The wedding ceremony sits at the very heart of your special day. It is the point at which you exchange vows and rings with your chosen partner and make a lifetime commitment to one another.

So you’ve opted for a civil marriage. How can you imbue a civil wedding ceremony with the sense of tradition and meaning that comes as part and parcel of a conventional religious service?

civil wedding ceremony

There are a number of ways to ensure your civil ceremony is a magical occasion. An outdoor ceremony under a rustic pagoda or a light and airy service in a magnificent orangery, anything goes. Discover our top tips to ensure your wedding ceremony is truly special.

How does a civil ceremony work?

Stripping it back to basics, a civil ceremony is a non-religious wedding ceremony. It can take place at a Registry Office or any other establishment that is licensed for marriage ceremonies. The wedding is conducted by a registrar, and must be of a strictly non-religious nature.

Currently in 2019 in the UK, civil wedding ceremonies are generally only licenced to take place in a permanent built structure. As a result, wedding venues that are licenced for civil ceremonies outdoors will more than likely have a permanent pagoda. Approval is not given for entirely open air spaces.

civil wedding ceremony

Civil ceremony licenced spaces also have to be open to the public. This is why it’s super unlikely that your home or back garden would never be ceremony licenced approved!

There might be some leniencies, such as approval on a permanently moored, publicly open boat. You’ll need to check with your chosen space to find out exactly where the ceremony can take place.

There are still certain formal statements and promises which must be exchanged. However, it’s possible to tailor the ceremony to ensure it is personal to you and your partner. You can also choose readings and music which can really make your wedding ceremony unique to you both.

If you stick with the essential legal procedure and formula of words that the registrar must include, civil ceremonies can be super short.

civil wedding ceremony

The addition of your favourite songs, poetry or readings to the order of service makes the entire ceremony personal to you. It will also enhance the atmosphere, style and substance of your wedding – making it more of a celebration!

Music and readings also enable you to gently relax into the ceremony before you actually exchange your marriage vows. So you can shake off those last minute jitters!

Celebrants and ceremonies

There is arguably nothing that allows for a more personal ceremony than opting for a celebrant.

“They by definition are trained to make the ceremony completely about you,” states professional celebrant Helen from Treasured Ceremonies. “A celebrant will go out of their way to find out more about you.”

A celebrant will dig deep and give couples the creative freedom to mould their ceremony to reflect them. Without the formal restrictions of a registrar, couples can have their entire wedding ceremony personally written. Brides and grooms can also create their own vows, making for a entirely meaningful experience and a celebrant can help with this.

civil wedding ceremony

Although not currently legally recognised in England and Wales, a celebrant officiated ceremony is still a ceremony where you declare your love and commit to one another in front of witnesses. To make it official, the paperwork simply has to be done separately.

Helen suggests that, “many brides and grooms are seeking the service of a celebrant because it gives them far more freedom and a much richer experience.”

Essentially writers, celebrants can write your personal love story and ensure your wedding is a reflection of you as a couple. Opening up your options entirely, couples can explore spiritual avenues. Think hand fasting and sand pouring for a ceremony that really channels beautiful symbolism.

Soft and soulful music

Music, playing softly as your guests gather before the wedding ceremony takes place helps to develop the atmosphere. Naturally your guests will gather and chatter amongst themselves, music really enhances the sense of importance that should accompany an exchange of wedding vows.

civil wedding ceremony

It also creates a mood of contemplation and expectancy, and settles your guests in anticipation of the bride’s entrance. The particular style of music you choose will help to set the scene for the ceremony to follow. Opt for soft piano, soulful vocals or even a harpist for a truly elegant occasion.

The entrance of the bride

A musical fanfare tells your guests that something important is about to happen. A joyful piece of music turns the entrance of the bride into a special event. Usually, the entrance walk is not a lengthy one! However, there is no reason why a complete piece or section of music can’t be included for the bride’s entrance (with or without bridesmaids).

civil wedding ceremony

Think outside the box and ditch Wagner’s Bridal Chorus for something a little more personal or contemporary. Imagine gliding down the aisle to an inspiring piece of music that’s particularly meaningful to yourself and your partner.  Opt for a string quartet at your mansion wedding or a talented guitarist at your festival-style outdoor ceremony, the choice is yours.

