Congratulations on your engagement and thanks for looking at my blog!

Congratulations on your engagement and thanks for looking at my blog!

How to use this blog

This blog is structured as a series of questions and under each posting, I've provided what I hope will be helpful advice for you in planning your humanist wedding. All of the posts are on one page, but each one has been condensed in size, so to read the full details, just click on the post title or 'read more'. When you get to the end of the post, just click on 'home' to get back to the full page of posts (or on older/newer posts). If you're interested in a particular subject, you can also click on the list to the left or you can do your own search by using the box below.

Happy reading and happy wedding planning!

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Can we have secrets and surprises in our ceremony?

(revealing some secrets to the groom at Glenskirlie Castle. Photo by Suzanne Hodgson at naturalweddings)

The short answer is yes, of course! Naturally the actual marriage can't be a surprise to either the bride or groom (there is more information on this on the gro-scotland website), but you could make it a surprise for your guests. I've conducted several baby naming ceremonies now that have turned into weddings and no one apart from the couple knew about it beforehand! Brilliant!

Secrets and surprises can be a lot of fun and with that in mind, here's one that was revealed, in all it's glory, on a recent wedding day:

Please rest assured that it isn't a legal requirement for the Celebrant  to inspect the groom's undergarments before the bride's arrival! I think you'll agree that Stuart's were kind of special though! Yes that's me on the left - I couldn't not look now could I?! It took a while before I got my face straight again for the arrival of the lovely bride by the way (thanks to Sophia and Stuart for the laughs at The Cruin that day!)

Seriously, there are lots of ways to include secrets and surprises in your wedding and I often suggest that you consider them. The way I work is to draft the whole ceremony for you and email it to you a few months beforehand. This means that you'll be very familiar with everything I'm going to say, so it's really nice if there are a couple of wee surprises. It helps to give the ceremony a bit of sparkle for you on the day. So, how can you do this? Here are a few ideas for you:

How can we involve wee ones in our ceremony?

Couples who have children often see their wedding ceremony as a way of celebrating not just their marriage but also their family life together. And by the way, the first thing to stress is not to worry about any of the wee ones moving around or making a noise during the ceremony. Humanist weddings are often very relaxed in style and in any case children often say or do something cute to entertain everyone! 

By the way, I always tell your guests not to worry, unless the children get really unsettled, in which case they should feel free to wander about with them or to take them out for a while. It's a good idea to have  some toys for wee ones to play with and something for them to eat and drink. And if they're your own kids, think about having someone else responsible for them during the ceremony - although it is of course fine if they want to join us at the front!

(in the lovely courtyard at Monachyle Mhor)

(at Fingask Castle in Perthshire, picture by Jenni Browne)

The Humanist approach certainly includes celebrating family values and couples often ask my advice and guidance on how to involve children in the actual ceremony. And whether it's your own children, nieces, nephews or the children of friends and family, there are lots of ways to involve them. Whatever you decide to do, it's always a good idea to rehearse with them at the venue so that they know what they're doing. And don't worry if they don't 'perform' on the day, we'll go with the flow (you kind of have to with kids eh?!) Anyway, here are a few ideas for you:

What symbolic gestures can we include in our ceremony?

(photo by Jill Porter)

You might be looking for a ceremony that is plain and simple, so the idea of including symbolic gestures may not be for you and that's fine. You don't need to consider any of these ideas (and humanist ceremony certainly don't need 'padding' in any way!), but if you're interested read on....

As with most aspects of the ceremony, you can include almost anything as long as it's non-religious and fits with the Humanist ethos. The most common symbolic gestures are probably handfasting, drinking from a quaich and candle lighting and I have separate posts on all three of those, as well as a section about the warming of the wedding rings in the post giving advice about the exchange of the rings. But there are lost of other things you might want to consider:

  • Releasing balloons

(Releasing heart shaped balloons at Glenskirlie Castle)

There's a nice bit of symbolism in releasing balloons - about the two of you starting your journey together and about everyone's hopes and wishes for you as they each release a balloon. This looks lovely on  photo of course but there are a couple of practical things you need to bear in mind! First of all, check that you have the necessary permission because of the possible hazard for low flying aircraft. And also think about the ecological implications too - it is possible to buy biodegradable balloons made from natural latex nowadays.

