7 ceremony traditions worth challenging
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
Ahh tradition...I'm not a big fan of it in any way, shape or form!
And since you're reading the blog of an independent celebrant, I might hazard a guess that you have a similarly individualistic outlook on life, given to breaking the occasional social protocol and hopefully in favour of doing things differently.
If so, you sound like my kind of person! In this week's blog, I consider some of the traditions associated with wedding ceremonies, and propose a few awesome alternatives you might consider trying out for yourself.
1. The couple shouldn't see each other before the ceremony
Although a seemingly sweet convention, associated with mystery and surprise, it's based on times when marriage was essentially a business deal between families, and usually arranged without the couple ever having met. The bride's family would be giving their daughter to the groom's family for a dowry (cash/land or a combo of both) - and the worry was that if the groom saw his bride-to-be before the ceremony and wasn't happy with the arrangement, he would head for the hills. Not quite the romantic notion I used to have! So I love it when couples challenge this tradition - because meeting your beloved just before your ceremony can really take the pressure off and give you some precious moments together before you are caught up in the craziness of the rest of the day. I thoroughly recommend it :-)
2. The bride's father should walk her down the aisle
See above! This is simply the bride's father ensuring the business transaction is completed by personally handing over of the goods. Not quite as dreamy now, eh? So while I totally get that you might want your darling Dad to deliver you to your true love, and that’s completely cool, bear in mind I have seen brides accompanied by mothers, sisters, sons and daughters, by their partner-to-be, even the family dog - or for the truly independent, by no-one. My most memorable is a bride who decided to sing and dance her way down the aisle accompanied by her brother, much to the amusement and surprise of the guests, and to the complete bewilderment of the awaiting groom.
3. The bride should stand on the left and the groom should be on her right
Gah!!! At nearly every single wedding I attended in the Registration Service, couples would ask which side they should stand, reminding me that if it wasn’t important to them generally, why was it important now? And it was always explained to the confused couples that the groom was required to keep his right hand free to grasp his sword should he need to defend himself or his bride during the ceremony. This drove me slightly bonkers – because the chance of an armed raid in Truro Register Office was generally quite low (not so at St Austell - haha!), and I have met plenty of brides who would be much handier with a sword than their groom would. A truly ridiculous tradition - stand wherever you feel most comfortable, wherever people can you see you best (if that suits you), and where your photographer will get the best shots.
4. The bride should have bridesmaids and the groom should have best men and/or groomsmen
An extension of the tradition above, when the menfolk were needed close by to assist the groom in case of attack, while the maids were there to protect the bride against any evil spirits. Now depending on the circles you move in, I imagine neither is truly necessary in this day and age. So feel free to find roles for those closest to you in life, but don't feel obliged to rent-a-crowd just because that's what you are expected to do. And do mix it up, should you feel that suits you better. Best women, male attendants to the bride - it's not the 1900s, after all...
5. The seating plan should be exactly as follows:
The bride's parents should be in the first row on the left, with grandparents behind them. If the bride's parents are divorced and remarried, then seat one set in the front row and the other behind, with grandparents in the same pew as their child. (Good luck in deciding which set of parents are closer to the action.) The bride's friends and family then sit behind the immediate family. Repeat on the right for the groom's family. Or not. I say, be practical with your seating plan. Nearest and dearest at the front obviously, especially folk whose sight is not so good, or perhaps have mobility issues. But get around the stuffy social seating structure by having your ceremony in the round, or swap uncomfy chairs for lounge furniture and deep sofas, or depending on your setting, choose covered hay bales, picnic chairs or scatter cushions. Your guests will thank you for it.
6. The vows you make should be traditional vows
There's nothing wrong with sticking with the same vows many couples have said before you, and if you are married by a Registrar, you will at least have a choice of a couple of vows which essentially say the same things. And after the official vows, you can add you own vows, which makes the official ceremony a tad more meaningful (although it usually sounds a little stilted in my view). If you are having a celebrant-led wedding, then of course the whole ceremony will be written to exactly the way you want it, including the vows, or you may decide to completely shun this convention and include no vows at all!
7. The ceremony should include the exchange of wedding rings
"The wedding ring is the ancient and traditional way of sealing the contract you have just made," are the words used in a register office ceremony. Or, as some would say, the outward sign that one is officially wed. So if ancient and traditional isn’t your style, choose something which is. I have known couples who have opted for rings and no rings, engraved rings, edible rings, different rings, old rings, even nose-rings. And those who eschew rings have chosen meaningful and practical alternatives, such as bracelets, necklaces, pendants, even matching tattoos.
Anyway, looking back to my own wedding day, it gave me (and my other half) great pleasure to break nearly every tradition we could. My only regret is that twenty years ago, celebrant-led weddings were practically unheard of, and so we missed out on the opportunity of having a personalised, tailored, unique ceremony which would have truly reflected our slightly unconventional personalities. Don't make that same mistake :-)