‘What’s a symbolic gesture?’ I hear you cry. ‘Is it this?’
That is indeed a fantastic gesture but no, it’s not that. Symbolic gestures are things you can have in your ceremony that aren’t words. You’ll know them when you see them: drinking from a quaich, handfastings, candle lighting, that sort of thing. They can be traditional or brand new, quirky or sentimental. They are great for including people and for adding a bit of theatre to your ceremony and who doesn’t love a bit of wedding jazz-handery?
They might also hold no appeal to you at all. In fact, the very idea might give you the dry boaks. Do not think you must include anything symbolic. As with everything else in your wedding ceremony, only include something if you love it. If you reckon you need to have a handfasting because otherwise your ceremony will be too short, I guarantee you (and your guests) would much rather have a shorter, more meaningful ceremony than one filled with fluff. I was going to type, ‘I give you agency to keep it simple’ but I think that’s the opposite of what agency is. You know what I mean.
If you do choose to include any symbolic gestures, I’m going to ask you what they mean to you. Doesn’t need to be complicated but if you’re doing it, it should have meaning. Make it relevant to you. Use a scarf that belonged to someone special for your handfasting and spray some of their perfume on it. See that bottle of champagne your aunt and uncle gave you when you got engaged? Drink that from your quaich. Or create a new drink, just for your wedding day. Are there any traditions from your own culture you can adapt? Even if it’s a very religious symbolic gesture, we may be able to include it but change the wording and symbolism to reflect you, your values, Humanism, your families. Speaking of families, if you have children, you can involve them in most symbolic gestures, just add another ribbon, choose a softer drink etc.
Have you said symbolic enough times that it sounds really weird yet?
DRINKING FROM A QUAICH
This is the most popular symbolic gesture. There’s something about having a wee drink that seems to appeal to people….
History: Peak Scottish. Clans welcome other clans with quaichs. Good times are toasted with quaichs. Druids may have been the OG quaichers. Not to be confused with quiches.
Quaichs can be found in any tartan-covered tourist trap, jeweller and online or, if you’re feeling creative, make your own. Ask around. I can guarantee someone in your family has one kicking about in a drawer. Everyone’s won one at golf or for being head boy or something equally heroic.
You would drink from your quaich after you’ve been declared married to toast your wedding. You can share it together, invite other people to take a sip too if you don’t mind slavers*, you can even provide shots for all your guests so they can join in as well. You might want to incorporate a wellwishing from your parents or family- they can offer a drink each and we mix them together and you share it with them.
Drink what you like from it. One very strong drink will elicit an amusing photograph of your reactions. If you have two drinks that mix, that could symbolise your families blending together. It doesn’t have to be booze if you want to involve kids or if you’re more a ‘nice cuppa tea’ kinda couple.
*dribbles [Scots] not people who enslave because we all mind them.
Unity candles are lovely. For inside ceremonies.
Outside, they are a massive pain in the arse. You can do it but you need storm lanterns and it’s awkward. By all means, prove me wrong.
You need three candles: two that are lit at the beginning either by you or two people you choose to do it and a third that you light together once you are married.
You can also include a separate Remembrance candle, one that would be lit right at the beginning of your ceremony in memory of people no longer with you. You would then light your first candles from that flame. Remember to bring a reliable lighter.
You can use any candles as long as you can lift them (more important for the first two) and they are secure – they need to be in holders or can stand on a tray or in a candelabra – If you can’t lift them, you’ll need tapers to transfer the flame.
For the nature lovers amongst you, you can involve four people/families with an elemental blessing. Each person/group brings up an item to represent one of the following: air, fire, water and earth. What they bring is entirely up to them.
Usually, the wording follows this kind of pattern:
Chosen pal: Will your love survive the currents and tides of life, withstanding fear and uncertainty?
Couple: It will
Chosen pal: Then accept the ‘blessings’ of water. May your life together be filled with compassion and respect.
Ideally, you’d ask the person who is offering you the blessing to write their own.
Fun fact- for some reason, people can never think of anything for Air. Someone brought a sealed bag of air from a chippy at the seaside, a feather from a roadkill seagull and a whoopee cushion. I very much look forward to seeing what the Air People™ bring.
You need at least two decorative hearts. They can be made of anything you like. What’s important is that they have ribbon at the top that allows you to put them together in some way.Always practise the entwining part. Then practise it again if you’re having great big glorious wedding nails that you’re not used to. If you can’t pick up a kirby grip, you’ll struggle tying a knot.
Imagine a Mexican wave. Now replace waving with hugging. Sounds awful, right? In reality, it’s brilliant. It’s a right good ice breaker and my absolute favourite when there’s not a germy pandemic kicking about.
FIRST FIGHT/ANNIVERSARY BOX
Find a box, fill it with nice things and then lock it or hammer it closed. You then open the box on your first anniversary (although it could be a later one) or your first fight. Things you might put in the box include (but aren’t limited to): a copy of your vows, a letter to each other written on the morning of your wedding, booze, a gift. I’ve also seen couples put in sex toys, big bags of weed and £30 for a takeaway. You do you.
JUMPING THE BROOM
History: Tons. Then we take all this weighty history and reduce it to the threat of two people falling over.
This is a gesture with mixed symbolism. Historically, Celts had marriage rituals that weren’t recognised by the Christian church, including Besom weddings. A broom would be placed across a doorway and the couple would jump over it. If they managed to get over it without touching it, hurrah! That’s them married! If, at a later date, they jumped over the same broom backwards, their marriage would be annulled. Handy to know.
It’s also linked with slave marriages in the US, the European anti witchcraft movement, fertility rites and a commitment to household cleanliness.
At the very end of your wedding, two people would hold the broom at a level they think you can jump over. It’s usually impossibly high and the look of terror in the jumping couple’s eyes is hilarious. To me. Maybe not to them so I then get the broom holders to pop it at floor level, declare you married and you leap over your broom before heading up the aisle together.
You don’t have to use a broom. I’ve had people jump over a kayak oar, an ice hockey stick, a limbo pole, a sword…
WEDDING BAND WARMING
History: None. Always called a wedding band warming. Avoid referring to it as a ring warming *snigger*
Possibly the easiest way to get everyone involved. Your wedding rings are passed round your guest. Each person holds them for a second or two, wishes you well (silently) and passes them on to the next person. You can start with a parent, a niece/nephew, bridesmaid, it doesn’t really matter as long as they end up with the person/s who will hand them over when they’re needed at your vows.
Make sure the rings are either tied together or are in a wee bag. This is very important, especially if you are outside because someone will drop them. Fact.
More symbolic gestures to follow in the hugely originally titled Symbolic Gestures – Part Two….
Featured image at the top of this post of the extraordinarily joyful Sami and Kerrie c/o Amy Faith Photography