What will help to calm our nerves?

The first thing to say is that almost everyone feels a bit nervous on their wedding day - it goes with the territory! You're excited, you want to look your best, you want everything to go well.... And there are a lot of things I can do to help! Here are a few of my top tips for dealing with nerves:
  • One thing that will help a lot is that I'll be drafting everything for you and sending it to you well before the big day, so by that time you'll be very familiar with the content and structure of the ceremony. Knowing what's coming really helps.
  • A rehearsal can help too if you're very nervous. I always leave it to you to decide whether you need a rehearsal or not. I have to say that the majority of couples don't bother with one because they've seen the script beforehand and because I'm always there an hour early on the day to go through the practicalities, to liaise with readers, musicians or hotel staff and to make sure that everything is set up as it should be.
  • During that time, I'll be chatting to the groom and helping to calm any nerves. One groom took the time to email me after the big day to say, "I really appreciate the way you calmed me down before the ceremony - I was a little nervous (to say the least!) but chatting to you really did help. Thanks for all the advice and help beforehand too"

(picture by Keath Bank)

  • Some guys are really relaxed about everything of course (aye, I'm talking about you Grant!)

  • And speaking of nerves, girls, don't be too late will you? It's one sure fire way to make your groom really panic! 
    Steven waits for a very late Lynne (photo by Pete at Duke Studios)
    (she did turn up by the way!)

(Don't leave the poor lad with his fingers crossed will you?)

  • Up to 20 minutes late is fine, but try not to make it any later if you can help it. And if your time keeping is notoriously bad, appoint someone else (mum? chief bridesmaid?) to act as a time keeper for you.

What advice do you have about incorporating music into the ceremony?

The first thing to say is that anything goes! Well, almost! Given that you've chosen to have a humanist ceremony, religious music (including a hymn) isn't suitable, but there are so many other options - classical, jazz, pop, rock, folk, you name it.......

You need music in 3 main parts of the ceremony - for the entry of the bride ('processional' music), during the signing of the Marriage Schedule and for the bride and groom to leave ('recessional' music). Think carefully about the mood you want to create during each part of the ceremony - for example, most people choose something light and reflective to accompany the signing of the Marriage Schedule (about 5 minutes of music is ideal, so 2 tracks is perfect), but then have something with more impact for the end of the ceremony - to make everyone smile and to get the party started! 

Can you recommend a photographer or videographer?

I'd hesitate to make a recommendation because choosing a wedding photographer is such a personal thing. It doesn't matter what I think anyway - the only important thing is the you feel comfortable with the style and approach of the person who'll be taking your wedding photographs. There are a lot of professionals to choose from and it's worth chatting to a few of them to discuss your ideas and to find out what they have to offer.

The photographers I've worked with locally include:

Martin Weir at Weir Photography in Alloa
Alan Hutchison at Alan Hutchison Photography in Stirling
Seppi Preston at Lighthouse Studios in Stirling
Tom Collins at Stylish Images in Falkirk

Whyler Photos in Stirling
Brian Muldoon at Brian Muldoon Photography in Grangemouth
David Loney at David Loney in Denny
John Rae at John Rae in Larbert
George Lammie at George Lammie Photographs in Alloa
Jennifer at Jenniflower Weddings

Rhoddy Stewart at Rhoddy Stewart Photography in Falkirk
Abbie Allardyce in Callander
Graham MacKay at Graham Mackay Photography in Cumbernauld
Stewart Hislop at Bright Yellow Photography in Falkirk
Ashley Coombes at in Gartmore near Stilring
Aileen Stewart at in Stirling
Alastair Jolly at in Falkirk
Corona Photographic in Stirling

And not local to this area, but also great wedding photographers:

Nadin and Mark Dunnegan at Nadin Dunnigan Photography in West Lothian and Edinburgh
Bob Dougal at Bob Dougal Photography in Kilsyth
Trevor Wilson at Silver Photography in Bishopton
Neil Fordyce at Neil Fordyce Photography in Dunkeld
Angus Forbes at AM Forbes Photography in Blairgowrie
David Ho at David Ho Photography in Edinburgh
Paul Walker at Paul Walker Images in Ayrshire

Top Table Photography in Glasgow
Rich Pictures in Glasgow

The videographers I've worked with include:

Do you have any advice about the exchange of rings?

