ve never told you how to choose a more personal selection. Of course I have a large library of sample wedding readings, but here are my tips on how to choose the wedding reading that is right for you.
Why Choose a Personal Wedding Reading
There’s a reason popular readings become popular – they’re beautiful. But because they’re popular, they become a default. “Love is patient, Love is kind” no longer says anything about the couple getting married – or if it does, it says that they reach for whatever is most convenient and easiest. Your guests have likely been to several other weddings that also used these popular choices.
But more importantly, the search for something personal is an opportunity for you and your spouse-to-be to talk about the meanings of both your relationship and your ceremony.
Start by Considering Religious or Secular Wedding Readings
If you’re getting married in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious settings, you might be limited to passages of scripture. Consult with your spiritual leader or officiant about what is permissible. They may have some suggestions for you – but be careful that these are not only the most popular options.
If you don’t have such limitations, you may want a mix of religious and secular readings, or an all secular wedding. Of course, either is just fine, as long as it fits you and your ceremony.
Discuss How Personal of a Wedding Reading is Right
You or your fiancé may have a poem or song lyric that you love so much it makes you cry. You might find literature that exactly describes your relationship, including the hard parts. But more private people may wish to have wedding readings that only talk about more general themes of love and marriage. And comedians may be more interested in making their guests laugh. I prefer the more personal, but each couple should decide together what level of public intimacy is comfortable for them.
Who is Giving the Wedding Reading?
Depending on who you’ve asked to read, different selections may be more or less appropriate. Don’t give a humorous poem to the most serious friend you have – it will need someone with a sense of comic timing. Save foreign language selections for those who can pronounce them well, or find a good translation. If you’ve chosen poetry, make sure your reader is comfortable finding where to pause and where to give emphasis.
But some couples simply ask their readers to choose wedding readings for them. They know that their readers are those close friends and family whose opinions on marriage they trust. You’ll want to give them some guidelines on length, but then leave it a surprise so you can experience it along with your guests on the big day. This of course, has some danger to it – you don’t know what they’ll choose, or if it will reflect your values. So proceed with caution!
Look for a Variety of Sources
Of course, you’ll also want to read through the library of wedding readings to see the full breadth of options available to you. There are readings from literature, from the bible, as well as readings that are more untraditional.
But don’t feel limited to this selection. When I was engaged, I looked for inspiration everywhere. In fact, one of the things I loved most about being engaged was feeling like I saw love every day, just because I was more open. Your wedding readings are a perfect opportunity for this. When you watch movies, listen to music, or read books, you might find a passage that really speaks to you. And if you have a song whose lyrics you love, but it’s not right for a first dance song, consider incorporating it into your ceremony.
My husband and I ended up using a passage from a blog post. (If you’re curious, our selection starts with, “The story goes that when John Lennon first met Yoko Ono…” about halfway down the page.) Or consider this love poem from Sex and the City, “written” by Carrie Bradshaw. There is love all around you, you just have to look.
How Many Wedding Readings Should You Have?
Typically, most ceremonies have two or three readings. If you’re featuring a musical soloist, or have additional music, you may just want one reading. You don’t want to have too many, or they will overshadow the rites of marriage and the main ritual. If you have too many pieces that you love, you can include them in your programs, on yourthank you notes, or even incorporate them into your toasts.
Consider the Length
In most ceremonies, your readings should last about five minutes total, or one to three minutes each. Remember to factor in the time it will take your reader to walk to the lectern, and gather their thoughts.
Have a Balance
If you have a complicated piece of poetry, pair it with a simple piece of prose. If you like humor, limit yourself to one funny piece paired with a more serious reflection. And of course, overly sentimental or romantic prose needs some lightness next to it.
Leave the “Inside Jokes” Outside
This isn’t the time for insular things that only mean something to you. First of all, such inside jokes are hardly lasting; you want choices that you can read to each other on your fiftieth anniversary and still remember why you chose them. And you want choices that will resonate with your guests.
Make the Search Romantic
If your life is suddenly only worrying about guests lists, budgets, and the awful thing your mother-in-law said to you, finding the perfect wedding reading can be a welcome break. Meet in the bathtub and read each other love poetry. Or slip your favorite selection into their briefcase to find later in the day. You can even write it in lipstick on the bathroom mirror! Whatever you do, make it romantic.