Choosing readings for your humanist wedding ceremony

The groom (Steve) reads as Yiming looks on. Photo credit: DR Photography

One of the great things about choosing to have a humanist wedding ceremony is that you – the bridal couple – can create a unique wedding ceremony that truthfully represents your personalities, your values, and your hopes for your future life together. You have total control and final say over the various elements of the ceremony.

When couples first approach me to talk about a wedding, some already have a good idea of want they want to include in the ceremony but many wish to talk through all the possible elements including music, personal vows, hand-fasting or other cultural or symbolic act, and readings.

Having one or two readings in the ceremony can be wonderful way to express feelings about love and marriage. Readings can also be a lovely way to involve family members or close friends in the ceremony.  Readings can also help to build anticipation during the ceremony and add an extra dimension of ‘performance’.

So … here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing readings for a humanist wedding ceremony

Choose something that means something to you

Readings can be favourite poems, letters, extracts from books, famous quotations, song lyrics, even dialogue from a film or play. My advice is that whatever you choose it must be meaningful. There’s no point choosing something just for the sake of it, or because you’ve seen it listed on the internet as a popular wedding reading.

Your humanist wedding celebrant will be more than happy to help you find suitable readings. It might work out that you don’t need a reading at all.

There are many websites that list ideas for wedding readings – the choice can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Here are three links that might help you start to narrow down those choices:

Think about who will be doing the reading

Many couples choose to have a beloved relative or close friend do a reading. If you’re choosing the reading for them – my advice is to think carefully about what would suit them. If they’re not used to public speaking having to read a long poem or song lyric may be too stressful. Choosing something short, or funny may be a better option.

Some couples ask their readers to choose the readings themselves – some even ask their readers to keep the choice secret until the ceremony itself. This can be a good way to avoid having to make the decision yourselves! And can also inject an element of surprise for the couple.

However, I’d advise you ask your humanist celebrant to liaise with the readers to ensure their choice is consistent with the tone of the  ceremony and to run through any issues the reader might have.

Some couples to find it difficult to choose who do the reading, or have too much choice! One solution is to ask your celebrant to do the reading. Alternatively, some couples choose to do the readings themselves (see image above). Another option is to get several readers to share a reading – taking a verse or two each. One couple I married both had Welsh heritage so chose to ask the groom’s mother to read a poem in Welsh. An English translation was then read afterwards by the bride’s cousin.

You might even consider getting all your guests to stand up and read something together at a particular point in the ceremony – you could have the words printed up and left on the seats.

I bring laminated copies of the readings to the ceremony – they look nicer than a crumpled piece of paper, and also if anyone has forgotten to bring their reading we know we have a spare.

Laminated readings are useful at wedding ceremonies.

Don’t have too many readings

Ideally, I’d recommend one or two readings. It’s important to think about what they add to the ceremony. Too many readings can become tedious for your guests and slow the natural pace of the ceremony, which should build anticipation towards the exchange of vows and rings.

That said, the couple who chose the Welsh poem (see previous section) actually had four readings. This worked for them as they didn’t want to have so much of their personal story told as part of the ceremony. The readings they chose expressed how they felt about each other and ranged from serious to quirky.

Practise, practise, practise!

It’s important that whoever is doing the reading/s should practise reading the piece out loud several times before the day itself. Reading it through helps you get familiar with the material and this will make your reading more confident. Poems can sometimes be quite tricky with varying rhythm and odd line breaks. Knowing when to take a breath is vital!




A dress-down wedding can still pack an emotional punch

Emma and Kellie celebrate their wedding. 1 April 2017.

For many people, the word ‘wedding’ will probably trigger an image of a beautiful wedding dress. It may be white (a tradition popularised by Queen Victoria), or red and white (India), or yellow (Morocco), or green (Korea), or even black (a Catholic tradition in Spain).

Whatever the colour or culture, it seems to be a common theme that much time and money is spent on wedding outfits. And not just for the bridal couple. There are special outfits to be bought or made for bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, and page boys. The end result is often a truly magnificent sight, making the wedding day a very special one for all involved.

Royal weddings have produced some iconic wedding gowns over the years, and have influenced wedding fashion trends – the most recent being the Alexander McQueen dress designed by Sarah Burton for the wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William in 2011.

Alexander McQueen wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton for Kate Middleton, 2011.

But a dress isn’t the most important ingredient of a wedding – love is. The danger of focusing too much on the dress is that is that just might overshadow the wedding itself, as it did for the heiress, Victoria Swarovski, who wore a dress covered with 500,000 Swarovski crystals.

Traditional wedding outfits just don’t sit well for some couples. They’d rather focus on their mutual love and commitment, the ceremony itself, and on having the people that matter most to them present to witness their special day and then party into the night.

I was priviledged to conduct a humanist same-sex wedding ceremony recently for Emma and Kellie, whose only instruction for wedding attire was ‘just wear what you like’. They both wore stylish jeans and white tops and looked wonderful.

Their love and happiness shone through the day and the ceremony itself, conducted in The Prince Albert pub in Camden, was all about their story, their love, and the commitment they were making to each other. They both started crying well before we got to exchanging the rings and vows!

The beauty of having a humanist wedding ceremony is that you can have it where you like, when you like, and you can wear whatever suits your personality. It’s all about witnessing and supporting two people’s love for each other.



Humanist weddings can blend different cultures

Jessie & Dan, July 2016

Jessie & Dan, July 2016. Photo credit:©Alex Szczepanski

One of the stand-out benefits of having a humanist wedding ceremony is that you can design the event to fit your individual tastes, personalities, and backgrounds. And if a couple come from two different cultures, it’s possible to take traditional elements from each to create a unique ceremony that blends those cultures together in a personalised, meaningful way. After all, a wedding is more than the simple union of two people. It is the bringing together of two families and two communities of friends.

When I first met with Jessie and Dan to discuss their humanist wedding, Jessie said she wanted to include some acknowledgement of her Sikh heritage. It was fascinating to hear about Sikh and Punjabi wedding traditions.

Jessie and Dan very kindly invited me to attend a special evening of Indian traditions the night before the wedding, which included: maiyan, a cleansing ritual where a flour and spice paste is rubbed into the bride and groom’s skin; mehndi, beautiful henna decorations applied to hands and feet; jago, where the bride’s aunts wear pots on their heads decorated with tea lights and sing and dance to encourage people to attend the wedding; and bhangra, a distinctive blend of Punjabi folk traditions with Western pop music.

Beautiful mehndi design on my hand.

Beautiful mehndi design on my hand.


Jessie's aunts durign the jago ...

Jessie’s aunts during the jago …

One Sikh wedding custom I read about was the milni – where the key male relatives from the bride and groom’s families are first introduced. In a traditional milni, the bride’s male relatives welcome the men from the groom’s side, starting with the oldest members first. This normally involves a go-between calling out the names, the exchange of flower garlands and gifts.

We decided to incorporate a version of the milni into Jessie and Dan’s wedding ceremony to symbolise the union of their respective families. It turned out to be a lot of fun, with lots of laughter, and the assembled guests seemed to enjoy it too.

Other elements of the ceremony included two readings: the lyrics to Van Morrison’s song Sweet Thing, read by Dan’s brother; and an ancient chinese poem called The Key to Love, which was read by three of Jessie’s university friends.  Jessie’s cousin, Sunny, also sang a beautiful, traditional Punjabi song.

Humanist wedding celebrants can create unique and personal ceremonies that not only join together couples but also blend together different backgrounds and cultures. You could say that humanist celebrants celebrate humanity.

With the happy couple...

With the happy couple…