There are countless cultural traditions that can be a source of inspiration for a wedding, but one of my very favorites is the Celtic, or Irish heritage. I’m not sure why, but there seem to be more rituals, customs and literary sources to draw from than just about any other group. There is a very strong identity for Irish people, so much so that even those with just a touch of Irish in their families want to tip their hat to this part of their background.
Let’s distinguish between Celtic and Irish, because Celtic encompasses more than just Ireland; it refers to territories in Brittany (the coast of Northern France), Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, and Ireland. If you go back far enough – Celtic tribes once inhabited land all the way to what is now Germany, Austria, France and Spain, before the Romans. These areas shared cultural traits such as art, history, music, dance, language and literature. Once powerful, most of the Celts were eventually conquered, and left with only Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They have kept some of their customs alive even while Ireland was under British rule.
What elements could you use to create a Celtic wedding? Many rituals are pagan, meaning coming from the time before the Christian era. If you are a Christian, you may still want use these symbols and rituals in honor of the past. If you are having a religious ceremony, however, you need to discuss this with your clergyperson. Most couples use these earth or nature centered rituals to show their love of nature. However if you are uncomfortable with the pagan aspect, there are other choices, notably music and literature.
Bagpipes – I truly do love them. I especially love it when a piper leads the wedding party down the aisle – procession or recessional! Of course there is plenty of classic Irish music that can be incorporated into your wedding, and anything from the Irish Harp, to fiddles, tin whistles, accordions, and a range of styles from folk to rock, playing jigs, reels, waltzes and polkas. Irish music continues to be popular, with bands like the Cheiftains. Any of this can add some Irish soul to your big day.
Rituals for your ceremony add the Celtic touch. One of the most popular is ‘tying the knot,’ or ‘handfasting’ which is thought to be one of the oldest symbols of marriage. There are different versions of this ritual and different explanations but the basic idea is the wrapping of cords or cloth around the couples’ wrists to bind them together. Historically this may have been for a trial marriage, much like an engagement would be today, but in more modern times it is most commonly used as a symbol of the marriage itself.
The Anam Cara is the ritual language that speaks to the joining of two souls while calling upon the ancient spiritual connection to the elements – fire, water, wind and earth.
The Irish Bell is a great story, sometimes known as the ‘Truce Bell,’ or ‘Saint Patrick’s Bell of Will.’ In this custom a couple is given a bell as a wedding gift, to be used to call a halt to arguing in the marriage. The sound of the bell ringing is to remind them of the gleam in their eye on their wedding day. Your officiant can ring the bell for your first kiss as a married couple at the conclusion of the ceremony! Tiny bells can be given to the guests as well – to help you ring in your new beginning. Similarly there is the Irish Loving Cup, to share the cup of life, and keep the cup for later use.
There is, of course, great literature associated with Irish culture, especially the many versions of the Irish and Scottish Wedding Blessings. There are also special wedding rings, that include Celtic symbols such as squares, spirals and circles, and knots; they all have specific meanings.
Kilts! I adore them! Scottish weddings use the family tartan, as the kilt, or as a sash. The groom can pin or place a sash from his family tartan to his bride as a symbol she’s joining his clan. Authentically every clan has it’s own unique plaid, but go ahead even if you don’t have your own tartan.
These are just a few of the many wonderful Celtic traditions, and there are many more, and that is probably why I love them. With so many to choose from it’s easy to find something that matches every Celtic couple’s personalities.
Photos provided by Lois Heckman