Modern weddings have moved a long way from the traditional ceremonies of yesteryear; the bride and groom can see each other the night before, the white dress isn’t a necessity and same sex marriage has been legal since 2013.
It seems like every aspect of a wedding has been modernised. So why wouldn’t you do the same for your wedding reading?
Forget flipping through a bible. Non-religious wedding readings have become all the rage, with people picking anything from Shakespeare to Socrates for the perfect emotional moment.
But, if you’re not entirely sure what you want and don’t even have a theme that narrows your options down, finding modern wedding readings can become a chore. You can find yourself left with a wide range of poetry, literature and letters to sift through, trying to find the perfect mix of romance and minimal cheese.
To give you a hand, we’ve asked around the professionals and come up with a list of our eight top picks for meaningful non-religious wedding readings.
The Velveteen Rabbit
To get a feeling of some of the non-cheesy wedding readings we first had to find out which readings were in fact, cheesy. We spoke to several wedding planners, coordinators and celebrants to get a feel for which readings were overused and what you could use instead.
We asked Georgie, from Ethereal Events wedding consultancy services, for some options for readings and she suggested the following passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
The passage is great for anyone who is looking for a wedding with an edge of traditionalism without reading from a bible passage. The Velveteen Rabbit may originate from a children’s book, but the passage has become a very popular reading for weddings.
The message is certainly a touching one, discussing the enduring nature of love while neatly avoiding cheesy romantic clichés. The passage was even recited by princes, Harry and William at the wedding of their cousin; Zara Phillips.
Despite its humble origins, The Velveteen Rabbit has gained a reputation as a beautiful wedding reading and so, if you are looking for something sweet, simple and honest, you can’t go wrong with this popular passage.
The Amber Spyglass
As seen with The Velveteen Rabbit, wedding ceremony readings are more and more commonly being taken from a children’s book.
Weddings where couples already have a child, or are remarrying, usually feature them in order to include the child in the proceedings. Alternatively people pick the passages because they loved them when they were a child themselves, and wish to include them on their big day.
People want non-religious wedding readings but they also want something that they can connect to. This is where children’s books come in. One example of a great reading is the following passage, taken from Phillip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials trilogy:
“I will love you forever; whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again… I’ll be looking for you, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one will ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you…
We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight.”
Despite the fantastical nature of the book’s talking bears, flying witches and living souls this heartfelt speech by the books’ main character can resonate with children and adults alike and serves as a fantastic example of alternative wedding readings.
Marriage is about the joining two people as one and surely nothing can better encapsulate this vow than the image of two people choosing to be bonded so tightly together that their atoms cannot even be separated by death.
Although it’s not religious, the passage invokes a certain romantic spiritualism in its idea that the lovers will become flowers, trees and sunbeams. This makes it an ideal accompaniment to a religious reading or the main headline for civil ceremony readings.
When we spoke to Bernadette of Dream Occasions (wedding planners primarily based in East Anglia) she advised couples to avoid Shakespeare if they could, as his poetry is very overused at weddings.
While this is understandable, Bernadette instead gave us the rather unexpected recommendation of Carrie’s poem, from the hit TV series, Sex and the City:
“His hello was the end of her endings
Her laugh was their first step down the aisle
His hand would be hers to hold forever
His forever was as simple as her smile
He said she was what was missing
She said instantly she knew
She was a question to be answered
And his answer was “I do”
There’s no denying that despite its atypical origins, the poem is certainly romantic. Bernadette stressed that, ‘when choosing your wedding readings, it is important to focus on you as a couple.’ What are your likes and dislikes? What is meaningful to you? And, if you’re both fans of Sex and the City the poem above is perfect.
When I Say, ‘I Love You’
If you are looking for a less formal wedding reading, poetry isn’t the only option available to you. Rousing speeches and tender moments are abundant in television and film and there are dozens of appropriate moments to choose from:
“When I say, ‘I love you,’ it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the one.”
While Buffy The Vampire Slayer might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the earnest passion of the passage is universal. So why not flip through some pop-culture to find ideas for non-religious wedding readings?
The best part about taking your readings from modern shows or books is that they are often far easier to adjust than traditional bible readings. You can switch parts round or replace them entirely so that they best represent your relationship.
You can also have more fun researching. Instead of flipping through bible quotes and dusty old letters you have an excuse to snuggle up with your fiancé and re-watch your favourite film.
For something a bit more unusual, check out the work of Plato, originating in ancient Greece and the very opposite of contemporary. Suggested by Karina of Simply Ceremonies UK the work contains a wealth of sections that would make for appropriate civil ceremony readings, including the one below:
“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature”
The tale of Plato’s Symposium involves a competition during a banquet in which the members must tell stories of Eros, the god of love. One of these stories regards the origins of love. It tells that once there were three types of human. The children of the sun, who stood as two men, joined back to back, the children of the earth who stood as two women and the children of the moon who stood as one of each.
One day the first humans angered the gods and so Zeus threw down a lightning bolt, cleaving them in two and a hurricane to sweep the two halves away from each other. From then on, each human has been seeking their missing half.
The story is a beautiful one and remarkably suitable for a contemporary wedding, particularly as it affords equal respect to all forms of love, for those of you looking for a moving wedding reading it is hard to go wrong with such a timeless classic.
For those of you who enjoy the story but would prefer something more modern, rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch retells the story in their song; The Origin of Love.
Yes, I’ll Marry You, My Dear
Michelle, a wedding celebrant wanted us to advise couples to ignore pressure to conform to the kind of wedding that your parents or friends might like.
On your big day you are the focus and shouldn’t be having to stress over the fine details. So, if you’re looking for ideas for non-cheesy wedding readings, what better than any of the wide range of funny love poetry? A great example is the following:
“Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear.
And here’s the reason why.
So I can push you out of bed
When the baby starts to cry.
And if we hear a knocking
And it’s creepy and it’s late,
I hand you the torch you see,
And you investigate.
Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear,
You may not apprehend it,
But when the tumble-drier goes
It’s you that has to mend it.
You have to face the neighbour
should our Labrador attack him,
And if a drunkard fondles me
It’s you that has to whack him.
Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear,
You’re virile and you’re lean,
My house is like a pigsty
You can help to keep it clean.
That sexy little dinner
Which you served by candlelight,
As I do chipolatas,
You can cook it every night!!!
It’s you who has to work the drill
And put up curtain track,
And when I’ve got PMT it’s you who gets the flak,
I do see great advantages,
But none of them for you,
And so before you see the light,
I DO, I DO, I DO!”
Out of the many readings you could choose from, this is certainly the least traditional. Though it does get points for being the most amusing. The poem by Pam Ayres is perfect for a relaxed ceremony. It is humerous but still contains a sort of rueful romantic charm that can amuse and delight your guests.
When we asked independent celebrant, Holly Smith to recommend non-religious readings for weddings, she pointed us in the direction of a very touching translation of the poem, Married Love.
“You and I
Have so much love
That it burns like a fire
In which we bake a lump of clay
Moulded into a figure of you
And a figure of me.
Then we take both of them
And break them into pieces
And mix the pieces with water
And mould again a figure of you
And a figure of me
I am in your clay
You are in my clay
In life we share a single quilt
In death we will share one coffin.”
The Chinese poem by Kuan Tao-Sheng expresses devotion in a strong simple way that mirrors the wording of the traditional wedding ceremony ‘til death do us part’. For those who want a non-religious ceremony but would still like to echo the enduring promises made during a religious wedding, this poem is perfect.
You will Feel No Rain
For those of you choosing to have a civil ceremony, you may be disappointed to learn that, by law, you can’t use religious readings and songs in your ceremony. If this is the case, there are options for civil wedding readings that can help you get around that issue:
“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies, but there is one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place, to enter into the days of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.”
The above is an Apache wedding blessing. It holds the gravitas and weight of a traditional religious reading and promises a bountiful and equal partnership between the couple.
Old traditional blessings are ideal options for alternate non-religious wedding readings. Those of you who want to feel close to religion can do so, even if your ceremony doesn’t allow biblical readings.
These are just a few of the options that we found as being the most romantic and sincere readings. If you don’t feel they quite suit you as a couple, there are a wealth of other options available.
From classical poetry, to quotes from your favourite novel,it’s important that your reading reflects you as a couple. Remember, it’s your big day! If you want to have a reading from a novel, or even no reading at all, that’s up to you.