When people ask me what I do as a celebrant, I sometimes talk about my ‘Virtual Parish’.
As a celebrant, I conduct more funerals than I do weddings, but they are both ‘a celebration of life’, and just as at almost every wedding, someone comes up and tells me it’s the best they’ve ever been to, so at a funeral, a line I never tire of hearing is, ‘I know this sounds wrong, but I really enjoyed that!’
Over the five years that I’ve been a celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland, I’ve developed a kind of relationship with some families where I’ve conducted different ceremonies for them.
And when Gemma and I first spoke, it was because I’d conducted the funeral for her Granny Betty, a remarkable lady of strong character who had been a member of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland way back in the 1960’s when hardly anyone anywhere had ever come across the term.
So this was a special ceremony for me in the sense that I felt a connection already existed, and it was special in other ways too. Gemma’s cousin Robert piped Gemma in, just as he had Betty. And Colin the groom is an Irishman, and there was a strong contingent there from that part of the world, and I’m sure that not all of them were wondering why on earth Colin had chosen to marry his lovely bride on the day the Springboks were playing at the new stadium at Lansdowne Road.
But they also chose to have a handfasting. Handfasting is an ancient Celtic tradition representing the binding together of two people in love. The bride and groom hold hands and a cloth is wrapped around them, which is where the expression “tying the knot” comes from. Often in Scotland, tartan cloths are used, because tartan is the symbol of the family or clan, and its intricate patterns also represent the binding together of different strands to make something whole. Colin and Gemma chosen a tartan ribbon to represent the Scots and a green one to represent the Irish.
There are many different ways to do a handfasting. Usually the celebrant does it, but you can ask different friends to come up and bind a cloth each. Or you can do it the way I did in this ceremony, which is to get the couple to grasp each other’s elbow, wind the two ribbons around their forearms, and give each of them one pair of ends, and then ask them to pull.
When they do, they end up with a pair of ribbons knotted together, and their hands are free to sign the Marriage Schedule…
The other rather touching thing they did was to remember to make sure that at the end of the ceremony, there was a member of staff waiting for them when they left the room to the sound of applause, holding a silver tray on which there were not two, but three glasses of champagne.
By that point, I need a drink too! Gemma sent me a lovely message on their return from honeymoon.
‘Everyone has commented on how much they enjoyed the ceremony and how moving it was. It sounds like we weren’t the only ones needing tissues!’
And that wasn’t just because Ireland lost 21-23! My thanks to Gemma and Colin and their families and friends for making me feel so welcome, and to Maria Falconer for the great pics.
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