top of page

Embracing the Magic of a Symbolic Ceremony in Portugal

A symbolic ceremony is a beautiful and meaningful way to celebrate your union

without the legal formalities of a traditional wedding. This type of ceremony allows

you to express your love and commitment in a deeply personal and unique way,

making it an increasingly popular choice for destination weddings in Portugal.

Wedding Celebrant talking to wedding guests

For this article, we had the honour of speaking with Simone from Just Say Yes Weddings, one of the finest celebrants we've ever collaborated with. In addition to being an official Registrar in the Netherlands, Simone crafts the most beautiful, personal, and meaningful symbolic ceremonies for couples from all over the globe. It comes as no surprise to us that she has been awarded International Wedding Celebrant of the Year for the second consecutive year.

As a seasoned wedding celebrant specialising in destination weddings, she has had the

honour of guiding many couples through this enchanting experience. Here’s an in-

depth look at what a symbolic ceremony entails, the process of working with a

wedding celebrant, and tips for having a relative or friend conduct the ceremony.


In this article we will explore:


What is a Symbolic Ceremony?

A symbolic ceremony is a non-legally binding celebration of love. Unlike a civil or

religious ceremony, a symbolic ceremony does not require any legal paperwork or

adherence to specific religious protocols. It can be tailored entirely to your

preferences, making it a perfect choice for those who wish to celebrate their love in a

personalised and intimate way.

Even if you wish to get legally married in Portugal— where non-residents and same-

sex couples are warmly welcomed,—we always recommend having a symbolic

ceremony in addition. While civil ceremonies in Portugal are formal, brief, and lack

the flexibility for personalisation, a symbolic ceremony allows you to infuse your

celebration with meaningful, tailored elements that reflect your unique love story.

This dual approach ensures you fulfill the legal requirements while also enjoying a

deeply personal and memorable wedding experience.

Wedding Celebrant speaking to bride and groom

Can a Foreign Registrar Legally Marry You in Portugal?

In Portugal, a legally binding wedding ceremony must adhere to specific regulations outlined by Portuguese law. One crucial requirement is that the officiant conducting the ceremony must hold Portuguese nationality. This ensures the ceremony is recognized by the local authorities. Additionally, the entire ceremony is conducted in Portuguese, and the wedding contract is written in Portuguese as well. This means that even if you have a beloved foreign Registrar, they will not be able to perform the legal aspects of your wedding in Portugal. Instead, they can participate in or lead a symbolic ceremony that complements the official one, offering a personalised touch while adhering to the legal requirements. Understanding these guidelines helps ensure that your wedding in Portugal is both legally valid and personally meaningful.

Read this article about Everything you need to know to get legally married in


The Process of Working with a Wedding Celebrant

1. Initial Consultation

The journey begins with an initial consultation, either in person but more often via

video call. This is an opportunity for the celebrant to get to know you understand

your vision, and discuss the possibilities for your ceremony. During this conversation,

you can share your love story, cultural backgrounds, and any specific rituals or

elements you wish to include. Since a ceremony is such a personal experience, it´s

crucial that you feel an instant connection with your celebrant, as they will be the one

to tell your unique love story.

2. Confirm booking

To confirm the booking of your celebrant, a downpayment is typically required. This

secures their services for your chosen date and allows them to begin the process of

crafting your personalised ceremony. 

For non-European couples who don´t have an European bank account, we highly recommend to open a Wise account. It’s a great tool for sending money internationally with low fees — much cheaper than using your local bank. You can also use their debit card to pay and withdraw money from ATMs when you travel. Click here to open your Wise account today.

(Our goal is to be completely transparent with you and our community. This link is an affiliate link. This means that when you click on this link we will earn a small commision at absolutely no extra cost to you).

3. Personalised Ceremony Script

Based on the initial consultation, the celebrant will craft a bespoke ceremony script.

This script can include a welcome message, readings, vows, symbolic rituals (such

as handfasting, unity candle, or sand ceremony), music and any other elements that

resonate with you. But also stories from friends and relatives, after your permission

of course.

4. Rehearsal

A rehearsal is typically scheduled a day before the wedding or in the morning of the

wedding day. This ensures that everyone involved knows their roles and the

ceremony flows smoothly. It’s also a great time for the couple to familiarize

themselves with the order of events and feel more comfortable about the big day.

