Real Married: The Ceremony

Happy Monday, readers!  We adore Esme and Tom (we may have mentioned this before). They are just setting off into the vast, unexplored plains of marriage together…and we couldn’t be happier for them. 

Bella does a fantastic job as our “real bride“.  But there’s another angle, isn’t there?  It’s not just about the planning, the anticipation. There are other questions, ones that someone planning their wedding and marriage simply cannot answer. Was it worth it, the madness of a wedding?  What mattered?  What didn’t? Did anyone even notice The Things?  How does the perspective change, once that one day is out of the way?  

Are you any wiser, stronger, more profound?  What do you know now that you’d quite frankly have gone without your wedding dress to know back then?      

It dawned on us that as well as a Real Bride, we needed a Real Married. To change it up, to give it to us the Other Side.  

Cue Esme.  We are delighted that she said yes, and she’s going to be bringing her just-married wisdom to us once a month.  And this month, she’s tackling the subject of her humanist ceremony.  It’s an absolutely fascinating read – I wish I’d had one.  Enjoy, readers:         

Thank you to all the lovely AOW-ers who left such wonderful comments on my two-post wedding report. It meant so much to me (and the hubby) that you lot like my writing and felt that what I had to say was a little bit useful and touching, and so I hope you will be pleased to learn that I will be sharing a whole lot more about our wedding over the next few months. I’ll be explaining in more detail what we did for different parts of our day: how we organised it, how we personalised it, what it meant to us, what our family and friends thought about it and what went wrong – because nothing ever goes exactly according to plan!

The first element that I want to look at is the most important part of a wedding: the ceremony. So let’s get started!

Tom and I always knew that we wouldn’t get married in a church, but before we got engaged we hadn’t got any further than that. Then, when we started to look at venues we soon began to realise that we wanted something a little bit different and that would allow us to spend a large proportion of our wedding outside, because that’s where we like to be in our spare time. Actually getting married and saying our vows outside was something that we really wanted to do, but we quickly discovered that we couldn’t do that legally in the UK (although it looks like that’s changing, which is great). This left us with two options: either have two ceremonies – one legal in a registry office and one ‘non-legal’* outside – or find a venue that would make us change our minds about the outside thing. We weren’t having any luck with option two, so we ran the 2 ceremonies idea past our families to get their opinions and help us with some logistics.
All photographs by the talented Martmari Photography
We felt pretty comfortable with the thought of having a really low-key registry office ceremony, with just our parents, best man and maid of honour and the actual wedding being separate, as did most of the people we talked to. We started calling the ‘non-legal’ bit ‘humanist’ and found that although most people didn’t really know what that meant, they liked our ideas. And then I talked to my mum. She was totally against the idea of us having two weddings (even when I stressed that we would only have one wedding, but two ceremonies) for lots of different reasons: she thought that if we had the legal bit first then I wouldn’t then want the humanist ceremony, that the logistics of this arrangement were too complicated and that our guests would be offended that they wouldn’t be seeing us actually legally getting married. We took her feelings into account and tried to look into different options, but then we found our venue.
As many of you will have seen from our other photos, our venue was a garden with a marquee for the dinner. The garden belongs to a family friend who very generously offered it to us free of charge and it was exactly what we wanted. The main thing that sold it to us was that there was one area that is slightly separate, is slightly sloping and has a natural aisle. When Tom and I went to look around we stood at the top of this ‘aisle’ and had one of those incredible moments when we just knew that THIS was where we would get married. From then on my mum began to understand our vision for our wedding and it became more a question of ‘how’ rather than ‘why’.

It seemed like we had a million decisions to make for the 2 ceremonies plan, but after much deliberation this is what we did: we had the legal ceremony first on the Wednesday before our Saturday wedding, in the closest registry office to our home (the wedding was 1.5 hours away in the county where we grew up, went to school, met, fell in love and where Tom’s parents and my dad still live). It was a beautiful day filled with love and centred around our two families being joined, with a short 15 minute ceremony in which we did not exchange rings or say our own vows, followed by a family lunch where I banned speeches, toasts and the words husband and wife. I will admit that we weren’t sure how we would feel on the days between the two ceremonies, but because we were so busy getting the venue set-up, the thought that we were legally married didn’t cross our minds. The only complication is that we have to remember to put the registry office ceremony date on any official documents, but we will be celebrating the date of our humanist wedding as our anniversary.

