The Ceremony

Marriage doesn’t happen in an instant.

It grows. From the seed of your relationship, the first shoot, the sapling, to soon a whole new oak. We decided to get married when we were ready to push up out of the earth – it was exciting, new – but gradually we grew, settling into the idea, becoming definite in our intentions. We were a tree before we knew it, we felt married. And yet the ceremony had not yet taken place.

This shaped our ceremony. The ceremony is, afterall, the most important bit of a wedding, and we wanted it to reflect us and how we felt about our marriage. And so our ceremony was more a celebration of the tree we had become and a public declaration and legally binding contract of our love and commitment before friends and family.

If I was going to flower and embellish anything wedding-related, it was this.

The substance of a ceremony is necessarily literary (even music is often crucially about the words to the songs), and this is my forte. Literary embellishments were something that I could enjoy doing and didn’t require any special equipment. I wanted lots of readings. We spent forever trying to find a prose extract short enough yet meaningful enough, and eventually settled on a 6-minute (oops, a little lengthy) endpiece from Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’.

“I am not going to emigrate, you know; I wasn’t aware that you would wish me not to when I told ‘ee or I shouldn’t ha’ thought of doing it,” he said, simply. “I have arranged for Little Weatherbury Farm and shall have it in my own hands at Lady-day. Still, that wouldn’t prevent my attending to your business as before, hadn’t it been that things have been said about us.”
“Things said about you and me! What are they?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“It would be wiser if you were to, I think. You have played the part of mentor to me many times, and I don’t see why you should fear to do it now.”
“It is nothing that you have done, this time. The top and tail o’t is this – that I am sniffing about here, and waiting for poor Boldwood’s farm, with a thought of getting you some day.”
“Getting me! What does that mean?”
“Marrying of ‘ee, in plain British. You asked me to tell, so you mustn’t blame me.”
Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a cannon had been discharged by her ear, which was what Oak had expected. “Marrying me! I didn’t know it was that you meant,” she said, quietly. “Such a thing as that is too absurd – too soon – to think of, by far!”
“Yes; of course, it is too absurd. I don’t desire any such thing; I should think that was plain enough by this time. Surely, surely you be the last person in the world I think of marrying. It is too absurd, as you say.”
“‘Too – s-s-soon’ were the words I used.”
“I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but you said, ‘too absurd,’ and so do I.”
“I beg your pardon too!” she returned, with tears in her eyes. “‘Too soon’ was what I said. But it doesn’t matter a bit – not at all – but I only meant, ‘too soon.'”
Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the firelight being faint there was not much to be seen. “Bathsheba,” he said, tenderly and in surprise, and coming closer: “if I only knew one thing – whether you would allow me to love you and win you, and marry you after all – if I only knew that!”
“But you never will know,” she murmured.
“Because you never ask.”
“Oh – Oh!” said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyousness. “My own dear – ”
“You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter this morning,” she interrupted. “It shows you didn’t care a bit about me, and were ready to desert me like all the rest of them! It was very cruel of you, considering I was the first sweetheart that you ever had, and you were the first I ever had; and I shall not forget it!”
“Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking,” he said, laughing. “You know it was purely that I, as an unmarried man, carrying on a business for you as a very taking young woman, had a proper hard part to play – more particular that people knew I had a sort of feeling for ‘ee; and I fancied, from the way we were mentioned together, that it might injure your good name. Nobody knows the heat and fret I have been caused by it.”
“And was that all?”
“Oh, how glad I am I came!” she exclaimed, thankfully, as she rose from her seat. “I have thought so much more of you since I fancied you did not want even to see me again. But I must be going now, or I shall be missed. Why Gabriel,” she said, with a slight laugh, as they went to the door, “it seems exactly as if I had come courting you – how dreadful!”
“And quite right too,” said Oak. “I’ve danced at your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long mile, and many a long day.”
He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm. They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship – camaraderie – usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death – that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

This was read by Brian, who is an actor, and did a brilliant dramatic performance with accents!

