Bride and groom kneel down in the sand to pot a plant together as their unity ceremony for their elopement

14 Elopement Ceremony Ideas

What To Do During Your Elopement Ceremony

If you’re trying to decide what you want to include in your elopement ceremony then you’ve probably already decided on the big stuff like ceremony location and time of year. Those huge details can feel like a massive weight has been lifted once you figure them out and now you can focus on all the smaller (but equally important) decisions like what traditions you may, or may not, want to include in your elopement ceremony. These unique and creative elopement ceremony ideas will help you create a ceremony that feels fun and meaningful to you both.

You may have already briefly touched on this topic when first deciding to elope. Maybe you came across my page and asked yourself, “What are we going to do for eight hours on our elopement?” Spoiler alert: there’s so much you can do! You might be feeling a little stuck now trying to figure out how to make your elopement ceremony still feel important and valid, even if you don’t have an officiant.

I’ve had so many couples choose to have a just us elopement day where it’s literally just the two of them plus me as their adventure photographer (and occasionally a dog or two!) so, believe me, I’ve heard it all when it comes to trying to figure out how to make your non-traditional wedding ceremony feel valid. There’s a ton of really old traditions when it comes to weddings. That might have even been part of the reason you both chose to elope! I know exactly how it feels to just want to throw those traditions to the wind and say to hell with it.

I’m right there with you.

Table of Contents

  1. What is an elopement ceremony?
  2. How to make your ceremony feel special
  3. Elopement ceremony ideas
  4. Additional Elopement Planning Resources

An elopement ceremony is the union between two people who exchange a few words to legally get married.

The official rules behind what makes your ceremony legal differ from county to state to country. In Oregon you just need an officiant and two witnesses, but in other places you can have your dog sign as witness or even self-solemnize (marry yourselves)! One of the beautiful things about elopements is that your ceremony can happen almost anywhere out in nature.

I’ve found that elopement ceremonies tend to be much more emotional for everyone involved and are really focused on your love and passion for one another and who you are as a couple. Eloping couples love to include heartfelt symbols in their ceremonies and almost always handwrite their vows.

How To Make Your Elopement Ceremony Feel Special

When you elope, you no longer have to stick to rigid timelines, scripts, vows, formats, or a particular place. Some of my couples know exactly where they want to say their personal wedding vows while others just wait until we walk to the spot that feels right in the moment.

Making your elopement ceremony feel special is all about what the two of you love. If you want to say your own vows or sing a song to your partner or have a cellist play music while you dance, it’s all up to you! Don’t include anything you don’t want to and try to remember to have fun with it. Write down all of your elopement ceremony ideas and see which ones you and your partner connect with the most. You can include more than one idea!

You don’t have to include religion to have a valid wedding ceremony.

Some of the best things to include in your elopement ceremony are anything that makes it fun for you. My husband and I chose to do a pour painting for our unity ceremony and now we get to have a great piece of abstract art on our walls. If you’re avid plant parents, potting your own plant is the perfect way to stay in touch with your real lives while still celebrating the best day ever. Your elopement ceremony ideas don’t have to be traditional at all.

14 Wedding Traditions to Include in Your Elopement


Writing and exchanging vows is one of the most common things eloping couples choose to include in their ceremonies. What I love about vow ceremonies is that your wedding vows can be anything you want them to be. They don’t have to be the traditional “I vow to blah blah blah,” but they can be fun and creative too! Most eloping couples love to really focus on their vows and handwrite them. I gift my new couples with handmade vow books so they can have something beautiful and special to write their vows in!

Some of my couples will write their vows ahead of time while others prefer to wait until their wedding day to write them together. Sometimes their vows are a part of their unity ceremony, saying the same vows together. You can also write your vows as a kind of love letter to your partner. There isn’t a right or wrong way to tell your partner you love them, which is why vows are so universal.

Sand pouring

Sand pouring is an awesome way to symbolize your unity or blending of families. I’ve seen this most at weddings where one or both partners already have a child from a previous relationship and they want to make sure they feel included in the ceremony. Sand pouring is when you each have your own color of sand in a separate bottle. When it comes time to pour them together, you go one at a time creating a layered effect in a cool jar you bought. Now, you not only had a cool unity symbol in your wedding but also have a nice piece of artwork to display in your home!

If you want to do the sand pouring, make sure you’re not eloping on a windy day. The wind could blow the sand everywhere and mess up the artwork. It’s also important to make sure you don’t shake the container after you’ve poured your different colors of sand together. If you shake it too much the sand will start to mix together and you won’t be able to see the lines anymore.

Pour painting

Similar to the sand unity ceremony, pour painting involves you and your partner taking a color of paint and pouring them together over a canvas. I actually really love this unity ceremony and even did it for my own small wedding ceremony!! It’s a little bit more involved than just pouring some painting on a canvas and you’ll want to make sure you use a thinner on your paint so it can cover the whole canvas. I also recommend using at least a few colors of paint to make it more dynamic!

Sage smudging

Another elopement ceremony idea to consider is sage smudging. Sage smudging is about cleansing away any bad energy and replacing it with good or positive energy. I don’t recommend this ceremony if you don’t understand the history behind it, but it can be a really beautiful way to become in tune with your ceremony space. Plus, it smells good!

Ring exchange

One of the most common symbols couples include in their elopement ceremony is to exchange rings. The symbol of the ring with no beginning or end is a powerful sentimentality. This is an age-old custom that I think we often forget isn’t technically necessary if you don’t want to do it! More often than not, i think rings have become more about decoration for our hands, but I still love them! Exchanging rings is a really nice way to give your partner a gift on your wedding day without having to go out and buy something random.