It is completely legal to have a blessing/second ceremony/humanist ceremony, in fact you can even have a legal humanist ceremony in a licensed venue, led by a representative from The Humanist Society. We asked Tom’s uncle to lead our real wedding, as he is an author and used to public speaking, and he was more than thrilled to have that honour. So, did it work? Well, the people at both ceremonies said that the Saturday ceremony was definitely when we actually got married, many of our friends said that it was the most beautiful and personal wedding they’d ever attended and we do not regret our decision for a second.

Right, so now what we actually did. Tom and his best man waited at the ‘alter’ with his uncle; my bridesmaids arrived before me and let Dave (Tom’s godfather and groomsman/master of ceremonies) know that everything was going to plan. Then, when I arrived and we knew that all the guests were seated, the bridesmaids linked arm with a groomsman (although my maid of honour walked by herself before me), my sister gave a thumbs up to get the music switched on and they started walking slowly down the aisle. My youngest sister requested that they walk down on the arm of one of Tom’s groomsmen partly because she thought it would look good (it did) and partly because she was scared she would fall flat on her face due to the high heels she had chosen.
 The picture above this one had me (Anna) welling up.  This one just about did me in. 


After I got my dad to stop talking so loudly (I was sure everyone could hear), it was my turn to make my entrance. I felt so calm and ready for this moment and locked eyes with my soon-to-be-husband. I hadn’t for a moment considered not asking my dad to walk me down the aisle – I knew what it meant to him and it was the natural way to involve him in the wedding. You can see how proud he was. I’ll remember that short walk forever and I really understood the significance of my dad leading me towards the man who was going to be my new family. He didn’t ‘give me away’, he simply supported me in this important moment as he has done many, many times. Before I knew it, though, the walk was over and I was standing opposite Tom.

Whilst Tom and I stood looking at each other and holding hands, the bridesmaids stood in a line behind me, with the groomsmen stood behind Tom. My other sister requested this layout because she wanted everyone to admire her dress as much as possible! To be fair, she doesn’t often wear a dress and she looked incredible in this one.

Nick then read an introduction and welcomed everyone. We had written the whole ceremony ourselves, stealing bits from various things we read online (including a lot from Cara and Nye’s humanist ceremony) and Nick simply read it. My aunt, who is one of the most important people in my life and who we always knew we wanted to be in our wedding, then read Corinthians, verse 13. We had asked her to chose a reading herself and she read it beautifully (she’d obviously been taking lessons from Anna and Aisling) and even though it is a very common wedding reading that is because it really is a lovely piece:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
As you can see, we sat on a decorated bench for the readings. The bench was already there and we liked the idea of being slightly separate from the guests whilst also being able to look at them.

Next, Tom’s dad read The Art of Marriage by Wilfred A Peterson. I saw this poem a long time before the wedding and knew that it was perfect for us:

A good marriage must be created.

In the art of marriage the little things are the big things…

It is never being too old to hold hands.

It is remembering to say “I love you” at least once each day.

It is never going to sleep angry.

It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.

It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.

It is speaking words of appreciation and

demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.

It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.

It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.

It is finding room for the things of the spirit.

It is a common search for the good and the beautiful.

It is not only marrying the right partner…

It is being the right partner.
Then to the vows. We decided that we would write our vows together, which was an experience that we both really enjoyed as we could say exactly what we wanted to and make the promises that meant something to us personally. Nick introduced us with one of my favourite lines from Cara and Nye’s wedding

The symbolic vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, “You know all those things we’ve promised and hoped and dreamed- well, I meant it all, every word.”

We had written our vows on cards and made the same promises, apart from one line. I love that we can now look at these cards and remember saying the words to each other and the feeling of making the commitment in front of our friends and family. I have to admit that we were both quite nervous about how emotional we would be at this point, but we did get through it.
Here is what I said:

I, Esme Charlotte Farrington, promise to love and respect you for the rest of your life.

I promise to listen to your worries, support your dreams, nurture you as a person and look after you whenever you need it, as your friend, partner and wife.

I promise to continue to laugh with you, always be open with you and show you with everything I do and say how amazing I think you are.

I promise to believe in myself as much as you believe in me.

I give you this ring as a symbol of my commitment and to remind you that no matter what lies ahead, I will always love you.

Then we kissed and everybody cheered! Honestly, I really did feel different after we exchanged vows – perhaps it was the words, or the special outfits or hearing the word love said over and over again, but I think it was the fact that all of this happened with the people we love most in the world. I could feel the atmosphere and good wishes coming from everyone there because I made a real effort to remain in the moment and really take in everything that was happening and being said. The wonderful and wise Kirsty from A Safe Mooring gave me that advice and I’m so glad I remembered it.

