It was great! Last weekend I conducted an outdoor ceremony. And during the week too. And my next ceremony is due to be outdoors too.
It’s been a fabulous summer (so far), so it makes perfect sense. But let’s change tack slightly. What about a winter outdoor ceremony?
Hold your horses (or reindeer?), I hear you say. Who’d have a wedding or vow renewal in the open in the UK in the winter?
Well, I agree that it’s a huge gamble. (It can be a huge gamble in the summer too, of course!) Nobody relishes sitting through a wet, cold ceremony. But just imagine if you get one of those crisp, snowy days, with a blue sky. What could be more magical?
If you’re thinking of going for it, there are some ways of harnessing the climate to your advantage; you can also lessen its (negative) impact. So here’s what I, from my experience as a professional civil celebrant, suggest.
Once you’ve taken the plunge (sorry about the pun!), then the decision is made and you simply have to make the best of it.
Two nice touches you could adopt are:
- Issue blankets (whether in themed colours or not) to guests
- When the guests arrive at the reception, rather than ice-cold champagne, why not offer them hot chocolate or mulled wine?
Make the Weather your Theme
You can use snowy scenes as background for your wedding invitations, RSVP cards, and, on the day, for the place cards.
Table decoration could include pine cones, foliage and lots of white. If it is likely to be snowy weather, plain white can work very well for the colour scheme.
You might even replace flowers (which, being out of season locally, can be costly) with pine cone bouquets, which are attractive as well as rather original.
Candles or tea lights may be a good idea, but you will have to take good old health and safety into account – people need to be able to see where they’re going and you don’t want fires breaking out, either! Also bear in mind that exposure to the elements may cause candles to be blown out or even to fall over!
If you are having white as your themed colour, this may allow you to choose strong colours for bridesmaids, which could look very striking.
You can style the wedding cake with festive red and white.
It can be a lot cheaper to use your garden for the wedding, rather than hiring a venue, and it may have, well, a homely feel about it, which can be charming. However, you might save less money than you think, and you risk missing out on that valuable peace of mind that dealing with professionals should afford.
You’ll have to make suitable arrangements for tables, chairs, toilets, parking, catering, place settings and electricity. Then you will need to offer protection from the elements, possibly providing blankets, as already suggested, and even umbrellas.
So, yes, an outdoor winter ceremony is a dangerous gamble, but the rewards can be so worthwhile …!
Just contact me for further information.
There are no guarantees about the weather anywhere. Living on an island like Britain, we are not particularly surprised by heat in winter, or rains and snow in summer. So who would dare arrange an outdoor ceremony?
A wonderful setting for a handfasting!
Almost exactly four years ago, I was privileged to conduct a handfasting on an Iron Age fort that – as the picture above shows – was totally exposed. It was a period of exceptional floods across Britain. I drove down through torrential rain, and had to drive back through a thunderstorm. Amazingly, for the couple of hours I was up on Old Sarum (I had to be there early to set up), it didn’t rain and wasn’t even (very) cold.
I’ve officiated at a small number of outdoor ceremonies in the summer when the conditions were, shall we say, difficult. In one case, there was a sudden cloudburst during the wedding. Somebody had the presence of mind to bring a parasol from the hotel terrace to protect the bride (though not the celebrant!). On another occasion, a vow renewal, there was a yurt available, but the rains held off sufficiently, and we could stick to Plan A. On a third occasion, the day was cloudless and extremely hot for the naming ceremony. Fortunately, this was a garden event, and there were plenty of trees offering shade.
So what can you do, if the forecast is hot and sunny?
You can usually rely on some common sense on the part of your guests. They may bring a hat and maybe sunscreen etc.
You can make sure that plenty of cold drinks (preferably, not alcoholic at this stage) are available. Depending on the sort and size of ceremony and the venue, you may be able to offer parasols or small umbrellas for the guests. If shade is available, then make use of it. Finally, bring the guests out as late as possible, and keep the ceremony short, if that is feasible.