The poems we had less difficulty on, though we did read a lot of poetry in our search. The Shakespeare was particularly “mine” and the Donne particularly “Guy’s”, but both were poems we happily agreed upon together.

The Anniversarie, by John Donne

All kings, and all their favourites,
All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun it self, which makes time, as they pass,
Is elder by a year now than it was
When thou and I first one another saw.
All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday;
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

We only had the first verse of Donne, which was the one we really liked – probably just as well, given how much we crammed into our wedding ceremony. This was our opening reading, and read very bravely by David, who was incredibly nervous about his reading, yet managed it superbly nonetheless.

Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove;
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

We actually found this poem when visiting my grandparents. My granddad had given my grandma a necklace with a couple of lines engraved onto it (she was an English teacher) and we looked up the whole poem. I then read through all the other Shakespeare sonnets before deciding it was the best one – I am nothing if not thorough.

This was read beautifully by Narmeen. I definitely think we picked the right person for this poem – the soft and gentle reading worked really well with the meter and contrasted what was to come next!

We asked Guy’s brother Harry to do our last poetry reading. We wanted him involved, but Guy did not want any family members in positions where they could make speeches! We decided a reading was safe and that Harry was bold enough to finish up the poetry collection with a funny one.

A Poem by Bee Rawlinson

Love me when I’m old and shocking
Peel off my elastic stockings
Swing me from the chandeliers
Let’s be randy bad old dears.

Push around my chromed bath chair
Let me tease your white chest hair
Scaring children, swapping dentures
Let us have some great adventures

Take me to the Dogs and Bingo
Teach me how to speak the lingo
Bone my eels and bring me tea
Show me how it’s meant to be

Take me to your special places
Watching all the puzzled faces
You in shorts and socks and sandals
Me with warts and huge love-handles

As the need for love enthrals
Wrestle with my damp proof smalls
Make me laugh without constraint
Buy me chocolate body paint

Hold me safe throughout the night
When my hair has turned to white
Believe me when I say it’s true
I’ve waited all my life for you.

We also wrote our own vows – both contracting and with exchange of rings. For those who are interested in the formatting, we opened with the registrar’s welcome and the legal Declaratory Words in traditional format:

I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I (name) cannot be joined in matrimony to thee (other name).

We then read the Contracting Words (again in traditional) directly after the personal vows and exchange of rings, and before the kiss! Readings came in after the Declaratory Words and after the Contracting Words.

I do solemnly declare that I (name) take thee (other name) to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife.

For our personal vows, we each read aloud from a scroll we had prepared.

From this day forward, I will honour and celebrate our love,
Through the better and the worse,
And during times of uncertainty.
I love you for the wo/man you are:
For your strengths, which make you amazing,
And for your weaknesses, which make you human.
I ask for nothing more than all you wish to give.
I trust you absolutely.
And I promise to be rational – not too complex – and to apologise when I am wrong.
I will miss you madly when you are far,
And hold you close when you are near.
I will be your trusty cornerstone,
Your unwavering defender,
Your shoulder to cry upon.
I choose to spend today and all of my tomorrows with you.

The words at the exchange of rings were read aloud by the registrar for us to repeat back.

I give you this ring as a tangible and lasting reminder of my love. With time, it will age and change, but only subtly, and throughout our lives it will remain as strong as when it was forged.

I accept the ring, and will wear it not by habit, but by choice. Let it reaffirm my love for, trust in and commitment to you, for as long as the sun and the moon shall endure.

We also decided to have a Flower Ceremony, where we each give a flower to our mothers, and a Drinking from a Quaich. For the flower ceremony, we had a vase of white lisianthus placed on the ceremony table and we each extracted a sprig.

Today, Guy and Rowena come together and establish a new family, stepping beyond the families in which they grew up. However, they do not want to forget their parents, who’ve helped them to grow into adults. In particular, they would like to specially acknowlede their mothers. As a token of love and appreciation, Rowena will give a flower to her mother, and Guy will give a flower to his. These flowers represent the blossoming of Guy and Rowena into the adults they have become.

