Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Candles for places that don't allow candles!

There are a lot of places that don't allow real candles due to good old health and safety rules - notably anywhere owned by Historic Scotland, but candles really do give a lovely atmosphere so what do you do instead?

You can get some great imitation candles now that are battery operated and even have that lovely flickering effect. They are getting better and better as they get more popular and I saw some today on a website for half price. Check it out here:
Flickering candles

Don't they look great and no worries about rules and regulations.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Where can I get married?

Humanist celebrants are authorised by the Registrar General of Scotland to solemnise marriages in accordance with the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977. The law says that we can conduct marriage ceremonies anywhere that is safe and dignified. We are not restricted to places that have a licence for a Civil ceremony, nor are we restricted as to the time of day or day of the week.

Some venues confuse us with a 'Civil' ceremony because we do not include any religious content. We do not conduct civil ceremonies - only registrars can perform these and only in places that are properly licenced. The rules that apply to a civil ceremony do not apply to Humanist ceremonies. We are regarded by the law in the same way as ministers of religion in that there are only two types of wedding in Scotland: Civil or religious. As we do not conduct civil ceremonies we must ergo technically conduct 'religious' ones but this encompasses 'other belief systems' of which we are definitely one. Confused - I know what you mean!

The important thing in all this is that we can conduct a totally legal wedding ceremony anywhere on Scottish soil that is safe and dignified and at any time of day on any day of the week.

So, the options are endless......
  • Get married in your own house or garden
  • Get married at a favourite local landmark
  • Get married at the top of your favourite mountain
  • Get married on the beach
  • Get married on a boat on a loch (some specific conditions have to be adhered to!)
  • Get married on a boat at sea (again some specific conditions apply)
  • Of course you may prefer a more traditional venue like a local hotel or village hall...

Not one of mine - but what a setting!!

    When you fill out your M10 forms for the  registrar prior to the wedding, you must state where the ceremony is to take place. If your intended venue is at all out of the ordinary, you should speak to the local registrar to ask what he/she wants you to put. For instance, in the case of a beach wedding, is it OK to just put 'East beach Lossiemouth' or do you need to be much more specific - perhaps an ordnance survey grid reference? Be aware that the ceremony must be conducted at the specific place designated on the marriage schedule. It can only be changed after consultation with the registrar.

    If it says 'The Newton Hotel' then the ceremony can take place anywhere within the buildings or the grounds of the Newton Hotel.

    If it says the 'the summit of Ben Nevis' then it must take place at the summit - not half way up!

    So use your imagination but consider your guests too. You may want to trail up to the top of Stac Pollaidh to get married but the chances of great auntie Ethel making it up there are slim! The same goes for public spaces - remember that everybody loves a wedding and so they will want to stop and watch and there's not a thing you can do about it except enjoy the attention. It is almost obligatory for a busload of Japanese/Italian/American tourists to arrive at the exact same moment as the bride whenever I go to Elgin Cathedral or Spynie Palace! They always make a bee line for the men in kilts of course as well as the piper but usually keep a respectful distance once the ceremony starts.

    Warn your guests too about suitable clothing and footwear for your venue. Ladies in particular do love to get dressed up for a wedding but those five inch stilettoes may not be the best footwear for Clava Cairns in the pouring rain.

    Sunday, 12 December 2010

    Can I arrange a surprise wedding for my fiance(e)?

    The only answer I'm afraid is a big resounding NO!

    The legalities of getting married in Scotland are such that both parties to the marriage must complete and sign paperwork for the registrar at least 15 days before the wedding so that the powers that be can check that everything is above board. This means that it is impossible to arrange it all in secret and spring it on an unsuspecting partner.

    In other words, the

        'lets go for a walk on the beach...oh look, who is this...oh it's Janet - a Humanist celebrant who just happens to be here, how do you fancy getting hitched right now??'

    scenario is not an option - romantic though it may be!


    Getting married in Scotland

    So how does the legal part of getting married work then? The following  applies only in Scotland, it will be different for other countries within the UK.

    Firstly, a marriage in Scotland is conducted between a male and a female who are over 16 years of age. There is a whole other set of rules for couples wanting to have a same sex Civil Partnership ceremony and at present these can only be conducted by a registrar.

    The Paperwork

    The paperwork for the marriage ceremony is the same whether you are being married by a minister of religion, a Humanist celebrant, a registrar or indeed any other celebrant who is authorised to conduct legally binding wedding ceremonies in Scotland.

