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

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOW COMPLETELY RETIRED, SO I'M NO LONGER TAKING ANY WEDDING BOOKINGS. I'M LEAVING THIS BLOG ONLINE IN CASE IT'S OF ANY HELP TO YOU IN PLANNING YOUR WEDDING, BUT I WON'T BE MAINTAINING IT, SO APOLOGIES FOR BROKEN LINKS OR OUT OF DATE INFORMATION! 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 'older post' to move on to the next post. If you're interested in a particular subject, you can also click on the list to the right or you can do your own search by using the box below.

I've started with a wee video, so happy viewing, happy reading and happy wedding planning!

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What can we do to mark our original big day if our wedding has been postponed?

The corona virus crisis has been a very difficult time for everyone and I really feel for you if you've had to (or will have to) postpone your big day. It's a difficult decision to make (or have imposed on you) and finding a new date can be stressful and time consuming. But one thing I will say is that once it's done, you'll feel a whole lot better! You can then re-set the wedding countdown and start looking forward to it all over again. And don't forget that every cloud has a silver lining - it'll give you more time to arrange or save up for a few little extras!

But what about your original wedding date - should you mark or celebrate that in some way? Definitely, in my opinion! And here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • Crack open the bubbly!

Personally, I never need an excuse to open a bottle of bubbly, but if there was ever an occasion when it's an absolute must, this is it! You could even conduct a Prosecco/champagne tasting if you can't quite decide  which one to have on your big day... Enjoy - hic! 😵

How do I choose a celebrant?

The Celebrant is an important part of your big day and you need to feel happy, relaxed and comfortable with the person who is going to marry you, not to mention confident about their professional expertise! So here are a few tips for choosing a celebrant to suit you:

Why should we choose a Humanist Society Scotland Celebrant?

Well, I'm tempted to say because we're the original and the best! And do you know what? We really are! Here's a short video clip explaining why I think the Humanist Society Scotland is the best possible choice you can make for your big day:

And here are a few more reasons to choose a Celebrant from the Humanist Society Scotland:

  • The HSS have many years of experience and were the first to be authorised (way back in 2005) to conduct legal weddings by the Registrar General for Scotland. We are by far the longest standing and most popular provider of humanist wedding ceremonies in Scotland.
  • On Valentine's Day 2017, we were also very proud to become the first ever non-religious organisation to be awarded prescribed status in law by the Scottish parliament. This is recognition of the fact that we are a trusted provider of humanist ceremonies in Scotland and in practice this means that we now have the authority to authorise our own Celebrants to solemnise marriage (and to register civil partnerships). We are the only Humanist organisation in Scotland to be in this privileged position and it means that our Celebrants no longer have to constantly re-apply (every year or every 3 years) for the authority to conduct legal marriages. That removes any uncertainty for you - so when you book your wedding, you never have to worry about whether your HSS wedding Celebrant will have the required legal authorisation on your big day, because they will! 
  • We have an extensive network of Celebrants throughout Scotland (over 120 and counting!) and this means that in an emergency, we can find you a replacement Celebrant (at no extra cost to you). This is part of what we call The HSS Promise.

What is distinctive about a humanist wedding?

  • Humanist and inclusive
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've never been to one of our ceremonies don't always 'get it' beforehand - but I can almost guarantee that they will 'get it' afterwards. Even people with strong religious beliefs often remark afterwards that they really 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?") (I usually just say "husband and wife" or in the case of a same sex marriage, "wife and wife" or "husband and husband")

"Who gives this woman?" (why not "who gives this man?"!) (I just don't ask this question!)

"You may kiss the bride" (why not "you may kiss the groom?"!) (Actually, I simply say "you may kiss!")

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!

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

What is included in the wedding fee?

As you’ll already know, getting married unfortunately isn't cheap (err....understatement?!) and many couples are understandably budget conscious these days. So when you make a booking for a Humanist wedding ceremony, it’s only natural to want to know what you get for your money!

The ceremony will be one of the most important parts of your big day and given that it will be tailor-made for you and therefore highly personalized, many couples feel that the Celebrant fee is money well spent. It’s all about priorities of course, but when you consider the cost of the other aspects of your big day (ouch!), the ceremony fee is relatively modest and we think that it represents real value for money. In fact, you may well end up spending more on the flowers! Did you know that a recent survey by The Scottish Wedding Directory found that the average cost of wedding flowers was £500!

Read on for more information about the fees...

Are same sex marriage ceremonies different to those for straight couples?

