What's the point of a wedding ceremony? Is that a strange question to ask? Maybe.... but I think it's one worth asking. There are a lot of things in life we tend to take for granted - and I think that wedding ceremonies may be one of those things. We go to a wedding ceremony, we watch a couple get married and we celebrate afterwards but how often do we think about what the ceremony actually means and what it's purpose is?
If you happen to be getting married, you will, no doubt, be expecting to take part in a ceremony of some sort. You will probably expect this to take place at a church, a registry office or a venue licensed for weddings. It is not actually possible, in the UK, to get married without going through a ceremony, even if it is just the ten minute, cheap (or not so cheap) one at your local town hall.
One of the reasons for having a wedding ceremony is to make the marriage legal. There is no reason why this could not be done without a ceremony but UK law does not allow it. So why have wedding ceremonies become the requirement for a legal marriage? And what is the reason that many people who decide not to get legally married choose to have a ceremony of some kind to mark their commitment to each other?
I do not have an answer to these questions but I do have some ideas as to why a ceremony is so important to couples (and to people in general for that matter).
Ceremony has been used throughout history to give importance to certain aspects of human life. It is difficult to find archeological records of weddings as they are transient in their nature but there are clear records which show that ancient peoples carried out ceremonial burials. Studies of tribal people show that they use ceremony to mark coming of age, marriage, death and other special events in their lives.
The key word here is special. When something special happens in our lives, we both need and want some way to show just how special and important it is, not only to us, but to society as a whole. Marriage is special - it is making a life time commitment to someone and telling the world that you mean it and you want everyone to know about it.
A ceremony in which you commit to each other and make vows about how you intend to be and live together in the future is immensely powerful. It creates a sacred bond between you that has the power to hold you together whatever life may throw at you on your married journey. This is the centre point of your wedding day - making this deep and sacred connection. Without it, I believe that a marriage has less chance of being successful, of lasting, growing deeper and stronger over time.
Sacred is a strong word. It generally defines something which is devoted to a deity or to a religious ceremony; something that is holy or regarded with reverence, awe, or respect. Not everyone wants a religious ceremony but I think everyone wants a wedding ceremony that inspires reverence, respect and even awe. A ceremony that makes everyone sit up and take notice and say "Yes, this couple are really serious about this marriage. They truly believe in and are committed to their love for each other and they are making us believe in it and be committed to it too."
A wedding ceremony is made up of a series of rituals:
The Address - in which the wedding celebrant addresses the couple and their guests about the meaning of marriage and the commitment they about to make. It will also often contain some personal words about the two people who are getting married.
The Expression of Intent - the couple both agree that they are entering into the marriage willingly and with the intention of giving it everything they've got.
The Exchange of Rings - the circular nature of a ring symbolises the eternal nature of love and the couple's desire to love each other for ever.
The Vows - I have put these at the end of the list but they are the most important part of a wedding ceremony. The vows that are said if you get married in a church or at a registry office are standard and cannot usually be changed. However, if you have your own wedding ceremony written for you, your vows can be written by you to express exactly how you feel about each other and what you are committing to from your heart.
So many couples I have written ceremonies for had said that the process of working with me to create their own ceremony has helped them to get very clear about their relationship and what getting married really meant to them. It was so much more than the venue, the dress, the reception. These things are the icing on the cake but the cake itself, the marriage which is for the rest of your life, is what really matters.