(photo by William McLaughlin)

Most couples choose to exchange rings on their wedding day and there are a few things to bear in mind for this important element of the ceremony:

  • The first thing is to remember to bring the rings on the day! I've never had this happen yet, though it was a close call once when the Best Man 'temporarily mislaid' them. We were fortunate that the couple were getting married at the family home and he could dash inside to get them! The look on his face when he realised that he didn't have them was priceless!
  • If you have a particularly nervous Best Man, advise him not to handle the rings in case he drops them! If they're in a box, he can simply open the box and present it to the Celebrant to take the rings out.
  • If your hands are hot, the ring can be a tight fit and you might experience some difficulty in getting it onto your partners finger. The first thing is not to worry about this - it happens to a lot of people and can actually be a sweet, funny and memorable part of the ceremony! Just take your time and it'll go on eventually! In this lovely wedding at The Roman Camp Hotel, John decided to put his own ring on after Jan had been struggling with it for some time!
(picture by the excellent Trevor Wilson at Silverphotography)

What's so special about Doune Castle?

STOP PRESS: This year (2014) Doune castle is being used as a location for the filiming of the US TV series 'Outlander' . That means that there will be periods during the year when they unfortunately won't be able to accept wedding bookings, so please check with Historic Scotland

Anyway, where do I start? Probably by admitting that I'm totally biased because Doune Castle is in my village! It's managed by Historic Scotland whose weddings team based in Edinburgh will answer any queries and help you with your booking. Anyway, I thought that it was about time I wrote something about my nearest wedding venue, especially as it also happens to be one of my dearest! So, what does it have that makes it so special?

  • It's in a lovely setting for a start, but it's also very convenient for access because it's so close to Stirling and only 5 minutes off the end of the A9.
  • It's an imposing building, but not too grand and formal
  • Given that it dates back to the 14th century, it is remarkably well preserved and unlike some castles, it actually has a roof!

Can we get married on an island?

The short answer is yes, of course! You don't have to be on the Scottish mainland to have a legal humanist marriage - as long as the island is Scottish, that's fine. Theoretically, you could even get married on St. Kilda if you wanted to! If it was possible to arrange the practicalities anyway - it is Scotland's most remote island and very difficult to get to - you'd have to charter a boat and get special permission from The National Trust for Scotland who own it. Mind you, given that that's where I met my husband, I'd be bowled over if anyone ever asked me to conduct a marriage there!

You could of course travel to one of the many beautiful islands off the west coast for your wedding (Skye, Mull, Arran etc..) or up to the northern isles. In central Scotland, Inchmahome Island on the Lake of Menteith used to be available for weddings.

Sadly Historic Scotland, who own it, decided in late 2011 to ban weddings there. As far as I know, there would be nothing to stop you having your wedding photos taken there after your marriage of course. If it's a small-ish wedding, you could have the ceremony outside at the Lake Hotel at Port of Menteith, as the lovely Gillian and Grant did:

(Photo by Nadin Dunnigan)

There are stunning views from the hotel over the lake towards Inchmahome. And the other option is to get married at the self catering lodges (Lochend Chalets) on the shores of the lake, as Julie and Gordon did on Valentine's day a few years ago. Even with cold and misty weather, the lake was stunning (as was the bride!) (the groom wasn't bad either!):

(photo by Dave Hunt)

Other islands in central Scotland you might consider are those on Loch Lomond. There are quite a few to choose from and they each have their own unique character:

We like the idea of using a quaich in our ceremony - how can we do this?

The quaich is a traditional Scottish two handled drinking cup. The word quaich comes from the Gaelic word 'cuach' or cup. They can be made of wood, pottery, silver or pewter and come in a range of sizes.

The quaich is often referred to as 'the loving cup' or cup of welcome or friendship and its two handles make it ideal for sharing.

It is unique to Scotland and part of the tradition of Celtic hospitality was that of welcoming guests with a drink from a quaich. Sharing a cup was also seen as a sign of trust between the people drinking from it - because it is offered and taken with both hands, the drinker could not hold a weapon at the same time and the sharing of the drink was also a guarantee that it hadn't been poisoned!