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 came into force on Hogmanay 2014 making Scotland the 17th country in the world to legalise same sex marriages. After years of campaigning, Humanist Society Scotland is very proud and happy to be able to conduct legal weddings for gay and lesbian couples at last! Warmest congratulations to Scotland's first Mr and Mr (Joe and Malx) who were married by HSS Celebrant Ross Wright and to Scotland's first Mrs and Mrs (Gerrie and Susan):

I conducted my first legal same sex marriage not long after the law changed and the words 'proud and happy' don't go anywhere near to describing how wonderful it was to marry the lovely Elaine and Mary, pictured below at their Broomhall Castle wedding: 

(congratulations Mrs and Mrs Robb! Yay! How fabulous is it to be able to say Mrs and Mrs!)

One question I'm often asked is how same sex ceremonies are different to those for straight couples.... 

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 National Records of 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 what turned out to be a great fun 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. 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 one or two 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 (and fur babies) 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. 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 (mine certainly are!) and in any case children often say or do something cute to entertain everyone!

(toddler Jacob finds harpist Iain Hood fascinating at Glenskirlie House)

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....

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. By the way, I almost never conduct more than one wedding in one day, so that I can really be there for you rather than nervously clock watching!
  • Before the ceremony, 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"

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! 

I've had a few couple recently where the bride has chosen the song she wants to enter to and kept it a secret from the groom (hoping to get a tear out of him of course!) It's a great idea, especially if you girls are happy to let the guys choose the last track for your grand exit and keep that a secret from you! LOL!

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:

George Lammie at George Lammie Photographs in Alloa
Mike Cook at mcookphotography in Falkirk
Martin and Elaine Weir at Weir Photography in Alloa
Whyler Photos in Stirling
Jennifer at Jenniflower Weddings in Stirling
Emma Gray at emmagrayphotography in Falkirk
Bryan and Stacey Mr and Mrs M at Picturesque in Falkirk
Rhoddy Stewart at Rhoddy Stewart Photography in Falkirk
Ashley Coombes at in Gartmore near Stilring
John at Corona Photographic in Stirling
Brian and Paula at Crieff Photography
Kirsty at kirstywinfieldphotography in Stirling
Stephen McCluskey in Stirling
Abbie Allardyce in Callander
Graham MacKay at Graham Mackay Photography in Cumbernauld
Stewart Hislop at Bright Yellow Photography in Falkirk
Aileen Stewart at in Stirling
Alastair Jolly at in Falkirk
John Rae at John Rae in Larbert

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)

Can we get married in a Castle?

Of course you can! A castle wedding can be really special, offering a wonderful sense of history, a romantic atmosphere and often a very picturesque setting. 

There are quite a few lovely castles in this area, of varying sizes and dating back to different times. It depends whether you want something medieval or modern, large or small, grand or rustic. The choice includes:

Can we get married on an island or on a loch?

(Lesley and Rupert at Kinlochard)

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!

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?

(The Wallace Monument from Stirling Castle)

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 legal procedures for all weddings in Scotland fall under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014. We sometimes get inquiries from couples abroad or in England and Wales who are concerned about the legalities. This is because Humanist marriages aren't yet legal south of the border and in fact, Scotland is one of only 8 countries in the world where you can legally marry in a Humanist ceremony. So if you're not from Scotland, just a few points to reassure you :

  • Yes, we can legally marry you!
  • Yes, a Humanist ceremony conducted by a Celebrant of Humanist Society Scotland is fully legal.
  • Yes, that means that your marriage has legal status in the same way as if you were to marry in any other part of the UK or in a religious or civil ceremony (with a Registrar).
  • No, you don't need to have a separate ceremony with a Registrar, as you currently do south of the border.
  • No, there are no residence requirements, so you don't have to live in Scotland in order to legally marry here.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you need further clarification - I'm always happy to help!

As far as the legal procedure is concerned, the first thing to stress is that it's all very straightforward and the following points should help you through the process:

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. Many couples chose to have 1 or 2 readings in the ceremony, but you could have more and 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 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! Don't forget wasp swatting season either - some people are seriously freaked out by wasps!

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

(photo by Angus Forbes)

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 the one above which is at Castle CampbellBy the way, on the subject of flowers, make sure that your florist removes any stamens with pollen! I recently got red pollen from a floral display all over my dress before a wedding and I had to keep the bride well away from it! 

Of course some venues afford a spectacular views that might be all you need for a focal point! This is the lovely view over the loch view from Kinlochard Village Hall for example:

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 above, 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!

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. This video clip from lovely Lindsey and Adam's wedding shows how I usually do handfasting. I think it's important to exchange your vows in the handfast because that is symbolic of the fact that your vows are binding promises that you're making to each other: