As the first piece in my Ultimate Guide To Getting Married in Portugal, I wrote a somewhat controversial piece called How to Legally Get Married in Portugal - and Why You Shouldn’t. Strong statement right? But look, the process is long, arduous, boring and the ceremony you end up with is even worse. The alternative however is to hire a celebrant. I LOVE celebrant ceremonies. But what even is a celebrant? I asked Carly from Your European Wedding Celebrant to tell us all about what she does and how she does it. Here’s Carly:
Most couples think there are only two ways to marry, either with a ceremony conducted by the church or by the state. And while the latter is required for any marriage to be legally recognized, there is a third way, the celebrant way.
Photo by Gianluca Adovasio
What is a celebrant?
Celebrants are trained lovers of love, who conduct (generally) symbolic wedding ceremonies. In the United Kingdom and the European Union, celebrants are not legally authorized to marry you.
Without the weight of legal requirements, celebrants work solely and tirelessly for the couple. What they choose to include or exclude from a traditional ceremony is up to the couple. Feeling like you want to ditch the whole structure of a conventional wedding and create something new? A celebrant is the answer. Or do you like the traditions of weddings, but want to ensure your love story is infused throughout the ceremony? If this is the case, a celebrant is the answer. And if you fall somewhere in between these options or on an entirely different plane? Well, then a celebrant is the one you want standing up there with you.
What is the difference between a celebrant-led ceremony and a civil ceremony?
The most significant difference between a celebrant-led ceremony and a civil ceremony is personalization. Civil ceremonies are governed by law and, depending on the country, there can be little room for changing the text to suit the couple. In Portugal, the only customizable portion of a civil wedding ceremony is the names. As the state views the act of marrying as entering into a legal contract - romantic, I know! - the lawyer or “conservador” is legally bound to a script.
With a celebrant, the only rules are the ones you choose. Celebrants focus on the couple, their story, wishes, hopes, expectations, and dislikes. Celebrants take the time to learn about the couple so that we can create something entirely bespoke to the couple.
How do you write a ceremony?
At Your European Wedding Celebrant, before we write the ceremony, the first step is to conduct an initial call with the couple. This is a meet & greet call, as I like to say. In this call, I will let you know more about myself - including all three of my weddings to the same Portuguese man! - , why I enjoy being a wedding celebrant, and how this all works.
Once we have that initial call, if the couple decides to give me the honor of conducting their ceremony, we will then schedule another Skype call, this one will last around two hours. The goal of this call is to know more about the couple. I believe the best and only way to do a proper ceremony is to learn about the couple, including, how they met, how they became engaged, why they decided to marry, as well as what they see in each other and what they love about each other.
From there we will talk about any specific elements they would like to include in their ceremony. We will talk about everything from the tone they want to strike, to various types of rituals, to how to incorporate their family and guests, and several other components of the ceremony.
Following the call, I write a completely customized wedding ceremony for the couple based on our extensive conversation. Once written, I provide the ceremony to the couple for their review. From then on we work together to make all the changes that they see fit and have as many calls that are needed to make the ceremony their ideal ceremony.
Photo by Aguiam Photography
How can you make your wedding ceremony extra special and personalized?
There are so many ways to personalize your wedding ceremony, and they extend far beyond a sand ceremony (which I did at my wedding) or a handfasting.
First and foremost, sit down as a couple and think about what is important to you and what you want "say" with your ceremony. For some couples the ceremony is about starting afresh together, for others it is celebrating their individuality existing together, and for still others, the ceremony is a chance to set the tone for their marriage.
Once you know what you want to say with your ceremony start talking to your wedding celebrant, who will be able to suggest various ideas to you. If celebrating your family is important to you, consider a rose ceremony. In this ceremony each set of parents is presented a rose by their child, signifying gratitude for all that they have done over the years. Variations on this include swapping parents, so you are giving the rose to your partner's parents, or instead of a rose, presenting a token that holds greater significance, i.e., an old photo with a message on the back.
Maybe a sense of community is most important to you. If so, consider a communal vow where everyone stands up and when asked by the celebrant if they will love and support the couple, everyone responds "We do." It makes for a powerful moment.
Do you want to celebrate your different cultures and languages? Find a ritual that is native to your country and incorporate it into the ceremony. I once conducted a baitang ceremony, which is a traditional Chinese marriage rite comprised of three bows by the bride and groom. The Chinese bride felt deeply about the symbolism in this ceremony, and her Belgian husband happily participated.
The possibilities for personalizing your ceremony are endless. While that knowledge can be freeing, it can also be terrifying for some. In either case, it is essential to find a celebrant who can guide you through the various options and work with you to create something your own.
What one piece of advice would you give to couples everywhere?
Don't leave your ceremony for the last minute. The ceremony is an essential part of the day. While the venue, flowers, and cake are important, without a ceremony, you're just throwing a party.
Most couples put the ceremony off because they see it as a given, a cookie-cutter ritual that they undertake to get on to the celebrating part. It need not be like that, especially if you decide to work with a celebrant.
Instead, your ceremony can be one of the highlights of your day, the moment when you stand before your loved ones and say, "This is the one I love, the one I want to face down challenges with, and the one I want to celebrate the beauty of life with. This is the one person for me."
May your wedding ceremony be as unique as your love for each other.
Carly and her team of multilingual celebrants at Your European Wedding Celebrant are based in Portugal and are committed to creating bespoke, unique ceremonies for each and every couple. They can integrate different languages, rituals, religions and blessings to make your ceremony completely personalised. You can find her via the links below.