As a matter of fact, there are many Celtic wedding customs to choose from. Most of these quaint and touching traditions were intended to bless the new couple with good fortune, expressing the fond wishes of their loved ones. As a modern Celtic couple, you can pick and choose. Prioritize your favorites and consider how the entire scope of your ceremony and wedding reception can incorporate them. You may decide that just one or two items are worth including. You want the right elements, not ALL elements otherwise the proceedings may become too complicated and you may get frazzled.
GOOD CELTIC CHEER
We have already discussed how the Celts put their own spin on the custom of the Wedding Toast to the Couple. But toasting a drinking has no limit. Be creative with how you use it! Do you want champagne, Irish honey wine (mead) or whisky for your guests to toast with? Whisky glasses work for all three and are a very affordable souvenir option. Tankards are a very popular gift for the groomsmen. Any of the Celtic wedding customs that involve liquid could use these vessels.
TO A LONG LIFE!
The Best Man, or another friend, should give the couple a clock to represent longevity. This hearkens back to when clocks were new and very expensive — a significant contribution to the newlyweds’ new household. You may see timepieces marketed as “wedding clocks” today because of this old custom. Modernly, a pocket-watch is sometimes given as a more personal gift to the groom. Another symbol of longevity is the infinite (or infinity) knot used as a design on many Celtic wedding bands.
Before the big day, the bride should receive a Luckenbooth pin. These brooches, shaped like a heart topped by a crown, were originally symbols of betrothal (a Scottish equivalent of the Irish Claddagh). The curious name comes from the “locked booths” of the jewelers along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh from whom the would-be groom would buy the item. Like an engagement ring, it represented an investment and serious commitment. The Luckenbooth may be pinned to the bride during the ceremony. And this is one of those Celtic wedding customs linked to heirlooms and the future — the keepsake is often pinned to the swaddling of the couple’s baby at its christening.
In old times, a bride would give her groom a shirt, the “wedding sark”. This probably hearkens back to medieval times when the women of the household made all the clothing for the family. The sark represented her love and commitment and also advertised her domestic skills. (Similarly, this is why you wear new clothes in Easter Sunday — they indicated that the household was content and that the womenfolk had been secure and productive during the long winter months) In return, the groom would buy the wedding dress. Nowadays, mutual gifts of clothing can be a fun, as well as meaningful, gesture. It could be items to wear during the ceremony, or “for fun” things to change into for the reception or the first day of the honeymoon.
Another token of good fortune and happiness is the inclusion of white heather in the bouquet, boutonnieres and other flower arrangements – it’s just an all around great decoration. In Scotland, heather is said to be stained with the blood of clan wars. White is therefore the luckiest for it has grown where no blood has been shed. Scottish warriors often wore a sprig of white heather for protection. Queen Victoria popularized the wearing of white heather by brides. If you prefer the purple variety, don’t fret — all heather is symbolic of strength, resilience and domestic well-being. A genuine, hand-braided heather broom is a classic home blessing gift.
SHARING THE TARTAN
Tartan is always on proud display at a Celtic wedding: the groom’s kilt, binding the bouquet, sashes or rosettes for the bridesmaids, table and altar cloths…it can be everywhere! We already mentioned using a bit of tartan cloth for a Handfasting, but there is more one may do. Often, the groom’s ensemble will include a Fly Plaid (the cape-like tartan thrown over the shoulder and secured with a large brooch). During the ceremony, especially during vows or the homily, the groom may drape his fly plaid over the bride’s shoulder. Alternately, he may present her with a sash or shawl in his family tartan so that as they leave the altar together, they match. Another variation is for the bride to pin the fly plaid on the groom (especially if it is her family’s tartan). Other family members or an officiant may also present tartan to the bride and/or groom. There really is no wrong way to use this beautiful and symbolic cloth.
At the conclusion of the wedding you may want to host a Scramble. It’s quite simple; the groom, or sometimes the bride’s father or Best Man, takes coins from his sporran and tosses them about for the children at the gathering to “scramble” for. This gesture demonstrates generosity, which was heavily linked to good fortune in ancient times. It can be a fun alternative to throwing rice or bird seed at the couple, or done in conjunction with that.
STEPPING OUT…OR IN
In a traditional Scottish wedding, the couple are not so much introduced at the reception as paraded in. And everyone takes part. This is known as the “Scottish Grand March” and it really counts as the first dance of the evening. As Celtic wedding customs go, it is one of the most impressive and fun. The bagpiper will play a foursome reel (sometimes leading the procession as well).The newly-weds enter the hall first, hand in hand. They are followed by the wedding party, then the parents, and finally the guests. The reel can continue as long as people like. It often wraps up with the guests forming a circle around the room. As the music continues, the bride leads her father or grandfather to the center of the floor for their Father-Daughter Dance. Guests can clap along, or you can transition to more modern music. This ritual really builds excitement and energy and allows everyone to be involved.
Celtic symbols, as you have noticed, appear on many many items. Some of these have deep meaning. Others are simply enjoyable for the Celtic aesthetic they contain. You may wish to decorate your wedding venue with some of them to add depth and beauty. Tartan fabric can be used for altar cloths or table cloths (washable PV is especially good for this). If you are Irish, the Claddagh can be hung from the front of the wedding party’s table at the reception. If you are Christian, having a Celtic Cross of your own as part of the set-up can be inspiring. If you are Pagan, the Celtic Tree of Life can offer similar warmth. Be liberal with your decor, even if it is as simple as tartan plaid ribbon on bouquets and flower arrangements. Celtic weddings tend to be splashy and very, very colorful!