When it comes to the animal kingdom, doves boast the claim of being one of the most commonly-used symbols.

In everything from magic acts to Noah’s Ark, the dove is a bird that springs up across popular culture.

These gorgeous birds are synonymous with the idea of purity, hope, happiness and love, making them a symbol that is a perfect match to a wedding day.

It’s easy to see how this long-standing symbolism led to the tradition of wedding dove releases. But what actually is a wedding dove release? And why were doves released at weddings?

We’ll be exploring this slightly more obscure wedding tradition. Keep reading to find out more about traditional wedding dove releases, and our tips for incorporating elements of this tradition into your wedding day (in a modern reinvention, which keeps two happy doves safe and cosy inside).

What is a traditional wedding dove release?

Releasing the doves traditionally occurs after the couple has tied the knot. Then, outside of the wedding venue, the newlywed couple will release a pair of white doves.

It’s a tradition that’s steeped in symbolism, representing everyone’s hopes for the couple’s future life together.

These doves, one male and one female, are kept in a birdcage, which is then opened to release the birds. The idea is that their flight into the sky marks the start of your exciting journey, facing life’s adventures together.

According to tradition (much like the bride’s throwing of the wedding bouquet) the person who re-catches the doves is the one who gets to keep them as pets.

Another popular moving tradition is that a member of the wedding party releases a single dove (either joining the couple’s doves, or on its own), to represent the presence of a loved one who is with you in spirit, celebrating this special day.

Why do we release doves?

Why do we use doves in weddings? Why not magpies, robins, or another type of bird?

Throughout history, doves have held a deep symbolic weight. Their pure white colour and presence in the bible (particularly Noah’s Ark) has cemented their time-honoured symbolic reputation of joy and purity.

Let’s delve into the symbolism of doves in a little bit more detail:

  • Purity - their pure white colour has led to doves being a symbol of innocence, purity and honesty. At a wedding, this symbol speaks to the pure, blissful love that the couple shares.
  • Loyalty and fidelity - did you know that doves mate for life? Their loyalty and commitment to each other makes doves the perfect symbol to parallel the newlyweds, who have just shared their vows and said ‘I do’.
  • Blessings and peace - several religions see doves as a symbol of good fortune and a happy future.

When you consider it this way, it’s easy to see why doves are chosen as the bird to be released at weddings - who wouldn’t want all of these blessings at their wedding?

Modern alternatives to a wedding dove release

Although doves in flight are, undoubtedly, a beautiful sight to behold, wedding dove releases have become much less popular in recent years.

This is because many people feel concerned about the safety of the doves, which are unfamiliar with life in the wild, so would struggle to survive if they were not caught again.

But, if you love the symbolism and sentimentality of releasing the doves, and still want to incorporate it within your wedding day, there’s plenty of alternatives to a traditional wedding dove release.

For example, you could feature sweet dove decorations in your venue. Things like hanging paper dove ornaments, dove cake toppers, or dove table decorations are a wonderful way to bring elements of the tradition to your day.

Or, many couples choose to set up a decorated wire bird cage in their venue, with a pair of pet doves inside. These birds can be set up in the entrance of the venue, and cared for by a wedding planner throughout the day. This way, the doves are safe, happy and well-fed.

The dove release is one of many time-honoured wedding traditions, which have a moving and deeply sentimental meaning.

Although some of these traditions are less suitable to this day and age, we hope that this blog has helped you to see that traditions can always be adapted.

If the symbolism of a tradition resonates with you, but you aren’t sure how practical it would realistically be on your wedding day, then we encourage you to think on your feet a bit. Put your own creative twist on the idea, to blend the modern with the traditional in a reinvented symbol. And, in its uniqueness, this is actually often more special than the original would have been.