Everything You Need to Know About the Unity Sand Ceremony

Learn more about this alternative to the unity candle ceremony.


PHOTO BY PHIL CHESTER / Design by Zackary Angeline

The unity sand ceremony, a variation of the unity candle ceremony, is a tradition full of symbolism. Two people take sand from their individual vessels and combine the grains into one. The act represents the joining of two individuals and the creation of a new union and family. The joined vessel symbolizes the marriage of both partners’ hopes, dreams, and values.

What Is the Unity Sand Ceremony?

The unity sand ceremony is a tradition in which a couple pours sand from separate vessels into a unified, central one. It represents two people coming together in marriage.

The History and Meaning of the Unity Sand Ceremony 

The unity sand ceremony emerged in the late 1980s as an alternative to the unity candle ceremony. The latter was a popular tradition in the Catholic faith in which a couple would light two candles individually and then light a central candle together. “As people started moving their ceremonies and celebrations out of doors, they needed to find an alternative ritual,” says life-cycle celebrant and nondenominational minister Alisa Tongg. “The flame was going out from the wind.” People started using sand as a substitute for candles. They also like that the new practice created a keepsake from their big day.

Meet the Expert

Alisa Tongg is a certified life-cycle celebrant in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. She specializes in composing personalized, meaningful wedding ceremonies for couples. 

Some couples use sand they collected while on a beach together. Others with children choose to have their families help out with the process. Couples can also choose whatever vessels they want to use, and many of those can be family heirlooms or other meaningful objects. The ceremony is an easy way to visualize the joining together of two people into one. “The action of pouring their individual container into a larger vessel, making something new, and a permanent transformation is something that children of all ages understand,” says Tongg.

Bride, groom, and daughter adding sand to unity vessel in unity ceremony

Photo by The Foxes Photography; Event Planning by Wild Heart Events

Unity Sand Ceremony FAQs

Is a unity sand ceremony religious?

The origins of the unity sand ceremony are in Christian and Catholic ceremonies. However, the ceremony has evolved, and now couples of all religions and denominations can choose to have one. It’s open to anybody who wishes to incorporate it into their ceremony.

Who performs a unity sand ceremony?

It is generally performed by the person officiating the wedding. Celebrants might adjust the wording of the ceremony to tie in a special location, prayer, religious aspect, or story. But most say something along the lines of, “Just as these grains of sand can never be separated and poured again into the individual containers, so too will your marriage and your family forever be intertwined.”

How do you plan a unity sand ceremony?

“The couple need only acquire the physical items needed to conduct this ceremony and make sure there is a small table in the ceremony space,” says Tongg. “There is not really any way to screw up this unity ritual; it's very straightforward.”

Couples should also talk to their officiant about when the ceremony will happen and what words will be said. “If the officiant can tie the couple's story to the unity ritual, for instance, the blending of a family, or the couple's personal history/hopes for the future then it will be meaningful,” says Tongg.

What items are needed for a unity sand ceremony?

“Sand, small vessels, one for each participant, and a larger vessel that can contain the volume of sand from the smaller vessels,” says Tongg.

Bride in fur shawl and groom pouring sand into unity vessel during unity ceremony

Photo by James & Schulze; Event Planning by Heather Dwight of Calluna Events

Who participates in the unity sand ceremony?

Most couples do the pouring of the sand themselves. But some couples, especially if they have children, have their families help with the pouring.

What do you do with the vessel full of sand after the ceremony?

“The keepsake from a sand ceremony is a jar of sand,” says Tongg. Many couples choose to display it on a mantle or somewhere special in their home. A new trend that has emerged is pouring sand into glass vessels. The couple will then hand them over to a glassblower who creates a sculpture, serving bowl, or Christmas ornament out of it. “It’s a dynamic piece of art that is a representation of the marriage and new family,” says Tongg. “I've even had couples arrange a date night after their wedding, where they worked with the glassblower to make their unity sculpture together. It’s very cool.”

Where should we get the sand for the unity sand ceremony?

Some couples use sand that is meaningful to them. “Some couples have the beach as part of their love story,” says Tongg. They grew up on a beach or had their first kiss on a beach or got engaged on a beach. Some couples will use sand from that spot. “I once had a couple who used sand, not from a beach, but from the sand trap at the golf course that they got engaged at,” she continues. But if you don’t have particular sand in mind, don’t worry. Any craft store sells sand that can be used at the ceremony.

What vessel should be used?

Again, there are no rules, so any vessel can be used. However, many couples choose to use vessels that mean something to them, perhaps a family heirloom or another meaningful object.

Bride, groom, and son adding sand to unity vessel in sand unity ceremony

Photo by Kaity Brawley; Event Planning by Avec Moi Event Planning & Design

How many colors do you use for unity sand?

Some couples choose to use dual-colored sand (or more) for a unity ceremony. Each color is housed in its own vessel before being poured into the final vessel, representing two lives—or multiple lives, if children are included—becoming one. The use of colored sand, however, is not necessary or integral to a unity ceremony and many prefer to use only one color.

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