In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a reflection on one of my favorite Irish symbols – The Claddagh by Chanelle Carlin, Washington State Wedding Officiant and Your ‘Celebrant for Life’

For those who know me or have spent any time reading my website, you know that I lived in Ireland for eight years…and loved every minute of my time there. So, in honor of the month we’re in…March… and a little over a week from St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I would share a post today about one of my favorite Irish symbols and one that couples often ask about…the Claddagh.  Before I get to that, I thought I would reflect on Ireland for a sec. It is the one place apart from Camp Killoqua in Stanwood, Washington that ever truly felt like home. Sometime, I will share a bit more about my Irish experience and how it influences me as your Celebrant for Life. In the meantime, here are a couple of photos from my time there. The first is a photo of the top of the street that I lived on when I first moved to Ireland (after staying with friends). If you look closely, there is a red brick building in the middle of the photo on the right. That was my building. I shared a flat (apartment) with two other girls. My first job in Ireland was down at the other end of the street on the left.

Dublin Street, Monaghan. The street where I first lived in Monaghan, Ireland. 

woman standing in a pink coat next to a hedge in rural ireland with gray buildings in background
Me standing along the side of a hedge in Clogher, Co. Tyrone (approx. 2010)

The Claddagh – enough about me for now…

I thought you might enjoy a little history as well as info on how to wear the Claddagh ring, plus one VERY important piece of info that you’ll want to read at the very end. 

The Claddagh is one of Ireland’s most recognized and precious images. Two hands embracing a heart adorned with a crown symbolize the purity of a cherished relationship – friendship (hands), love (heart) and loyalty (crown).  

Image by Mégane Percier from Pixabay 

Claddagh is a Place 

When we hear “Claddagh”, most of us think ring or maybe even door knocker. But Claddagh is actually a place. It’s located in County Galway on the west coast of Ireland and THE place where a fisherman-turned-goldsmith transformed his undying commitment to the woman he loved into the renowned band of gold. (More about the legend in a bit…)  

In an area once known as the Fish Market and named after the Irish word for “shore” – an Cladach, Claddagh is one of Ireland’s oldest former fishing communities. It is located in Galway city, just across the River Corrib from the Spanish and Caoċ Arches, the remaining structure of a protective wall constructed in 1584. Very little of the original village is present today due to shifts in industry, emigration, disease and war but the history and lore remains. You can find out more about Claddagh here .

Image by Snail from Pixabay

Hands, Heart & Crown 

There are many legends surrounding the original design of the Claddagh ring and most point toward Galway fisherman Richard Joyce.  In the late 17th century, Joyce was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. While in servitude, he forged a ring of gold for his true love back in Galway featuring three symbols: a heart of love, a crown of loyalty and hands of friendship.  After his release back to his village of Claddagh, he married the woman who had waited years for him to return. “With these hands I give you my heart, and I crown it with my love”. 

Image by Mégane Percier from Pixabay   

Traditionally, a Claddagh ring was passed from a mother to her daughter. Or in my case, from daughter to mother. I gave my mom a pair of Claddagh earrings when I lived in Ireland. Often a family heirloom, the symbol of love, loyalty and friendship is also commonly exchanged between friends.  

Most popular though is the wearing of a Claddagh ring as a symbol of romance. The Claddagh ring is to be worn in a specific way depending upon your relationship ‘status.’ 

How to Wear a Claddagh Ring 

Before getting married, the ring should be worn on your right hand. 

If you’re single, wear the ring with your heart facing out. This tells people you’re open to dating, i.e. that your heart is available to give to another person. The heart should point toward the end of your finger, rather than the center of your hand, and the crown should point inward. 

Once you’re dating someone and you feel committed, wear the ring with the heart facing in. This shows your heart is currently unavailable. The Claddagh should be turned around so the heart points toward the center of your hand. 

Once you are married, the ring can be moved to the left hand. For some, you can move the Claddagh ring to the left hand once you’re engaged (heart pointing out to the tip of your finger) and then turned around to have the heart pointed toward the center of your hand as part of the wedding ceremony. 

