The modern Celtic wedding is a mix of classic and contemporary traditions. Here are ten tips for planning your big day.
The Engagement Party; Usually it is the father of the bride who hosts an engagement party at which he pledges his daughter’s hand and asks the groom to take good care of her. This is more traditional than the father giving his daughter away at the wedding ceremony.
Showing of the Presents; With special ties to Scotland, the mother of the bride hosts an afternoon tea to which guests are expected to bring presents to help the young couple set up home. It can be held either before or after the wedding. In some cases, all of the gifts are unwrapped and displayed, and the bride leads her guests on an informal tour.
Rings; Traditionally only the bride receives a ring, although this is changing. In Ireland, the Claddagh ring is still popular, while in Scotland, rings can incorporate the groom’s clan crest. Recently knotwork rings, symbolizing eternity, have become popular. An even newer trend is to have the ring finger tattooed with knotwork to represent everlasting love.
Bride’s Wedding Outfit; The bride wears a circlet of flowers or jewels rather than a veil. Handcraft jewellers are often delighted to design a diadem to the bride’s specifications. The dress is usually flowing rather than tight fitting. White is still popular, although some brides are choosing to have a dress designed in their clan’s tartan. The fabric should be rich, like satin, and beadwork is very trendy.
Invitations and Place Settings; Ideas include embossing wedding invitations and place setting cards with Celtic knotwork or, for a Scottish wedding, with both the bride and groom’s clan crests. A sprig of white heather may also be attached to the place cards. You can also buy or rent glassware with knotwork or clan crests etched into them, although these can be quite pricey. Some couples choose to cover the head table with linens made from their family tartans.
Flowers; Many Celtic brides prefer bouquets of wildflowers, and both white heather and English lavender are favoured. Quite often the entire bridal party will either wear or carry white heather for luck.
The Wedding Cake; The Irish favour whiskey cakes while the Scots lean towards fruitcake iced with marzipan. In Scotland, the bride cuts the cake with a dirk, guided by her new husband’s hand. Other cake customs include putting small pieces of cake into tiny boxes to present to each guest, sealed with Celtic knotwork, the groom’s clan crest or a tartan ribbon tie. Each box should include the name of the bride and groom as well as the date of the wedding. Some couples like to keep the top layer of their cake to eat on their first anniversary or to serve at their first child’s christening. Ask around. You may find an adventurous baker in your neighbourhood keen to ice your wedding cake in tartan.
Music; There are lots of ways to introduce Celtic music into your wedding plans. Hire a bagpiper to play at the entrance to the church as guests arrive or to pipe the bride and groom into the wedding reception or dinner. Arrange to have Gaelic hymns, including “Highland Wedding” played in church. Ask a Celtic harper to play during the reception. Hire a Celtic band or musician to play at the wedding dance or give your D.J. a selection of Celtic CDs. Dance to the rhythms of Scotland and Ireland: reels, jigs and step-dances can be lively affairs. It might also be fun to introduce some Scottish Country dances to your guests, but make sure the wedding party has practiced the steps in advance.
The Church Service; Traditionally the bride and groom go down the aisle together while guests throw grains of rice. Vows are often in Gaelic or English translations of traditional Gaelic vows. In Scotland, after the couple is married, the groom pins a ribbon of his clan’s tartan to his wife’s bodice to symbolize she now belongs to his clan.
Wedding Dinner; Serve a little honey mead along with a selection of wines, and make sure your male guests are supplied with a shot of good single malt whisky. Male guests may also be given cigars wrapped inside knotwork packaging or the groom’s tartan. Female guests may be presented with chocolates soaked in whisky.