Scottish celebrants suggest ways to personalise a wedding ceremony depending on its size

Whether you choose a teeny-tiny elopement or go all out with an extra-large guest list, making your ceremony personal to you and inclusive for your guests is a must, writes Claire Muir. Three Scottish couples also tell us how they made it their own

a wedding ceremony by a loch with a black independent humanist ceremonies folder in the foreground
No matter the size, Independent Humanist Ceremonies will ensure your ceremony is thoughtful and personal

Rewind a year or two, and the only way to marry was with an elopement-style ceremony. What this pandemic-fuelled trend produced, though, was some of the most beautiful nuptials imaginable – small, intimate and all about the two people who mattered most. It’s no surprise, then, that these delightful celebrations of love have supercharged an obsession that was already bubbling pre-Covid: the wee wedding.

Having said all that, for some couples the post-pandemic vibes are firmly at the opposite end of the scale. After months or even years apart from friends and family, they’re desperate to go ultra-extra when it comes to their wedding, with a full-to-the-brim ceremony guest list.

Whether you fall into one of these camps or you’re planning something in between, we’re here for it – and so are those who’ll be helping you tie the knot: “All you need to get married in Scotland are two people who want to get married, two witnesses and someone to conduct your legal ceremony,” smiles celebrant Natalie Stevenson, who works with Humanism in Scotland. “Anything on top of that is a bonus.”

Pick a size, any size

If you’re not crazy about a lot of attention, a small affair could be the thing for you: “A truly intimate, personal ceremony will be firmly focused on you and what you want to share with each other,” points out Natalie. “It can be quite romantic to have a sedate ‘escape’ wedding and then come back and share your news with everyone.

“It also cuts out the expense of having to accommodate everyone (venue, food, drinks, travel, invites, etc – it all adds up), and you don’t have to worry about outside influences. You can do it exactly as you want. In fact, for a Scottish elopement you can marry anywhere – it doesn’t need to be a ‘venue’ as such. Go somewhere remote or special – some woods, a beach, a hill… Somewhere there’s only co-ordinates for!”

Keeping the numbers small can be very difficult, though, and you might regret not having everyone there with you, she adds: “Leaving certain people out can be stressful. If instead you go big with the ceremony guest list, you’ll have everyone there – or at least will have included everyone on an invite. You’ll have a great atmosphere with people from every bit of your life playing a part in your day.”

a bride and a groom light a trio of candles at a wedding ceremony led by a Fuze Ceremonies celebrant
Lighting candles is a lovely symbolic gesture, shown here at a Fuze Ceremonies wedding ceremony

A ceremony style to suit

When planning your service, it’s certainly worth tweaking the format according to size. “With a larger ceremony, more thought is required when considering logistics, acoustics and so on,” says Craig Flowers of Independent Humanist Ceremonies. “If you’re having something very small, look at a more intimate space.”

But when it comes to ceremony style, any specific inclusions can be adapted to suit the scale of your audience. “That’s a real strength of a personalised humanist ceremony. Whether there are five people or five hundred, we have to make it special for everyone – couple and guests,” Craig goes on.

“For example, a big introduction of the bridal party doesn’t make sense with just a dozen people present. But if your numbers are small, everyone can be included if that’s what you want – if you’re passing rings around for a blessing, for instance, there is no issue with small numbers. If there’s hundreds of people, though, you might just want to pass them around immediate family.”

Likewise with telling your couple story – sharing your journey with a big audience is a special way for them to learn more about you. For an elopement, though, you already know your story so there’s no point in having it read to you. Instead, Fuze Ceremonies celebrant Mo Ackroyd gives couples the freedom to be open: “Separately, I would ask them some questions to piece together how they feel about each other. The story can be a special and emotional surprise for them on their wedding day.”

Mo suggests that some rituals lend themselves to specific guest list sizes – she sees hand-fasting with wedding promises as a very special moment during an elopement, for example: “I tend to step away and leave the couple in their own space and time. They can say it as loudly or as quietly as they wish.”