We ended the ceremony with these words:

Walk gently through the world together and know its wonders for all the days of your lives. Go forward in your life together with the good wishes of those who love you. Remember this day, those who came to wish you well, the words you have spoken, the emotions you feel and the love you have declared. And above all, be happy.
With that, my favourite piece of music, Take Five by Dave Brubeck, started and Tom and I walked back up the aisle with our bridesmaids and groomsmen behind us.  Our guests were then led through the line of hazelnut trees to another area of the garden where champagne was served. I really loved ending the ceremony in this way because it gave us a moment to hug our bridesmaids and groomsmen and then a moment alone before joining everyone else and being covered in confetti.
So what do you think girls (and any guys who are reading this)? Did you or would you have had two ceremonies in order to have your dream wedding? Did you feel the magic when you were saying your vows? Was there anything you were set on that your family just didn’t get, or were opposed to (like my mum was originally)? And what incredibly personal elements did you have in your ceremony? For me, that was the music (I walked in to Better Together by Jack Johnson, a song that I listened to on repeat whilst living away from Tom at university) and our vows.

*Or ‘illegal’ as Tom insisted on calling it…

Categories: Real Married, Wedding Planning, Wedding Reports
16 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted November 21, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Ahhh, Esme, this is lovely. Particularly loved seeing the readings and the words you used in your ceremony. Wishing you and Tom every happiness and… looking forward to reading more of your writing on AOW!


  2. Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Tearing up here when I read your vows. Such a lovely start to a Monday morning… except that I don't think my mascara is waterproof. Uh oh.

  3. Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Ah, I need to read this and re-read it when I'm not dashing off to work, BUT Esme's words were just what I needed to hear right now. We are having a humanist ceremony and my favourite bit of wedding planning so far has been writing our ceremony with our wonderful celebrant Philippa. I feel it has brought us so close and really focused our attention on our future marriage. But the 'legal' bit is causing problems among certain members of the family…people saying our humanist wedding will be a 'fake' wedding (yes, really), insisting on being present at the registry office because 'that's the significant bit'. I'm sure humanist weddings are only going to become more popular and hopefully that will lead to a better understanding of what they can entail. For us…well we are determined to say the things we want to, in the place we want to and a humanist ceremony enables us to do that.
    Ok, must go, but Esme- the way your bridesmaids/groomsmen are arranged is exactly what we are going to do. I love the idea of us being surrounded by our best girls and boys and not turning our backs on the rest of our loved ones!
    Lel x

  4. Esme
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Oh Lel – thank you!! Stick to your guns – trust me. Your humanist ceremony will be personal and beautiful and everyone will finally realise what you have been going on about.

    Yes, in a way it is a 'fake' wedding. It's not legal and you're not signing anything that would mean that you could change your name. BUT it is the start of your marriage, which, surely, is more important.

    Please report back on how it goes!!


  5. Posted November 21, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful story, Esme. It's lovely to hear of someone that did the same as us – the two ceremony thing that, frankly, puzzled a few people.

    We had a non-religous ceremony (which I kept, only half-jokingly calling 'our atheist wedding'). The ceremony was conducted by a friend and we initially thought we would have a humanist celebrant. My mum's first reaction? "Humanist… oh, I won't tell your Gran. She'll think it's a cult." Thankfully, she called back and explained that she had done some research and thought it sounded perfect. A lot of people just don't know what to expect. J's Gran asked him if we would be having pagan chanting… (and no, BTW – nothing wrong with it, but since when did 'non religous' mean pagan?!)

    Just because something is non-religious, a lot of people can't imagine what template it might fit into.

    What helped us was simply not over-explaining things, or justifying them. If people asked, we told them we were getting married on top of a hill on the farm where we had the whole wedding. Most people simply didn't realise that such a thing isn't legally binding and so were satisfied by that answer. If they asked further, we explained that this was our wedding, but that it wasn't legal in the UK to get married outdoors, so we were doing the legal bit earlier that morning at the register office. Most people were shocked that you couldn't marry outside, and so supportive. And those that might have had reservations seemed to come around after the ceremony, which so many people said was the best they'd ever experienced. There was a lot of sniffling. I think it meant something to everyone there.

    Certainly, one lovely side effect was that it seemed to 'rehabilitate' the idea of a wedding for a few people who were quite 'anti-wedding' before – two friends told us that they could now imagine getting hitched themselves – something they had previously discounted as 'not for them' which I felt was the one of the best things I heard all day.

