Even at a humanist wedding, you’re likely to see a lot of familiar actions take place. Most couple want a personalised, fun ceremony, but still want it to be recognisable as a wedding. Whilst some traditions may feel pretty timeless, I always ask my couples to put under scrutiny. What is the meaning behind this tradition. Is it right for you, or do you fancy breaking some rules? Of course there are many more wedding traditions than this, but it’s a start!
1. The Wedding Party
A wedding party (that’s the bridesmaids, best man and so on, not the boogying after dinner) serves two purposes; it gives a role to your nearest and dearest and includes them in the wedding, and it gives you a useful team to call on to help with both the planning and the execution on the day (grooms – it’s useful to have a team handing our orders of service or seating guests, slipping you a swig out of a hip flask or holding your pack of Kleenex, brides – who’s going to hold your bouquet as you exchange rings, straighten your train and veil or help you use the loo in that big meringue dress?)
However, even if you want to involve people, you don’t have to stick to the rules. Mix up the genders. Have a best woman. Have a ‘team bride’ and a ‘team groom’ made up of men and women from both friendship groups, each helping out behind the scenes on the big day (and great for a combined hen/stag do – after all it’s much more fun when the two of you are together, right).
If it’s more about inclusion than utility, why not give your grannies the honour of being your flower girls. Have gramps be your ring-bearer – all the more significant if your wedding rings are being passed down from your ancestors. Or some people – you know who you are – dream of no one but the family pooch bringing fourth the rings.
– on that note, are rings for you? Think about the significance. What will they mean for you? Perhaps they will be a constant reminder of your marriage that you can wear with you every day. Some people, due to their jobs, aren’t able to wear rings at work. Perhaps another piece of jewellery like a chain or locket would work better. A handfasting ceremony declares that your hands in themselves become the symbols of your marriage. Or maybe just a teeny weeny tattoo revealed at the ceremony might serve the same purpose.
3. Being ‘given away’
Feminists might rile up against this archaic tradition where women were seen as ‘property’ to pass from the ownership of the father to the husband. But these days many women love the chance to include their father in their big day – I know I would have given anything for my dad to have been there. Most people now see it as a way for the family to give their blessing, so feel free to include your mum and have her walk you down too. In fact any friend or family member could escort you – if you would like escorting. Many brides now go it alone (I did), and some couples choose to enter the ceremony together, signifying their continuing journey together, rather than the start of something new. There’s no reason why grooms can’t make their own entrance, and I’ve weddings begin where the bride and groom entered from opposite directions and met in the middle. Symbolic or what!
4. Aisle seating
Unless you’re getting married in a deconsecrated church, you’re probably not restricted to fixed pews with an aisle down the middle. Most typical wedding venues will set chairs up in this way by default, but you may have more choice than you think. The problem with the traditional set up is that you tend to get married at one end of a rectangular room, with lots of short rows going back to the other end. That means that quite a few of your guests are a long way from the action, and probably won’t see and hear everything that’s going on. If you’re inside, why not try flipping the room so that you get married in the middle of the long side of the room, and arrange your chairs so that they curve around you in a horseshoe. Then you’ve got longer rows, and fewer of them, so it feels a lot more cosy and inclusive, even with lots of people.
If you’re outside you have even more choice. Horseshoe seating works well, or with a bit of clever choreography you might decide to have spiral or circular seating. Why not get rid of the aisle in the middle – walk towards your guests rather than approaching from behind so everyone gets a good view.
In some places it might be more fitting to stand, or sit on hay bales, or rugs on the floor. Don’t restrict yourself to thinking just about what you’ve seen before.
5. Facing the front
In the same way that you can re-write the rules on seating, you can stand and face wherever you want too. In a church wedding where you face the alter and the vicars, while guests admire the back of your heads, but in a humanist wedding we like you to feel at ease. Most typically we tend to stand in a ‘traditional’ way, but with the bride and groom facing each other with me behind and in between them. Or, if you want to stand a little closer and would rather I didn’t photobomb your ornamental wedding arch, I can step out to one side and leave you two centre stage. Another nice alternative is for us to stand in a ‘V’ formation – bride and groom side by side at a diagonal to the guests and to me – you can even sit like this for parts of the ceremony – whatever makes you happy and comfortable. That way, you guys are physically close to each other (I don’t want to come between you on your wedding day), your guests can gaze at you adoringly, and you get to spot your dad wipe tears from his eyes and friends crack up with laughter at your super awesome anecdotes. Most commonly, we move around a bit. No-one has to stay rooted to the spot in a humanist wedding.
6. Signing a register
Ok, so we don’t have any legal paperwork to sign, but that doesn’t stop a lot of my couples asking me to supply a marriage certificate for them to sign during the ceremony, as if that makes things look more official. Of course, I’m happy to supply a certificate, but personally I’d recommend you take it home and sign it later. The whole point of the ceremony is that it’s written like a play, with building action and emotion, leading up to the climactic point where you are celebrated as husband and wife and everyone cheers and goes nuts. To stop the ceremony just as we’re getting to the high point, then play a song whilst the bride and groom go and sit at a table and the photographer takes photos of them holding a pen just kind of kills things. It’s hard to build it back up from there. So I urge, you, what is the point of the signing during the ceremony? Is it necessary and could it be replaced with something a little more celebratory?