Image by Kilkenny Design 


Regardless of whether or not you’re looking for love, one thing is certain – never buy your own Claddagh ring. It must be gifted or received. It’s bad luck, and who knows more about luck than the Irish? 

Image by Alexa from Pixabay   

I hope you enjoyed this brief little post about one of my favorite Irish symbols as we get ready for St. Patrick’s Day. Do you have a favorite Irish symbol? Have you been to Ireland? I’d love to hear one of your stories. 

Thank you as well to and for much of the information gathered for this post. 

About Chanelle:  

Photo credit: Roxanne Best

Chanelle Carlin is Your Celebrant for Life. She is an ordained minister, professional wedding officiant, coach, and owner of Chanelle Carlin Weddings, LLC. Believing that life and love should be celebrated every minute, she collaborates with couples who’ve already started building the foundations of their relationship over the years and are now ready to venture forth into marriage with a custom, memorable (for all the right reasons) elopement/intimate wedding ceremony. While Chanelle works throughout the Pacific Northwest and Ireland primarily, she gladly travels to wherever her couples prefer to marry. As their Celebrant for Life, Chanelle also celebrates all the special milestones and moments that matter in each of her couples’ lives. She lives with her family in rural Okanogan County, Washington, USA, and totally LOVES her life. You can visit Chanelle at, on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. 


Why & How to Care for Yourself Leading up to Your Big Day

There are so many ways to practice self-care before your wedding but the main thing to understand is why. You’re planning your wedding. It’s going to be beautiful, special and you’ve been thinking about it for years. You want it to be perfect so you and your partner need to take care of yourselves (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually).  It’s just that there is SO much to do beforehand…even when you have your wedding team in place, it can feel overwhelming. I know.

Well, as your officiant, one of my promises to you is to encourage you in your self-care, so here I am, doing just that. There are lots of easy things that you both can do to take care of your mind, body and spirit and if you’re wanting help along the way, I’ve got you covered there too.



Staying up all night watching IG videos or pinning your favorite wedding decor might sound like a good idea, but it’s really not good for sleeping.  Studies have shown that the blue light from your phone suppresses melatonin, which keeps you from sleeping well and ultimately feeling refreshed, not to mention possible connections with diseases such as diabetes. The best thing to do? Start a sleep schedule where you try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (even on the weekends). And as far as the blue light, aim to put down all your electronics 2-3 hours before bedtime (OK  – at LEAST half an hour before bed). One of the things I have found helpful is to put down/shut off the electronics and hour before bed, take care of final tasks in the kitchen or around the house, grab a cup of herbal tea, wash my face and brush my teeth. All of that takes me about 45 minutes and by then, I am calm and ready to sleep, my house feels ready for the morning and my skin is ready for nightly rejuvenation. If I’m still a bit awake, I will read a book (old-fashioned kind – no electronic versions).

Sleep, good sleep is vital


I know…there is so much to do in our daily lives even without planning a wedding that our nutrition can get off track. However, when we don’t eat properly, there are all kinds of potential impacts: weight gain, weight loss, digestive trouble, skin irritation and dark circles, stress, frustration, injury and illness to name a few. Some basic things to try: 

  • Drink less caffeine (we PNW folks LOVE our coffee and tea), alcohol and pop – there is a lot of sodium in sodas. 
  • Drink MORE water – this will keep your skin hydrated as well as keep your digestive system working the way it is designed to.
  • Increase your fresh veggie and fruit intake (mostly veggies), even by a little bit. Our bodies thrive when they get treated to fresh food. It also helps the hair, skin and digestion.
  • Decrease processed foods as much as possible. I love pizza as much as the next person, but it’s not good for us to eat it every day, or even twice a week.
  • You may even want to try a nutritional cleanse.  In 2008, I began a nutritional cleanse program and lost 70 lbs in six months. It was AWESOME. Don’t have six months until your wedding? That’s ok. In the first 90 days, I had lost over 40 lbs and felt AMAZING. You might not need to lose that much or ANY for that matter. A nutritional cleanse is more about removing toxins from the body that come from stress, the environment and processed foods.