King James VI of Scotland presented a quaich to Anne of Denmark on the occasion of their marriage in 1589 and since then quaichs have often been used in wedding ceremonies. Drinking from the same cup is a lovely symbol of the love and trust between the couple. Because it is traditionally 'the cup of welcome', drinking from it can also be seen as a way of welcoming the bride and groom into each others' family too.

There are lots of ideas for incorporating a quaich into your ceremony:

Where are there great places to get married in central Scotland?

Great places to get married? This is a matter of opinion of course and it's well worth spending some time visiting potential venues to see which ones suit your needs best and have the right 'feel'. In this part of the world, there are numerous lovely places to get married and although this isn't an exhaustive list, here are a few suggestions to get you going! Some of them are suitable for both your ceremony and the reception and others just for the ceremony. By the way, I've listed mainly local venues here, but I'm also quite happy to travel further afield to conduct weddings too! The beauty of living in central Scotland is that I can travel easily to numerous locations north, south, east and west! Here are some great local venues including fabulous hotels with great food, castles, other historic places and places with spectacular views:

We're worried about our vows - do you have any tips?

The exchange of vows is undoubtedly the most important part of the ceremony and often the most meaningful and moving. It's important to think carefully about the promises you want to make to each other on your wedding day, so that the words are sincere and heartfelt. One couple who gave a lot of thought to their vows were Alan and Fiona:

"Alan and I have written our own vows, and we have tried to include promises which are important to us and our relationship. We decided to write these together, as we were keen to make the same promises as each other. However, while we will each say more or less the same thing, there are a couple of lines which are different – and which represent sort of “mirror image” promises, rather than the exact same one.
We had some fun writing them, and it’s fair to say, some disagreements – we can each be quite strong-willed, so there were some passionate debates over the choice each and every word, as well as the sequence of the promises... But, I think we have finally come up with a version which we are both really happy with... We had a bit of a practice the other night, and I had goosebumps (and tears in my eyes!). I think they are all promises which we already try to live by – but somehow the idea of saying them out loud, in front of other people, brings a whole new significance..."

Fiona and Alan were well prepared and said their vows beautifully on the day, but this is often the part of the ceremony that couples worry most about - What should we say to one another? How nervous will I be? Will I get a fit of the giggles? Will I get all emotional? Will I get through them?

Please don't worry - we're here to help and the following tips might be useful:

What do we need to do about the legal procedures?

 (Picture by Martin Weir Photography)

The first thing to stress is that the legal procedures are very straightforward! However, the following points should help you through the process:

What does the paperwork consist of?

Marriage Notices

In order to be legally married, you need to obtain Marriage Notice (M10) forms. You fill one in each - basically to inform the registrar that you want to marry each other! It is always advisable to phone the Registrar before submitting your Marriage Notices, to make sure that you have all the necessary supporting documents and to check their fees. This is what the Marriage Notice Form looks like:

The Marriage Schedule

The Marriage Schedule is the document that you, your Celebrant and your two witnesses sign on the day and this is what it looks like (though yours won't have 'specimen' written all over it obviously!):

The Marriage Certificate

You will be sent your Marriage Certificate when the Marriage Schedule has been submitted to the Registrar after the wedding. This is the document you get to keep, your proof that you are legally married!

What is distinctive about a humanist wedding?

Well, the first thing to say is that they are humanist of course! Humanist weddings are inclusive and because they concentrate on the things we all have in common, they tend to appeal to everyone, regardless of their individual beliefs. Humanism is a non-religious but ethical life stance about respecting and caring for one another and the world in which we live (good without god if you like!). If your granny is a church goer, she might be a bit bemused (or even concerned) about what a humanist ceremony involves, but you can reassure her that she'll probably love it! People who haven't been to one of our ceremonies before don't always 'get it' beforehand - but I can almost guarantee that they will 'get it' afterwards. Even people with strong religious beliefs have often remarked afterwards on how much they enjoyed the ceremony. I should stress that there is NEVER anything anti-religious in our ceremonies - they are non-religious, but always in the context of humanist principles and values about consideration and respect for others. And by the way, in the interests of equality, I tend not to use the following expressions in my ceremonies:

"Man and wife" (why not "woman and husband?"!)

"Who gives this woman?" (why not "who gives this man?"!)
"You may kiss the bride" (why not "you may kiss the groom?"!)

