Humour and Ceremonies

Humour and Ceremonies

Humour and ceremonies don’t seem to go together, do they?

After all, a life-cycle ceremony is a major event. It can be a Wedding, a Vow Renewal, a Handfasting, a Naming Ceremony, a mixed-faith service, or whatever … If you choose (and go to the trouble and expense) to mark the occasion in public, then it means something to you. (And this also applies to a funeral.)

So you surely want the service to be meaningful and significant. You may well want it personalised, and there are many ways of doing that. Just ask your celebrant.

However, the tone and language can make the difference. What sort of register do you want: formal, informal, or something in between? Must the readings be spiritual? Could any be silly?!

People often believe that, if it’s a formal occasion, humour is inappropriate. If a couple are making their vows, then these have to be serious. I would argue that the tenor might well be solemn, but a bit of humour will simply reflect the good relationship between the couple. It will also lighten the proceedings, which the guests may well welcome too! And humour doesn’t have to equate with insincerity or levity.

Then, surely, even if you accept that some humour might fit in to a happy occasion, you can’t expect humour at a funeral, can you?

Well, it all depends, admittedly. If the deceased was a joker and had a good sense of humour, then they probably would have appreciated a funny story or two about them. If they went around with a smile on their face, then they probably would prefer that everybody remembers the good times, rather than dwells on the loss too much.

I have heard some quite wonderful tales of the deceased, whom I, of course, would never have met. They enabled me to form a picture of the departed as well as reminding the guests of shared good times. If you pardon the dark humour, the stories help put flesh on the bones!

So don’t go feeling that it’s “not the right thing” to include humour. Carefully used, it can have a place at any ceremony and will enhance it.


You Win Some; You Lose Some

You Win Some; You Lose Some

People think that, because a celebrant is independent, they will not be emotionally involved in what is going on in front of them.

I consider myself as macho as the next wimp (!), and I have often been able to look at a ceremony objectively, though sympathetically. However, that has not always been the case.

Not unreasonably, it was a struggle for me to conduct the funeral of my aunt without tears, but of course I was emotionally involved, which people understood and accepted.

I found it incredibly hard to keep a dry eye when I conducted the funeral of a suicide victim, whose death had come as a total shock to his widow and young children. The general outpouring of grief was devastating.

In some ways, even worse was the time I had to read out the last message from a young lady to the mourners. “Moving” doesn’t describe how it was for me – let alone, the guests present.

I have had to hold back a tear at some celebratory ceremonies too. When I stand right next to a couple, and see the looks of unreserved love they are directing to each other, then that is a privilege and delight. If they cry, then it is hard not to follow suit!

In some cases, the couple has had to overcome huge adversity; in other cases, their stories are more mundane, but their true love no less evident and enjoyable.

I well remember my own wedding some 23 years ago. I was 45 and had given up hope of ever forming a meaningful attachment, let alone, marrying.  In 1997, I met the lady who would revolutionise my life.

Isobel had been through an abusive marriage and had not had things easy. She needed the security and love that I would offer her.

Our guests were clearly so happy that we were getting together! You could feel the love, as you entered the building. It really was the happiest day of my life (hopefully, of Isobel’s too!). I couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot!

I think I managed to keep a dry eye, though!



There’s no ignoring it. We’ve had Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Christmas is looming and a new year is beckoning.

It’s been difficult to plan weddings or celebratory events, never knowing when the next lockdown might be imposed. In fact, it’s turned out to have been plain sailing since July, but who was to know?

So, can we look forward to the future with any confidence? Dare we be positive about 2022?

Obviously, my guess is as good as yours. I suspect that, although there may be renewed restrictions in the coming few months, Spring and Summer may shine a green light for unrestricted ceremonies. But don’t hold me to account, if I’m wrong!

With alll the uncertainty, should we put plans on the back burner?

Definitely not, in my opinion. We can’t – and mustn’t – go on indefinitely with life on hold. We’re social animals and need to escape isolation.

So don’t put off planning for happy, life-cycle events. As humans, we do have to mark such occasions. Don’t ignore big birthdays, weddings, vow renewals, anniversaries ending -5 or -0, namings, or other such events.

It doesn’t have to be a traditional, large-scale ceremony. You may opt for a micro-event. You may well check terms and conditions and cancellation clauses more carefully than usual with your suppliers. But still go for it.