I am once again working with and using Isagenix cleanse products because I LOVE knowing that I am giving my body the nutritional support it needs with products I know are life-changing (they already have been for me). If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit my website here. If you have questions, I will be happy to answer them and share my story in more detail. 


So…did you already join the gym? Are you going as often as you planned? If yes, you’re a rockstar and well done! If not, that’s ok. I don’t judge. I have bought more gym memberships that went unused in my lifetime than I care to think about. BUT… exercise/movement is important for a healthy body, mind and spirit. I actually prefer to go for walks, hikes, dance around my kitchen and living room when no one is watching, play ball with my cat (I know it sounds weird, but he loves to race them). AND, these don’t have to take a lot of time. 10-15 minutes at a go, can be really beneficial and with as much time as most of us scroll social media in an evening or on a lunch break, we can usually find 10 minutes for a quick game of chase the ball with your cat, I mean stroll around the block. 🙂 

Taking care of your skin

You’re most likely having some photos taken at your wedding. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition and stress can really take a toll on our skin. Since I know that you want your photos to show your natural, just married glow, try to prioritize a skincare routine. Ideally, twice per day, you should cleanse and moisturize, but if that is too much, at LEAST do it before bed. Our skin cells rejuvenate overnight when our bodies are sleeping. Washing and moisturizing before that just aids in that process. 

I recently became a brand ambassador for a luxury skincare line that also has a super yummy, drinkable collagen. My skin feels AMAZING (I live in the desert and have been experiencing dry skin for years), my dark circles and dark spots on my forehead and hands are almost gone).


Emotional self-care is just as important as taking care of our physical health. Our minds and hearts need attention too.

Time Together

Date night

How about Date Night once a week?

Wedding planning can become all-consuming, so I encourage you and your partner to take a night, once a week if possible, and go out here so you don’t talk about the wedding. Just have fun, laugh, tell jokes, talk about work (right?!), maybe even go for a walk or a hike and take care of some physical self-care at the same time.

“You” Time

time for a bubble bath

Sometimes we are so busy taking care of our partner, the kids, the parents, working, planning a wedding, and answering questions from everyone else, that we forget that we need to have time alone too. You know, just to breathe and BE. This is a great time to lock yourself in the bathroom and take a bubble bath. Turn on some music, SOAK and relax.

Time with Friends

After you’re done having your “You” time, maybe try some time with friends just to relax and NOT talk wedding stuff. How about a movie or girls’ hike or even a spa day (pedicure?).

self care time with the girls – pc Joel Muniz (via

Don’t estimate the power of time with your girlfriends/guy friends. Yes, guys need to practice self-care too and they need time with their buddies.

self care round of golf with the boys – pc Getty Images/creator pixelfit

To-Do Lists

All this time talking about not talking about wedding stuff may have you thinking, yeah, but Chanelle, I have a wedding to plan and I can’t NOT talk about it or DO wedding things. I get it, but I also know how deep the rabbit hole can get sometimes, so I recommend setting aside a certain number of hours per week for wedding research/planning/doing AND I recommend sticking to that allotted amount of time. Keep track of things you want to get done in your wedding planning notebook or “to-do list”.

To Do List…

Best Self Care Idea Yet – Get Support

Hire a Wedding Planner. I promise you that the amount of stress, energy and emotional overwhelm that you will save by having a wedding planner will far outweigh any money you spend. These folks are awesome and like your officiant (yours truly), they live for weddings. The things it takes you hours to find and do, take them no time at all. Their whole job is to alleviate your stress and help your vision for your wedding come to life. AND…there is a wedding planner for every budget (I promise). If you would like a recommendation for an amazing PNW Wedding planner, let me know. I work with some incredible, talented and creative people.

Even if you decide not to go with a wedding planner, ask for help when you need it! Your family, friends, and bridal party will happily help you plan and take things off your plate when it all gets to be too much.


