Traditionally, it’s called “the pronouncement,” and traditionally, it comes after the signing of the registry.
Also traditionally, wedding ceremonies didn’t include all that much fun.
What’s “the pronouncement?”
Aptly named, the pronouncement is the part of the ceremony when we wedding officiants will say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife!” or “I now pronounce you as married!” It’s almost always immediately followed by, “You may kiss your bride!” or “You may share your first married kiss!” And when the couple kiss, everyone claps and cheers.
But when that happens, something else happens, too. And it’s something I only noticed after officiating my first dozen-or-so weddings.
When the couple kiss, all the tension leaves the room.
This is no small thing.
As fun and modern wedding officiants, we’re aiming to mitigate as much of that inherent formality-tension as much as we can. Now, we also don’t want to eliminate it from the wedding ceremony entirely. After all, a wedding ceremony is rightly formal, and the tension in the room comes from the gravity of the moment: of two people promising to be each other’s one-and-only until death.
But when does the tension snap like a guitar string? It’s when the couple kiss and the guests get to cheer.
Sign-then-kiss or kiss-then-sign?
When we officiants preside over a legal wedding ceremony, part of the ceremony includes the “signing of the registry.” (That’s what it’s called in my part of the world in Canada.) And traditionally, the signing of the registry comes after the exchange of the rings and before the pronouncement of the couple as married.
For the first many weddings I officiated, I simply followed this tradition. The couple would exchange rings, and then we would go sign the registry. Then we would come back to centre-stage and I would “now pronounce you husband and wife!” or what have you. Everyone would cheer and the atmosphere in the room would completely change to pure joy and readiness to party.
One day I had a thought.
What if I could inject that atmosphere of pure joy and readiness-to-party into the ceremony earlier? Like, before the signing of the registry?
So I asked my next scheduled couple if we could do the pronouncement, then kiss, then the signing. They were down. And when we did it, I never looked back.
Here are 5 reasons I prefer kiss-then-sign over sign-then-kiss, and always recommend to my couples that we do it this way.
1. The guests can talk during the signing
Okay, so we’ve already established that when we pronounce the couple as married and they kiss and everyone cheers, the tension is completely gone from the ceremony.
Here’s the difference that makes practically.
When I followed the tradition of moving from exchanging rings to signing the registry, all the guests were totally hushed. Silent. Watching the signing like it was an exhibition. What else were they to do? Sure, they’d laughed during the telling of the story and whatnot. But the signing was still a “no-talking” time. It had the atmosphere of being in a library.
But when I switched things up from sign-then-kiss to kiss-then-sign, the guests were now free to start sharing their exuberance with each other. Talk. It’s not a library. It’s an intermission crowd. They’re laughing and chatting, comparing notes about what they loved in the ceremony, commenting on what they’re looking forward to next in the reception. There’s a buzz and excitement.
In a nutshell, it’s way better for the guests.
2. The wedding party can be rowdy during the signing
For the entire ceremony up to know, chances are the wedding parties have been on their best behaviour. Meaning, they’ve been just standing there. Their role is a symbolic gesture – “standing up” with the couple as a sign of encouragement and support.
But when it comes to signing time, it’s a lot more fun for the wedding party – often a group of friends – to be able to chat and interact with each other rather than just stand silently and watch.
The kiss-before-signing means they can have some fun too and ham it up in the din of the guests talking and the couple signing.
3. The music can be more upbeat during the signing
This is both a benefit and something you need to advise the couple about.
But when my first few of weddings went for the latter option, I noticed that it clashed with the jovial atmosphere we’ve created with the kiss-before-signing. The music was acting like a wet blanket on a fire that wanted to roar.
So now, I let the couple know: when we do it this less traditional way, the vibe is going to be way more upbeat. So try to pick a song that’s upbeat to match it.
And the bonus: all my couples are really happy to choose something fun for this part. Something that’s more meaningful to them – that they’ve rocked out to together on the radio, rather than the music of an old dead white guy from 400 years ago. (As nice as that can be sometimes, like a few minutes earlier during the processional, perhaps).
4. More people laughing means better wedding photos
There are going to be a lot of posed pictures from the wedding day. The photographer probably doesn’t need an occasion for yet more of those stiff and wooden shots. She’ll get all of those she needs from other parts of the day.
In my experience with wedding photographers, the occasions for them to capture candid moments of levity are actually more rare. So when we do the kiss before signing, we’re providing a windfall of great shots for them. Just about everyone in the room will be chatting and smiling and being more relaxed.
Before the ceremony, I always inform the photographers that I do the kiss before the signing so they’re ready to get lots of great shots during that part of the ceremony.
5. The wedding officiant can be more conversant with the couple
Last but not least, it’s way more fun when the couple can talk and laugh and “holy-cow-we’re-married!” a little bit during the signing with each other and their handpicked witnesses – and the wedding officiant!
When the kiss is to come afterwards, the couple kind of just do the business or signing in virtual silence, acutely aware that the guests are quietly and politely watching them.
But when everyone is talking and laughing and the music is upbeat, our couple follow in kind. They can laugh about the ceremony, and joke with each other about the massive significance of what their signature here means, and get hearty congrats from me and their Best Man or Maid of Honour.
And it leads to another important moment. Because the wedding officiant presents the couple for the first time right after the signing and then they rocket down the aisle and whisk off to photos or a secluded room for snacks and energy drinks, this is the best time to tell them thanks, goodbye, and to wish them all the best. You may not be able to find them after the ceremony!
So I love to do this when I’ve put my final signature on the page and we’re ready to move back to centre stage. I give them hugs, thank them for the honour of officiating their wedding, and wish ’em all the very best.
All that is hard to do very enthusiastically when it’s dead silent and the couple feels like every word they whisper is through a megaphone and every move is in a fishbowl.
Something to note: all my above reasons are served up with the caveat of my wedding ceremony maxim: “it’s not the wedding officiant’s ceremony; it’s the couple’s ceremony.” So if the couple want to do the pronouncement after the signing the traditional way, we honour their wishes and do it the traditional way.
I’ve taken to just putting the pronouncement before the signing by default. Most don’t even question it. If the couple ask or object, I tell them my 5 reasons why I prefer kiss-before-sign over sign-before-kiss. And I leave the final decision up to them.
But let’s face it: putting the pronouncement before the signing has a lot going for it.