There’s not much you can do about wind, especially if your ceremony will be held at an exposed spot. One thing to be aware of is that wind will take sound away, so the celebrant’s voice, at least, will probably need to be amplified. Hats and veils will need attention, if they are not to be blown away.
When the rains are expected, you may be able to issue umbrellas to the guests. If there are seats, try and keep them covered with plastic, say, until the last moment.
If it’s muddy, perhaps the venue can put down some sort of (red?) carpet, so that heels don’t get submerged and trousers splashed.
Hopefully, guests will have the sense to arrive well-protected. It may be possible to issue blankets. If the length of the ceremony can be kept to a minimum, it might be appreciated by your guests.
Despite all this pessimism, of course, the chances are that the weather will be wonderful for your big day! And there’s nothing like having your ceremony outdoors – it really makes it special (just occasionally, for the wrong reasons, though!).
If your ceremony is in the grounds of the hotel, it’s worth chatting to them in advance, especially if adverse weather is anticipated. They may have a Plan B for you.
An outdoor ceremony? A gamble, yes – but one well worth taking.
With the snow coming down unseasonably hard in Harrow as I write, my thoughts turn to wedding weather. Not unreasonably, I suppose.
The weather can make such a difference …
So what arrangements can you make, if inclement weather looks like ruining your big day?
Clearly, it will make a difference whether your ceremony will be held outdoors, or not. The amount of warning you may have about dodgy weather may also play a part. If it’s a freak storm, you may be taken completely by surprise.
One wedding I took was meant to have begun at 5.30 (when it was very sunny and warm). Unfortunately, it couldn’t actually begin till 7.00 p.m., and the rain bucketed down. Nobody could have foreseen that.
All we could do was to borrow a parasol, so that at least the couple were protected!
If you’re using the garden of a private venue, say, there may be the possibility of going inside. The owners will appreciate maximum warning, of course, and there may be problems of space etc. Your guests will accept a little discomfort in the circumstances!
Should you (or, rather, the venue) be providing chairs, it may be possible to get the venue staff to dry them off just before everyone arrives (although that doesn’t solve the problem of continuous rain!).
If there isn’t that option, you simply have to grin and bear it. It will help a little bit, if your celebrant can add a bit of humour to the proceedings, but it may not be as fun as you would hope. However, with sufficient warning, you may be able to prepare umbrellas for your guests (and for the couple!). And once you’re wet, you’re wet …!
Maybe you know that it’s likely to be really muddy. Then you might want to warn people by e-mail (or even do so in the original invitation, especially if it’s a winter wedding). High heels may not be a great idea. A venue might be able to lay down some matting, or whatever, for the ceremony area.
If it’s freezing, unless you can lay on some hot water bottles, you will have to rely on people being sensible enough to come prepared.
For an outdoor winter wedding, it makes sense that, when you prepare the service with your celebrant, you aim at a reasonably brief ceremony. Another factor is that wind may make it very hard to hear what is going on. I did a Vow Renewal at Stonehenge last year. It was wonderful, but I was glad that it was a only a small ceremony, as the incessant wind presented real challenges to my vocal cords!
I ought to mention fine weather weddings (even in this country!). Especially if it’s a hot spell, organise shade, if you can – and water – for guests at outdoor weddings. Parasols may be a possibility.
Every wedding has its professional moaners, however beautiful and faultless it may be. Accept it! But realise that the vast majority of people will NOT blame you for the rain, snow, wind or sun, and will actually take Acts of God in their stride. Do what you can to mitigate stormy weather, and enjoy what you can.
At the very least, it may be a day that you and your guests never forget!
It’s never easy to predict the weather, especially in this country. So does it make any sense to opt for a winter wedding?
The idea of driving through floods and snowdrifts just to get to a wedding doesn’t appeal. Then the photographer wants everybody to assemble outside for half an hour (seemingly) in a freezing gale. It’s not most people’s idea of fun. So why not forget about a winter wedding and opt for another season?
Autumn appears reasonably reliable nowadays. Spring can be beautiful, but is very unpredictable. Early June seems to feature heavy downpours, so could be a dangerous choice. Summer – well, have the last few British summers been glorious? (I somehow don’t think I need to answer my question!)
