Celtic Weddings Offer Many Choices

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. There are many rituals and words to draw upon as well as a strong sense of identity for people with Irish roots – so much so that even those with just a touch of Irish in their families want to tip their hat to it. Statistically about 10.5 percent (33 million)of Americans have Irish heritage.

An Celtic Wedding! (Rhinehart Photography)

Although I sometimes use the terms interchangeable, we should distinguish between Celtic and Irish. The term Celtic encompasses more than just Ireland; it refers to six territories: 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. Celts share cultural traits such as art, history, music, dance, language and literature. Once powerful, most of the Celts were eventually conquered by the Romans, and were left with only Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  They have kept 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. 

Piper leads the couple (Armen Elliot Photography)

In my recent column about bells I wrote about theIrish Belltradition, which is a great story, sometimes known as the ‘Truce Bell,’ or ‘Saint Patrick’s Bell of Will.’  For a re-cap: 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, a cup with two handles, used to share the cup of life. You may recognize the style as the one given out as a trophy. Like the bell, the cup can be saved as a keepsake.

Bagpipes– I truly do love them. I especially love it when a piper leads the wedding party down the aisle – procession, recessional, or both. There is plenty of 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 evolve, with bands like the Chieftains. Any of this can add some Irish soul to your big day.

One of the most popular Celtic ritual is ‘tying the knot,’ or ‘handfasting’which is thought to be one of the oldest symbols of marriage. There are different versions of this and different explanations, but the basic idea is to wrap 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.

In referencing Anam Carayou are using the ritual language that speaks to the joining of two souls and calling upon the ancient spiritual connection to the elements – fire, water, wind and earth.

Photo credit: Rhinehart Photography

Kilts!I adore them! Scotland is primarily associated with kilts, and for their wedding men are excited for the opportunity to wear their kilt. A kilt is made from the family tartan (wool of a very specific pattern unique to each clan) or perhaps they just wear the tartan as a sash. But Irish men also wear kilts. The groom may also pin or place a sash of his family tartan on his bride as a symbol she’s joining his clan. If you don’t have your own tartan, many people don’t, you can still wear a kilt.

There is, of course, great literature associated with Irish culture, there are several 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 meaning.

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 much to choose from it’s easy to find something that matches every Celtic couple’s personality.


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