    Between three months and fifteen days before the date of the wedding, both parties to the marriage must complete a form each called a Marriage Notice (M10). This gives notice of your intention to marry each other and asks for your personal details, parents details, details of date and venue for the wedding along with details of the person who is to 'solemnise' the marriage. This form can be collected from the registrar or can be downloaded from the website of the
    General Register Office of Scotland.

    There are notes that can be downloaded too to help you fill it out. You will need to provide your birth certificate and, if applicable:
    • Divorce/dissolution or annulment documents if either of you has been married or in a civil partnership before
    • Death certificate if either of you is a widow or widower
    • If either of you is not a UK citizen, there is additional paperwork to complete. You must speak to the registrar if this is the case and ask what documents you are required to produce.
    There is a fee to be paid when you submit these forms and up to date details will be found on the GRO website above.

    The earliest that you can submit the M10 forms is three months before the wedding and my advice is to do it as soon as you can so that it is one less thing to think about as the wedding gets closer. This is especially true if you have a lot of paperwork to produce e.g if you are coming from abroad.

    The latest that you can submit the M10's is 15 days prior to the wedding date and it is a good idea to phone the registrar before you send them just to let them know that they are on their way.

    Submitting your paperwork

    The M10 forms and the appropriate fee must be submitted to the registrar in the district in which the wedding is taking place. This can be done by post but to be on the safe side, make sure and send it all by registered post so that you can be sure that it will get to its destination.

    As far as registration districts are concerned, Scotland is divided up into several regions. There may be several district offices within that registration district. For instance, Elgin is within the Moray registration district and there are four offices: Buckie, Elgin, Forres and Keith. If you are getting married at any venue in Moray, your paperwork can be submitted to any of these offices: It does not have to be the one closest to the wedding venue. Bear in mind though that you will have to collect the marriage schedule from the same office and return it to that same office after the wedding - more about that later. You should also check opening hours for the register offices as some of them are only open part time hours.

    Once they have received your paperwork, the registrar will issue a 'Marriage Schedule' which is available for either the bride or groom to collect in person from the office during the seven days before the wedding. It must be either the bride or groom who collects it. No  exceptions!

    The  Marriage Schedule is the piece of paper that we will all sign after the legal declarations have been made during the ceremony (equivalent to signing the 'register'). It must be produced to me before the ceremony can start so once you have collected it from the registrar make sure and take good care of it. At the risk of labouring a point here, I cannot overemphasise the importance of the marriage schedule. If you tell me that it is on the kitchen table and somebody is bringing it so 'can we just start and it will be here by the time we get to the legal declarations?' then the answer is no.

    The law is very specific. I must have the marriage schedule in my hand before I can start the ceremony.

    Once we have completed the legal declarations within the ceremony, we will then sign the marriage schedule as a legal record of the marriage. The bride and groom sign it (the bride signs with her maiden name), I sign it and two witnesses must also sign. The witnesses can be anybody as long as they are over sixteen years of age and are present when the legal declarations are made.

    The signing of the schedule must take place in the same place that the wedding ceremony took place i.e. at the venue stated on it. You can't get married on the beach and then run back to the car because it started raining and sign the schedule at home .

    As the marriage schedule is a legal document it must be signed with a fountain pen using black liquid permanent ink. Don't worry about this. I will supply the pen and ink and there will be a chance to practice before signing if you aren't used to writing with a fountain pen or are understandably just a little bit nervous.

    It is important that the Marriage Schedule is put somewhere safe after the wedding ceremony so that it doesn't get lost or damaged. If we are somewhere like a hotel, I will give it to the reception desk to put in the hotel safe. Otherwise I will ask the bride and groom in advance who I should give it to for safekeeping.

    After the wedding

    The signed marriage schedule must be returned to the register office which issued it within three days of the wedding. That is three days, not three working days so for a Saturday wedding it must be with the registrar by Tuesday. The good news is that it can be returned by anybody, it doesn't have to be the bride and groom so if you are zooming off somwhere on honeymoon you can give it to someone you trust implicitly to return on your behalf. The registrar will then be able to produce a marriage certificate for you.

    So that's all there is to it. If you have any questions at all about the legal aspects of getting married in Scotland, your first port of call should always be the local registrar - they are the experts and are unfailingly helpful.

