Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How To Plan A DIY Wedding

I stumbled across this article by Rachel Holmes in The Guardian today and it got me thinking about credit crunch weddings. In it she tells her own interesting story about how she and her fiance organised and planned their celebrations, avoiding expensive country house hotels and omitting to mention the word 'wedding' when making enquiries into self catering accommodation, for fear the price might go up!

I had been expecting less bookings for next year because of the current economic uncertainty, but to my surprise they are still coming in thick and fast. I always ask couples a bit about what they're planning and how they'd like the feel of the day to be. From their responses I think that couples in general are becoming a lot more thoughtful about their budgets and scaling down their spending. In many cases penny pinching is proving to be a good thing, as it's helping couples focus on the stuff that really matters. Although I would never advise people on how to spend their own money I thought it might be useful, if you are planning a wedding, to list some things that will and won't affect how enjoyable your day is for you and your guests. Let's start with some of the things that are not important:


Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have loads of cash to make a great wedding. Some of the most memorable weddings I've been to are the ones where people spent little money but put lots of imagination into their day. Only recently I was a guest, rather than a celebrant, at a wedding where the couple had erected gazebos in their back garden, everyone brought along a plate of food and some booze and the groom and his band provided the entertainment. Formalities were dispensed with and a thoroughly good time was had by all. Whatsmore, we all felt that by bringing something along and enjoying the party, we had contributed to the couple's enjoyment of their wedding. I'm not saying that the most fabulously expensive weddings can't be fun but that low budget ones can be equally as good.

"What will people think?"

If I had a pound for every time a couple complained to me that relatives were worried about 'what people thought' I'd be wealthy enough to go on a low budget mini break to a European capital. Here's a question: what would people think if you have taxis deliver you to the wedding rather than a vintage car? What would they think if they didn't get a glass of champagne for the toast? What would they think if you decided to not bother with speeches or a line up for handshakes? The short answer is: they wouldn't give a monkey's. Go with what feels comfortable and right for you.


I would count orders of ceremony, table favours and wedding stationery as 'extras' because you don't need any of them. If you choose to have these things they're all the better if they are thoughtful rather than expensive. A home printed order of ceremony will be cherished if it has some of the lovely poetry in it from the ceremony. Table favours can be something as simple as crayons and paper for the children to play with and some home made tablet for the grown ups. If these things represent your personality and are things people actually want to keep then they aren't a waste of money.


I marry quite a few couples from the rest of the UK and abroad and they frequently say they are hoping for good weather, to which my question is, "Then why are you getting married in Scotland?" Nobody can buy good weather so stop worrying about it. One thing that can be good about bad weather is people do generally rise to the occasion. Just make sure there's a warm, cosy alternative to getting married on the rainy beach!

Now for some things that are important to consider:


Have you ever been to a wedding and thought 'what a wonderful atmosphere!' The atmosphere doesn't come from the ice sculpture in the corner but from the guests having fun and being in warm, high spirits. In my wedding ceremonies I make sure the guests are welcomed, told how important they are to the celebrations and at the end I tell them that their job is to have a thoroughly good time. People appreciate feeling part of a wedding and relish being told to enjoy themselves - it's an instruction I always take very seriously myself!


I can't spell this out enough: people LOVE to be asked to help. I remember being at a wedding where the bride's auntie had made the wedding cake. This cake was obviously home made but also very beautiful and was decorated with roses from the aunty's garden. I don't think I've ever seen a cake that was so utterly gorgeous. In fact, everyone commented on how delightful it was. Asking friends and family to help with decoration and baking to contributing songs or readings in the ceremony is a way to ensure your wedding will be personal and memorable to you, your guests and the people who've helped. I was at a wedding a couple of years ago where the bride's mother had grown sunflower plants to go on all the tables. Sure, I've seen plenty of professional centrepieces that had more of a 'wow' factor but what could be more amazing than the fact that this lady had planted each of those seeds, grown, watered and tended to those plants, all through that time thinking about her daughter's wedding day? I conducted a ceremony for two lovely men recently who had a Civil Partnership earlier that day. They got a very close friend to make their wedding rings for them, which were unique and truly special. The friend, a lovely woman, got up at the exchange of the rings and presented them to the couple. If the couple, and I'm sure they will, get as much pleasure out of those rings as their friend did making and giving them to them they will cherish them every day.


Put your own character and personality into your wedding. Presumably you like yourself, so if you put yourself into your celebrations, you will like your celebrations. I'm sure all your guests love and value you. If your wedding reflects you they will love and value your wedding. It's a pretty simple equation but one the wedding industry doesn't always reflect. If you are the kind of person who'd rather be dancing round a beach bonfire than waltzing round a ballroom then the former may be a better choice for you. People love going to a wedding that reflects the couple they are there to see, so you may find that if you please yourself, you'll please everyone else too.

The marriage

Ok, I admit to a little self-interest here! However, whether you choose a Humanist or religious ceremony, choose one that it absolutely right for you. Put as much thought and effort into the ceremony as you would for everything else about the wedding put together. Really consider the promises you will make and what you consider the commitment to be about. The ceremony is the anchor of the day, the first time everyone is together, welcomed and included. It also marks the beginning of your marriage, so make it mean everything to you.

There's more to life than getting married

I'm not a relationship counsellor by a long mile but by the time some couples come to see me about their wedding they've already booked the venue, photographer, florist, etc and complain that everyone is beginning to have an opinion about how things should be done and who is on the guest list. The fun has gone out of the wedding planning, not helped by the fact that they're often saving up for the big day. All the time spent talking to friends, family and each other seems to be all about the wedding. My suggestion to them is to have some time when talk of the wedding is banned. If you are suffering some pre-wedding blues do something fun together. Go for a walk, take in a movie, treat yourself to a drink or dinner. Talk to each other about anything apart from the wedding. Whether you're spending five or 50 grand on your wedding it's invaluable to remind yourself why you're getting married in the first place.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Feminist Weddings

I was intrigued by Ellie Levenson's article in today's Times, where she explains her doubts on getting married and how she made sure her wedding reflected her feminist values. 

Can a humanist wedding also be a feminist one? Let's begin by thinking about some traditional aspects of weddings that aren't feminist. First of all it's customary for the chap to propose, unless we're on a leap year where women can pop the question and (according to my dear, departed Gran) ladies who were refused got a pair of gloves as a knock-back gift, presumably to cover the fact they didn't have an engagement ring on their finger. The shame! Personally I don't think I'll ever get down on one knee and ask a man to marry me. At five foot nothin' I'm short enough standing up so crouched down I might be a health and safety hazard, as people would trip over me.

Then there's the moment many men dread: asking Daddy's permission. I'm sure some men still do this but as most couples live together before they get married I would imagine that this is merely a polite (yet declining) tradition and nothing to be taken too seriously. The same goes for being 'given away'.

To 'love, honour and obey'? Aye, right! Dream on...

Taking your husband's surname: many women still do this. I once married a couple where the groom's surname was 'Venus'. If I'd married someone with such a cool surname mine would have been changed by deed poll and on my Boots Advantage Card before I trotted down the aisle.

So, how do we make a humanist ceremony a feminist one? The short answer is: we don't, we make it a humanist wedding. One of the most important aspects of humanism is that we value all people equally. Our ceremonies place tantamount importance on the two people getting married. Yet there are aspects of the ceremony that many women would choose to modernise whether they describe themselves as feminists or not.

For most brides, having their dad walk them down the aisle is a symbolic gesture and everyone is fully aware that nobody is 'giving' or 'being given' away. However I notice some brides have both mum and dad walking them down the aisle and this is very thoughtful. Alternatively, many mums take the role of being a witness, which means they play an important part in the ceremony. There's also the option of entering as a couple and sometimes the bride even comes in on her own or with the bridesmaids.

Does anyone promise to 'obey' their spouse any more? I wouldn't want to marry a couple where either the bride or groom promised to obey the other. If they both promised to obey one another, how would that work? "Take out the rubbish!" "No, you take out the rubbish!" It would all end in tears and the rubbish would never get taken out... I think it's more important to make promises you can keep and ones that reflect what you can, as an individual, bring to the relationship.

In a humanist wedding you don't have to be named as 'Mr and Mrs' anything. The celebrant will legally have to pronounce you to be 'husband and wife' or 'wife and husband' if you prefer. I have had a few ceremonies where the groom has taken his wife's surname and the American fashion for hyphenating both is catching on. A woman's name doesn't automatically change when she gets married and many women keep their maiden name for professional use and take their married name for personal things. It's entirely up to you.

One of the reasons I love conducting humanist weddings is that marriage is not necessary these days. It's not so long ago that society demanded people get married if they wanted to live together and have children. If you've ever read Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice you'll be aware that marriage was once essential for any woman to have a secure place in society. I'm really glad that this is no longer the case and marriage is a positive choice. I think humanist weddings go beyond the notion of a feminist ones: our ceremonies aren't just about the couple but reflect their place in the world and are about them making a commitment in the presence of all the people they love and value. 

It is appropriate and considerate that in all Scottish wedding ceremonies the Registrar General has made the legal declarations worded like this:

"I Juliet Wilson accept you George Clooney to be my lawful wedded husband."

"I George Clooney accept you Juliet Wilson to be my lawful wedded wife."

My own personal fantasies aside, don't you think it's lovely that we 'accept' one another in marriage? Most couples presume the wording would be: "I take you to be my wife." No, siree, you offer yourself of your own free will! 

There's no need for a feminist (or anyone else) to marry in any type of ceremony but I think that if they want to make a public commitment there's no reason for them not to have a humanist wedding.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Making an entrance!

Many little girls (or was it just me?) pin their granny's tablecloth to their head and dream about walking down the aisle into Prince Charming's arms: Morton Harkett from A-Ha, in my case. Yet it can be quite an intimidating experience and this is something I usually discuss with couples before the big day. What's often expected to be the most joyous moment in the wedding can feel odd for many brides as they might not be used to being the centre of attention and being in front of a room full of people all staring at you, but saying nothing, can be a surreal experience.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone has been desperate to see you in your frock and they are looking at you with admiration and love. Of course, you don't have to do the 'walking down the aisle with dad' thing. Some brides arrive with the groom and they greet the guests as a couple. Then they might walk down the aisle together or simply come to the front and we begin the ceremony. Alternatively the bride might still arrive last but the groom will go out and they will then walk in together. Some brides choose to walk in with both parents, which I find especially moving.

It helps to choose music that means something special to you, a tune that you will really enjoy coming in to. This week I have a wedding where the bride is making an entrance to Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath! Queen's Don't Stop Me Now remains ever popular, and I've even had a bride coming in to I'm Sticking With You by the Velvet Underground. 

I've never had a wedding where the bridal party did anything like this but I so hope to one day!