Altar, Arch, or Chuppah – What Can You Get Married Under?

If you’ve always wanted to get married under a gorgeous arch of flowers, a traditional Jewish Chuppah, or just looking for inspiration, today I’m breaking down which options are appropriate for your wedding. There are so many traditional altars and alternative backdrops to your “I do’s” that it can be hard to keep track of which one is which. Here I’ll explain what is a wedding arch, altar, chuppah, and arbor. I’ll also share some pretty and bold alternatives.

Generally, what you get married under is called a wedding altar. A wedding altar is a general term that describes where the couple says their wedding vows. It can refer to the church altar in a traditional catholic / christian wedding, a Jewish Chuppah, a decorative archway or arbor, or even a gazebo or floral backdrop.

What is a Chuppah?

A Chuppah is a cloth canopy, sometimes a tallit, supported by four poles. It may also be held above the bride and groom. It is used in Jewish wedding ceremonies and holds great religious and historical significance. Its origin can be traced back to the Bible.

an illustration of a chuppah
A chuppah has a cloth canopy and four poles supporting it.

What does a Chuppah symbolize?

A Chuppah is the symbol of the home the Jewish couple will build together. It has a canopy roof supported by four poles. The completely open sides represent hospitality, the same way the tent of Abraham was open to all. It also represents the presence of God over the marriage.

Who can get married under a Chuppah?

The Chuppah not only refers to the canopy over the bride and groom. It also refers generally to the Jewish wedding ceremony itself. “It is the decisive act that formally permits the couple’s new status of marriage to be actualized, and it is the legal conclusion of the marriage process that began with betrothal.” – As a Jewish wedding tradition, it is an important religious symbol.

If you are not Jewish, nothing is stopping you from using a canopy as shade or creating some other decorative type of altar to get married under. But it is not a Chuppah in the traditional, religious sense.

What is an arbor?

An arbor is a decorative arch of branches, flowers, or other greenery that provides shade and decoration above the two people getting married. Like a Chuppah, it represents the new home the couple is building together, without the religious symbolism behind it. It also serves as a beautiful focal point for the wedding ceremony.

an illustration of a wedding arbor
An arbor of branches and flowers is a simple but beautiful focal point.

What is a wedding arch?

A wedding arch is a decorative, rounded altar that provides a focal point for the wedding ceremony. It can be decorated with flowers, branches, vines or left bare for a more minimalist look. It symbols the couple’s journey to a new life together. Many couples walk through the arch to represent the beginning of their new life as a married couple.

an illustration of a wedding arch
Couples walk through an archway to start their new life together.

What are alternatives to a traditional wedding altar?

For additional inspiration, a wedding altar can take many forms and be an interesting backdrop for your wedding ceremony. This ‘grammable feature can be placed outdoors or indoors to add dimension and visual interest to your wedding photos. Check out some of these altar alternatives for your ceremony:

Try a neon sign for a dramatic effect indoors or at night

If you’re getting married in the evening or indoors, adding a neon sign is a modern, unique touch. You can add a quote from a favorite song, “All you need is love” by the Beatles would be a lovely reminder to your guests why they’re all here. A clever saying, like “getting hitched” or “good vibes” will set a casual and modern tone. You could also lean into your new identity as a couple with “The Smiths” or whichever combination of Mr and/or Mrs fits.

neon sign that says "good vibes only"
Bringing the good vibes

Go geometric for a modern, minimalist look

Lend a rustic look with an all wood altar in a simple geometric shape, or opt for a slim metal frame for something with a more industrial touch.

A simple, triangle arch makes a bold statement
a hexagon wedding arch with floral accents in the woods
A rustic hexagon with floral accents

A gazebo provides an architectural altar

If your venue has a ceremony spot with a gazebo or other permanent arch, this is great choice. It would be difficult and expensive to build one just for the occasion but it is possible. Look at hardware stores to see if there’s something you can assemble onsite and ask your venue for permission before you commit.

You can customize the look of an existing structure with flowers, fabric or Christmas lights to mold it to fit your look.

Gazebos are a functional and beautiful altar

Find a natural feature

For a wedding in the great outdoors, or for an elopement or micro-wedding, find a natural feature to enhance the scenery for your wedding photos. A rock formation, waterfall, tree clearing, all make excellent, stand out elements.

a arc rock formation in the dessert
A natural wedding arch
Use nature’s beauty for a wedding or elopement backdrop

Now that you have a better idea of the differences between a wedding arch and a chuppah, you can put together a gorgeous centerpiece for your wedding ceremony. Whether it is a traditional arch or something a little funkier, these altars will create a jaw-dropping backdrop for your photos or a ceremonial feature with symbolic value.

If you haven’t booked your wedding venue yet, definitely start there as it will influence what kind of altar you can build or decorate. Start with the guide, Timing Your Wedding Venue Search, for tips on how to find and book the perfect venue.

Looking for some bolder wedding inspiration? Check out my exclusive, free Facebook group for Bold On A Budget Weddings.



Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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