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Personal and meaningful

Watch humanist celebrants describing the ways humanist weddings are made personal and meaningful to the couple
So a humanist wedding, I think, is quite different from what people would understand a traditional concept of a wedding to be. Again, as with all humanist ceremonies, it’s a very creative process and the couple will work for a long period of time with the celebrant, the humanist celebrant, who’s taking the ceremony for them, to create a ceremony that really has heart and meaning for them, that really reflects who they are, what their values are, what their relationship is and the things that they want to build their marriage on together. Every word in a humanist wedding ceremony should be specific to the couple and to the guests who have gathered to hear them.
It should be full of things that are recognisable to guests. They should be able to hear the voices of the couple within the ceremony. People often say to me after a ceremony ‘that was such a such a nice ceremony, because it was all about so and so’, about the couple, about the person if you’re doing a funeral. And I always said to them, who else would you want it to be about? Of course it’s about them. And that’s why a humanist wedding is unique, because you’re only doing it on that day, for that couple, in those circumstances. You will never write the same script again.
And right from the beginning, therefore, the people who are taking part in the wedding can really see that this is these two people. They’re not being contained by some traditional set of rules of how you do a wedding ceremony. This is a true expression of who they are, what they believe and what they want for their married life together.
One of the key things about a humanist ceremony, which is very different from a traditional ceremony, is that we always encourage the couple to write their own vows and I think this is key to what a humanist ceremony is. Because in encouraging them to write their own vows, we’re really encouraging them to examine and understand and own what it is that they want to promise each other, what it is that they’re building the foundations of their marriage with and taking responsibility for the words that they’re speaking, which makes them very present actually in the wedding ceremony because they’re not repeating a set text by rote, they’re speaking words that they’ve thought about and created, edited and finally agreed to each other and I think that’s incredibly powerful.
I think it’s really important in public declarations and rites of passage like this where something is happening, that they sound like the people involved, and so prescribed vows, I think, are tricky. And personal vows, although they might might be more daunting, are definitely more relevant in a humanist ceremony. There was a lovely couple who I took the wedding ceremony of and the bride was incredibly shy. So we were looking at ways where she would be able to say her vows without feeling, you know, overly anxious.
We worked on it for quite a long time and then came up with a fantastic solution, which came from her, which is that she played the ukulele and she always felt herself when she played the ukulele, felt very relaxed, very comfortable and fully expressed. So she decided that she would hide a ukulele in the area where the wedding was taking place and then when the time came to take the vows, sure enough, her partner, her husband, said his vows to her, and it came to her turn and she said ‘just a minute…’ And then off she went, got her ukulele, and she sang her vows on the ukulele. And it was a lovely thing to behold.
The humanist wedding can happen anywhere and couples will choose places that have significance to them very personally so many couples will choose to get married in, for instance, the bride’s familial home, or in the garden or on the beach where they first met or in the place where they proposed. And that really speaks to the uniqueness, I suppose, of each individual life and each individual’s freedom of choice. A humanist wedding ceremony that really sticks out in my head is from a few years ago when a couple, it was really important to them that they conducted their ceremony somewhere that meant something.
They walked their dogs on this particular coastal path near Falmouth, and they decided they wanted all their guests gathered there. We all walked en masse basically up into a field that had this view down onto the estuary, and that’s where their ceremony was held. And for this couple, they’d get to walk through that field pretty much at least a couple of times a week with their dogs And remember, all of the guests that they had there, who witnessed their public declarations, they witnessed what they said. And for them that’s a very living continuum of the marriage ceremony that they had. It wasn’t just one day, it’s something that continues throughout the rest of their married life.
So for them walking through that field knowing that everybody was there and we shared that moment, I think, in a way, is a very good way of defining what a humanist ceremony is, which is that it is very particular to a couple and has a lasting effect. It’s not just something that you do in one day, but something that represents who you are and what those things mean to you.


  • Humanists believe that we should not be obliged to follow tradition when marking important events in our lives – we should have the freedom to mark these moments creatively in ways that are personal and meaningful to us
  • Humanists believe there can be value in writing our own personal vows at a wedding
  • Humanists weddings will normally be held somewhere that is personally meaningful to the couple

Question: How free should we be to personalise ceremonies?

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Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

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