When speaking with a prospective wedding couple, there is nothing I love more that when I hear them utter my favourite phrase… “we’d like something different.” As a Professional Celebrant, this is veritable music to my ears and it’s all I can do to not leap out of my chair, roll up my sleeves, grab my trusty writing pen, and yell `YES!’
When Maria and her fiancé Ben got in touch, there was nothing in the initial email that gave a clue to how their fabulous ceremony might turn out to be. The couple lived in the USA and had booked their wedding at Chateau de Amberlin in South-west France for the following summer, with guests arriving from a variety of countries to join the happy couple on their big day. They explained that they had a few ideas they’d like to discuss with me and would I be available to meet online for a chat?
“Absolutely no problem, I said, and offered to set up an initial Zoom call. This proved slightly tricky, with a six hour time change and them both working full time and very long hours. However, we managed to find a suitable day and time.”
The first thing I was surprised and delighted to hear was Maria’s beautiful Irish accent. It turned out that she had been resident in the USA for only a couple of years and had met her lovely Groom-to-be on a work internship during her first year. With most of her family still living in Ireland, Maria explained that there would be a large Irish contingent joining us as guests and that she would love to acknowledge both her Celtic heritage and her parents’ Catholic religion.
Despite no longer practising herself, Maria explained that she wanted to make her parents feel she hadn’t abandoned her upbringing completely. She went on, ‘I’d really like something traditional but could we do that with a bit of a modern twist?’ She smiled at me, ‘I have two sisters and three friends as bridesmaids, and two little nieces who can’t wait to be flower girls! My Dad is really looking forward to walking me down the aisle but I know he’s a bit disappointed that we’re not getting married in church.’
I explained that I was half-Irish (on my father’s side) and would be delighted to ensure we gave due deference to this important aspect of her family’s heritage and beliefs. Maria breathed a visible sigh of relief when I explained that as an Independent Celebrant, I wasn’t bound by rules or restrictions and could offer advice and ideas on a variety of ways to honour my clients’ backgrounds and heritages.
Then it was Ben’s turn. ‘I’m first generation American,’ he explained enthusiastically, ‘with Russian, Jewish and a smattering of British in the mix. I have guests coming from the U.S., Russia, the U.K. and Israel!’
He went on to tell me that his father had passed away the previous year and that he would love to honour him in some way during the ceremony. ‘It’s really important for my Mom that we do this and also that we have some Jewish traditions in the ceremony, like when we say our vows?’
“Of course,’ I nodded hugely, my mind spinning as I made copious notes.
“We’ll be making our vows under a traditional chuppah,” he went on, becoming more animated, ‘but we don’t want it to be too religious.” Again, I scribbled more notes.
"We also want to acknowledge the Russian side of the family, they’re a fantastic bunch and great fun.”
“Fantastic, I’ll look forward to meeting them.”’
“Oh, and I almost forgot, we’ve gotta have the traditional stamping on the glass, with the shouts of ‘Mazel Tof!’ to end the whole thing off!”
They both looked at me expectantly, while I finished my jottings.
“So let me check my understanding,” I said, “what you would like is a fairly traditional ceremony, that will incorporate words and symbolism around your respective family’s cultures and religious heritage, delivered in a respectful yet fun way, and that will include your guests?”
“Exactly!” they nodded in unison.
“But, there’s one more thing,” Maria added. “My sister has recently transitioned and we would very much like to honour her journey and the lgbtq+ community as a whole.”
“And another,” chimed in Ben, ‘“I forgot to say we’ve also got some French guests coming along and, as we’re going to be in their country. it would be nice to acknowledge that too, don’t you think?”
“Right,”’ I said, looking over my notes and sounding more confident than I felt. “This is all very doable and…actually, quite exciting!”
My brain was whirling.
Fortunately, I had recently read an article about Jewish weddings and some of the elements that make up this beautiful ceremony. I trawled my memory for fragments of what I’d discovered.
“We could start by looking at traditions from both of your backgrounds and see how these could be adapted or incorporated into your ceremony. For example, we might look at the ‘Circling of the Bride’ or the ‘Seven Blessings.’ Might those be something we could consider blending with some of the traditional Catholic elements? Perhaps we could incorporate these traditions in a symbolic way, giving the ceremony a more modern feel?”
They both nodded, clearly interested.
“However, it’s important that if we do this, it’s written and delivered in a respectful way, ensuring both of your families feel honoured. It’s also apparent that you want your guests to feel welcomed and very much a part of the day and I have some thoughts on how this might be achieved. I’m thinking that perhaps a few words of welcome from me in their respective languages might be a possibility? Or…”
“Wow! You speak Russian?” asked Ben, grinning hugely.
‘“No,” I laughed, “but I’d give it a go. I’m sure I could manage a couple of sentences as long as it was written out for me phonetically!”
“Ummm, nope. But again, happy to give it a go.”
“Now that I CAN do.”
The call ended with much laughter as Ben attempted a brief lesson on how to say “good afternoon and welcome” in both Russian and formal Hebrew – with a smattering of Yiddish thrown in for good measure. I loved this couple and was over the moon when the following day they emailed to say they’d love me to be their celebrant.
Over the next few months we had several more online meetings and gradually the details of their ceremony came together. One of the delights of being a celebrant is to work alongside other suppliers and to see all of the differing components of a wedding come together.
As Maria and Ben’s big day grew closer, I was delighted to hear them chat about how their planner had pulled out the stops and had organised a traditional wedding ‘chuppah’ to be constructed in the gardens of the chateau.
A chuppah is a canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony. It consists of a cloth or sheet stretched across and supported over four poles, which can sometimes be held up over the couple by their attendants. The chuppah symbolises the home the couple will build together. Ben and Maria’s chuppah would be made of untreated elm wood, swathed in white muslin and decked with flowers. As the couple and I would be joined under the chuppah with seven members of their family, it had to be large enough to accommodate quite a crowd!
I had organised two tables in the ceremony area, one for the ceremonial items that would be required during the ceremony, and later for the couple to sit at when they signed their wedding certificate. The other, smaller table, would display a photograph of Ben’s late father alongside a beautiful glass lantern containing a candle that the couple would light in his memory.
In Jewish weddings, the Groom is traditionally escorted to the ceremony area by his mother and father, however Brian’s mom had decided she would perform this duty alone. We discussed music options ans the procession would actually be in three stages - Ben and his Mom’s entrance, the Bridesmaids procession and finally the Bride, escorted by her father.
With independent Celebrant led weddings, there are no rules. Independent Celebrants can help bring your vision to life with fantastic suggestions to honour your culture, heritage, interests and beliefs.
The Celebrant Circle has a Directory of Celebrants which allows you to search for professional wedding and funeral celebrants in your region with direct links to their social media and website.