As I said at the beginning, we need to care for our body, mind and spirit when it comes to self-care. for some, this can mean worship and time at church or temple. For others, it may look a little less structured.



Taking a few moments to decompress each day will help keep you sane. Even if you think regular meditation is silly, all it takes is 5 minutes to help center you and focus on the day ahead. I generally set aside an hour each day for my devotional time (reading scripture, prayer), but I have found that just taking 15 minutes a day to write down all the things I am thankful for that day and in that moment (from the biggest, down to the most detailed things) helps me feel calmer and peaceful.


Couple walking. Photo by Catalin Paterau on

I’m a HUGE fan of walking and not just for exercise, but to clear my head. I’ve also managed to solve all the world’s problems on more than one long walk (too bad no one was ever there with me to listen in). 🙂 Your walks don’t even have to be long ones or even overly speedy. If you just get out for 10-15 minutes at a time, you’ll likely find your stress level going down and your energy going up. In the winter, when it is too cold outside (we often have sub-freezing temperatures), I walk the halls of our house just to ‘get my steps in’. 

Monthly favorite treats

We all have something we love to treat ourselves to, and when you’re planning a wedding (or just living life in general) it’s always nice to take the time to take care of yourself. If you love a great massage or a mani/pedi, treat yourself to one. Maybe it’s decadent dark chocolate (my favorite) or an insanely good book. Enjoy this time of your life in every way possible!

book, lilac flowers, coffee from pixabay
Getting a manicure. Photo by Kris Atomic on Unsplash
Dark Chocolate. Image by Alexander Stein from Pixabay

As I mentioned above, self-care care is vital for you and your partner every day, but especially for you both to truly enjoy the wedding planning process and your most amazingly beautiful wedding day. I hope some of the information and tips in this article have been or will be helpful to you. If you would like further support or clarification, please reach out and let me know.

While I only link to products and services I think you will love, some of the links on our site are monetized. If you click on the link and make a purchase I may receive a commission, which helps me build a residual income and keep bringing great content to you! All opinions expressed are my own.

Photo credit Roxanne Best

Chanelle Carlin is Your Celebrant for Life. She is an ordained minister, professional wedding officiant, coach, and owner of Chanelle Carlin Weddings, LLC. Believing that life and love should be celebrated every minute, she collaborates with couples who’ve already started building the foundations of their relationship over the years and are now ready to venture forth into marriage with a custom, memorable (for all the right reasons) elopement/intimate wedding ceremony. While Chanelle works throughout the Pacific Northwest and Ireland primarily, she gladly travels to wherever her couples prefer to marry. As their Celebrant for Life, Chanelle also celebrates all the special milestones and moments that matter in each of her couples’ lives. She lives with her family in rural Okanogan County, Washington, USA, and totally LOVES her life. You can visit Chanelle at, on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.


Camas Lily

A Wedding Ceremony Planning Framework to help you create your perfect ceremony. 

As a professional Wedding Officiant, I receive a lot of questions from couples who don’t even know where to start thinking about their wedding event, let alone their ceremony (the part during which they actually get married) and they start feeling stressed. Fortunately, while there can be a lot to consider when planning a wedding and putting together a wedding ceremony, you don’t have to do everything by yourself.

In fact, for every part of your special day, there is a wedding professional available and desiring to assist you: Wedding Venues, Wedding Planners, Florists, Stylists, and Stationary designers, Party Rentals, Caterers, Bakers, DJ’s, Musicians, Photographers, Videographers Jewelers, Tailors, Retailers, Hotels AND, of course Officiants. Each professional can lead you to another. 

The emails from stressed couples often start like this: 

“HELP! We’re getting married. We want a beautiful, simple ceremony that is unique to us, but I don’t even know where to start.”  

  • Where should a couple start? 
  • Choose a date? 
  • Find a location? 
  • Photographer? 
  • Caterer? 
  • Music? 
  • Minister/Officiant/Friend? 
  • Decide what type of wedding to have? Large wedding, intimate wedding, elopement? 

