Celebrants in Scotland share top tips for memorable wedding vows

Hate feeling that the vows are just something to be endured before everyone can get on with partying? Experienced celebrants tell Patricia-Ann Young how to put some ceremony back into your wedding ceremony

For some people, the actual ceremony bit of a wedding can feel a tad, well… boring. In fact, we’ve heard a few couples say they want to get the official part over quickly so they can start celebrating. We think that’s a shame – and a missed opportunity. Your ceremony, if done right, can be the most personal and memorable element of the entire day. You can express yourself as a couple and declare your love for one another in a way that feels right for you. The ceremony doesn’t have to be something you dread or pay little attention to, but something you really look forward to.

We had a chat with some of the country’s leading celebrants to hear how to make this crucial part of the day as fun, individual and stress-free as possible. Get ready – it’s time to make a celebration out of your ceremony!

a bride and groom take a shot at the top of the aisle
With George McLean from Fuze Ceremonies at the helm, Caitlin and Jono brought the party energy to their wedding at Crutherland House in East Kilbride by taking part in a ‘take a shot, tie the knot’ ceremony, where they had a nip of their favourite spirits before completing their handfasting ceremony. Fun! (Photo: Gary James Photography)

Q. Is there a way to make our ceremony high energy, fun and interactive for our guests?
A. George McLean at Fuze Ceremonies says:

“When you meet your celebrant for the first time, tell them that you want to have that kind of ceremony. There are lots of things we as celebrants can do to create that type of atmosphere, usually through the use of humour and anecdotes. When your celebrant sits down with you to map out your love story, think about all of the funny and ridiculous times you’ve had together. Telling those stories in front of your guests will have everyone cracking up!

For a high-energy day, it is always good to have a musician playing live as the guests start arriving. This creates a nice buzz, as people get excited for the ceremony and celebrations. While we are a humanist society and are non-religious, we were asked by a couple once if they could have everyone sing I’m a Believer by The Monkees, in the same way that a congregation would sing a hymn in a church. It went down really well, and the guests really enjoyed it.

“In a few weeks’ time, I am officiating at a ceremony that will have a ‘Mexican hug’, which will have all of the guests getting a hug during the ceremony. It’s an unusual but lovely idea that gets your guests feeling involved.”

two groomsmen scatter flowers down the aisle by jumping over each other; the bride and groom at the top of the aisle with the celebrant, laughing
Left: Caitlin and Jono had ‘flower men’ to get the ceremony off to a hilarious start (Photo: Gary James Photography); Right: Norrie Flowers from Independent Humanist Ceremonies encourages his couples to do things their own way (Photo: John Clark Photos)

Q. How much can we put in our ceremony? How long is too long?
A. Norrie Flowers at Independent Humanist Ceremonies says:

“Every time I meet a couple, I tell them the same thing: we can literally do whatever you like. There are only two things you must do in a wedding ceremony: (1) declare that you want to marry each other, and (2) sign the marriage papers. Beyond that, you can do what you want. I’ve officiated at ceremonies where we’ve had lots of different elements, like handfasting, drinking from a quaich and ring warmings. People either really like these things or they don’t, so you can have a lot of them, or leave them out completely. You could even create your own little ceremony or bit of symbolism: I married one couple who loved cocktails, and during their ceremony they mixed a cocktail together, then drank it once the vows were over! If you come across an idea you like, let us know and we’ll try to do it. We mould the ceremony to you both as a couple.”

A celebrant, a couple and two witness take part in an outdoor wedding ceremony by some stones
Posing your vows as a question can eliminate the ‘cheese factor’ suggests Jane Patmore of Your Service in Scotland

Q. How do we write vows that are meaningful and not
cheesy or clichéd?
A. Jane Patmore from Your Service in Scotland says:

“The first thing to do is to get loads of examples of vows that other people have used in their weddings, either from the internet or some other resource, and score out all the phrases that you think are really naff. At the same time, highlight words or expressions that you think are okay. This will allow you to see what you like and what you don’t like.

“If you’re afraid of sounding cheesy, you may prefer to have the vows put to you as questions. So instead of saying, ‘I will love and cherish you forever’, the celebrant asks you: ‘Will you love and cherish your partner forever?’ Then you only have to say, ‘I do’ or ‘I will’.