So to choose a winter wedding is not as ridiculous as it first may appear. Although it’s likely to be colder, there’s a fair chance you’ll stumble upon a beautiful, fresh sunny day for your wedding. And our winters (at least, in London) seem to be getting milder by the year.
Finally, to look on the bright side of the weather, if you happen to get a proper white wedding, imagine what those photos will look like!
An advantage of winter weddings is that more of your invited guests are going to be free to attend. Of course, you can’t rule out the skiers and the odd ones who opt for the Antipodes at this time. However, a wedding during the summer holidays is inevitably going to clash with family holidays, and limit the take-up.
By booking out of season (avoiding Valentine’s Day), you are more likely to get the venue of your choice. If you haven’t booked a year or two in advance, your only hope for your ideal venue may to book for the winter.
You are certainly more likely to find a celebrant available out of season. That may well apply to other suppliers.
If you opt for the winter and are canny, you may be able to negotiate a discount with the venue and some of your suppliers. They will be glad to get bookings at a quiet time.
If you want to save still more money, consider a morning wedding (although bear in mind that those coming from far afield might have to make a very early start).
Not all suppliers will offer reductions. A florist may have trouble sourcing the flowers you want out of season, so their prices could actually be higher.
You can always try a bit of bargaining, and you never know what pleasant surprises may be awaiting you!
So give some thought to breaking the mould a bit. A winter wedding is a gamble (but so is a summer one!), but it could really pay dividends.
So it’s the unofficial start of summer tomorrow?
As I write, the wind is blowing wildly, the rain lashing down and the temperature is nothing to write home about. Plus ca change?
If you are planning an outdoor ceremony, it pays to be a gambler, especially in this country.
What do you do if you end up with weather like today’s? Obviously, you’ll need to have considered a Plan B.
There may not be many options, if you’re celebrating a ceremony at the seaside, up a mountain or at Stonehenge (which is notoriously exposed), but there are a few things that can be done.
I’m doing a handfasting at Stonehenge this midsummer’s day. I am expecting extremes of climate, so I’ll be bringing a couple of golfing umbrellas and either or both of sunscreen or a hat. (I’ll leave my decision about pullovers and the like till the day!)
If you’re holding an outdoor ceremony at a “safer” location, such outside a barn, you may be able to arrange beforehand that there are umbrellas (or parasols) available. You also ought to consider arranging for jugs of water and paper cups to be at hand, in case the weather lives up to the billing of “summery”.
You may also have to think about supplying fold-up chairs, especially if you are expecting a number of older or disabled guests.
Another potential problem is access. How to guests find the venue, especially if it’s in deepest Nature? (Is parking going to be adequate? Do joining instructions include satnav instructions? What about toilets?) You’ll need to be really precise about meeting times and places. It might also be worth advising guests about wearing sensible clothes/shoes, not least if access may be, for example, through a boggy field or up a stony path.
If you’re having a reception afterwards, you’ll need to ensure that directions are clear. (You may also need to warn the venue that timings can’t be guaranteed.)
Another factor that you will have to think about – or your civil celebrant may be able to help you with – is the acoustics. If you’re outdoors, you may have to contend with aircraft, neighbours mowing their lawn, the crashing of breakers on the sea, or the like.
As people are going to want to hear every word being pronounced, you are going to think seriously about lay-out. Presumably, you won’t have a sound system up Ben Nevis, or wherever, so the celebrant will need to be able to project his voice loudly and clearly. Guests will also want to be able to hear any words/vows that you may be uttering.
Weighing it all up
It’s simpler and safer to hold an indoor ceremony. An outdoor one risks being memorable for the wrong reasons (“Do you remember X’s wedding, when we all got deluged/when the candles blew away/when we all got sunstroke?”).
However, if you’re prepared to take a risk or two (and consider what to do, if things don’t quite go to plan), an outdoor ceremony can be utterly special and fabulous.
What will you opt for?