    There is another way – and it's important that those who don't have religious beliefs are not denied a meaningful ceremony by a society that can't compute such a thing.

  6. Posted November 21, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Aww, I am so pleased that my advice worked! This makes me very happy :) Your ceremony sounds beautiful and I'm glad you were able to make it so personal – having a family member perform the ceremony is a very special thing indeed, and I'm so glad we were lucky enough to have that too.

    I just have to add, because nobody ever seems to realise this, that it's not true that you can't have a legal ceremony outside in the UK – that's only in England, Wales and (I think) Northern Ireland. In Scotland you can get married anywhere you want, indoors or out, and a humanist ceremony is legally binding with no need for a separate ceremony (check out this photo of my friend's humanist wedding last year – what a location, eh?). So running off to Scotland to get married still has its perks, not that I'm in any way biased…

    Congratulations again Esme and Tom, can't wait to hear more from you.

  7. Esme
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Sorry Kirsty :o (

  8. Becca
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    We've always thought about a humanist wedding, it's the only way we can fit in the number of guests. My cousin had one and then they nipped inside and did the legal bit for five minutes during the drinks reception).

    My only concern is the wet weather plan. What was your plan if it rained?

  9. Esme
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Ah. The wet weather plan. Good question Becca….

    In all honesty, we weren't that well prepared for rain. Our plan was this: as it was August, it was unlikely to full-on rain for the whole day (although it did just that only 3 days later – oops!) so we were going to be a bit flexible with timing – i.e., have tea and cake first and then the ceremony if needs be. We decided that as soon as it looked like it might rain (we checked the weather religiously right up until the morning when Tom woke up at 6am to do one final check) we would all get together and decide what to do then. Not the most fool-proof, I know.

    We had some options at the ready: we had 2 marquees already set-up that would fit everyone in (one for tea and one for dinner). We has also borrowed a smaller tenty-thing from Aisling. My MiL had booked the village hall 'just in case' and I only found out a week ago that my maid of honour and Tom's best man had a car boot full of large umbrellas!

    We were really naive because we didn't want to have to change the plan. Out motto was to worry about it when we had to. I wouldn't recommend this course of action, but hey – it worked for us and for Aisling's wedding!


  10. amy f
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I love how supportive your family and friends were – especially the wet weather preparations!

    I really enjoyed reading this – it frustrates me that we can't do the legal humanist/outdoor thing in England so it's good to hear how you made it work for you.

  11. Posted November 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha don't worry Esme – you're forgiven! ;)

  12. Posted November 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I love how you infused the whole ceremony with meaning. Do you have any tips for writing your own vows? I'm finding it so difficult. It's hard to convey in words what I feel yet still keep it light enough to not reduce me to a puddle of tears on the day (I cry at adverts, I have no hope at all during our wedding ceremony!)

  13. Esme
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Writing your own vows.. Hmm.. Well, firstly, it's a really personal thing and should mean something to the two of you more than anyone else. So if you want to stand up and say that you promise to make breakfast in bed every Sunday and walk the dog even when it's raining, well then go ahead!

    Do steal ideas from vows you can find online. If it rings true for you, then that's what matters. Who cares if it's not original?

    As for crying: we were both really nervous about this. And you can see from the picture that I did get tears in my eyes. But, it was much better than I had feared. One tip – practice saying your vows beforehand. It'll be easier the more 'normal' it is. Oh, and don't forget Kirsy's advice – stay in the moment.

    Hope that helps!

  14. Mahj
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh Esme, I love you. And Tom. And I love you just a little bit more after reading this. It was really really, thoroughly lovely.


  15. Posted November 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Eek I missed this yesterday! (and the whole of women's week ;ast week due to stoopid busy work) So glad I checked today!

    Your ceremony looks and sounds amazing Esme and Tom, and so wonderfully personal. I can't believe how much you had to organise but it looks like it turned out to be the most magical wedding ever. I love that you've shared all the planning and your actual vows here, Esme, it's so rare you get to read this much detail so it's fantastic that you've been so open about it all.

    I adore the picture of you and your Dad walking down the aisle and the one of you saying your vows Esme – on the verge of tears! So lovely!

    I so want to know where the garden is, it looks amazing!


    P.S. It rained for the WHOLE day on the day before our wedding, the week before yours! Absolutely peed it down. I'm so thankful that it was beautifully sunny on our day!

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    [...] Real Married column so far, she’s tackled a humanist ceremony, the minefield that is bridesmaids, and now she’s taking on the Demon of Skinny.  I [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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