Sarah and Dan: A humanist wedding ceremony with handmade, vintage vibes

Scientists Sarah and Dan opted for a personal humanist wedding ceremony

Sarah and Dan always knew their wedding was never going to be the most traditional, and so a humanist wedding ceremony combined with a DIY, vintage wedding day made for the perfect combination. Sarah tells her story to Bouquet Catch:

We met as undergraduates at university. We were best friends for almost two years before we started dating – during this time I’m pretty sure all our mutual friends knew that we liked each other but it still took us two years (and a bit of alcohol) to recognise this ourselves.

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Despite knowing we had something special as soon as we transitioned from best friends to partners, it was still 6 years before we got engaged. This really came down to a mix of laziness and Dan’s apprehension with regard to marriage (especially weddings). But, in January 2014, in my Dad’s living room I was having a mini meltdown over writing my PhD thesis when Dan turned to me and said “how about once you’ve finished writing we head back to Manchester via Birmingham’s jewellery quarter and get a ring”? I knew instantly what this meant and knew that he was doing it to make me happy, despite his misgivings – he never got down on one knee but I know that this was a big deal for him so it felt really special (and certainly played a role in helping me finish my thesis).

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Contrary to the intro voiceover of Don’t Tell the Bride, I was never the type of girl who really thought much about weddings, let alone made any plans prior to our actual engagement. This meant that the idea of theme/colour scheme were all quite alien to me and I wasn’t getting much inspiration from Dan (whose only comment was “ I want to marry you but do we have to have a wedding?”). Given this, we decided to work out what was most important to us and structure the wedding around that.

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Firstly, we wanted the ceremony to be relaxed and personal reflecting our values, friendship and personalities. After some research this drew us towards a humanist ceremony, which gave us the chance to really make the ceremony truly personal and memorable. Our celebrant (the humanist equivalent to a registrar) Hannah Wroe Gill was amazing. She got to know us so well before our wedding, and was really very good at keeping us on track and ensuring everything was in place well before the big day.

As is probably the case for many weddings, the venue was the first thing which fell into place. I felt really lucky that we managed to get a cancellation slot at a small parsonage building called The Old Parsonage in Didsbury, Greater Manchester. Not only was the building set in beautiful grounds which appealed to our love of the outdoors, most importantly, this was also a place we often visited before we were dating. Actually, it was in the grounds of this building one warm spring day when we both began to recognise the feelings we had for each other. So, we couldn’t have wished for a better venue.

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When it came to the theme, we really couldn’t decide so opted for a mix of our hobbies: astronomy and craft. We wanted the whole event to be relaxed and simple so a handmade theme fit pretty well. This also meant that our friends and family could contribute too – Dan’s mum made an amazing astronomy-themed wedding cake while my mum, our friends and I spent many hours making a range of origami flowers. Honestly speaking, I went a bit mad with the DIY angle, wanting everything to be homemade and personal. My favourite ideas were:

1) I really loved the idea of vintage mismatched decorations, so in the months leading up to the wedding I scoured our local charity shops for floral/vintage bed sheets which, with the help of Dan’s mum, I turned into table cloths and chair sashes – this was amazingly effective and cost very little.
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2) My bouquet and all the table decorations were made from origami flowers. It was so much fun teaching myself, my mum and our friends how to make the flowers, but I must admit as the day drew closer the pressure did increase – the look on my mum’s face when I announced that I also wanted to make origami cranes for each of our guests was a picture!
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3) Astronomy cake and cake pop favours: Dan’s mum is very talented when it comes to cake making and I’m so glad she was willing to make us a cake. Also, a few days before the wedding I chose to make astronomy-themed cake pops for all our guests. This meant a pretty late night and a lot of tasting (I’m lucky I still fit into the dress after this).
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4) Ring dogs. This was probably the height of my DIY madness. I had planned to decorate a couple of ring pillows however, after failing to find any suitable pillows, I instead decided to buy a couple of small canvas dogs and decorate these – the rings fit on their tails. This was an amazingly silly idea but I loved it (especially since a week before the wedding we lost our 18 year old dog Marty), so the dogs played a key role in the ceremony and gave a small nod to my lost friend.
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Since so much of the wedding was handmade, I decided to take the week prior to the big day off work. I spent most of this week getting covered in glue, poked by needles and folding hundreds of sheets of paper but, I was adamant that the evening before the wedding would be entirely relaxed.

So, with my wonderful bridesmaids in tow, we all spent a few hours of personal pampering at a local nail salon before heading back to my place for pizza and drinks. It was pretty strange saying goodbye to Dan that night, knowing that in the morning we would both be heading to the venue to say our vows but, after a really long hug, he headed off to stay with his family and we tried to get some sleep.

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In the morning I felt strangely relaxed. All the decorations had been delivered to the venue the day before, our make up artist Danielle Horan was on her way and the taxi taking us to the venue had been booked: everything seemed to be falling into place. I also made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t worry if things didn’t go exactly to plan, repeating in my mind the notion that it is, in fact, these little imperfections that will make the day unique.

I collected our photographer and mutual friend David Pettifer from the tram station and insisted that before he started taking pictures of us he got some nice pictures of our cat Felis – despite not being a cat person he took some very nice shots (it’s just a shame she couldn’t make it to the ceremony).

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I was so excited watching Danielle, my MUA, working on the bridal party. They all ended up looking absolutely gorgeous; the dresses and 40s-style make up worked so well together.

