Considering having a Humanist Wedding ceremony? We take a look at Humanism's growing role in Irish and Northern Irish weddings and offer tips on how to plan a Humanist wedding.
What is Humanism?
Oneanswer is: “Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over the acceptance of dogma or superstition.” Thanks, Wikipedia. In short, humanism is about celebrating humans and the tangible world around us. Because of its focus on science rather than supernaturalism or faith, humanism is non-religious.
What is a Humanist wedding?
Humanist weddings are probably the most personal and intimate type of wedding ceremony we’ve witnessed. A humanist wedding is secular. But while the couple tends to be non-religious, a humanist wedding is welcoming to guests of any belief, faith or background.
So it’s a newfangled thing?
Not at all. Despite humanist weddings being relatively new to the UK and Ireland, humanism as a word has been around since the 18th century. The actual philosophy of humanism is much older again - many see the Greek philosopher, Socrates, as being their founding father. Non-Religious people have existed as long as people have existed. In Ireland, the number of Humanist weddings is increasing each year.
How long does a Humanist Wedding last?
We’ve photographed many Humanist weddings and just like their religious counterparts, the ceremony time can vary a bit depending on the couple and the celebrant. Most we’ve witnessed tend to last around 30 minutes.
What does a Humanist wedding consist of?
It starts with an introduction. Some couples will opt for a traditional wedding entrance, but we’ve seen many different ways of doing it. Your celebrant will talk about love and marriage, and you can include some music and readings. There are often symbolic rituals like handfasting, ring-warming and broom-jumping (yes, we mean you can choose to jump over a broom - it symbolises crossing the threshold into marriage and it’s as wonderfully fun as it sounds). Just like many other weddings, you have vows, an exchange of rings, a marriage declaration and (where it’s legal) a signing of official marriage documents.
Do you have to be Humanist to have a humanist wedding?
Many non-religious people in the UK and Ireland share an outlook or view of the world that is the same as humanism without realising it. There is no baptism into humanism, although there are humanist naming ceremonies. There’s no requirement even to call yourself a humanist. You don’t have to be a member of the Humanist Association of Ireland or Humanists UK. In fact, it’s not unusual for a religious person to marry a non-religious person in a humanist ceremony.
Can we choose the music and readings?
The beautiful thing about humanism is there are few limits to what kind of music or readings you include. So any poetry or prose on marriage, love, friendship or commitment - so long as it is non-religious - can be used. We’ve heard everything from the theme tune to Jurassic Park to the Foo Fighters. You can add in poetry, nursery rhymes, passages from books… pretty much anything that helps define you as a couple. Remember, a humanist wedding is all about celebrating the couple, so make it personal.
Are Humanist weddings legal?
It depends on where you’re having your wedding. In the Republic of Ireland, it’s straightforward. Humanist weddings, so long as they are conducted by the Humanist Association of Ireland, have had the same legal standing as a church or civil marriage since 2013.
In Northern Ireland, it’s different. Unfortunately, humanist weddings have no legal standing here (nor in Wales and England) - this means if you’re a humanist couple who wants to marry in Northern Ireland, you must have a separate civil ceremony to make it legal. Hopefully, things will change soon, but in the meantime, this extra hurdle is worth it to get the kind of wedding you want. It's worth noting that if you have a legal Humanist marriage conducted in the Republic, your marriage will be recognised North of the Border.
Are there specific venues or buildings for Humanist weddings?
Humanism is not a religion, and there are no humanist churches. Most Humanist weddings take place in the same venue as the reception. They can be indoor or outdoor at any and happen on any day of the week as long as a celebrant is available. For legal weddings in the Republic, the venue must be freely open to the public, such as a hotel, and outdoor venues must be adjacent to a legally compliant alternative, such as the garden of a hotel, in case an outdoor wedding can't happen on the day for instance due to poor weather. The venue must also have a clearly identifiable address and be accessible.
What’s the difference between a civil wedding and a humanist wedding?
In Northern Ireland, the main difference is that a civil wedding is legally binding whereas a humanist one is not. In the Republic of Ireland, they have the same legal standing but the Humanist ones tend to be more personal to the couple, crafted by the couple with their celebrant, choosing a ceremony that bears their unique signature; perhaps including personal vows, guest participation and possibly a more relaxed feeling and even humour.
Both civil and humanist weddings are secular and so avoid religious things like hymns or blessings. Often with a Humanist wedding, at least one party to the marriage will be humanist by conviction, sharing the humanist worldview and ethics, but this is not a requirement so long as the couple choose a non-religious ceremony. In the Republic of Ireland civil ceremonies only take place from Monday to Friday and there are certain restrictions of the times that the ceremonies take place whereas Humanist weddings are held on Saturdays and Sundays too, and at any time that is agreed with the Humanist celebrant.