Oh My Gosh! There is just so much to think about!  

Make Your Ceremony E.P.I.C.

If you’re already feeling the pressure, please know you’re not alone, but also that it doesn’t have to be so stressful.  I have spoken with two couples recently who have been engaged a short period of time and whose weddings are more than a year away, and they are already worried about the details. Planning a wedding should be a fun and an enjoyable process for the two of you. Hopefully, after reading this brief article and learning about my wedding ceremony planning framework, E.P.I.C., you’ll be able to relax a bit, enjoy your engagement and let go of the anxieties that planning a wedding can cause for couples. I will also provide some resources for next steps and one very important MUST have, if you intend to be legally married in Washington State.

But first, let’s start with celebrating, shall we? You’re engaged! Congratulations! This is an amazing time and as I said before, planning your wedding should be fun. You’re preparing a celebration to begin the rest of your lives together. If you haven’t already, take some time away from planning to just breathe and enjoy the bliss of your engagement. 

There is a lot that goes into planning a wedding ceremony and most couples have never done it before. Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life. Big or small, it doesn’t matter and you want it to be just right and all about the two of you. The idea of E.P.I.C, my wedding ceremony planning framework is to help you create the wedding you dream of with as little stress as possible.

There are four stages to E.P.I.C.: Envision, Plan, Implement and Celebrate. Ready to plan your wedding ceremony? 

Stage 1: Envision

Jason and Sheila eloped from Iowa to the Okanogan to get married; Photo credit: Roxanne Best.

Before you tell anyone else, even your parents, your children or your best friends, enjoy the experience together. After all, the two of you have just decided you want to spend the rest of your lives together. You may as well start now. Give yourselves a few days to a few weeks to live in the bliss. Talk about your future together. What do you envision? What will your life look like as a married couple? Why? 

Talk about your ideal wedding…How will it look and feel for you? and your guests? Who do you hope to share this day with and why? Are you wanting a faith-based ceremony, completely religious in a church, no religious aspects whatsoever? Will it be outdoors, indoors, something in between?  

As the two of you decide what’s most important to you, you’ll be able to answer the questions that your friends and family will ask just as soon as you share your news and your wedding planner and officiant will ask later. Most importantly, enjoy this time together. 

Stage 2: Plan 

This is where you start thinking about things like a budget, a guest list and thinking about details such as a location, ceremony only or ceremony with reception.

Family Wedding at Sunshine Ranch Wedding Venue, East Wenatchee, WA; Photo credit: Tiffany Joy Photography

You can use our friend, the Internet (aka Google and Pinterest), like Letty and Marc did (above photo) as well as friends who were recently married. Wedding sites such as the Knot, Wedding Wire & Style Me Pretty are just three of the many internet resources for couples (you can google those too). They have checklists, lists of vendors and the capacity for you to create your own wedding website where your guests can go for details. AND…we all know that person whose wedding you attended last month or last year. I bet they would love to share their experiences and maybe even their Pinterest page with you. They know the things you definitely want to do and totally want to avoid. I mean, isn’t that what friends are for? 

Leave it to the ‘Pros’ 

My recommendation is to hire professionals and start with a Wedding Planner and your Officiant (the person responsible for making sure you’re legally married). They can help you define, design, plan and execute your vision for your wedding day and ceremony with little stress to the two of you. Oftentimes, couples tell me that because they’re planning a small wedding or elopement they don’t need a wedding planner or they can just ask a friend or family member to help. While I agree that elopements and intimate weddings have fewer moving parts than larger weddings or multi-day events, planning one still takes a lot of time and energy. Most couples have never planned a wedding before and… they usually work full time at jobs in addition to planning a wedding.

Photo credit: Reid Johnson, Best Made Videos

Wedding Planner 

The wedding planner’s role is to help bring YOUR vision for your perfect wedding day and night (overall celebration) to life. I mean, they do this for a living. They help you know what to think about and when, as well as help you manage all the little details and vendors, and they are indispensable on the day of the event. You WILL appreciate the support…trust me. If you can’t swing a professional planner or Day of Coordinator, connect with someone in your life that is excellent at organizing events, just make sure they’re ok with not enjoying your wedding as a guest, because they’ll be busy taking care of you and the details of your day most of the time. 