And on the subject of kissing:

Err... not sure if the dog should get the first kiss Doug! Our ceremonies are Humanist, not Caninist (is that a word?!), but actually I love and welcome dogs at weddings!

If you're unsure about whether a humanist ceremony is truly reflective of your beliefs, why not look at the Humanism quiz on our website - it's interesting and good fun! Our legal authorisation from the Registrar General is to conduct humanist (rather than just non-religious civil) marriages and we therefore ask couples to become members of the Humanist Society. This helps us to continue our work and to enable other couples in the future to have the humanist wedding of their choice. People sometimes ask why they have to join the Humanist Society and the answer is simple really - Humanist weddings are for Humanists (even if you didn't realise you were one!). Membership entitles you to our quarterly magazine and you can attend meetings and conferences if you want to, but of course you don't have to. The current membership fees are detailed on our website. 

These days, whatever form of marriage you choose (civil, religious or humanist), you can make your ceremony personal and humanist ceremonies are certainly that! Basically, as a Marriage Celebrant, my job is to tailor-make each ceremony for each couple and that makes your day very special and my job an absolute joy! You can choose your own music, vows, readings and symbolic gestures (and I can help you to do so of course!). I also like to tell  your 'story' too, to talk about your journey as a couple so far.... It not only adds a very personal element to the ceremony, but quite often some fun and laughter too! The following video clip from John and Diane's wedding at Doune Castle is a good example. Enjoy!


How can we incorporate candle lighting into our ceremony?

The lighting of candles is a lovely symbolic gesture to include in your ceremony. I usually suggest that you each light a candle near the start of the ceremony to symbolise your separate lives before your marriage. Here's a short youtube clip of Alison and David lighting their individual candles at Airth Castle (video by Sharp Focus).  It's just before they then go on to exchange their vows and wedding rings, so you can watch that too. Although the video clip stops when I pronounce them husband and wife, they went on to light a third candle after that, to symbolise the joining together of their lives in marriage. The 'marriage' or 'unity' candle is lit by each of you taking a flame from each of the first two candles and lighting the third one together. This makes a nice photograph as you can see in this picture of Margaret and Jay during their wedding at the historic Alloa Tower

How do we choose readings and poetry?

There is such a vast array of lovely wedding poetry out there that you may find yourselves spoiled for choice! Alternatively, you might find yourselves having to wade through huge numbers of unsuitable readings (some religious, some cheesy, some just badly written) on the internet. There are some very nice wedding poetry books on the market though and I particularly like, 'Handfast', which is a book of Scottish poetry for weddings (published by the Scottish Poetry Library in 2004) and 'Heartsongs' by Pinky Agnew (published by Rider, 2006). The Humanist Society also have a huge collection of lovely non-religious poetry and readings to help you to find something appropriate for you. The most important thing is to choose poems that you like and that express your thoughts and feelings about each other and about your wedding day. I would usually include 2 or 3 readings in a ceremony, but of course you don't have to have any at all if it's not your thing!

You also need to consider carefully who is going to read for you.

Should we risk an outdoor wedding?

For many couples, an outdoor ceremony is their preferred option and it often adds a nicely relaxed air to the proceedings. If you have a particular affinity with the natural world, it might be really important to you to get married outdoors, with the sights and sounds of nature all around you.

If you're in the grounds of a hotel, the venue may arrange to have seating and even a red carpet to create an aisle, but quite often the guests will simply stand in informal groups instead (perhaps with a few seats for elderly guests). An outdoor wedding always carries a risk though - what do you do if the weather is bad? You might be lucky and get a day like this at Shieldaig Lodge in Gairloch a few years ago:

We certainly needed the sunscreen that day and midge repellent comes in pretty handy in certain parts of Scotland (north and west mainly) and certain times of the year (summer months) too! The following wedding of Kelly and John at the Roman Camp Hotel in Callander was another lovely day and the sun sparkling off the water gave the whole wedding a magical quality.

(This wedding was also videoed by James at Strageworx Productions and if you follow this link, you can see a web version of Kelly and John's DVD:

What if I get emotional on the day?

