Updated: Aug 16, 2019
I didn’t really know what a wedding Celebrant was - or that they even existed- until I started working as a Registrar of Marriages. There, I came across some couples who would have the shortest possible ceremony and then say something like, “we’re having our real wedding later”.
What did they mean? Surely the legal registration of their marriage was their real wedding.
When chatting to them, these couples explained that they were having a ceremony with all their family and friends in a particular venue; or in a woodland or other outdoor space. Some wanted to include elements which wouldn’t be allowed in a civil ceremony, but without having to have a religious wedding: such as the Jewish tradition of the bride circling the groom seven times; or singing ‘Abide With Me’ because they were football fans who met at a Cup Final!
It was important to them to have a wedding which really reflected who they were, so they simply separated the legal part from the celebratory and designed their ideal wedding day around a different type of ceremony.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that they were absolutely right! There are particular events in life - birth, marriage and death - which have to be legally recorded at a Register Office, but that’s where the legal requirement ends: how we choose to celebrate, or mark, those events is completely up to us.
We accept that we must go to the Register Office to record the birth of a child, or the death of a family member, but we don’t expect the Registrar to turn up at the baby-naming/christening or funeral.
A wedding can be treated in exactly the same way - register the marriage at a Register Office, then celebrate it with a personal, bespoke wedding ceremony!
Around this time, a friend asked me if I could help her with her own wedding. The date was booked, the invitations sent, but there was an issue with the venue which meant that she had to find somewhere else, and fast! She managed to find an alternative venue for the same date, but at a different time, and then discovered that there were no Registrars available at the new time.
She’d heard about the idea of using a Celebrant, and wondered if I’d be able to help. Luckily, she was able to book a civil marriage at her local Register Office a couple of days before the original date of her wedding, and so I agreed to write and deliver a personal ceremony, so that everything could go ahead on her original date, as planned.
My friend and her new husband were delighted with everything, and she said that she was actually glad that things had ‘gone a little wrong’ with the venue (putting it mildly!), otherwise their wedding day wouldn’t have been ‘so fantastic’. It was a wonderful occasion, and I was so happy to have been able to help.
It was then that I really understood how a Celebrant-led ceremony is about more than just saying the words required by law. Each one is individually written for each couple, sharing their story, including their own vows if they want to, and using their own words to describe their life together, and their hopes and dreams for their future.
Researching and writing their ceremony was so different to any other wedding I'd been part of, and so much more fulfilling. Not just because they were my friends, but because the ceremony itself was so personal and meaningful.
So, I took the decision to step away from the legal side of marriage, and into the world of endless possibilities that is a Celebrant-led wedding ceremony.
It has also been exciting to discover so many different symbolic rituals and religious/cultural elements which I can now use to help couples create their own, unique ceremony - amazing!
Since then, the majority of couples who have chosen me as a Celebrant, have been looking for a fairly traditional-looking wedding ceremony, but with all the personal, individual elements that only a Celebrant can provide.
So, how lucky am I? It means that I can combine all my experience of conducting hundreds of legal ceremonies, with my love of giving couples the wedding ceremony they really want, and deserve. They have absolute peace-of-mind that the logistics and choreography of the ceremony will run smoothly, and that the content will be heartfelt, personal and meaningful.
Now, of course, I understand what those couples meant when they referred to their ‘real’ wedding. For my couples, too, the day of their ceremony is their Wedding Day, and usually the day they choose to celebrate their anniversary!
The day that they stand in front of their family and friends, and say some of the most important words they will ever say to each other: words which have been carefully written, and which we will have worked on together until they are sure they are absolutely right.
The day when they can include as many, or as few, of their guests into the ceremony as they like: whether that’s their mothers lighting a unity candle; blended families using a sand ceremony; or all the guests taking part in a ring-warming.
The day that they look back on as being just the way they wanted it to be - celebratory, rather than just civil!