Niamh Davis Humanist Celebrant. Photo: Ivana Patarcic

The dos and dont’s of saying... ‘I do’

For many of us, our wedding vows are the most important words we'll ever speak. Typically in Christian ceremonies these vows are spoken with a priest's assistance in a set format, but for those married in a humanist ceremony it's the couples who decide upon the vows.

Virginia based celebrant Niamh Davis, who has up to 400 humanist weddings under her belt, happily gives advice to couples well ahead of the big day.

“When I meet with the couple, I speak with them for an hour to get to know them and then, when we talk about the vows, the first thing I asked them is: Are they comfortable speaking at length in front of everyone? And a lot of Irish couples don't want to do that.

“They are more happy and comfortable saying 'I do', because it is nerve wrecking. So, do you want to say 'I do' or do you want to read vows to one another.”

A practical piece of advice for those reading out their vows is to use card or a laminated page as a piece of paper may shake if adrenaline is coursing through you. Also, this isn't your Leaving Cert, so don't try to memorise the vows.

“I never make couples memorise anything. I want them to be present, I don't want them to be concerned and worried about the next step, so I tell them what to do, and when to say it.”

Beyond the legally required vows, the promises couples make are entirely up them.

Niamh advises to not start from a blank piece of paper. Instead she gives a selection of example vows. From this they can pick, choose, ignore or adapt as they wish.

“It's an absolutely personal thing. It's something that only the couples themselves can know if it's a meaningful thing for them.

“Especially younger couples, they tend to vow 'To always give you the remote control', or something like that,” she says with a good natured laugh.

“I suggest, make it a realistic vow – you don't want to be breaking your vows on the first week!”

Niamh also explains to couples that their vows don't need to be matching.

“One person within the relationship can say one thing and the other person can say another thing, and that's fine as well. That's also important, because they are individuals.”

Finally Niamh explains that many of the couples she has helped marry express concern for their parents' expectations.

“A lot of couples are anxious about what their parents feel. It is a conversation I still have quite a lot: 'My parents are a bit worried about this – my parents wanted a church wedding'.

"I give them advice about how to talk to their parents, I suggest they show their parents the ceremony script once I write it. Something I say at the start of the ceremony is, that this is a very recognisable, and mostly a traditional ceremony."

For very conservative or religious families Niamh suggests including elements that would occur in a Christian wedding, such as the candle unity ceremony.

"It really puts them at ease, and I think it makes a couple more relaxed. And while I feel that ceremony is very much the couple's choice, I do understand where some couples are coming from with that anxiety.

“And every single wedding I've done – I mean around 90% of weddings - I have had and older person come up to me and say, 'I had no idea what to expect, that was amazing. Thank you so much.' That happens all the time.”