For millennia, religious institutions have governed people’s life passages. Weddings, funerals, welcoming new children into the community – worldwide, these were strictly religious ceremonies. But recently, as our society becomes more secular and religion recedes as a dominant social institution, non-religious ceremonies have become more prominent. The question many couples have is, if weddings are traditionally religious ceremonies, and the religion is taken out of the ceremony, what’s left? And who can perform a wedding ceremony that isn’t religious?
The second question is the easy one to answer. Ontario has very strict requirements about who can perform legal wedding ceremonies. In 1996, Humanist officiants were first registered as clergy, giving them the ability to solemnize this important oral contract. Two organizations are currently able to register humanist officiants: the Ontario Humanist Society, and Humanist Canada. (Your Occasions officiants are affiliated with the Ontario Humanist Society.)
What remains in a wedding ceremony that isn’t religious is actually quite a surprising amount, because it is totally up to the couple! And many don’t realize that much of what we consider part of a common wedding ceremony is traditional, not religious. Some wedding traditions actually predate modern religions; the use of rings, for example, goes back to the ancient Egyptians, over five thousand years ago. And other wedding traditions, such as the couple’s first kiss, evolved independently from the religious order of ceremony.
It can be daunting, deciding what to include in a humanist ceremony. If you take out all the religious requirements, the ceremony is wide open: you can include anything you want to! But for many couples this is too open: if we can include anything and everything, how do we choose?
Many humanist officiants take this approach: we turn the focus away from the religious tradition, and turn it towards the couple and their relationship. So often couples find out that what they thought was ‘their day’ turns out to be about making other people happy. It can be a relief to find out that with a Humanist wedding ceremony, at least one aspect of the day is truly about them.
So couples can keep the traditional parts of the ceremony like the exchange of rings and vows, readings, and the couple’s first married kiss. But they may also choose to add a song that really means something to them. Or a quote from an author that they both love. Or they may want to include a wedding tradition from their heritage or culture.
While the ceremony must meet the legal aspects set out by the Marriage Act, a couple’s ceremony does not belong to a religious institution, or the government, or even the officiant they choose. Instead, the ceremony is their own personal expression of their loving, enduring relationship, celebrated with their closest friends and family.
If you’d like to know more about humanist wedding ceremonies with Your Occasions, please contact us!