As an example, I recently officiated two weddings in a weekend, one without a planner/coordinator and one with. At the wedding without the coordinator, which was an intimate event with about 20 guests. The groom and his groomsmen were hurriedly building the arch that they wanted to be married in front of an hour before the ceremony was to start at 10:30 a.m. and the bridesmaids were decorating it at the original planned for start time. The bride had had to return home because her dress had been left behind and ended up almost getting a ticket because she was running late. The ceremony started over an hour late. 

In contrast, the very next day I officiated a wedding where the couple had asked one of their sisters to be the planner and day of coordinator, even though the bride is extremely organized herself. When I arrived, the entire outdoor area had been transformed into a beautiful wedding venue, the 100+ guests were having a great time mingling and munching on their own blend of trail mix, no one in the bridal party was building anything and everyone was completely relaxed. We signed the marriage certificate, had the ceremony and the couple had a brilliant time just enjoying their guests. Their wedding coordinator managed to get over 16,000 steps in by the time the ceremony ended and the reception was in full swing. 

In case you’re still feeling a little anxious and wondering where you find these people; no worries. If you would like the names of some amazing wedding planners, let me know. I will happily ‘hook you up’. 

Wedding Officiant 

Contact Chanelle about Officiating Your Ceremony. Photo credit: Roxanne Best

Your Wedding Officiant’s role is two-fold, though some, like me, provide a wide variety of related services. They help you create a ceremony that fits your personalities and vision for your perfect wedding, provide expert, caring officiating for you on the day AND just as importantly, more so for some, ensure that your marriage is legal. Yep…that’s a thing and there is paperwork involved. 

I can see the ‘deer in headlights’ look now. Wait! I thought the Officiant just showed up on the day, ask a couple of questions, pronounce us married, sign the paper and left! 

Well, yes, they can do that if that’s what you’re looking for as a couple. Most of the couples I have officiated for have waited their whole lives to marry this person and they want to start their marriage with a ceremony that is beautiful, meaningful and unique to them. If you think about it, you’re never going to marry each other again and you’ve asked at least two people (your witnesses), or possibly 200 to come share in the experience with you.

I recently saw from another officiant who tracked all the things an Officiant does for their couples (he does custom weddings in Canada). There are actually 36 (yes, thirty-six) different steps from the time we first have our consultation call until you receive your recorded marriage certificate in the mail after you’re married.

You can find wedding officiants the same way you find a wedding planner or a photographer. If you belong to a church or house of worship, you’ve already got someone you can ask. If not, you can ask your friends who’ve gotten married recently, search on Google, Pinterest and internet wedding sites, even ask the county auditor when you get your marriage license (though this is pushing it time wise). As with all wedding professionals, you’ll want to make sure the officiant you choose is a good fit for your personalities as a couple and the services that you’re hoping for and that they can work well with the rest of your wedding team. Talk with them, read reviews from other couples, make sure they’re insured. 

That’s ok, we have a friend/family member who will officiate for us. 

In Washington State, you can always ask a friend or family member to get ordained and officiate for you. This can be lovely for some couples. My oldest nephew did this for his younger brother’s wedding and it was beautiful. On the other hand, just like asking a friend to plan or photograph your wedding, things can go wrong (really wrong sometimes) and it can add to the stress and sometimes harm a lovely relationship. We’ve all seen those videos where friend officiants told inappropriate stories or jokes during the ceremony, while the couple stood there, visibly uncomfortable. Even more frequently, non-professional officiants back out of weddings (for any number of reasons). It’s hard to imagine, but at least ¼ of the couples I have officiated for have come to me after their friend/family member backed out of officiating for them at the last minute (this was even pre-pandemic). One of my couples had a really tough time. Their first officiant passed away and their second officiant, a friend of the groom’s just stopped responding to them a month before the wedding. By the time they called me, the couple and their family were very distressed and worried they wouldn’t be able to find someone to officiate. The other part to be mindful of with lay (friend/family) officiants is the paperwork. Washington State requires that the officiant return the completed (signed and dated) Certificate of Marriage to the county to be recorded. Professional officiants are used to this, have a policy and a practice of doing this after every wedding so the couple can be assured that they’re legally married. Most dads, uncles and friend officiants don’t, though they can learn and most counties do provide helpful information. 