C and V, would you please come forward to receive your gifts.

The Quaich was particularly important to me, because it was an opportunity to have said something on the importance of marriage.

‘Drinking from the Quaich’ is a traditional hospitality ceremony amongst the Scots, where a drink is shared in a two-handled drinking cup: the quaich. The ceremony has been used in weddings since the marriage of King James VI of Scotland to Anne of Denmark in 1589. The traditional Scottish drink is whiskey. Due to laws against consumption during civil ceremonies, drinking today will be purely symbolic.

Similar ceremonies exist in other cultures. In France, the “coup de marriage” is a two handled cup passed from generation to generation. The cup we use today comes from Guy’s parents; his father, Clive, was given it as a goodbye present from his regiment when he was a Captain.

In Eastern culture, a trusted high ranking officer of the courts would be appointed as cup-bearer; the cup­-bearer would drink from the same cup as the ruler to protect him from attempts at poisoning. This was a man willing to die for his king.

Today, the bride and groom will drink from the same cup, symbolising their absolute trust in one another and commitment to share all that the future may bring.

Offers to the bride and groom to drink together.

Guy and Rowena wish their union to be also the union between their two families and the wider community of their friends and loved ones. They would ask you to support them in their marriage, share in their joy and participate in their celebration today.

Will you do this?

They reply. The quaich is passed around the room so that everybody may drink from it.

This was the plan. But things were to go awry.

We had taken the idea of the quaich from a humanist wedding ceremony because these are much more interesting than civil ceremonies and we really wanted something interactive in our ceremony – it seems they are also significantly less restrictive!

A month before the wedding, and long after we had sent in a draft of our ceremony and had an email confirming that it was okay, we were told to remove the quaich ceremony. Apparently the church has a monopoly on eating and drinking, and you cannot do this or pretend to do this in a civil wedding ceremony for this reason.


We initially tried to deal with this restriction sensibly, by removing the drinking parts, then mention of drinking, then mention of cups, liquids, or the quaich itself. We bottled the quaich ceremony down and started cutting other things because the registrars complained that the whole ceremony was too long, which was one reason why the quaich ceremony had to go. The ceremony would no longer be interactive, but we could keep our words, couldn’t we?

No. The words were the problem.

This was obviously extremely upsetting, as we had put so much into this ceremony and wanted our [completely secular] ideas to be expressed. The Oxfordshire registrars even boast that they are especially laid back and generous with wedding ceremonies and pretty much let you do what you like; this only tells me how bad other offices must be, and how prohibitively narrow the laws on civil marriage ceremonies still remain! They eventually became quite cross when we continued to attempt to adapt our quaich ceremony and told us we were already being incredibly demanding with our extra reading and flower ceremony, and that we were lucky they let us have those.

I felt the situation was made worse by the registrars telling us to put the quaich ceremony into the wedding reception. This would have been a daft idea anyway: guests want to cheer, drink and party at a reception, not hear solemn speeches on marriage any more than they want to listen to prayers. But in my ideas this also made a mockery of the actual ceremony. Holding our own ceremony outside the legal ceremony only sends the message that it was only the “legal bit” and in no part meaningful that we must do it properly afterwards.

There isn’t a solution to this problem. I racked my barins for ideas, but everything was rejected. My mother promised to think of something, and they said no. We were banned from including non-religious historical wedding ceremonies or talking about them, or in any way adding to the ceremony after where they had drawn the line.

Yes, I resent it.

Yes, I missed it.

We had a quaich; we had bought the ginger wine; I had even printed all of our Orders of Celebration and painstakingly stuck the ribbons on after they okayed the draft we sent in.

It hurts to give up part of the romance of your wedding day, but it is a wedding day: they cannot take anything from our marriage. We are strong together, and we know that the sentiment was there, even if we were forbidden from sharing it (although I now share it on the internet!).