Personal readings and poetry

Lend your wedding ceremony personal significance by including a couple of poems or short readings that sum up your feelings for each other. You could choose a piece that affirms your love before the ceremony takes place, enhancing the moment the vows are exchanged.

Consider an extract from a beloved novel or a snippet of dialogue from your favourite film. This is a great way to intertwine a mutual love for something you and your partner share.

civil wedding ceremony

You could also choose to research wedding-related poems and find one that is fun and speaks to you as a couple. This will help to place the exchange of vows in a more personal and real context.

Ask family members or friends to read passages for you

The involvement of close friends and family will of course make the ceremony feel wonderfully personal. It’s a superb way for them to feel even more of a part of your special day. 

You could always ask them to read something of your choosing or give them the freedom to pick a passage that reminds them of you as a couple.

As well as this, the involvement of guests as more than witnesses increases the power of the promises being made.

Beautiful décor

Adorning your wedding ceremony space with fantastic décor is an excellent way to ensure the space looks magical. Flowers are the obvious first choice.

civil wedding ceremony

From blooming flower arches to pedestals bursting with foliage, choose fresh flowers that complement your style. You could always opt for more budget-conscious silk designs. This is a great choice if you’re dreaming of statement pieces such as an aisle marked with blossom trees or a lavish flower wall.      

To create a truly enchanting atmosphere, experiment with lights. Entwine fairy lights and lanterns throughout the tree branches at your woodland ceremony or choose to line your aisle with candles and candelabras.

Beautiful chairs, chair covers, or an eclectic mix of seating is a simple but effective way to personalise your ceremony. Besides, you can add sashes of absolutely any colour to match your colour scheme.

civil wedding ceremony

Also, arches are a fantastic way to add a romantic detail. Going beyond traditional flower arches you could opt for rustic wooden structures woven with beautiful draping fabric. Alternatively a stainless-steel arch draped in lights would elevate an industrial ambience. 

Songs during the signing

The signing of the register is the perfect point to include favourite musical items. Music has the power to touch people’s hearts in a way that words by themselves cannot reach! You can enhance the sense of occasion by selecting songs or particular pieces of music that sum up the commitment you are making to one another.

civil wedding ceremony

The style of music you choose will also help to give your wedding ceremony a personal signature. For example a classical string quartet gives a formal sense of tradition and a selection of Irish jigs and reels will lend a more homely, rustic feel. Similarly Swing jazz can add a spot of worldly razzmatazz to the occasion.

A joyful finale to your wedding ceremony

There is nothing quite like live music for creating the sense of joyous celebration. Whether it’s down-home jigs and reels, bubbly Haydn or Mozart, or jaunty Sinatra-style swing jazz classics, light-hearted music brings out the smiles and puts a spring in the step of all concerned.

Brides and grooms get the chance to walk in front of their loved ones for the first time as a happily married couple. Ensure the music that accompanies you both down the aisle together is just perfect.

civil wedding ceremony

With bright, happy, live music as an integral part of your wedding ceremony, it won’t be long before the corks are popping and the champagne is flowing!

Discuss your wedding ceremony with the registrar

After you’ve chosen the ideal readings, poetry and music for your own personalised wedding ceremony, do make sure that you discuss your plans with the registrar.

You need to be aware that, legally speaking, nothing with explicit religious content can be included in a civil wedding ceremony. It’s very important to make sure that none of your choices overstep this mark but the registrar can help you with that.

civil wedding ceremony

The registrar can also assist with timings and the general order of proceedings. They will help you ensure the entire ceremony runs without a hitch.

Remember, your wedding ceremony is personal to you and your partner. If you’re planning a civil wedding ceremony take a look at absolutely all of the options from music through to readings and décor. Ensure it’s a service that reflects your love and can be enjoyed by your nearest and dearest.

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