Ways to include friends and family in your humanist wedding ceremony

No one makes it down the aisle without a little help from their friends and family. Patricia-Ann Young speaks to Scottish celebrants about creative new ways to involve loved ones in your wedding

Pauline Muir of Fuze Ceremonies leading a wedding ceremony
Pauline Muir of Fuze Ceremonies raises a laugh during this couple’s nuptials (Photo: The Gibsons)

Just like in so many aspects of weddings nowadays, people are no longer obliged to follow any dusty old traditions when it comes to the exchange of vows. Instead, they can tailor the ceremony to suit their exact wishes to make the day that little bit more meaningful and memorable. One cool, unusual and more personal way to do this is by involving loved ones.

While the whole point of your vows is, of course, to honour the relationship between you and your significant other and the journey the two of you have been on together, your love story almost certainly includes other people as well – the people you care about most (and who were probably there for you way before you met your soon-to-be spouse). Whether we’re talking about your dad, your sister, your cousin, your best pal or whoever, it can be a really special touch to involve them or honour them during the ceremony.

Show time

In order to be legally wed in Scotland, all you have to do is declare that you want to marry each other in front of witnesses and sign an official piece of paper. Once those basics are taken care of, you can pretty much freestyle the rest of the ceremony, so there’s no excuse for it to be a boring dud.

If you look at the pure entertainment value of it alone, says George McLean at Fuze Ceremonies, adding in some special moments starring your nearest and dearest makes the ceremony more engaging for everyone present: “The ceremony is a show essentially, and it enhances the guests’ experience to have something else going on other than the celebrant talking and the couple reading out their vows,” he explains. “The ceremony should be something that your guests enjoy and feel involved in – and they definitely shouldn’t feel that this is just something to be endured before they get to the fun bit!

Bringing in new elements can make it feel more dynamic. It’s always lovely to hear guests walking away from the ceremony, saying, ‘I really enjoyed that!’” Involving others can create some amazingly organic moments that would never have happened if you’d stuck to the script and kept things traditional.

Highlands-based Susan Foubister, a celebrant with Independent Humanist Ceremonies, remembers a hilarious moment that will stay with her forever: “I recently conducted a wedding in Aberdeenshire, and the couple’s eight-year-old son had been chosen as his father’s best man, and he was so proud that his dad had asked him to take on such an important role,” she recalls. “I was sharing a story about the groom’s passion for his local football team, when the boy suddenly shouted out, ‘Yes, my dad loves Aberdeen FC, I can hear him screaming YES when he watches them in bed at night!’ Needless to say, the whole room erupted with laughter. It took us all a moment to gather ourselves and carry on through the giggles!” You don’t get that reaction from 1 Corinthians 13…

Natalie Stevenson Celebrant wedding ceremony handfasting
Natalie Stevenson Celebrant is always on hand to create a bespoke ceremony for her couples (Photo: Francis J Smith)

Break the mould

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when coming up with ways to involve loved ones in your ceremony. Sometimes just gently subverting the most well-known traditions can make a big impact. “Bridal parties are no longer traditional,” points out celebrant Natalie Stevenson, “so you can add in as many roles as you like. I personally love the new trend for ‘flower men’, when grown men get the job of scattering petals down the aisle as a flower girl would do. They always have fun with it, and it gets a great reaction from the guests.

“And having two or more ‘best men’ instead of just one best man is always nice to see. Lots of brides are opting for bridesmen as well as bridesmaids too. As for readings, these don’t have to be traditional either. I’ve seen couples ditch the conventional texts and ask a friend or relative to read out something more their style – like a speech from their favourite Marvel movie. You can definitely have fun with it,” Natalie smiles.

There are also quite a lot of symbolic gestures that can be used to give your loved ones a role in the ceremony. Fuze’s George McLean tells us about one of the lesser-known ones: “There’s a nice candle-lighting gesture that I like which is often used to get the mums involved – it can be very poignant and can symbolise a mother’s love for her child as they get married and start a new chapter of their lives. Each of the mums lights a candle and passes it to their child, and then the couple use these to light a unity candle together.

“And if you want to get the dads (or any male figure) to take up a role in your ceremony, a good one is the quaich. The father of one half of the couple can hold the quaich while the other one pours, and then they can both take a sip of it before passing it to the couple. That’s a lovely symbol of trust between two families who are now joining together through marriage.”

Natalie Stevenson Celebrant with bride and groom
Natalie Stevenson Celebrant with a happily newlywed bride and groom (Photo: White Rose Photography)

Shy guys

Want to pay homage to a shy friend or family member who would feel uncomfortable being put on the spot in front of a crowd? Using something of theirs as a proxy can be just as effective, says Natalie Stevenson. “If you do a handfasting ‘tying the knot’ ceremony, you can use a piece of fabric that belongs to them, like a tie or a scarf. This gives them a special place in your day without putting too much pressure on them to perform.”

Children can sometimes be a little too young to effectively take up a traditional ceremony role like a reading, but there are still fun little things you can do to make them feel special and important. “Ring warmings were very popular pre-Covid, but now we’ve had to be a bit more creative in how we show off the wedding bands. It’s always lovely to ask a young one to be a ‘ring guard’ and have them stand beside a display table with the bands on it, inviting guests to place a good wish on the rings as they enter the room.” Aw, we love that!

Independent Humanist Ceremonies wedding ceremonies
Left: Who needs flower girls when you can have flower men? They’re a great way to inject some hilarity into the ceremony, as happened at this Independent Humanist Ceremonies one; right: Pets are family too! Independent Humanist Ceremonies involved Monty in his owners’ ceremony as a puppy ringbearer. Including them pays homage to their place in your life and is always a crowd-pleaser

Love and friendship

Planning a wedding isn’t easy, and you’ll often find yourself turning to those who are closest to you for help and advice. Asking them to be part of the ceremony is a lovely way to thank them for all their hard work. “A couple’s union is a beautiful celebration of their relationship,” says Susan Foubister. “It’s so exciting for the two people who are getting married, but equally it can be very significant and emotional for their families and friends too. Asking a relative or friend to be a part of your special ceremony is honouring how important they are in your life.”

Natalie agrees: “It makes them feel incredibly special and valued that you have thought of them to play a role on such an important day,” she says. “It’s a very touching way for you to pay them back for all their love and support over the years.”