Wedding planning advice: Making your civil ceremony stand out

Michael Gordon writes and conducts bespoke services for life-cycle ceremonies: weddings, civil partnerships, vow renewals, handfastings, baby-namings etc. He takes pleasure and pride in crafting a unique, bespoke ceremony together with his clients – a ceremony which will be just the way they want it. 

Today he shares some advice on non traditional wedding ceremonies. 

Does the idea of making your civil ceremony stand out appeal to you? When you don’t want a standard, safe ceremony, but one that is memorable and personal?

Yes, a tailor-made service is absolutely possible – although the official, legal ceremony is still compulsory.

What is the normal procedure?

A civil wedding must be legally registered. There are two ways.

1.     You can do it before your ceremony. Book an appointment at your local register office. Just go down (in your jeans!) with two witnesses, and, in a matter of minutes, you will be technically married. Then you can go on to your reception, relaxed in the knowledge that you have done the legal bit. Go out there and enjoy yourselves!

2.     Alternatively, if you are marrying at a venue licensed for weddings, then the registrars will come across and conduct their service.

Either way, their ceremony will be totally non-religious and will be standard for each couple.

Taking things further

However, once you’ve done the legal bit and are at your reception, you can have the ceremony that YOU want. This will be the wedding of your dreams! The wedding that reflects your personalities and beliefs, and which will be everything you want it to be!

No extra paperwork is required. Instead, you’ll be working with a civil celebrant, who’ll give you all the ideas and guidance you need, and will prepare a unique ceremony for you.

How will this be special?

Of course, the venue is down to you, and can be very creative!

Gay Wedding Blog - civil ceremony - Vows That Wow_002

Apart from including personalised items like your “story” (how you met, what attracted you to each other etc.), you can recite personalised vows. Your celebrant will help you write them, if needs be, and put it all together for you.

You may choose the humanist route (ie no religious references at all; merely, spiritual ones) or semi-religious; either way, your celebrant can help.

A lot of people opt for part-religious ceremonies. Maybe you’re of mixed faiths (and thus unable to celebrate in your own church). Likewise for same-sex couples. You may just prefer a few religious elements, but nothing too ‘heavy’. You may even want to keep the family (or guests) happy by putting a bit of religion in.

Alternative elements

There is a huge range of choice of ritual (some pagan, some traditional) that you can incorporate in your ceremony. Obviously, your civil celebrant will advise you on that, but here’s a couple of suggestions.


Ribbons/cord (you will usually choose the colours) are wound round your wrists and knotted loosely. After appropriate words, you are untied and given the ribbons/cord as a keepsake. The expression “tying the knot” originates from this practice.

Gay Wedding Blog - civil ceremony - Vows That Wow - stonehenge wedding
Unity Candle

A beautiful ritual involves the couple lighting tapers separately, with which they then light the large candle simultaneously, to symbolise joining together in matrimony. If there are children, a nice variation is to ask them (if they are old enough!) also to use tapers and light the central candle along with the couple. This represents their integration into the new family.

There is a lovely variation of this called the Sand ceremony, in which bride and groom merge different coloured grains of sand. It beautifully represents two different sands that once joined together can never be separated and are never the same as before.

I hope this outline gives an idea of the flexibility and exciting opportunities that are available in addition to the standard register office ceremony. This may even inspire you to look further, and consider having a unique and wonderful ceremony.

Gay Wedding Blog - civil ceremony - Vows That Wow_001

Head to Michael’s website Vows That Wow to read more about his services and advice on creating the ceremony of your dreams.

All pictures provided by Michael Gordon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *