Rise in humanist weddings means a wedding that’s very much yours


When you come to that point in life where weddings – one a month, at least in summer – are an inevitability, certain things become equally inevitable. Coast dresses. Fascinators. Fake tan.
And re-learning what you’d long blocked out; when to kneel, sit and stand in Mass. Because chances are, at the age of 30ish, you haven’t been to mass regularly since you were a teenager, or younger.
If you were a part of the wedding, you’ll have refamiliarised yourself with prayers and hymns you’d also forgotten, and undergone the rite of passage that is a pre-marriage course.
At least, right up until this year, that was inevitable. Over the past year, there has been a radical change in how weddings work in Ireland.
Throw out the fascinators, forget the flowergirls and let go of the lorryloads of tat that go with an ordinary wedding and embrace the difference. Just don’t forget the Child of Prague.
(Whether you believe in God or not, you may as well stay on the safe side where the weather is concerned.)
Last year, humanist weddings were granted full legal status in Ireland, and this year 750 couples have decided to tie the knot this way. One-third of Irish weddings now involve civil ceremonies of some kind, including humanist ones. Removal of the requirement for a parallel civil ceremony and any extra paperwork suddenly meant that a humanist wedding is now just as convenient as the standard church wedding.
More so, in fact; there is no requirement for a pre-marriage course, just a short meeting with your celebrant. There is also no need for the trappings of a church wedding, such as singers, flowers, bridesmaids, ring bearers and the rest of it, unless, of course, you want all these things. Then they can be worked in, because a humanist ceremony can be, more or less, whatever you want it to be. And that means they are incredibly personal.
Thanks to a ruling by the Attorney General made just three weeks before our own wedding, it can be outside, which was a dream come true for us. It can be as short as you like – the legal part is only about five minutes long, and the humanist association’s mandated text is brief but beautiful. And those directing it – the couple marrying – choose all the moving parts.
We were able to choose not to exchange rings because I have a fear of losing valuables; to include readings from one of our favourite authors; and to include many of our friends and family in the ceremony.
There is one major constraint at the moment, of course; the number of celebrants. Because it was legalised rather suddenly, the Humanist Association of Ireland, which is responsible for accrediting celebrants, just doesn’t have enough bodies to go around. There are only 15 celebrants in the Republic, and when you consider the number of couples getting married and the strong preference for Fridays and Saturdays, it’s a bit of a gamble. We time-shared ours, who had another ceremony earlier in the day, but her demeanour gave no indication of the preceding matinée performance.
The majority of weddings I’ve attended this year were humanist. Our generation is used to choice. And this choice allows you to be yourselves. No matter how much you might eventually regret those Breaking Bad themed vows.
Of course, it’s not just the first-timers who are opting to go humanist. Even Gabriel Byrne, who spent five years training for the priesthood, got married in a humanist ceremony this year in Cork’s Ballymaloe House.
Yes, it’s a tough sell on the religious relatives at first. And yes, you may upset your parish priest. And yes. It’s still a wedding, so you’re still going to fall out with whatever branch of the family falls out with everyone all the time anyway. No mere ceremony can prevent that. But it means that ‘your big day’ is as big or small as you want it, and more importantly, very much yours.

First published in The Herald, 07.10.14.

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