    Friday, 10 December 2010

    Niall and Sarah married at Spynie Palace on 7th July 2010

    Sarah and Niall travelled from Canada to get married at Spynie Palace last summer. They have made their home in Canada but chose to return to Niall's hometown to get married. He and Sarah met when they both worked at the same summer camp in Maine. Sarah is Canadian and she brought family and friends with her from Canada to help her and Niall celebrate. For most (if not all) of them it was their first taste of Scottish hospitality.

    We did all of the planning and composing of the ceremony by email and Sarah was a delight to work with as she knew exactly what she wanted. We met for the first time for a rehearsal the day before the wedding. Sarah is a talented and dynamic businesswoman who just happens to be a professional wedding photographer so imagine the pressure on whoever she chose to take her own wedding photographs! She chose somebody who she could trust - her good friend Hope Hanson who is a successful and accomplished photographer in her own right.

    Now, sometimes wedding photographers can get a bad press because some people feel that they can hold things up and get in the way a bit. Well, I have to say that I have never had this experience. Your wedding photographs will be with you for the rest of your life and they capture those precious moments in a day that can fly by in a blur. It is so important to choose your photographer carefully and to let them know exactly what you want.

    Hope was a pleasure to work with, very relaxed and informal and not at all intrusive. She got some fabulous shots and her style is a little different to other photographers that I have worked with. Perhaps it is the Canadian influence or perhaps she is just incredibly talented but the joy and happiness that we all felt on the day really radiates from her work. Her approach was the perfect complement to a Humanist ceremony - all about the people and the joy!

    Of course it helps to have a beautiful backdrop for the wedding and Niall and Sarah couldn't have chosen better. Spynie Palace is owned by Historic Scotland and is just a few minutes drive from Elgin on the way to Lossiemouth. The setting is stunning and the only drawback is that it is open to the elements so we were keeping everything crossed for good weather. We were in luck. It was a little bit blowy but the rain stayed away.

    For the eagle eyed amongst you, you may notice that Niall and Sarah are standing on the opposite sides to where a bride and groom would normally stand. There's a reason for this.

    A bride would usually enter and walk down the aisle on her fathers right arm. This is traditionally the only time that a gentleman would have a lady on his right because usually she would be on his left so that he had his right (sword) hand free to defend her honour! On her wedding day though, a bride's honour didn't need to be defended and so she would be on her fathers right.

    However, the layout of Spynie Palace means that the bride enters from a door in the corner and I wanted Niall to be able to relax and watch for her arriving without having to twist his neck. There is a very special moment when a groom first catches a glimpse of his bride and I wanted everyone to be able to see his face so I moved Niall to the other side from usual. It worked perfectly so remember, don't feel tied to doing things the 'traditional' way. It is your day so don't be afraid to think outside the box a little!

    One of the things that Niall and Sarah chose to include in their ceremony was the Celtic ritual of Handfasting. There are many stories about the origins of a handfasting but in times gone by, a couple were symbolically bound together at the wrist. The obligation lasted for a year and a day. After this they could choose to go their own separate ways or choose to be officially regarded as married and the union was then binding. Nowadays a handfasting is more of a symbolic joining of a couple and Niall and Sarah really entered into the spirit of things.

    The whole day was wonderfully warm and intimate and I hope that Niall and Sarah returned to their home in Canada with some very happy memories of their special day. They worked incredibly hard to make all of their guests welcome and the Canadian contingent seemed to enjoy the 'kilt' experience. Judging from the evening photographs, they wholeheartedly embraced the 'ceilidh' experience as well!

    Thinking outside the box also applies to your photos. Don't feel obliged to stick to traditional poses or groupings. Sometimes the most off the wall and unusual ideas work best!

    Photos on this page are by Hope Hanson. She is based in Mississauga, Ontario and you can find more details about her here Hope Hanson

    Thursday, 2 December 2010

    To rehearse or not to rehearse?..that is the question.

    Many couples ask me about whether it is necessary to have a rehearsal in advance of the wedding ceremony given that there are usually a million other things to think about and pinning everyone down can be a real problem. My answer, as with most things is that it is really up to you. Some couples are perfectly happy to take a relaxed and informal approach, feeling that if it looks too 'rehearsed' then the ceremony might lose some of it's spontaneity and charm. I can absolutely see where they are coming from and for some couples it is the right approach. If you are quite laid back in your approach to the whole day and feel more at home just 'making it up as you go along' on the day then a rehearsal might actually detract from your experience.