5. The Ceremony

On the day of the wedding, the celebrant will arrive early to ensure everything is set

up and ready. They will conduct the ceremony with grace and professionalism,

guiding you and your guests through a heartfelt and memorable experience. The

celebrant’s role is to create an atmosphere of love and celebration, making you feel

at ease and ensuring the ceremony is a true reflection of your love story.

Celebrant clapping hands to congratulate bride and groom

Ideas to Personalise a Symbolic Ceremony in Portugal

Personalizing a symbolic ceremony allows you to create a unique and memorable celebration that truly reflects your love story. Start by incorporating music that holds special meaning for you both during key moments such as the procession, your entrance, signing of the register, and the recession.

You can write your own vows, include readings from favorite books or poems, and incorporate cultural or familial traditions to make the ceremony truly yours. Involving your loved ones in meaningful roles adds another layer of personalization.

Additionally, adding a unity ceremony—like lighting a unity candle or blending sand—can symbolise the joining of your lives. These personal touches not only make your ceremony unique but also create lasting memories for you and your guests.

Tips for a Relative or Friend Conducting a Symbolic Ceremony

While having a professional celebrant conduct your ceremony offers many benefits,

some couples prefer to have a relative or friend take on this special role. Here are

some tips to ensure they create a meaningful and memorable ceremony:

➡️ Plan Together

Work closely with the person who will conduct the ceremony to ensure they

understand your vision. Share your love story, favorite memories, and any specific

rituals or readings you’d like to include.

➡️ Write a Script

Help them create a detailed ceremony script. This should include a welcome

message, any readings or poems, specific songs, the exchange of vows, symbolic rituals, and the pronouncement of marriage. Encourage them to practice reading the script aloud to

become comfortable with the flow.

➡️ Rehearsal is Key

Schedule a rehearsal to go through the ceremony from start to finish. This will help

everyone feel more prepared and reduce any nerves on the day itself. Make sure the

person conducting the ceremony knows the order of events and their cues.

➡️ Personal Touch

Encourage them to add a personal touch. Whether it’s sharing a fond memory, a

piece of advice, or a heartfelt message, their personal connection to the couple will

make the ceremony even more special.

➡️ Stay Calm and Confident

Remind them to stay calm and confident. It’s normal to feel a bit nervous, but their

role is to create a loving and celebratory atmosphere. Taking deep breaths and

focusing on the couple’s happiness can help ease any jitters.

➡️ Check the Sound

Make sure you have a sound check prior to the ceremony. Discuss this with the DJ

or musician present ,before you arrive at the venue. This way you can be sure an

extra microphone (if necessary) is present, and they know you will want to walk

through those special musical moments with them. But foremost , this is important

for you as well, so that you can anticipate those moments and be confident when

talking through a microphone.

Symbolic Ceremony Consultation

Having a friend or relative conduct your symbolic ceremony adds a deeply personal touch to your wedding, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere. Their unique connection to you as a couple can bring an extra layer of meaning and emotion to the proceedings. However, it's important to remember that this role comes with significant responsibilities. Proper preparation can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth and memorable ceremony.

A Symbolic Ceremony consultation is an invaluable resource for those entrusting a friend or relative with the important role of celebrant and helps avoid mistakes that can impact the overall ceremony experience, such as:

  • Not speaking clearly, rigidly reading from the script;

  • Overlooking formalities such as inviting guests to stand for the bride or groom’s entrance;

  • Forgetting cues;

  • Failing to mention house rules like cellphone use during the ceremony;

  • Unintentionally being in the middle of every photo.

Portrait of a woman with glasses

To ensure your ceremony is flawless and heartfelt, I offer a comprehensive consultation service, preparing your chosen celebrant for the most significant and memorable moment of your wedding day.

Interested? Contact me, Simone Walraven-Schenkelaars of JSY by Simone.

A symbolic ceremony in Portugal offers a unique and personal way to celebrate your

love in one of the most beautiful destinations in Europe. Whether you choose to work

with a professional wedding celebrant or have a loved one conduct the ceremony,

the key is to ensure that it reflects your unique love story and the commitment you

are making to each other. With careful planning, a touch of creativity, and a lot of

love, your symbolic ceremony will be an unforgettable start to your new life together.


Photo credits: Marit de la Vera



bottom of page