You definitely don’t have to go the traditional route when it comes to finding the perfect rings. Feel free to forgo the shiny diamond or multi-band ring set if it doesn’t feel like you. There are some amazing designers on Etsy who can make rings out of wood or moss or you could even make your wedding ring yourself! Some couples choose to get tattoos of wedding bands instead of jewelry. I know, Aunt Karen is screaming right now and that’s okay.


The handfasting tradition comes from a Celtic ritual that ties your hands together as a way to symbolize two lives becoming one. Handfasting lets you get a little creative with the colors and textures of the cloth you want to use to tie your hands together. It’s also a great keepsake to remember your day. You can use the ribbon to tie together your bouquet, printed photos, or weave it in your hair.

If you don’t have an officiant present at your elopement, it may get a little tricky to find the right way to tie yourselves together on your own. With a little practice beforehand though, you’ll be pros!

Gourd wine exchange

The gourd wine exchange is a Korean unity ceremony. In this ceremony, the couple drinks their wine from their gourd half and then pours the remaining back inside the other vessel. Once the wine is mixed together, it is poured into their gourd halves once more and they drink again, symbolizing two individuals blending together as one. Most often, this ceremony is accompanied by a third person who does the wine pouring for you.

Wedding toast

A wedding toast can be made by the wedding couple or by a guest. Or both! Toasting your partner can be a really sweet way to say some words to each other without writing full vows. Toasts are always a nice thing to witness from guests if you’ve got a few tagging along with you on your adventure elopement. I always recommend trying to set just a few guidelines with your guests if you’re going to ask them to say a few words. Key phrase here being just a “few words”. NOBODY wants to sit through a 15-minute speech. Trust me, it’s painful for everyone!

Asking your guests to say a toast can sometimes be really overwhelming for them so be sure to understand that before you ask. Public speaking isn’t a gift everyone has, but I’ve found if you just ask them to write a small letter it can work really well too.

Unity candle

Another really common unity ceremony is the unity candle. You can have any kind of candle to light together, but the most common individual candles are the tapered ones! To perform a unity candle ceremony you need three candles: Two tapered candles (one for each of you) and one center candle. I recommend your center candle be a bit larger so you can light it again and again every year and enjoy it! Light the tapered candles and then use those flames to light the center candle together.

Because of the nature of fire, it’s important to consider your environment when planning to do this unity ceremony. DO NOT do a unity candle ceremony if there is a no-fire warning in your elopement area. I also wouldn’t ever really recommend trying to do a unity candle ceremony if you’re eloping on the coast because it’s always windy.

Get a tattoo

Want something a little more permanent? Getting a tattoo together is the answer! I love this new tradition because it’s a fun way to add a little thrill to your elopement day. I’ve even seen some couples hire a tattoo artist to tattoo small tats on each of their guests (if they want one, of course).

If you want, you can tattoo a wedding band on your finger instead of wearing jewelry or you can just tattoo something else. Wedding dates, initials, or quotes from your vows are all really popular choices for a wedding day tattoo!

Pot a plant

A new favorite of mine is when couples bring a new plant to pot together! Watch your love grow at the same time as your new house plant. It’s perfect! Make sure you don’t bring a plant into nature that’s an invasive species to the natural habitat and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. These photos will be amazing!

If you want to take a step further, you can get a little artsy the night before your elopement and paint your new pot together. Craft paint and true love? That is a great pre-wedding activity just begging to happen.

Rock paper scissors

This isn’t necessarily a unity ceremony, but if you and your partner love playing games, this is a cute way to incorporate that! Are you unsure who should say their vows first? Rock, paper, scissors!!

Exchange flowers/gifts

Giving a gift to your partner either before or during your ceremony is a sweet way to let them know you’re thinking of them. You could exchange watches, paintings, photo books, flowers, or really anything you know they will love! Definitely don’t feel pressured to buy them a gift if it’s not who you are as a couple, but if you want to, go for it! Gift-giving is one of the love languages, after all!

Include those who couldn’t be there

Just because you choose to elope doesn’t mean you can’t also include your loved ones, too. If you choose not to have any guests, you could instead Facetime with your friends and family while you’re getting ready for the day or right after you officially say I do. Sharing that excitement with them is a great way to get your alone time but also feel like everyone is right there with you.

Another thing my couples have done before is asking their family to write them letters to open on their wedding day. After your ceremony, we will find a great spot to sit down and look at the views while you both open a big pile of letters written specifically for you at this moment. There are always tears and it’s really sweet!

If you have loved ones who have already passed but want to acknowledge them at your wedding, you can get photos of them printed out and put them in a locket to wrap around your wedding bouquet or have them placed next to you for your ceremony. There are so many ways to include your loved ones and I encourage you to do what feels personal and right to you!

Having an elopement or intimate wedding day means you get to choose what feels special to you. You don’t have to partake in traditions that feel weird or old-fashioned and can instead put a new spin on your unity ceremony or how you spend the time on your day. I LOVE seeing how all of my couples choose to signify their union and I hope this post gave you some ideas!

MORE great elopement planning tips and tricks

If you’re still searching for your perfect elopement dress or suit, head to this blog all about where to find sustainable elopement attire for your wedding day. I know figuring out how to be the most eco-friendly you can on your wedding day is a little stressful so I created this blog all about the best sustainable wedding practices so you can be eco-conscious without the headache!

Planning out your whole elopement day can feel overwhelming. I help all of my couples figure out the perfect timeline for their day, but head over to this blog if you want to know the best way to create your own elopement day timeline.

Similar Posts