Wedding ceremonies, and particularly outdoor wedding ceremonies, are not something we have been able to speak about much in the last year, are they? But after an extremely tough 12 months for any couple who was planning to tie the knot it looks like, with a little bit of luck and hope, the full-scale weddings we remember will be back from 21st June 2021. I’m hoping that this will kick off a summer of weddings to remember! And, with summer, often comes the increasingly popular demand for outdoor ceremonies. There are plenty of places on the web to read up on the legalities surrounding outdoor ceremonies, but I also wanted to talk about a some logistical points that can often be overlooked when there is so much else to think about.
Firstly, the Current Laws
So firstly, what exactly are the current laws governing outdoor wedding ceremonies?
In England and Wales it is currently a legal requirement for the ceremony to take place under a fixed structure*. A gazebo or an arbour will usually suffice but does have to be licensed. Unfortunately, getting married in a temporary marquee in your family garden, on the beach or in a beautiful lavender field does not hold any legal weighting. Yet…!
Before the wedding industry was brought to a standstill in 2020, discussions had begun about lifting these restrictions. This idea is to allow much more flexibility on where you can get married. I’m keeping everything crossed that we might start to hear more about these relaxed rules soon.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, laws are already more laid back and you can get married more or less anywhere, so long as you have a licensed celebrant to marry you. Here, it is the person marrying you, not the venue, who is licensed.
Having a Plan B
So, rules and regulations aside, what else should you think about?
Living in Britain, the obvious thing to mention is to always have a Plan B. We all know that British summers are nothing if not unpredictable and so we can never guarantee that the sun is going to shine down on your ceremony. It’s important to not only have a Plan B, but also to thoroughly think it through. For example…
- Is your venue’s indoor ceremony space large enough to accommodate all of your guests?
- Will having the ceremony indoors disrupt or change any of the other plans you had?
- Some venues use the same space for the ceremony and the wedding reception. Is there someone available to change the area around whilst you’re enjoying drinks elsewhere?
- By when does your venue need a final decision on whether you’d like the ceremony inside or outside? Most venues are flexible and will let you decide on the morning, but also bear in mind that the registrar gets the final say.
Well, let’s assume that all is well and the ceremony will be held outside. What else do you need to think about?
If you’re going ahead with an outdoor ceremony, the weather is clearly on your side. However most of us don’t tend to think about what to do should the weather be too hot! If there is no shade surrounding your fixed structure, do bear the comfort of your guests in mind.
- If men are in suits, you might consider relaxing the dress code slightly to something a little cooler.
- Is there a tree or other shade nearby under which elderly (or even younger) guests can sit and still hear the service without being in direct sun?
- Could you provide a water station near to the seating area?
- Maybe as a wedding favour you could supply small, paper fans for everyone.
Even if your ceremony is only going to be around 20 minutes long, showing a bit of thought in extreme heat will certainly be appreciated by your congregation.
The weather might be warm and dry enough to hold your ceremony in the open air but, before you leave pretty Orders of Service or dainty cones of confetti on chairs, just make sure there is no chance of strong winds on that day. The last thing you want is for rose petals to be flying around before anyone is in their seats! But on a serious note, as mentioned before, the registrar does get the final say on where the ceremony can be held. If they deem it to be too windy, you may have to move indoors. They simply can’t risk any damage being done to the register which hundreds of newlyweds have signed before you.
Another thing you need to consider is sound. You want everyone to be able to hear your vows, the readings, the words spoken as you exchange rings… so make sure that this is still possible when you’re all outdoors. Your venue will be able to give you a good idea of what they normally do and for outdoor ceremonies. Perhaps they like to bring in a PA system to ensure even those at the back hear every word. If you’re having live music to walk down and back up the aisle to, or even during the ceremony, do also check with the musicians that they are happy to play outside.
Lastly, consider a Celebrant…
Whilst the laws stand as they do in England and Wales, you might be thinking that your dream wedding in your childhood family garden is not an option. It can be! You could complete the legal marriage formalities in a Register Office, with two witnesses, prior to your big day. Then, book yourself a celebrant to “marry you” in front of all your friends and family in your dream location. A wedding celebrant is not able to conduct a legal marriage registration, but so long as that part has been completed prior, they can offer a personal, unique and truly heartfelt ceremony in a location of your choice. Take a look at my interview with Cotswolds Celebrant Julia Hawkes, for my information.
So, as the weather starts to warm up and as we wait patiently for our beloved weddings to pick up momentum again, you can think forward to planning your outdoor wedding and hopefully this has given you some food for thought.
*Laws in England and Wales may change soon, but at the time this blog post was written, these facts are correct.