Of course, it is still a gamble. So it may be wise to arrange something that can be adapted at fairly short notice. That probably entails liaising with your venue (if you’re booking one at all) and/or suppliers, and checking how flexible they are.

Take precautions, by all means, but you certainly don’t want to regret missing out due to fear.

If you are thinking of organising something a bit special, then please have a chat with me.

Humour and Ceremonies


At first glance, you might think that humour has no place at a life-cycle ceremony. After all, a wedding, say, marks a significant change, so should be solemn. And a funeral is the last place for a laugh, surely.

And yet …

The “fun” in “funeral

A funeral should be a celebration of life (not merely an opportunity to grieve – important as that is). If the deceased was a joker, that’s what people will remember. So why not remind people of a few of the laughs they had with them?

The whole family will fondly recall the time Reg (not real name) attended a bingo session. With his ‘gift of the gab’ he persuaded the organisers that he had won the main prize (a television). Once awarded it, he owned up – but was still allowed to keep it.

Not untypically, Reg carried on drinking. When he it was time to go, the stairs proved too much for him, and he dropped the TV down the flight!

Amazingly, it was undamaged (but for BBC2). But stories like that just sum up the man Reg was!

At another funeral, where I felt I knew the family reasonably well, rather to my surprise, I ad-libbed. The deceased was a rabid Chelsea supporter, and we played the theme tune “Blue is the Colour”. I encouraged those who wanted to, to join in, but pointed out that I was from the wrong side of London and totally refused!


It’s easier to ad lib or include humour in celebratory ceremonies. Gravitas may still be relevant, but not necessarily all the time.

As a celebrant, when I put together a wedding, I normally work with the bride and groom. As a rule, the groom is not always as engaged in proceedings as the bride. On one occasion, the groom left me to work with the bride, and we agreed to include a humorous poem (by Pam Ayres) without him knowing. He didn’t suspect a thing and was completely floored on the day, bringing proceedings to a near-stop!

My clients are encouraged to write their own vows, and sometimes these can be quite revealing, as well as amusing! I did have to question whether one particular groom really wanted to include public reference to his bride’s arse! (He did!)

I hope this short overview will convince you that humour can have a place in ceremonies – if used judiciously!


Memorable Ceremonies

Memorable Ceremonies

There’s a lack of clarity, as I write, about how ceremonies can be marked. No more than 30 attendees seems clear. Social distancing, more or less so. Who knows if we will ever be able to get back to those pre-Coronavirus days? Maybe some of those weddings weren’t perfect, but they were unrestricted, and we’d give a lot to have that again!

As pubs have recently been allowed to re-open, maybe my readers are in the mood for happier thoughts! So perhaps you’ll allow me to reminisce about highlights of a few of the ‘old style’ events I have conducted.

The venue can make quite a difference, and the weather certainly does. When the two combine, the results can be spectacular! I was lucky enough to marry Jo and Jimmy at Oxon Hoath, on a beautiful hilltop location near Tonbridge (below). The couple had booked the place for themselves and guests had a free run of the lovely house and grounds. The sun shone gloriously and, although we were a bit hot, cold drinks were plentiful.

A truly joyous occasion.

outdoor civil wedding

Probably the most stunning location was Brett and Yana’s wedding in Cyprus. They took over a 5-star hotel overlooking the sea, and absolutely decked the terrace where the wedding would take place with flowers. Unforgettable!

destination wedding celebrant

One of my most wacky ceremonies was a mixed-faith wedding on an Iron Age fort (Old Sarum) overlooking Salisbury. Considering that January was one of the wettest on record, we got away with it very lightly! As for the service, we combined pagan and Jewish elements, and it was a really special day!

A pagan ceremony

Finally – and I am doing an injustice to many others by omitting them! – imagine sitting in formal gardens of Hedsor House in warm sunshine. You are facing the house, which is above you on a hill (see below).

celebrant-led wedding at Hedsor House

It gets to the part of the service when the rings are to be exchanged. All of a sudden, the celebrant gives Sam, the bride, a leather glove to put on. Sam holds her arm out – and along flies a barn owl carrying the rings!

Two people standing in front of a building

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Fortunately, Dusk, the owl, knows her role and is happy to carry it out – especially with the reward of a piece of chicken awaiting her!

Well, I hope you enjoyed travelling back with me to another era! Who knows whether such memories will be possible again, but I’m sure there’ll be many other great ones still to come.

To start the process of creating new ceremony memories, please have a chat with me.

Hedsor House photos: Matt Penberthy