Stage 3: Implement 

This is where you start hiring the rest of your wedding team and nailing down all those plans and where having a Wedding Planner can be of HUGE assistance. They have lists of amazing wedding pros, know what to do when to bring your vision to life and will make sure you stay on budget for your event.

Creating the Ceremony 

Most ceremonies officiated by professional officiants take around 15-20 minutes to complete on the day of your wedding from the time you enter the ceremony spot until you’re pronounced married. If you have lots of elements, it may go a little longer, but not terribly long. Really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to how you want your wedding ceremony to feel. Just remember that it’s your wedding so it will be beautiful. 

While the ceremony may only take 15-20 minutes, the planning and crafting of your unique, custom, E.P.I.C. ceremony takes a bit more energy, time and effort. Remember at the beginning when we talked about the two of you envisioning your wedding before jumping into planning? This is where taking that time together comes in handy.

These are some of the things your Officiant will ask you:

How do you want your ceremony to feel for you and your guests? If you start here, your Officiant can help you with the rest. 

Do you want a faith-based ceremony? Non-religious? A combination? multi-cultural? themed? 

Would you like an outdoor ceremony or indoor ceremony? 

Do you want a large event that includes all your family and friends, or an intimate affair with just a few?   

How many people (if any) you want to be in your wedding party?

Do you want any readings or music before or during the ceremony? These add to the feel, without adding to the length of your ceremony…trust me. 

Would you like some traditional vows, to create your own vows or have a combination of the two? and 

What type of unity ritual you would like (if any)? This is a great way to honor your family/ cultural backgrounds.  There are almost as many unity rituals/ceremonies and variations to each as there are people getting married and they can add texture and depth to your wedding ceremony, again without taking a lot of time.

One of the most common is the Handfasting and it can be done as a quick ritual within a more traditional wedding ceremony (tying a knot over the couple’s hands with one cord/ribbon) OR, as one of my couples did, an entire ceremony can be created around the Handfasting, incorporating multiple-colored ribbons, and multiple family members offering blessings, specific to the couple. 

Another example of a unity ritual that can be a quick part of a ceremony or the ceremony itself and be a perfect reflection of the couple and their life together is the traditional Jewish Shabbat (Seven Blessings). I have had two couples with brides from Jewish backgrounds and grooms who were not Jewish. Each requested to have the Ritual of Seven Blessings incorporated into their ceremony. One couple had a relaxed outdoor wedding (all the guests stood in a protective semi-circle around the couple) and asked specific family members to read a blessing and share a personal wish for the couple. The second couple had the ritual of the seven blessings as the major part of their ceremony and asked family members to offer the blessings in Hebrew and English while the couple performed a circle dance (symbolically creating their house to protect their new family). Both were beautiful and a unique reflection of the couple.

Lillian and Michael dancing during the Shabbat to “create their house.” Photo credit Tetiana Photography

In order to create a custom, personal wedding ceremony that fits YOUR vision for your day and matches your personalities, your officiant needs to get to know you as much as they can. As I am getting to know my couples, I ask a lot of questions. We start with safe, easy questions: 

What are your favorite movies? Favorite music? Fave books? 

What do you enjoy doing together as a couple? 

What do you enjoy doing on your own or with your friends? 

Then we move on to the more mushy stuff: 

How did you meet?  More than one couple has told me their love story is boring or non-romantic. I ask them to tell me anyway. Whether they met in college, on the internet, or at work, the story is always fun and brings smiles to their faces…now that’s romantic! 

What did you do on your first date? Favorite memory from that date? 