    I did a beautiful wedding in the garden of the bride and grooms house and it was a wonderfully intimate and informal occasion. As the bride reached the groom at the front and took his hand, their dog followed her down the 'aisle' and curled up at their feet where it promptly fell asleep. As I pronounced them husband and wife and everyone cheered and clapped it lifted its head as if to say "what's all the noise?" and went back to sleep. We couldn't have rehearsed that!

    If however, you are the kind of couple who feel more comfortable having control of things and dotting all of the i's and crossing all of the t's, then I would strongly advise that a rehearsal is a good idea for your peace of mind. Things to think about include
    • Is there somebody who will co-ordinate the music starting and stopping?
    • Which 'route' will the bride take to make her entrance? Is the entrance music long enough? Is it too long? Are there steps to be negotiated?
    • Will the bridesmaid(s) enter before or after the bride? This can be particularly relevant if you have little ones as flower girls or page boys.
    • The bride and her attendants need to practise their walk as most people, being a little nervous tend to make a dash for it. It is the bride's big moment and she needs to take it slowly and milk that moment in the spotlight for all she is worth.
    • Where will everyone stand during the ceremony?
    • If friends or family members are reading a poem or otherwise taking part, where will they be seated and where will they stand to do their reading? At their place in the seats or down at the front?
    • Which way will the bride and groom face? I prefer that the bride and groom face their guests during the ceremony, until the time comes for the vows and the legal declarations when I ask them to face each other and join hands. After all the guests are there to see the bride and groom make a public commitment of their love for each other - not to see the backs of their heads. If you feel that to face your guests would make you feel so nervous that you would not enjoy the ceremony then of course we can do it the other way. Remember - it's your ceremony!
    • After the ceremony is over and you make your exit as husband and wife, who follows you next? Best man, bridesmaids? Which order? Who escorts who?

      Having a rehearsal can avoid the situation where bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys mill around a bit at the front because nobody really knows where they are supposed to be. It just means that the whole proceedings are smooth and polished.

      A rehearsal also gives me a chance to meet all of the wedding party so that on the day, there doesn't need to be a whole lot of formal introductions and the atmosphere is much more relaxed.

      The choice is yours, I am more than happy with both approaches so have a think about which category you fall into - Bridezilla or Bohemian....only joking!!!!

      Sunday, 28 November 2010

      Dinner and conversation

      Cheesecake brownies

      I had the pleasure to spend much of Tuesday evening last week with a celebrant colleague Penelope Hamilton. We met for coffee and a chat and she ended up at ours for a meal and  a glass or two of wine.

      It was great to catch up, we both have busy lives and Penelope spends much of hers on the move so we make a real effort to meet. We chatted about life, love, loss and exchanged experiences as celebrants. We both trained together and so we always love to share stories and give each other tips on how to be better at what we do. We  both realised that every single ceremony is a learning experience. I always value her input as she is such a wise and philosophical person. The support of my fellow celebrants is very important to me and although we are very scattered in the Highlands and Islands we know that we are all always just at the end of the phone or an email if there is a difficult situation that we have to deal with. Sometimes you just need to unload about a particularly stressful ceremony and only another celebrant would understand.

      Anyway, last week we had a lovely evening and it reminded me that there is real pleasure in sharing good food, good wine and good conversation with people whose friendship you value. Oh - and the best bit: I made chocolate cheesecake brownies and there are still some left today! yummm

      Winter ceremonies can bring their own challenges

      Tricky driving conditions.....

      The thing about ceremonies is that you just have to be there. This applies as much to weddings as it does to funerals. I was contacted by a lovely couple several weeks ago who are getting married at Glen Tanar in rural Aberdeenshire next February. Now at first I thought what a beautiful venue, I'd love to do it but then I remembered the weather at the same time this year. We were practically snowed in for weeks at a time and even with a 4x4 it was challenging to say the least.

      I managed to keep going with all of the funerals I did but there was no way that I would have considered driving down to rural Aberdeenshire so I had to tell the couple that it would probably be better if they looked for someone nearer at hand. I just didn't want them to be worried on the day that I might not manage to get there. After all - no celebrant = no wedding.

      Of course it's entirely possible that it will be a beautiful day and the roads will be fine but I can't afford to take that chance and I didn't want them to either. I would dearly have loved to have done it, especially because they asked for me in particular because they had seen my profile on the HSS website but at the end of the day I have to do what's right for the bride and groom. It's too important a day to let there be any doubts about anything.

      I'll keep an eye out on their wedding day next year and see whether we made the right decision.
      A winter wedding could be very romantic