No worries! Feeling emotional on your wedding day is natural and I’ll always have tissues at the ready! So far my record is a five hankie wedding by the way! They were all for the bride on that occasion, but actually, it’s often the grooms who go first – so be warned guys! This is Steve (getting emotional) and Julie at their wedding at the Fortingall Hotel in Perthshire:

The bride's entry is often the point at which the guys need a tissue: 

(photo by Angus Forbes)

But it can get to you at any time during the ceremony. Mind you, I think Patrick's tears during his marriage to the lovely Alison at the Forest Hills Hotel in Kinlochard were actually tears of joy!

(photo by Alan Hutchison)

He was a very happy boy at the end of the ceremony anyway!

(photo by Alan Hutchison)

And Christine and Kenny's tears at their wedding at the Glenbervie Coach House were definitely tears of laughter:

(Picture by Martin Weir)

Read on for more on this subject and to view a video clip of one of my weddings.

How do we choose a venue?

So, how do you choose a venue? Many couples choosing a humanist ceremony decide to have the whole day (ceremony and reception) in one place and this has lots of practical advantages (not having to move your guests from A to B being a big one!) Because humanist ceremonies are non-religious (I should stress here that they are never anti religious!) a church building isn't usually an option. But there are so many other places to choose from - hotels, historic buildings, stately homes, National Trust properties or Historic Scotland properties. Mind you, please note that Historic Scotland have decided that weddings will now only be allowed at 21 of their 300+ properties and if you need more information about this, phone the wedding team on 0131 668 8686

There are of course many lovely outdoor places - in fact, you have the whole of Scotland at your disposal and don't forget that an authorised Humanist Celebrant can conduct a legal marriage anywhere (yes, anywhere!) in Scotland without the need for a civil licence!

Choosing the right venue is as much about the right 'feel' of the place as it is about the practicalities (size, location, cost and so on). You may be looking for something formal or something informal or something in between, but there's a huge choice out there, from the elegant splendour of The George Hotel Edinburgh to the rustic charms of Comrie Croft!

How do we set the room out?

It's a good idea to have some form of focal point in the room (or space if it's outdoors) and this could simply be in the form of a table with a flower arrangement on it such as this one at Castle Campbell:

On the other hand, some venues afford a spectacular views that might be all you need for a focal point! This is the function room at The Lodge on Loch Lomond:

Other ideas would be to use a natural feature such as this lovely tree in the grounds of the Strathblane Country House Hotel:

Or this one at Culcreuch Castle in Fintry:

Balloon or flower arches are a nice idea too:

How do we enter and how do we stand?

I often get asked questions about wedding etiquette and in particular, things like which side of her dad should the bride be on when they enter at the start of the ceremony? Just in case you're wondering too, it is traditional for the bride to take her dad's right arm, so that he walks down the aisle on the left, which is traditionally 'the bride's side'. Someone other than dad may of course be 'giving the bride away', such as in the case of Michelle here, whose Gran had the honour of escorting her on her wedding day:

As you can see, in this case the bride decided to walk on her Gran's left rather than the right. You could of course decide to move completely away from tradition and walk in together as bride and groom! And by the way, I often refer to the 'giving away' tradition during the ceremony and say that in reality there isn't any giving away because the two of you have already given your hearts to each other. It's a nice way of saying that you have a relationship of equals and that there is no relinquishing of ownership on the part of the father of the bride - and indeed, no claiming of ownership by the groom! At the same time, I always like to make a big fuss of dads for their role on the big day!

After the ceremony has finished, the bride will then take the groom's left arm for them to make their grand exit back down the aisle. And that, according to traditional etiquette, is so that he has his sword arm (presumed to be his right) free to protect his bride! Of course, you may decide to throw tradition out of the window for your big day and do your own thing!

It is important to think about how and where to stand during the ceremony itself.

So what exactly is hand fasting?

Hand fasting is an ancient Celtic marriage ritual and it involves tying a piece of tartan (or cord or ribbon if you prefer) around your joined hands, as a symbolic way of representing your union as a married couple. It may well be where the expression 'tying the knot' came from! The 1995 film, 'Braveheart' shows William Wallace (Mel Gibson of course) and the love of his life, Murron, having a hand fasting ceremony. The original idea was that it was a kind of engagement - the couple would be betrothed for a year and a day before they then married. If you decide to have a hand fasting, I always make a point of saying that although that was the tradition, your hand fast will be for life! There are a few different ways for a hand fasting to be done and your Celebrant will be able to give you ideas.