Real ethical weddings

Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

A humanist green wedding

The couple: Elaine and Xander
Venue and location: Painshill Park, Cobham

Xander and I chose a humanist wedding a little by process of elimination if I am completely honest - as well as it being the best fit with our beliefs and the type of wedding we wanted to have.

We had always discussed what kind of wedding we would have when we finally got round to getting married (we were together 15 years before!), and we always had a very clear idea of what we liked and didn't like. We had been to a fair few and managed to pick and choose the best bits (we felt) from friends and families' weddings.

Neither of us is religious, so a wedding in a church seemed about as relevant as a wedding in a synagogue or mosque to us. We also knew that it was going to be a big wedding as we have lots of family and friends and after 15 years waiting for our wedding... everyone expected a great party! And we love a good party too, but how to involve all those people and still make it feel intimate was tricky, so thinking caps were donned.

The personal touch

Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

A few years prior (2003) friends of ours had got married near Chichester, and had a very personalised service including a barber shop quartet made up of friends, the bride's mother sang (she's an opera singer), and the ceremony was completely bespoke and delivered by a family friend from the states.

We were really touched by just how well the ceremony seemed to fit them, and it stood out for us among the several weddings we have been to in recent years.

Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

We had also more recently been to a friend's wedding in Holland which was a humanist wedding and although there were a few bits that were a little surprising (at one point guests were invited to lay stones in a line and talk about how they ‘came into the lives' of the betrothed), overall it was again very personal and seemed to be a joyous celebration of the two people.  And family and friends were made to feel that they were very much a part of the ceremony. Which I really liked.

We had also been to a few church weddings of friends and while some were intimate and joyous, the majority had been quite serious and sometimes, frankly depressing (in my view I hasten to add).

The other thing to add is that Xander is Dutch, so we decided early on that anything the British side of the family queried we could say was a Dutch tradition and anything the Dutch side queried was a British tradition. The perfect cover!

Telling the parents

Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

My mum's reaction was quite funny when I first told her we were having a humanist wedding, ‘A what dear?'. My dad then proceeded to wind her up over the next few months - making reference to slaughtering chickens and dancing around campfires - so there was a little education to be done and a bit of reassuring.  However, everyone soon accepted the idea.

Trickier to understand for parents, I think, was the fact that we had to go to the local council in the morning before the official ceremony as the humanist ceremony is not legally binding and we didn't really want to make a big deal of what we called the ‘paperwork' bit. For us the ceremony was the main deal, and bigging up the earlier part of the day we felt took some of the special magic away from the ceremony that we would be sharing with friends and family. 

For this reason we insisted only parents could attend the registration and it was not a big deal. I made a point of wearing my normal everyday clothes (!). Our siblings really understood when we explained that we would only have the parents at the registration, and were perfectly happy with whatever we wanted - which was brilliant.

Finding a humanist celebrant

Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

So we set about finding a humanist celebrant by Google - as all good searches start in the 21st century. And I located the UK Humanist Association that had loads of helpful bits of information about the legal status of humanist celebrations, their values, what you would need to do (in terms of registration of the marriage) and so on. There was also a handy directory that listed all the celebrants in my area. So I thought a good start would be to phone a few people and speak to them about humanism and if it might be right for us.

Also, and sheepishly I admit, I wanted to see if I liked the sound of their voice (!) which while it sounds trivial was quite important to me as I wanted someone who would command some gravitas, as I wanted everyone to feel that this was a ‘real' wedding as serious and important as any in a church that they might have been to. And I found Robbi Robson, who was brilliant and not only beautifully spoken, she was calm and very knowledgeable - and instantly likeable. Plus she seemed to understand exactly what Xander and I were looking for straight off.

Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

We made an appointment and went and met Robbi to discuss in more detail what structure the ceremony might take. When we met Robbi at her home she gave us some examples of what other couples had done, in terms of structure of the ceremony and vows. Xander and I decided we wanted to keep the vows and structure fairly traditional, and so started with those based on the legal vows and tailored them to suit us.

We had an introduction to our story, two readings and an exchange of rings, so although it was quite traditional it was also personal and we had most of the people in the front 2 rows weeping!

As Xander and I had asked Robbi to talk a bit about our story, I had to put together a potted history of our 15 years and we were able to include references to friends and family in this that we felt brought them all into the story on the day which they all noted to us afterwards. This made me really happy.

Green wedding goodies

We tried to make our wedding as earth friendly as possible - which was a natural fit for a humanist wedding. Here are a few of our ethical and green wedding ideas:

  • We had sheep poo card place cards with wild seeds in them.
  • We had a wedding website (we used so we didn't have to print save the date cards - we did emails and put all extra info on the site.
  • We gave out organic chocolate and biscuits to our bridesmaids as gifts.
  • We had one pretty bottle of water per table that we then topped up with tap water.
  • I have a conflict free diamond ring!
  • I commissioned my friend to make my wedding jewellery which brought an independent and local jeweller some work as well as producing an heirloom for me to treasure - not eco but I think quite an ethical approach.
  • I made my own cake - less food miles!
Elaine and Xander's humanist green wedding

Happy ever after

And pretty much the rest, as they say is history! Looking back I wouldn't change a thing about the celebration at all; it was perfect and just what we wanted. Lots of people told us as well how unusual, touching and personal it was. So even though we thought it was quite traditional we realized what is traditional for us is probably pretty way out for most people! A humanist wedding for us meant we could create a day as unique as we are!

Elaine runs Pure Design - the place to find contemporary ethical design online.

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