Three couples share how they made their ceremonies their own.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published June 2019.

In an effort to personalize your wedding, you’ve tried on countless dresses, added and deleted names from an ever-evolving guest list and taste-tested cakes with every kind of filling or frosting imaginable.

So why can’t the wedding ceremony itself scream “you,” too?

From tweaking a traditional element to rethinking the whole event, couples throughout Central Ohio are finding ways to weave personal elements into their ceremonies. The results can make a couple’s most significant day all the more distinctive.

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 Low-Key Love

By the time they got married in September 2018, Haley and Landon Slater had been dating since both were in high school. With so much history between them, the Lancaster residents did not want to make too big of a deal out of their wedding. “We’ve been together for a little over seven years now,” says Haley. “It feels like our families are already pretty blended, and we have a very similar friend group, so we wanted to just keep it really relaxed.”

A three-month engagement felt right. “We’d been dating for so long,” says Landon. “We were just like, ‘We want to get married soon, so there’s no real reason for us to keep waiting.’ ”

With the goal of keeping the event personal and low-key, the couple made a series of decisions to make their day their own. “We knew it was going to happen pretty fast,” Landon says. “We both came to the conclusion that we wanted it to be just as wholesome as possible, and intimate; just a celebration with our closest friends and family.”

For starters, nearly everything used in the ceremony was either borrowed from Landon’s grandparents or purchased secondhand for a warm, personal touch. The setting, too, was selected for its intimacy: The couple hoped to get married in a pasture adjacent to the home of Landon’s grandparents, but when the forecast ended up calling for rain, the ceremony was moved to their driveway. “Luckily, my stepdad had rented some tents just in case,” Haley says. “That ended up working out.”

The day began, though, in the pasture where the event had first been planned. When the weather briefly broke, the couple—who had determined to not see or speak to each other a full week before the big day—went outside to share their vows privately. They were accompanied only by their photographer. “I thought it was a really sweet first look,” Haley says. “There were so many emotions tied into just physically not being with each other for a whole week.”

To officiate the marriage, Haley and Landon wanted someone familiar with their relationship. In the end, they selected Landon’s sister, Olivia Slater. “We felt [that] she had really been there through a lot of the trials and errors, and through our whole engagement,” Haley says.

After being walked down the aisle by both her biological father and stepfather, Haley was surprised by Landon’s mother, who read a letter she had penned to her new daughter-in-law. “She wrote a really, really heartfelt letter to me as the woman who’s marrying her son,” Haley says. “It was a sob fest, basically.” Then, after Olivia spoke about the meaning of marriage, it was time for the couple to revisit their vows. “It was more like promises to each other that we felt comfortable sharing in a large crowd,” Haley says.

The two decided to close the wedding with a foot-washing ceremony. Although Haley and Landon each have religious backgrounds, the moment was less about the Christian parable and more of an expression of giving between the two. “We thought it painted a really beautiful picture of sacrifice and partnership and humility,” Haley says. “We definitely personalized it and made it much more about painting that picture versus replicating a biblical tradition.”

Honoring Heritage

Maria and Heath Donohue of Clintonville were married in a more traditional religious setting—in their case, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church—but they, too, made modifications to their ceremony.

“We didn’t want a cookie-cutter wedding,” says Heath. “We wanted something that was more personal to us, so we decided to implement these Irish traditions.” As a nod to the couple’s ancestries, Heath and the groomsmen were outfitted with formal Irish ensembles that included kilts. A bagpiper played during the processional and recessional, and Irish step dancers from a local academy performed at the reception.

As a further acknowledgment of their heritages, Maria and Heath held an oathing stone—an object traditionally used in ceremonies in Irish culture—as they said their vows. “It was actually made in Ireland,” says Maria. Adds Heath: “It was just to get us back to our Irish culture—something that we could do together and would last forever.”

The kilts and bagpiper were preapproved by church officials, but the oathing stone was planned in secret. “We didn’t really tell them about the oathing stone, so we kind of did that ourselves,” Maria says. “They might not have approved that one.”

The reaction of those in attendance, though, was nothing less than enthusiastic. “We didn’t tell anyone about the Irish step dancers or even the bagpiper,” Maria says. “We had a lot of family from out of town, so it was a surprise, and they were shocked and loved it.”

Regardless of the responses elicited by their choices, though, the Donohues were at peace with their personal touches. “Whether or not someone would enjoy it, we just did what we wanted,” Maria says. “You can really get hung up on what someone’s going to like, or what your other guests are going to enjoy, [but] it really comes down to a celebration for you two.”

Ultimately, adds Heath, the couple “didn’t want a wedding for other people; we wanted a wedding for ourselves that we would enjoy.”

Words to Live By

For some couples, nothing is more important at a wedding than what is said. Ahead of their marriage at The Athletic Club of Columbus, Amy and Justin Waugh of Powell were firm in their wish to formulate their own vows. “We probably talked about it for at least a few weeks or a few months,” says Justin.

“We wanted to take each line from the traditional vows and then make it into something that would be more meaningful for us,” adds Amy. “We kept it in the same number of lines and just altered them to make it more for us.”

The couple found some examples of vows they liked on Pinterest, then changed them to add elements of their own personalities. The results were far from expected. Gone are lines like, “I will love and honor you all the days of my life.” Instead, Amy and Justin’s vows began: “I promise to give you the best of myself.”

Amy and Justin further pledged to share laughs with each other, to grow and change along each new adventure and to understand each other’s needs and desires. They even added a note of humor to their vows: “To never go to bed angry and to always make time for snuggles.”

The personalization went beyond the vows themselves. Grant Ison—Amy’s brother and the couple’s officiant—emailed Amy and Justin in advance with a handful of questions to help construct what he would say during the ceremony. “He used those answers to build his speech … and add a personal touch there,” Justin says.

“The entire ceremony started with how we met,” Amy says. “Then he [added] our favorite parts about each other, our favorite parts of our relationship, pivotal moments of our relationship.”

Although attendees sometimes view the ceremony itself as a prelude to the party, Amy and Justin felt that the guests at their wedding were paying close attention.

“It was really nice to have all of our friends and family—who were a part of each step in our story—actually get to relive that while we were standing up there,” says Amy, who adds that couples should stand firm if they wish to add their personalities to a ceremony. “You get a lot of pushback during the wedding-planning process, especially from parents, about doing the traditional thing,” she says. “Anything that makes you guys happy and fits your style is the most important piece.”