Your day your way: we chat about vow renewals, vow affirmations, ‘marry now, party later’ weddings and other alternative ceremony formats

Your commitment to one another is all that matters, so take some time to explore the many different formats this life-changing event can take, says Olivia Simpson

The best thing about weddings in 2022? There are a million ways to make the day your own, and that includes the very nature of the celebration itself. From ‘marry now, party later’ arrangements that help couples wed in a hurry, to non-legal renewals and betrothal ceremonies, there’s a commitment to suit every couple.

Wondering if any of these atypical options is right for you? Read on for insights into how they work and hear from real-life couples who did it their way.

Lauren and Murray symbolised the coming together of their families with a handfasting at their second ceremony, led by celebrant Margery Bambrick (Photo:

Marry now, party later

This kind of arrangement sees couples opt for an intimate ceremony followed by a vow renewal or affirmation and celebration further down the line. For many people, this was the only way to get married during the pandemic, but there are valid reasons why this could be the right option even now restrictions have ended. Perhaps you have always fancied eloping but still want to include family and friends in a celebration at a later date.

Or, if you’re facing major changes or challenges in life, sizing down and bringing forward your wedding could appeal, as it did for some of celebrant Jane Patmore’s couples: “One pair were expecting twins and wanted to be married before the birth so they’d have the legal protections of marriage. Another couple did the same before an operation to ensure next-of-kin status.”

Despite being scaled down, the content of these ceremonies is largely the same as any other legal marriage, as celebrant Natalie Stevenson explains: “As with any other legally binding ceremony, you need a civil celebrant or someone from a religious or belief body who has the legal authorisation to marry you. You can add in any number of symbolic gestures such as tying the knot, candle lighting, sand ceremonies or drinking from the quaich.”

Some couples decide in the end not to bother with the second celebration, notes Jane: “Several of them turned out to be happy to leave it at the small ceremony, realising that was all they ever really wanted anyway. Others simply couldn’t face more planning!” she laughs.

a bride and groom at their wedding ceremony
Natalie Stevenson Humanist Celebrant ensured Angela and Hamish Adams’ wedding was full of fun (Photo:

Vow renewal or affirmation

While some celebrants refer to these non-legal celebrations interchangeably, others see clear differences between the two. “The key is in the wording,” says George McLean at Fuze Ceremonies. “Renewing is more commonly used for a ceremony recognising the couple’s continued love and commitment to one another, perhaps on a significant wedding anniversary, like their 25th.

“Affirmation ceremonies mostly mirror a legal wedding, just without the legal part, and are typically how we’d refer to the second, larger ceremonies lots of couples have been opting for following Covid-restricted weddings. For both renewals and affirmations, we can include the signing of a certificate on the day to give the feel of an official event, but as with all our ceremonies, we take our lead from what the couple want.” Symbolic gestures are another way to give the day extra emotional resonance.

Another potential difference between the two is their size: renewals are often intimate affairs in family homes, as Craig Flowers from Independent Humanist Ceremonies points out, while affirmations are likely to have a much larger guestlist.

Best of the rest

Vow renewals and affirmations might be the most common kind of non-legal ceremony, but there’s a whole host of options if you’re looking to express your love outwith the typical marriage ceremony. “I held a wedding blessing for a couple who had their legal ceremony in the registry office and couldn’t include any prayers. It took place immediately after their legal marriage with just them and their photographer,” Jane tells us. “I also recently held a betrothal ceremony for a couple who will get married in the USA later this year.”

Real life: Racing to say ‘I do’ before a Visa expired, and uniting families across the pond

Lauren Smith and Murray Collier, Edinburgh City Chambers and Branxholm Park

Lauren and Murray’s Edinburgh City Chambers wedding was an intimate affair in the midst of the pandemic (Photo:

Bride Lauren: “Even before Covid, we were planning to have two ceremonies because I was on a fiancée visa in the UK and the timing worked better for us. However, lockdown hit just two weeks after my visa was granted, so for five months of my six-month visa we were waiting for the City Chambers to allow weddings. We took the first available date they could give us.

“We then needed to delay our second ceremony to allow for my American family to travel to the UK as we wanted everyone to meet and celebrate together.

“Our two ceremonies felt completely different. For our first, we kept the vows the City Chambers offers you without personalisation. With our second, our lovely celebrant Margery Bambrick took the time to get to know us and customise every aspect of the ceremony: we involved the original wedding ring, did a handfasting, said our own vows, included the story of our relationship, and involved our mothers in the ceremony. The second one felt more comfortable and lighthearted, just like a reflection of our relationship.

“The only major disadvantage was feeling like we planned a wedding in reverse, with all of the stress of planning coming after our first wedding, which I wouldn’t really recommend. The advantages were that it meant our family had time to plan, gave us time to ourselves, and was more convenient overall.”

Real life: Take two for a groom who forgot the paperwork

Rachael and Billy Hutchison, Waterside Hotel, 27th December 2021

a bride and groom on the beach
Billy Hutchison forgot the marriage schedule, so he and bride Rachael headed to the beach the following month to make it official with Paul Browett of Fuze Ceremonies

Celebrant Paul Browett of Fuze Ceremonies: “I like to arrive early to all my weddings to ensure everything is running smoothly. But no amount of planning could have prepared us for all the unique moments this day presented us with!

“Lisa, the bride’s heavily pregnant best friend, was meant to be a witness but she went into labour on the day of the wedding, causing slight panic about who would replace her. The bride was reassured when I explained that this was not an issue; all we had to do was appoint another witness and make an amendment to the marriage schedule. This was a minor issue compared to what came next!

“When the groom arrived, he presented me with an envelope containing all the paperwork needed for them to be wed – or so he thought! It turned out he didn’t have the marriage schedule, which is the document that needs to be signed to legalise the wedding. And, since the registry office was closed for the festive period, it couldn’t be replaced.

“We decided that the best thing to do was continue with an ‘affirmation of vows’ ceremony, which is a ceremony that looks, feels and sounds just like a wedding, with the only difference being that there are no legal elements to the ceremony.

“The couple decided to take their legal vows on the beach at West Kilbride exactly one month later; this time, Billy remembered the paperwork! Surrounded by their closest family and friends, this was such a beautifully intimate setting and, as fate would have it, new mum Lisa was in attendance and was finally able to be a witness to the marriage!”

Real life: The secret wedding – and the big reveal

Megan and Jamie Scott, Savoy Park Hotel, 30th October 2021

a bride and groom tying the knot with tartan during a handfasting ceremony
Megan and Jamie surprised their friends and families by announcing that they’d actually married in secret a year before! (Photo:

Celebrant Paul Browett of Fuze Ceremonies: “Megan and Jamie had their hearts set on getting married on their ten-year anniversary, but lockdown meant their day had to be postponed. The couple were torn between still having the wedding on their anniversary with no one in attendance, or waiting a year so they could celebrate with their friends and family. In the end, they decided to do both!

“In choosing to have a registry office ceremony in secret, their actual wedding day was on their milestone anniversary. They then had the ‘big wedding’ with a renewal of vows exactly one year later at Savoy Park Hotel. There, surrounded by their loved ones, they revealed that they’d been secretly married for a full year!

“It was especially important to Jamie and Megan to make their commitment to each other in front of their family and friends, and choosing to include the symbolic gestures of a unity candle and a handfasting ceremony symbolised the coming together of their two families. Of course, their day was also about finally being able to party as well!”