“Tradition = peer pressure from dead people.”
I came across this pithy little quote at the end of 2019 on Instagram. It was part of a post by another Celebrant (though I can’t remember who or whether they were quoting someone!) and it leapt out at me because, quite honestly, it rankled.
You see, I love tradition.
I love the idea that we are all connected to the generations that have gone before us, not simply through blood and DNA, but because we carry on some of the sacred, celebratory and often downright silly practises that they did.
I love that there are things we say and do, not because we really need to, but to conjure that echo of being human, of being part of something bigger and more complex than ourselves.
I love ritual and ceremony in its most rigid forms, for the beauty and care that goes into each moment, and I have a deep respect for the many faith and religious traditions in our society; even though I don’t subscribe to them myself.
In Celebrant circles, the idea of tradition is often set up as anathema to being unique, alternative and bespoke; all things we see as intrinsic to being or hiring a Celebrant. The #altwedding crowd is huge now and Celebrants (certainly in England and Wales where we don’t have any legal standing) are very much a part of that.
Now, I love that crowd, and am far more at home in the quirky wedding scene than surrounded by diamantes and tulle, but I don’t want to give up my passionate love and respect for tradition to be there.
And neither should you!
Here’s why tradition is great and (far more than peer pressure from the past) why it can be a wonderful source of support, inspiration and encouragement for the future…
Most weddings, alternative or not, are in large part about family and the coming together of a community to support those they love.
Whether your family is of blood or soul or both, there will be things that your family say or do so often when they are together that they have become habit… or rather tradition.
Why not include some of those wonderful in-jokes as part of your wedding ceremony! Does your family have any pop-culture quotes or impressions they love to do when you are all together? Weaving these into the ceremony as a call and response can be a wonderful way to heighten their sense of connection and involvement and brings a sense of fun and joy to the occasion.
Or perhaps you greet each other in a specific way when visiting each other’s homes? A certain number of kisses, back slaps, a funny bow? Why not start your wedding ceremony the same way, giving everyone a traditional family greeting or twist the tradition of the receiving line to reflect your unique family ways.
Alternatively, there might be a traditional item of clothing that has been worn by brides or grooms of your family for generations. Consider wearing it yourself and carry the love of all those special days and people with you as you walk down the aisle. Or can it be turned into something new? An old tie, belt or lace from a dress can make a truly beautiful and meaningful Handfasting cord.
As I have said before on many occasions, I love utilising ritual actions in wedding ceremonies because they reach everyone present on a deep, instinctive level. Throughout human history, rituals have formed a bridge between meaning and understanding, and between those taking part and those witnessing.
They are physical representations of the promises you make. By embodying those promises you not only bring clarity to those watching, you also give yourself and your partner a powerful, visceral experience that brings tangible feeling to what is happening internally.
For example, the exchanging of rings has been practised as a sign of promise and commitment (both of marriage and other things) for centuries and the circle is a symbol of eternity, strength and continuation. It is understandable why it continues to be such a popular part of the wedding ceremony.
Including a ring exchange at a wedding may seem cliché or a tired tradition, but the act itself can be performed any number of ways. With a wedding Celebrant the words and practise of even the most common wedding traditions can be given new life and meaning. The power lies in the ritual act – the exchanging of rings – not how it is done; so there is plenty of room for personalisation.
All traditions have to start somewhere. Just because we have a stronger concept of the past and future than many of our ancestral relatives doesn’t mean we don’t have the right or the tools to begin traditions of our own.
If you truly want to keep your wedding ceremony fresh and full of new content then do so; you can respect tradition and still not want to include any in your special day. But consider that the new ideas and dreams you bring to life might well be taken up and used again by those who witness your wedding and those who hear about it afterwards.
By working with a wedding Celebrant you become part of the next generation of traditions; ones that our children and children’s children may well be rolling their eyes at or shyly embracing when their time comes.
Traditions don’t have to be a burden we accept or reject; they can be an honour to uphold and a joy to reimagine.
Let them inspire you, encourage you and most of all empower you to have a wedding ceremony that actually means something to you and your partner and that will remain in the memory of your family and your community for generations to come.