If you’re interested in Celtic tradition, or you have Irish, Scottish and Welsh heritage you may want to consider holding a Celtic wedding. It would be great if you could celebrate your wedding in a manner that truly connects with your heritage.
Most of what we associate with a modern Western wedding is actually derived from the Celtic tradition! Celebrate your ancestry with a Celtic wedding and have a bit of fun with it. Incorporating elements where you can.
Who were the Celts?
So if you’re not much of a history fanatic, you’ll need to brush up on your Celtic knowledge. It’s important to understand the British and Irish ancestry.
The Celts were a widespread culture that existed in Northern Europe for thousands of years. The British Isles were home to Insular Celts, or Gaels, and many surviving aspects of their indigenous heritage make up modern cultures within the UK.
Nowadays we often consider Celtic as old traditions of both Irish and Scottish and so many traditions seep into modern weddings.
Tartan, for example, was originally woven and worn by Celts across Europe, and was eventually associated most strongly with Scotland. Tartan kilts are a popular choice for men with Scottish heritage in modern weddings.
Regional dialects and official languages, such as Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cornish and Breton, are Celtic or Gaelic languages, still proudly maintained and spoken across parts of the British Isles today.
There are so many elements derived from Celtic tradition, we might not even realise. For example, the expression ‘tying the knot’ actually came from the traditional Celtic knot.
Religion and social custom lie at the core of wedding ceremonies, and so too did religion form the core of the lives of most Celts. In order to truly get a feel for what a Celtic wedding might have been like, you need to know something of their rituals, and how (and indeed what) they worshipped.
Up to the Roman conquest of Britain the majority of Celts practised Druidic polytheism (they worshipped many gods). The Druid priesthood were systematically persecuted to the point of extinction by the might of Rome.
British Celts then gradually absorbed monotheistic Christianity into their religion, and during a relatively short period of transition – albeit punctuated by various pagan incursions from Scandinavia and Saxony – strict Catholicism wiped out many traditional British rituals and customs.
Handfasting was one of these rituals. During pre-Christian times. Celtic couples would symbolically bind their hands or bodies together for a length of time. They would then physically renew the bond after that length of time was up!
Traditionally, a piper or lyre/harpist would lead the bride into the ceremonial circle and ‘up the aisle’. Today, this custom has largely been replaced by an organist or perhaps a string quartet playing Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’. In fact, live music has sadly surrendered its traditional place in many wedding ceremonies and celebrations in the modern day – being replaced by pre-recorded, non-live music (and DJs!).
No wedding in history is complete without a feast, so to infuse your wedding celebration party with a truly festive, time-honoured and authentic Celtic feel, try hiring an energetic ceilidh band to organise a session or two of traditional music and dancing. Keep in touch with your roots!
Clothes for women
The white wedding dress represents purity, beauty and innocence, and is arguably the most iconic symbol of our modern, Western weddings. But in fact, this is a comparatively recent phenomenon.
White wedding dresses came into vogue in the mid-19th century, popularised by Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert. Search for ‘Celtic wedding dress’ on Google Images and you will find a horde of white wedding dresses. Unfortunately, these aren’t Celtic at all, and are in fact modern corruptions. Celtic wedding dresses came in all colours (and sizes!).
Clothes for men
Kilts possibly originated from the Scottish Highlands, but have more recently also come to be associated with Celtic culture as a whole, perhaps thanks to tartan’s widespread sartorial influence all across Europe! Kilts would certainly not be out of place at a Celtic wedding!
Places to marry
Stone or earthen henges, alder groves or other pagan worshipping shrines would be perfect locations for a handfasting or marriage blessing. Prominent hillforts and Bronze/Iron Age sites are also ideal for such a ceremony. Of course, the Celtic culture spanned the boundaries of pre-history, and the gradual introduction of Christianity into the Celtic way of life means that getting married in a church would also be an option.
The Celtic culture was widespread and varied, and elements of it have existed for thousands of years. Some aspects still live on today! Much of what makes up a traditional Western wedding originated with the ceremonies that Celtic tribes practised. One could rightly say that one of the most important rituals of our present-day lives is the wedding ceremony: The Celts live on!