“I have a wee warning, though. While injecting humour into vows can be a really lovely touch, please do not put in anything that would undermine the legal significance of what you are doing. Do not say, ‘I am doing this under duress’ – because I have a legal responsibility to stop the ceremony and check if that’s true! People use that type of humour because they’re embarrassed about making a declaration of love in front of everyone – but it can get legally very complicated if you do!”

Q. We’d like to pay tribute to a loved one who’s no longer with us. Is there scope to do this during the ceremony?
A. Celebrant Natalie Stevenson says:

“Of course! The options are endless. During the ceremony, I can say: “And of course, there are some who aren’t with us in a physical sense today, but if they were, I’m sure they would be proud of our couple, so while we are raising smiles, we will think on the memory of them.” I would then invite everyone to give them a wee clap too as it keeps the whole ceremony light and upbeat, but still acknowledges the absent friend or relative.

“Lighting a candle is another nice gesture to honour a loved one who has died. The couple can do this themselves – or, if nerves and emotions get the better of them, I will do it. You can have the candle or the candle holder inscribed so you can keep it once the ceremony is over. A popular choice is to ‘save a seat’ for your loved one, placing a photo or a memento on a chair in the front row, to give them a physical space during the vows.

“If you have a handfasting ceremony, you can use a piece of fabric that belonged to the loved one instead of the usual tartan. I’ve seen people tie the knot with their father’s tie, gran’s scarf, or even trims of dresses or ribbons stitched with trinkets that represent loved ones.”

two brides in white wedding dresses holds hands at the top of the aisle; a celebrant reads vows from a large book
Left: Natalie Stevenson Celebrant has lots of touching ideas to help commemorate loved ones who are no longer with us; Right: Life and Love Celebrations‘ Angela McPake suggest a sand ceremony or tree-planting to incorporate kids

Q. How do we involve children in our wedding ceremony?
A. Angela McPake at Life and Love Celebrations says:

“In the past, the role of children was limited to flower girl or page boy, but now there are lots of symbolic gestures that get youngsters involved. Parents may display a drawing or artwork by the child that depicts their family, which is a lovely (and easy!) one to do. Planting a shrub or a tree, which can be done outside or inside using a pot, symbolises the growth of new life and new beginnings. Children can be given a bag of earth that they can pour and pat in, as an emblem of their role in the family unit. A wedding sand ceremony is one that children often enjoy and respond to. This is when each family member picks a sand colour, then during the ceremony, pour their sand into a jar. This creates a beautiful, colourful souvenir of the day that you can keep forever.”

Interfaith Minister conducts a wedding ceremony; Interfaith Minister Carolanne Allardyce conducts a handfasting ceremony
Carolanne Allardyce from Wildly Sacred can help you find your perfect reading for your ceremony

Q. We are struggling to find readings we like. Are there any you would recommend?
A. Carolanne Allardyce from Wildly Sacred says:

There are so many beautiful readings out there, and I have a few favourites of my own. But this one, no matter how often I read it, stirs something in me. It is anonymous and so not attributed to anyone, but whoever wrote it captured love beautifully.

I am love
Some say I can fly on the wind, yet
I haven’t any wings.
Some have found me floating on the open
sea, yet I cannot swim.
Some have felt my warmth on cold nights,
yet I have no flame.
And though you cannot see me,
I lie between two lovers at the hearth
of fireplaces.
I am the twinkle in your child’s eyes.
I am hidden in the lines of your mother’s
face. I am your father’s shield as he
guards your home.
And yet… some say I am stronger than
steel, yet I am as fragile as a tear.
Some have never searched for me, yet I
am around them always.
Some say I die with loss, yet I am endless.
And though you cannot hear me, I dance
on the laughter of children.
I am woven into the whispers of passion.
I am in the blessings of grandmothers.
I embrace the cries of newborn babies.
And yet… some say I am a flower, yet I am
also the seed.
Some have little faith in me, yet I will
always believe in them.
Some say I cannot cure the ill, yet I nourish
the soul.
And though you cannot touch me,
I am the gentle hand of the kind.
I am the fingertips that caress your
cheek at night.
I am the hug of a child.
I am love.