Or was their celebrant not listening? Is this a ‘cookie cutter’ ceremony in which the names have been changed out but the ceremony is more or less the same for everyone? I had a wedding couple visit recently who were telling me stories about experiencing this strange sense of disconnection between the ceremony and who they know their friends to be. We laughed about how awkward it made them feel but I felt sad too. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to shift a ceremony from something that feels as though you’ve been there before —or turned up on the wrong day— to something that just wouldn’t fit any other couple.
Of course some people can do this naturally. They know what they want and they have a strong sense of themselves and their uniqueness. Lucky them!
But many of us don’t have that clarity about what we want - either as individuals or as a couple. It can be a struggle to come up with something that feels deeply a part of ourselves, that feels authentic, real.
Sometimes our heritage, our culture, can help us reach more deeply into our sense of selves and also be a touchstone for others – something to share.
I was delighted to be the celebrant recently for a woman of Maori heritage and an Indian man. The bride was breathtakingly gorgeous in a richly embroidered Indian sari that the groom’s father had brought from India. She also had beautiful henna designs on her hands.
The groom was dignified in his suit, with a deep red Sikh turban and ceremonial sword at hand. During the ceremony the bride’s mother placed korowai, which she had commissioned to have made, around each of the couple.
It was deeply moving to watch her – this mother and kuia - wrap each of them in their ceremonial cloaks. As she did this we were moved further by the stirring sounds of the music, Ma te Kahukura ka rere te manu.
The ritual was a breathtaking visual feast and richly symbolic in so many ways. It felt very honouring of their cultural roots and also told us about the strong cultural platforms on which this couple stand.
But of course we don’t all have that rich cultural identity and we need to look more individually. What are our stories as a couple? What do we share that is really special to us? What are we each bringing into this relationship? What makes us laugh? What makes us cry? Why do we love this person?
And that great question: if I had NO FEAR of being laughed at or judged, what would I say about this person and about us together? And now…. how do we ‘say’ that?
I’ve put ‘say’ into quote marks because we don’t have to use words. Music often transports us straight to the feelings we want to express: that yearning, that joy, deep love, loss.
I am always a sucker for poetry but I sometimes see people’s eyes glaze over when I say that. It’s probably the look I get when someone tells me they love opera!
But other elements can be fun to include and can give a marriage (and other life ceremonies) extra meaning, ritual and fun.
I’ve been finding out about ‘jumping the broom’ rituals recently which I read about on a UK wedding celebrant’s page. According to my very quick google research it’s derived from Africa (and popular for African American weddings) but also has roots in Celtic culture. Jumping the broom is sweeping away the couple’s former single lives and binding them as a couple as they enter this new adventure together. There are other associations too around setting up home, crossing thresholds, fertility, wealth. (No-one mentioned housework!)
One of the wonderful things about creating your own rituals is that you can imbue them with whatever meaning you want and tell your guests that’s what it’s about. Coz it’s your day!
One suggestion is to have a basket of ribbons that guests can write their names on when they arrive…. then the ribbons are tied around the broom as a symbol of the guests’ support and good wishes. This would all take some coordinating at the beginning of a ceremony but those who didn’t manage to put their names onto a ribbon before the ceremony could do it afterwards. And the couple has a beautiful keepsake.
I will write more about ideas for rituals that we could include in our ceremonies—for all sorts of occasions—in future blogs because I think they can be such fun. And they are a way of creating meaning while being creative and expressing ourselves as individuals.
After all we don’t want our guests thinking they’ve turned up to someone else’s marriage ceremony.