(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 carefully about the ecological implications too, particularly the possible harm to wildlife. It is possible to buy biodegradable balloons made from natural latex nowadays but apparently these still take quite a long time to break down and are potentially dangerous if accidentally ingested. This is definitely something to consider carefully before you make a decision.
- Jumping over a broom
There are various stories about the origin of this custom (see the wikipedia entry on this for example) and it has roots in both gypsy and African American cultures. It may not be for you, but it can add an interesting (and fun) element to the ceremony. The symbolism here is about sweeping away the old and starting a new life together. In days gone by couples who wanted to live together but weren't able to legally marry would declare their intention to 'live over the brush' - and once they'd jumped over it, the brush would then be kept in their shared home as a symbol of their union.
- Planting a tree
What more symbolism do you need in a marriage ceremony than the idea of starting new life, nurturing and growing stronger? If the two of you have an affinity with the natural world (whether you're passionate gardeners or not), this might be a nice idea to include in your ceremony, especially if it's being held in your own garden. When Jill and Michael decided to get married, they didn't just plant a tree, they designed their whole back garden in Stirling (pictured) around their wedding ceremony! It was stunning, but then they are amazing garden designers.
You could decide to go one step further and include all of the natural elements in your ceremony - air, earth, fire and water. You could get married out of doors, plant a tree or shrub, light candles (you can buy lovely outdoor garden candles) and drink water from a quaich (or even have it sprinkled on your hands as in the Thai good luck tradition)
There are numerous other ideas and they include:
- Sand ceremony - mixing together two containers of sand, to represent the merging together of your lives
- Lanterns - releasing sky lanterns, as used in many Asian festivals, can represent the floating away of your troubles, to be replaced by good fortune and luck.
- Pebbles - a lovely idea from a Scottish couple living in New Zealand. They asked each of their guests to come to the ceremony with a small pebble from their own garden or from somewhere in Scotland that was special to them. During the ceremony, their son collected the pebbles in a wooden bowl and they took them back to NZ as a unique reminder of their special day. Nice eh?
- Another pebbles idea came from Suzanne and Kieran who inscribed two stones, wrapped them in hessian and then threw them into the loch where they got married (Venachar Lochside)
- Mexican hug - you may be wondering what on earth this is! Well, you know what a Mexican wave is? As seen at many a sporting event, it's where everyone gets up in turn with their arms in the air. Well, the Mexican hug is where the couple start off by hugging each other and then someone else: those people then hug another person - and so on, until everyone in the room has been well and truly hugged! It's a great way to involve everyone and a good laugh if you want to inject a bit of humour into your ceremony. I've also had a couple ask everyone to kiss each other too - it was Valentine's Day mind you!
- Sawing wood - yes, sawing wood! This is a very unusual gesture and it's a German wedding tradition that involves the bride and groom using a two handled saw to work together as a team to saw a log in half. It's impossible to saw it in half unless you work together as a team, another great message for married life! Janine (who is German) and Roy did this at their wedding at Doune Castle:
(Mind you, I don't think they were supposed to fight with the logs afterwards!!)
- Animals - personally, I'd guard against using animals in the ceremony (unless it's your own pet and they aren't going to be stressed in any way). The ethics of owl ring bearers or releasing butterflies or doves need to be very carefully considered.
- Other cultures - there are of course all sorts of traditions from other countries and cultures that might be included in your humanist ceremony, such as the Jewish tradition of stamping on a glass and shouting mazeltov (good luck), or the Greek tradition of exchanging stefana (wedding crowns). There is also the Thai tradition of wrapping cotton around the wrists of the bride and groom as a good luck symbol. J and Billy did this during their wedding at Solsgirth House:
Basically the world is your oyster as far as symbolic gestures go! So if you're interested in any of these ideas or you think of something original, talk to your celebrant about it. We humanists are generally an open minded lot and as long as what you're considering is ethical and non religious, you'll probably find that the celebrant is happy to include it.
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