I love personal weddings. Weddings which seem a perfect fit for the couple. Weddings where you can see the thought that has gone into how to celebrate. But a thoughtful and personal wedding doesn’t have to mean one without traditions – here are some of my favourite ways that couples have included wedding traditions whilst still creating a very personal wedding.
With my friend, humanist wedding celebrant Nat Raybould, we’ve talked through 10 wedding traditions to question – Part 1 included ceremony options & wedding parties and then Part 2 included about entrances & wedding speeches. Here we talk about how to include traditions that fit for you – this might be because they mean something to you, they reflect a family, cultural or religious tradition or just make you happy!
Family Wedding Traditions
If family is important to you, you might choose to include family heirlooms, choose a place or date that means something special to your family or honour your family members in some way.
Hannah: While I didn’t wear my mum’s wedding dress, I did use the sash from her dress to wrap around my bouquet. And my sister lent me a bracelet that had been our grandmother’s. I’ve also photographed weddings where the bride and groom chose to get married in the same venue as their parents – even recreating some of their parents’ wedding photographs. Other couples have chosen to set up tables displaying wedding photos of their parents and other relatives, including those sadly no longer with us.
Nat: People may say “don’t work with children or animals” but I couldn’t disagree more! If you want to involve beloved pets or beloved children in your wedding ceremony, I think this can make the event even more touching and beautiful. If things go a bit awry, who cares?! We are celebrating real love in real time, and in real life stuff doesn’t always go perfectly. The little funny bits will be the things you remember most fondly, I promise you. Wedding traditions like having children as ringbearers always steal the show, and from age 5-6 where many children take a Proper Job To Do very seriously, they will not only do the job well, they will execute it with a very determined and lovely look on their face as well! I have had children sign their parents’ wedding certificates with handprints (what a lovely way to remember that year) and I had children help their parents to bind marriage promises by wrapping the ribbons for their handfasting ceremony. Also consider giving children part of readings you like – supported by other older members of the family they could just say a sentence or a punchline but it would be a wonderful moment to remember! You know your child and whether they would relish the challenge – as always in wedding ceremonies, everyone has to be comfortable and children are no different.
Hannah: It is always gorgeous to photograph children and pets at weddings – from rogue ringbearers to four legged ones! I love that when I asked Nat if she’d include pawprints on wedding certificates too she said of course (as long as it’s non-toxic ink and you can clean it off quickly). If you’re looking for some inspiration for how to include your pet in your wedding then do check out my Pets at Weddings Pinterest board!
Cultural or Religious Wedding Traditions
If your culture, religion or heritage is important to you or your partner, then including those traditions can be a nice way to recognise this.
Nat: I am due to marry some couples in 2020 and 2021 who are from different countries and want to incorporate their cultures into the ceremony. Knitting cultural gestures from the cultures that mean the most to you can really illustrate how your personalities entwine, and I have found that these touches in a ceremony are really moving and memorable for your guests as well as you.
Hannah: I’m from Northumberland with Scottish heritage and my partner is Chinese Malaysian. We wanted to include both of our cultures in our ceremonies. My mum made beautiful Celtic knots for my bouquet, we had thistles in our wedding flowers and a ceilidh in the evening. We celebrated our marriage again in Malaysia, but also included a traditional Chinese tea ceremony in our Northumberland wedding. I know it meant a lot to my in-laws that I chose to change into a red qi pao and ensure we showed respect to our family by kneeling and serving them tea.
Nat: That sounds beautiful! And is the ideal example of how highly personal choices elevate your wedding day into something that will be unique and memorable to everyone – but most of all you.
Nat: It’s also possible to incorporate culturally-framed religious traditions into Humanist wedding ceremonies. Say, for example, a bride’s Welsh family all sang together in a traditional male voice choir for decades, it may be a beautiful decision to incorporate Cym Rhondda. As long as the elements are culturally significant to the couple or their families, a clear and sensitive framework can show that a Humanist celebrant is honouring cultural significance and not leading an act of worship. It doesn’t have to cost the earth! It’s more the thought that goes into those decisions that will make the difference.
Hannah: Exactly – it’s the thought and intention that makes the wedding so special. I love it when couples choose to incorporate a tradition because of it’s meaning to them – whether that’s walking round a chuppah and smashing a glass, choosing a meaningful henna design (perhaps with your partner’s initials hidden for them to find) and arriving in processing with a drummer, asking the wedding party to set challenges for their partner to complete before a first look, including Communion in a church wedding service, or having pre-wedding gatherings like Nikah or Mendhi celebrations.
Symbolic Wedding Traditions
If you’d like to include symbolic wedding traditions there are some lovely ways to celebrate your marriage and to make these symbols personal and special.
Hannah: There are some symbolic traditions that can be lovely to include if they make you happy or if you can add a personal touch. Wedding rings are a traditional wedding symbol, although now it seems more common for both partners to wear a ring. Rings can be personalised in so many ways – you can engrave text, an image or even a finger print or add meaning by choosing sand from your favourite beach to use to create a sandcast ring. You can find lots of tips to help you design a truly personalised wedding ring in this blog with Justin Duance, including how to use heirloom gold to give your ring even more family meaning.
Nat: There are so many entwining symbols that can be incorporated into your Humanist ceremony! As well as ring exchanges, handfastings and ring warmings, I have included cocktail mixing and sand blending in my ceremonies. You can also make up your own special ritual, based on your own passions. My favourite is definitely handfasting. It’s an old Scottish tradition that also has origins in Europe, and is where the phrase “tie the knot” comes from. It symbolises and agreement between equals, which is a lovely thing to emphasise in a marriage ceremony which can sometimes seem quite patriarchal. There are many ways to do this, but usually couples’ forearms are bound gently with a symbolic ribbon, cord or material (you can easily incorporate extra significance here) and the promises or statements of intent are what binds you together in thought and in deed.
Hannah: I love the symbolism of a handfasting ceremony – and I’ve seen couples include family and cultural links in this ceremony by choosing to use a family tartan. I’ve also enjoyed the symbolism of couples choosing to light a unity candle – each lighting a taper and then together lighting a single candle, sometimes including family by also inviting their parents to take tapers and join in lighting the unity candle.
Nat: I hope we have inspired you to question all those usual traditions, and to shape your wedding day into one that fits you perfectly. Get in touch with us for a chat: we both love nothing more than advising couples on how to make their day more personal!
Hannah: I’d love to know which traditions you’re planning to include or if we’ve inspired you to do anything differently. You can talk to Nat about creating a personal humanist ceremony, and I’d love to talk to you about photographing your personal wedding and creating a story of your day.