Two months ago, on 19 June to be precise, I got married. The ceremony was a Humanist one and there was a steampunk theme. It was really fantastic, and my wife and I had a really lovely day. We’re so proud of the effort so many of our friends and family made to make our day special, and we’re very proud too of the efforts we put in to planning it. Our parents paid for most of it, but we designed it all between us, and we managed to get it done for significantly less than the £15,000 websites told us an average wedding costs in the UK (though some websites suggest £11,000 instead — in any case, we didn’t spend that much either). The purpose of this blog post is to list a few of the things we think worked well, in the hope that other people wanting to get married may find it useful.
Advantages of a Humanist wedding
If you’re religious, then I guess the advantages of having a Humanist ceremony are probably outweighed by the disadvantage of not getting married in that religion. However, if you’re not very religious, you don’t especially want to be married within your religion, or you can’t be for some reason, then I think Humanism is the way to go. Humanism is basically about living according to shared human values — reason, compassion, and love are commonly cited examples — and, although the vast majority of people who now identify as Humanists are probably atheist or at least agnostic, there need be nothing anti-religious or divisive in the ceremony. Indeed, it’s really the wrong occasion for anything like that, and I’d imagine that most celebrants would actively discourage you from introducing any such notes. Weddings are about coming together, and the principles of modern secular Humanism are, ideally, about rising above what divides humanity and stressing what joins us together.
The other major advantage is that a Humanist ceremony is, more than any other kind of wedding ceremony I’ve seen, very much about the individuals involved. Our celebrant, Juliet Wilson, who was marvellous, really helped us put together a ceremony that was personal to us: she asked us for a list of the things we loved about each other; the story of how we got together; and so on. What’s more, while many wedding ceremonies involve the celebrant telling the couple and the congregation what marriage should be about, Juliet simply asked us what we saw as the meaning and purpose of marriage, and read that out.
Finally, a Humanist ceremony can be a good deal more interesting than the average civil ceremony, where the registrars are quite tightly constrained in what they can say.
The only disadvantage of a Humanist ceremony is that not many countries accept them as legal. In fact, only six do: Scotland, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the USA (only certain states). Had we got married 50 miles or so to the south, we would have had to have a civil ceremony as well. Aren’t we lucky to live in Scotland?
A steampunk theme
I’m not suggesting that everyone should have a steampunk wedding. It really worked for us, but it’s clearly very much a matter of taste! For one thing, if you want your guests to join in (and I don’t think it’s really fair to oblige them to), you have to be sure that a significant number of your them will be up for it and will enjoy taking part. One of the advantages of a Victorian or steampunk theme is that you don’t have to stray too far from ordinary wedding attire, so people can join in with only very subtle touches. The big advantage of having some sort of theme, if people really are up for it, is that it adds to the fun of the occasion for everyone, and makes it more memorable. We also made clear to all our guests that they were very welcome to wear whatever they felt comfortable in, however formal, informal, traditional, or standard. I think that’s important.
Get friends involved
Everyone says this, and they’re right! You almost certainly have friends and family with all sorts of skills, and people are usually very honoured to be asked to help out. Lottie’s cousin (who studies costume design) made her dress; a friend of hers, a professional seamstress, made the bridesmaids’ dresses; another friend of hers, who is an excellent photographer, took the official photos; a friend of mine played the music during the ceremony; various friends helped set up the reception venue and transport food; and so on. Of course, we paid for materials and expenses and so on, but we paid less than we would have done by hiring, say, a professional photographer, and (I hope!) everyone involved enjoyed the experience.
Consider not having a sit-down dinner. They can be great, but they’re often expensive and not always terribly inspiring (though there are some clear exceptions). What’s more, working out the seating arrangements can be one of the most stressful parts of a wedding. The alternative, which we thoroughly recommend, is to have a buffet. We had a Middle-Eastern vegetarian buffet, which was really great and excellent value (we also recommend asking round for recommendations and taking your time to choose caterers). We had a vegetarian buffet partly because Lottie’s immediate family is vegetarian (she’s vegan), as are several or our friends. It’s also cheaper.
These can be very nice, but I don’t think anyone ever leaves a wedding disappointed at not getting any. They can also be expensive. We did, however, give out party bags to the kids, with (non-messy) activities for them to do during the ceremony. Weddings can be incredibly dull for children.
In Great Britain these seems to be mainly popular in Scotland and Northumbria (though there are similar things in various other places), but it’s a very nice way to get everyone dancing together and (at least in my opinion) more fun than a disco.
This is obvious, but here are some suggestions for making it fun:
- Make it personal—the more it’s about you and less about the institution of marriage, the more special it will be, and the more people will remember it.
- Take time out—this depends on your preferences. If you like, you can go straight from the ceremony to the party. However, there’s nothing wrong with making space between the two parts of the wedding to relax and eat with your immediate families (we went to an upstairs room in a nearby pub). If your guest list is long, this gives you a break from the long list of people lining up to congratulate you (nice though this is).
- Follow tradition only so far as you’re legally obliged or want to. If you don’t want the traditional speeches, for example, don’t have them.
- We do, however, recommend sticking to the tradition of the groom not seeing the bride on the eve or the morning of the wedding (I slept on my best man’s floor). Not only does it add to the romance of the occasion to be separated for a short while before meeting at the ceremony, it’s quite practical. Getting ready on the wedding morning can be stressful: do you want to remember the day as starting with an argument?