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How to have a humanist ceremony

With more than half of the British population professing to no religion, and with only a third of today’s weddings taking place in church, it’s no surprise that humanist ceremonies are becoming ever more popular.

But what exactly is a humanist wedding, and how does it differ from a civil ceremony? Well, the main difference is that a humanist ceremony is not legally binding in England and Wales – if you want to be married in the eyes of the law, you still need to get yourself down to a registry office and sign the official forms (Scotland is one of only six countries in the world which recognises humanist ceremonies as the equivalent of a civil or church ceremony).

But apart from that, the world is your oyster – a humanist ceremony can be anything you want it to be! Personal and non-religious, a humanist ceremony allows a couple to blend together all the things that are meaningful to them – writing your own vows, and deciding what rituals or symbolic actions to include. You can choose to marry outside, or at a location that means something special to you. You can be married by a celebrant (for example from the British Humanist Association), or by someone that knows you well and would relish the role.

As well as being a great style of ceremony for non-religious types who do not mind signing the legal papers later (or earlier), and for free-wheelers who want to do everything a bit differently, it is also a popular choice for couples who come from two different religious or cultural backgrounds and do not want to give dominance to either one. As humanist weddings do not have religious elements the couple are free to celebrate the things that they have in common, rather than their differences.

Melville Castle, Edinburgh


Nicola and Derek held their humanist wedding at Melville Castle in Edinburgh in August this year, and were thrilled both with the venue and with their ceremony. ‘Everyone who attended our wedding commented on how personal and sincere the ceremony was. Mostly people said that it felt “real”,’ said Nicola. ‘We feel lucky that our wedding vows really reflected our relationship. We joked, laughed and cried while writing our ceremony – which I think is the whole point – and ultimately it helped bring us closer and really take ownership of our wedding day. We got a chance to tell our story to the people who matter most in the world to us.’

Melville Castle has a history of accommodating humanist weddings, which can be held in its magnificent ballroom, or for smaller gatherings, in the Arniston or Ante rooms. Ceremonies can also be held outside on the south lawn near the fountain, if the weather is being kind. The 18th century castle was built for entertaining on a grand scale, so it is perfect as a wedding venue – and the cuisine offered, Scottish with a French twist, is as delicious as it is intriguing!


Danby Castle, Whitby

Another castle that welcomes humanist ceremonies is Danby Castle in Whitby, North Yorkshire. Laura and Stephen held their humanist wedding here in 2013, and incorporated a cake bake-off, a live band, an afternoon tea and a hand-fasting ceremony.

Humanist ceremonies here have been held outside on the lawns, among the ruins and in the Court Room. ‘The whole thing was very meaningful and personal to Stephen and I,’ Laura told As part of their ceremony they chose to include handfasting, which comes from the Old Norse and means ‘to strike a bargain by joining hands’. It signifies a couple coming together as one. ‘My brother and Stephen’s sister bound our hands together after each vow,’ explained Laura.

‘Danby Castle has an informal and relaxed feel which is exactly what we were looking for. We wanted our guests to enjoy themselves and have a good day and therefore did not want anything too formal. The food was amazing, we had a vintage tea party followed by hog roast buns, people are still talking about how good the food was!’

They couple also jumped over a broom at the end of the ceremony, symbolising the threshold they were about to cross together into married life – a ‘leap of faith’!

Danby’s atmospheric ruins make for a romantic and memorable outdoor ceremony, but you can also get married in the Court Room or the Threshing Barn. Catering is very varied – from hog roasts to three-course fine dining to afternoon tea, and although there is no accommodation provided you and your guests can glamp in the castle grounds. Fun!

Lantallack, Cornwall

Finally, right down at the other end of the country in Cornwall, Lantallack is an open and flexible venue that encourages humanist ceremonies. Its free-spirited vibe, with undulating countryside and big sunsets, make it a dream setting for laidback couples, and the owners encourage whole-weekend weddings to make the most of the surroundings.



The historic Cart Barn, Wisteria Walk or Lawn Terrace are all available for humanist (and civil) ceremonies, and with room for 12 people to stay in charming bedrooms, this Grade II listed Georgian farm is a shoo-in for a weekend to remember. There’s a heated outdoor pool, croquet lawn and many opportunities to enjoy the glorious surrounding countryside.



For more information about humanist ceremonies or to find a celebrant near you, visit the British Humanist Association here.

Picture Credits: Header Image – WhimiscalWonderlandWeddings, Nicola and Derek- HumantistWeddingsInScotland Photography by EwalaBuda, Laura and Stephen – WhimsicalWonderlandWeddings,





Sarah has been a journalist and writer for more than 20 years, including 12 at The Telegraph Magazine, and is still dining out on her own wedding tales after more than a decade.