A question I get asked a lot as a humanist wedding celebrant – after “how does it feel to do the best job in the world?”, obviously – is “does a humanist wedding feel real?”
My answer is always a resounding yes. Though humanist weddings aren’t yet legally binding in England and Wales (but hopefully will be soon…discrimination against couples who aren't religious is not OK!), that doesn’t make them any less real.
Does a humanist wedding feel real?
Nor does it make humanist weddings feel any less real. I often explain it to couples with the metaphor of a baby: When someone gives birth to their baby, THAT is the real event. It is the baby's real birthday, the human child exists and the birth has clearly taken place. THEN, a few weeks later the parent pops along to the council to register the birth and get the certificate. Humanist weddings are similar to this. Your humanist wedding is the real event, then you register it afterwards. (Or before, if you prefer to do your admin that way round. That’s where the baby metaphor falls apart slightly…but you catch my drift!)
In practice, though, as it’s not the supertraditional way of doing it, I know a lot of couples who ask “does a humanist wedding feel real?” just want to make sure they don’t seem fake, or like they’re lying to their guests. I can totally empathise, as I faced family pressure to have a "normal" wedding ceremony rather than a humanist one. Of course, we carried on with the humanist plan, and I’m so glad we did!
(Sidenote…my husband and I actually refer to our civil ceremony as our "I-legally-love-you wedding”. We laughed all the way through it because of how bizarre it is to sign a contract with strangers about how much we value our relationship. In what way does signing a piece of paper demonstrate your commitment MORE than standing up in front of the people you love most and saying words you actually mean?)
To put your mind at ease, and to help you answer when interested parties (AKA meddling relatives) probe you with the question “Does a humanist wedding feel real, though?”, here's a list of six ways that your humanist wedding will absolutely feel real.
6 reasons why a humanist wedding definitely feels real
Because it is the real-est (really!)
First things first: the simplest answer to the question “Does a humanist wedding feel real?” is: yes, it will feel real because it is real. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (see above well-meaning relatives…)
Being willing to say your vows and declare your commitment publicly in front of your friends and family is the real-est thing; you are being authentic in your actions, and this means the wedding is 100% authentic too.
Because it sees you as a couple, not you as a concept
Of course, a wedding ceremony is about marriage, but a humanist ceremony sees this as not in the simplistic legal sense. Rather, a humanist ceremony is about the two people involved in the marriage, and celebrates the union in practice, rather than on paper.
Because you won’t have to pretend to care about religion (if that’s not your bag)
It's a day when you want everything to be truthfully expressed, and adding a big lie into the mix about believing in a god can feel inauthentic. With humanist weddings, you don’t have to mumble through a prayer you’ve not uttered since school assembly, or feel embarrassed as you try to avoid the pastor’s eye when they’re talking. Your vows will feel more special knowing that every element of your ceremony is truthful.
Because you choose what to say
Following on from this, a humanist wedding allows you to think about your words and agree to them in advance, rather than reading a template you have no connection with. This means you don’t have to say “I do” to anything you actually really don’t!
And it’s not just the wording, either: you get to choose everything about your humanist wedding ceremony. (If this seems exciting but mainly overwhelming, don’t worry – it’s my job as a humanist wedding celebrant to help you craft it.) This means that not only does the stale legal wording of a civil ceremony get in the bin, but your entire ceremony will be hella fun, meaningful, romantic and memorable!
Because the rings you exchange will really exist
That is, if you exchange rings. This goes for every other tangible element of the wedding – they’re there, you can see them, you can touch them. They really happened.
Because you can keep any traditional wedding elements that you like
This is a really key thing to remember, if your driving factor for asking “Does a humanist wedding feel real?” is how the day will feel for your nearest and dearest who have the honour of being in attendance. And even if this is your concern, my answer is still a big fat stonking yes!
Celebrating the union of two people is a tradition as old as humanity, and if there’s any bits of a traditional wedding ceremony that are super significant to you which you’d like to keep, it’s totally possible with a humanist ceremony.
This means your guests can see all the things they might expect to. Walk along an aisle? You got it. Vows? No problemo. First kiss? Hell yeah! In fact, so many guests at weddings I’ve conducted have no idea that it’s not a legal wedding…
So, there we are: just six of the reasons why my answer to “Does a humanist wedding feel real?” is a huge, excitable yes. If you’re looking to plan an incredible wedding day that feels authentic to the two of you, then you can contact me to chat about your ceremony here. Looking for more wedding inspiration? Check out my last blog post all about how you can personalise your arrival when you have a humanist wedding celebrant.
[The beautiful photography on this page is courtesy of the extremely talented wedding photographer Hayley Gell and features Laura and Henry's winter wedding. Their wedding venue was Wood Lane Countryside Centre, Sheffield.]