I will now move on from this more serious topic to talk about frivolous things – think of it as light relief, a bit like the Bee Rawlinson poem on the tail of Donne and Shakespeare.

So here are the things we made to decorate our ceremony room:

Confetti Cones

These were placed on the “pew ends” where people to get to them after the ceremony. We made a note in the Orders of Celebration not to throw them inside but to bring them onto the steps outside to throw with photos. Everyone was really good (I definitely expected naughtiness here!) and we have some fantastic pictures.

Balloon Trees

We weren’t allowed to have helium balloons at the venue, because some child or twonk inevitably releases them, they get stuck on the high ceilings of the Town Hall and eventually set off the fire alarms. This was a shame, as I quite fancied some in the middles of the tables, but they had a sensible reason to say no. I also liked the idea of having a balloon “tunnel” leading up to the aisle to really get our colours into the roo, (flowers would have been difficult since we had chairs not pews), and decided to use balloon rods and little bases.

This worked surprisingly well, although it was a lot of work making them. I used salt dough dyed blue (turns greeny blue) which is light but strong, inside paper cups which were covered in blue paper my mum gave me, or white paper with a bit of blue ribbon. These were light to transport and could be taken apart and put together on site.

I used a bit of curled balloon ribbon to make them even prettier.

My “balloon tunnel”:

Guy didn’t like any of my ideas for decorating the ceremony table: he was especially against boards with writing on them, giant letters or anything with our names on it! In the end we kept it simple, just the Flower Ceremony base and a table runner. No DIY whatsoever (cutting a table runner to size is emphatically not DIY – you wouldn’t call opening a packet of food “cooking”!).

And that’s everything – all the planning. All the same, nothing much really prepares you for walking into a room filled with your friends and family to have them all turn and stare at you (through a balloon tunnel). It was nerve-racking to say the least – I had to look straight ahead because I caught one guest’s eye and suddenly didn’t think I could make it to the end of the aisle. I wanted to be strong and I wanted to read my vows with meaning and stare Guy in the eyes as I married him.

Not looking at anyone (except Guy and the registrar) actually worked really well! Some people say hold the moment and look everyone in the face, but I made the decision that was best for me at the time. I relaxed a bit during the readings, and even though I asked not for chairs we had them, and thus were getting up and sitting down a lot, which kept us busy.

Everyone has said afterwards that we were both loud and clear when we spoke, which was definitely false confidence: he was as nervous as me! We raised our voices a bit – stage voices (but much more scary than being on stage, because this is personal and everyone around you knows you and will definitely see you again).

I do think it was a fast half an hour (or so… I didn’t check the actual time as we emerged), but this was chiefly because it was a full half an hour and everything that was going on interested me. I have definitely lost hours if not days reading or writing something that interests me on other occasions, so it was not purely because of emotion!

I didn’t cry. I was quite pleased about this, but actually I felt I was feeling less than I should have because I had to repress the nervousness so much that everything was a bit emotionally dampened. The relief I felt when we were announced husband and wife though – I was holding on for that. Whilst I knew we wouldn’t be interrupted, I was still paranoid that something would stop it happening or I wouldn’t make it through, but I knew once the contracting words were spoken that it was legal and all okay, and all I had to do then was squeeze my new husband’s hand and hold on until we were announced!

I had entirely forgotten about the kiss – but Guy hadn’t: and he had every intention of doing it ‘properly’.

(‘Properly’ in Guy’s book ended up as quite a long kiss… people commented!)

I actually came out of the ceremony room shaking – I seem to have quite a history of shaking! But this was a less debilitating shaking than those I mentioned before: and more like the shakey feeling you get after you’ve narrowly missed being hit by a car. Or falling over a cliff edge.

Here is us signing the register (this was an easy bit):

And finally – married!

Smiling because – hurray – it’s over! And now to celebrate!

Words cannot express how proud I am of my wonderful husband, and so pleased to have married him.


About RowenaFW

I am a Fish. But you wouldn't know it just from looking at me. View all posts by RowenaFW

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