Similarly, Natalie favours candle-lighting for a smaller ceremony: “With the unity candle idea, you light a candle each, then one together. It represents your lives as individuals, and then coming together.”

left image shows Mo Ackroyd holding a black folder and right image shows Craig Flowers from Independent Humanist Celebrants holding two alpacas on a lead
Left: Mo Ackroyd of Fuze Ceremonies loves to see handfasting at an elopement (Photo: Solen Collet); Right: Sadly, alpacas can’t be witnesses. Trust Craig Flowers of Independent Humanist Ceremonies will keep you right

Make the masses feel welcome

For bigger groups, Mo recommends asking your celebrant to give your audience a warm welcome – “It’s always lovely to thank the guests for being there” – and suggests you involve them further through well-wishing.

Meanwhile, Natalie advises involving a few favourite people in readings or symbolic gestures: “While it was traditionally a fairly intimate thing, ‘tying of the knot’ can be a bit of a crowd-pleaser these days for a larger ceremony. Everyone is rooting for the couple, so when the knot ties, everyone cheers! Similarly, a drink from the quaich and a little happy toast to go with it can be a lovely, cheerful thing to do. Everyone is happy for you and wants to give you a clap!”

She continues: “Sand ceremonies are really visual and although they work with two people, you can involve as many guests as you like. Alternatively, get them all joining in to announce you as Mr and Mr/Mr and Mrs/Mrs and Mrs at the end.”

Bar the legal wording, however, your ceremony should simply reflect you, concludes Natalie: “In all honesty, regardless of the number of guests, they’ll feel included just by being there.”

Case study 1: a wonderful wee wedding

Lauren King and Martin Coutts had always dreamt of a micro-wedding – and then the pandemic arrived and gave them a helping hand. They tied the knot in a short and sweet outdoor ceremony at Glencoe Lochan last February, conducted by Martin Turner of Independent Humanist Ceremonies

A bride and groom get married on the shore of Glencoe Lochan
Lauren and Martin at Glencoe Lochan last February (Photos: Neil Thomas Douglas)

“When we got engaged, we knew the ceremony would be very small with only our closest friends and family present. We weren’t fussed about planning a huge wedding and party, we just wanted to celebrate ‘us’ in our own laid-back style.

“As it happened, our date fell during the pandemic, and the restrictions meant 16 guests became two. It was sad but it meant we could have our dream wedding – a small, intimate ceremony!

“We had one guest (a close friend), while our photographer was the second witness. We were happy with our decision to go ahead – we were less nervous and just focused on enjoying every minute. It was a short ceremony with a handfasting ritual and we recorded it. It has been great to watch everyone’s reaction to us saying ‘I do’.”

Case study 2: a sunny celebration for all

Welcoming 120 day guests (and 80 at night) to their bright and colourful sunflower-themed wedding, Laura Brown and Pamela Anderson said their vows at magical Glasgow venue Cottiers, in a family-focused ceremony conducted by Natalie Stevenson of Humanism in Scotland

Two brides get married at Cottiers in Glasgow
Laura and Pamela shared their day at Cottiers with all their friends, family and dog! (Photos: Picture You Loch Lomond)

“We both have very large families and wanted to include everyone, while also having as many of our friends there as possible to celebrate with us. We wanted a sentimental and emotional yet happy and fun day, and we were extremely happy with our decision. People kept commenting on how it was great to get everyone together.

“We asked Natalie to tell the guests how we met and include a few funny stories. This helped make everyone feel part of the ceremony, but it still felt intimate for the two of us. She created the perfect balance.

“Having one brother each, we decided they’d be our witnesses while our sisters and nieces were bridesmaids and flower girls. Our oldest nephew was our ‘pageman’ and one of the younger ones was ring security! Then six people (two parents, two best friends and two sisters) joined us for a sand ceremony to bind our families together.”

Case study 3: the more the merrier

It was third time lucky for Sara Simpson and Ross Mitchell after two Covid postponements. They finally got to say ‘I do’ in March with the big crowd they’d always wanted. Fuze Ceremonies’ Mo Ackroyd did the honours for the lovebirds at Dunblane Hydro Hotel

A bride and a groom during a wedding ceremony at Dunblane Hydro Hotel
Ross and Sara at Dunblane Hydro. Their ceremony was led by Mo Ackroyd at Fuze Ceremonies (Photos: Claire Tennant Photography)

“We both have big families and lots of friends, which is why we ended up with 160 day guests and 40 more at night. It’s a lot but we were so happy to have them all there.

“The size of our ceremony guest list didn’t prevent us from doing anything. We chose a handfasting ritual, which turned out to be a particular highlight for many of our guests.”