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After my make up was complete, I changed into my 40s-style swing dress with a vibrant red patterned skirt and elegant ivory silk top. I actually found wedding dress shopping really hard. I visited a whole bunch of dress shops and tried on a huge range of elegant gowns but, despite reassurances from my mum that I looked amazing, I just didn’t feel quite myself in any of them. I was actually growing a bit despondent with the whole process when I stumbled across Dig for Victory, a boutique in Brighton with an online shop which allows customers to customise their own dresses. I fell in love with a red patterned fabric and used this as inspiration to design the final dress.

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I was also amazingly lucky to stumble across a pair of red velvet shoes which matched the dress beautifully, looked very elegant and (most importantly) sported a subtle cat motif. I felt great and so very me! After the obligatory ‘getting ready’ shots and some beautiful pictures in our garden we headed to the venue.

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Our celebrant Hannah and my friend Claire took charge of organising our guests, which meant that Dan and I could disappear to a quiet room upstairs to chat before the ceremony started. Dan was visibly nervous, we’d spent a lot of time working out our vows and readings and were both worried about stumbling on our words or them not going across well with our guests – the day was very personal but not very traditional so we just hoped we’d done enough to ensure everyone had a good time.

We chose to walk into the ceremony together, since I’ve never been too keen on the idea of being given away – so, we walked in hand-in-hand, together as best friends and partners. Although my parents were more than happy with this arrangement, before the ceremony began I made sure to give them both hugs since their love and support has always been very important to me. The ceremony was amazing, funny and touching – Dan even managed to get laughs quoting Carl Sagan which was very impressive!

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We practically danced out to our musician Rik Roberts’ upbeat rendition of the Piano Guys’ Rockelbel’s Cannon – a funky take on the traditional Pachelbel’s Cannon (a merge of Dan’s love of classical music and my slightly offbeat tastes) and were whisked outside to get some pictures in the venue’s grounds. David took some beautiful pictures as we chatted and generally couldn’t stop smiling – although I am a bit sad that we managed to miss out on our welcome drinks, canapés by Silver Apples and the rest of Rik’s set.

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After a few group shots we moved inside for the meal. I was really impressed with how the mismatched vintage table cloths and chair sashes meshed with the colourful origami flowers – also, on the day of the wedding the venue was displaying children’s artwork the colours of which also blended in really well with our decorations.

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The speeches were brilliant, if a bit cutting. Dan’s brothers gave an excellent speech covering his personal idiosyncrasies, his love of chainsaws and latent violent streaks, while my Dad gleefully covered my unnatural childhood obsession with cats and gave a cheeky nod to Dan’s astronomy obsession – asserting that our honeymoon may end up being more moon and less honey. While Dan thanked everyone for coming, of course.

I feel I may have over-planned for the evening. Since Dan is not a big fan of throwing shapes, I tried to make sure, alongside music and a dance floor, we also had ample activities for anyone who didn’t want to show off their moves: spare paper and beginners’ origami guides, various games including Connect 4, Jenga and cards, and a polaroid camera and some glue so shots could be stuck in our guest book. As it happened, the evening moved on really well with ample game playing, some great polaroid shots, with the highlight of the evening being a slightly drunk Dan having a great time on the dance floor – looking back at the pictures I swear he must have danced with every girl at the party!

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A number of our friends continued the party at their accommodation after the venue closed – we’d have loved to join but had a ferry booked for the next morning so needed some sleep. In hindsight we should probably have given ourselves a day to recover before heading off on the honeymoon.

After the wedding, we took a mini break in Donegal as we are saving up for a more adventurous honeymoon in Japan in a few years time. Donegal was absolutely stunning and we managed some great walks around the slightly sub-par weather.

My main memories of the day were just being really really happy, relaxed and having so much fun. So many of our friends and family said they felt the same so I really hope that this came across.

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It’s no lie when people tell you that your wedding day flies past in a blur. One thing I remember was being totally unable to stop smiling and seeing that Dan was doing the same – which was brilliant since he had been quite nervous before the ceremony. Also, the ceremony really stands out in my mind. I remember feeling torn between laughing and crying and finally being nudged into crying at the end when Hannah read out well wishes and pearls of wisdom written by our friends and family. I also loved the fact that our after-party turned a bit silly with head-banging, crazy dancing and loads of funny polaroid pictures to look back on – even Dan (who’s not a dancer) got in on the action and loved it!

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My only real regret is something we unfortunately could not control: that humanist wedding ceremonies are currently not legally binding in England (although I believe that many people are fighting to make this happen). This meant that we needed to complete the legal side of the wedding on another day. We chose to do this a few days before the humanist ceremony in a small room in Bury Town Hall. We kept this very low-key since in our minds and hearts our actual wedding was the day of our humanist ceremony – this being the day we spoke our personalised vows and the day we celebrated with all our friends and family. I must admit I was very cynical about the registry office ceremony and really just wanted to get it out the way quickly so we could go back to prepping for the main event.

However, the registrar who performed our civil ceremony was absolutely lovely – he even chose some meaningful words extolling the importance of friendship and amazingly had both myself and Dan struggling to hold back tears as we held hands and spoke these words to each other. We’ve since bumped into him walking his dog in the fields behind our house and joked about how impressed we were that he managed this, especially when we were so cynical about this part of the wedding. So, I guess that even though this is a sort-of regret, it still worked out pretty well.

I guess the biggest piece of advice I’d offer other brides is that when the big day comes around, try not to worry about things too much. By this point there is not much that can be done if things don’t go exactly as you planned and you want to be able to look back on the day and smile…so just relax and enjoy the ride.

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