What made you want a second date with each other? 

How long did you date before you got engaged and what did that look like? 

One thing almost all couples have in common is that when they “plan” their engagement, it almost NEVER goes according to the plan.

One of my couples planned a helicopter flight over their favorite national park. The groom had the ring in his pocket and intended to ask his beloved in a private space on the flight, but he just couldn’t find the right moment. When they landed afterward, he seized the moment, got down on bended knee with ring in hand and found himself surrounded by on-lookers with phones out. 

Another couple planned a trip to Europe. The groom had everything planned for a beautiful hiking proposal, but by the time they were almost to the spot, his bride to be was so hungry/hangry, that she couldn’t go on and needed to turn around and find a burger! It took three more attempts on that trip until just the right “them” moment presented itself. Thankfully, both ladies said yes.

After even more love story related questions, we start talking a bit more about the ceremony and plans for your marriage after the ceremony. After all, there is a whole life that will continue after this one day and all of it helps to create that very unique, magical, ceremony that celebrates your one-of-a-kind love.

That ONE thing you MUST have to be legally married in Washington 

Janelle and Tom’s Marriage Certificate; PC Bill Black

I mentioned above that as your officiant it is my role to make sure your marriage is legal. In the State of Washington, you must have a marriage license, which you must obtain as a couple. There is a three-day waiting period to get married once it has been issued, and it’s only valid for 60 days. So, once you receive your marriage certificate, you must wait three days to get married and the marriage must take place before the expiration date of the license. Washington State also requires your officiant, the two of you (the couple) and two witnesses sign the Certificate of Marriage. The Officiant is then required to return it to the county of origin within thirty days (this varies by state). If you have questions about this, remember to talk with your officiant.

A virtual elopement during the pandemic (couple was in San Luis Obispo, California); PC Aaron Black.

Stage 4: Celebrate

Mitch and Christina Celebrate their Marriage at Washington Pass Overlook, Okanogan, WA; PC Forthright Photography

Cue the confetti and balloons.  

Finally, after envisioning and planning for this moment and implementing the plan comes the Celebration…the BIG DAY…Your E.P.I.C. wedding day. Your ceremony, your reception/party afterward, your honeymoon AND, don’t forget… your married life together. Yes, then too. The celebrations don’t end with the wedding. Your life together will continue to be filled with special moments worth remembering and celebrating. 

Your wedding day is one of the most important days of either of your lives. There is a lot that goes into planning a wedding ceremony and most couples have never done it before. The most important thing to remember is that the two of you have decided that you want to be together and whether you choose to commemorate that with a large family wedding at the ranch or sign your license with your witnesses and officiant in the mountains or at your favorite winery overlooking the lake, it’s YOUR special day and you want it to be meaningful to the two of you, not stressful. There are many, many resources available to help alleviate stress, including amazingly talented and committed wedding professionals and E.P.I.C., my Wedding Ceremony Planning Framework that I’ve shared in this article, but if you start with remembering to breathe and enjoy your engagement together, all will fall into place. Hopefully, rather than a panicked email asking for help, your next email to your officiant might be a thank you or a positive Google review. This is a magical time, and I’m absolutely delighted for you. Best wishes for a lifetime of love. – Chanelle 

Photo credit Roxanne Best

About Chanelle: 

Chanelle Carlin is Your Celebrant for Life. She is an ordained minister, professional wedding officiant, coach, and owner of Chanelle Carlin Weddings, LLC. Believing that life and love should be celebrated every minute, she collaborates with couples who’ve already started building the foundations of their relationship over the years and are now ready to venture forth into marriage with a custom, memorable (for all the right reasons) elopement/intimate wedding ceremony. While Chanelle works throughout the Pacific Northwest and Ireland primarily, she gladly travels to wherever her couples prefer to marry. As their Celebrant for Life, Chanelle also celebrates all the special milestones and moments that matter in each of her couples’ lives. She lives with her family in rural Okanogan County, Washington, USA, and totally LOVES her life. You can visit Chanelle at, on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.