Humanist Marriage — An Interview with celebrant Holly Austin Davies

Young Humanists
9 min readJun 5, 2020
Photo by Wallace Araujo from Pexels

In the UK, marriage is a devolved issue: humanist marriages enjoy legal recognition in Scotland, Northern Ireland, but not yet in England and Wales. They offer non-religious couples the opportunity to have a personal, flexible ceremony that celebrates their love, and allows them to go above and beyond what would be contained in a normal Civil/Register Office. Young Humanists wanted to find out more about what a Humanist Wedding can entail — and so sat down for a socially distanced chat with Humanist Wedding Celebrant Holly Austin Davies

Thanks for agreeing to chat with us Holly. I appreciate it’s a particularly difficult time for those planning marriages, humanist or otherwise, but it would be great to find out more about what you do, and why you do it. So, starting on a big one — What drew you to Humanism?

In short — Tim Minchin! I was listening to his music whilst at Uni, and, wanting to know more about him, read his Wikipedia page when I saw it said he was a humanist. I had no idea what that meant, so did the research and the Humanist Quiz came up (try this yourself here) It seemed to be along my line of thinking, and confirmed that I was most definitely a humanist. Humanism ticked all my boxes -there are no viewpoints that I find a stretch, nothing that requires any cognitive dissonance from me, it was just oddly comforting to find an organisation and a group of people that supported the things I support, enjoy the things I enjoy, and have such a positive slant on things. I find that particularly with the ceremonies — they’re very valuable things to have.

Comedian, Musician, Composer and Humanist Tim Minchin

On the Ceremony front — when did you decide that was something you wanted to do? Did you attend a Humanist wedding that sparked this?

No, I’d never been to a Humanist wedding before, but I’d read about them online. I was looking for something that gave me direction and purpose in my free time, and personally I like listening to people, finding out their stories, and discovering those little nuggets that crop up in conversation that aren’t necessarily big overblown declarations of love for another person, but random little things that you can see friends and family doing that are so indicative of how people feel about each other, and speak to a deep connection that you couldn’t necessarily put into words. To try and frame that within the context of a ceremony, and convey that feeling across to people that directly reflects a relationship and is appropriate for a couple hugely appealed. A humanist ceremony isn’t constrained by tradition — I’ve found that even with religious ceremonies you find that they can sometimes feel that, whilst a religious ceremony can be a reflection of beliefs and thus more personal because of it, Humanist weddings have this truly unique representation of a relationship that means so much to people. For many people, putting the history of a relationship and the love for another person into words can be difficult, so being able to articulate that for someone is hugely important — knowing that wedding is special not just because of a dress or some flowers, but because the ceremony accurately reflects a feeling rather than just being a coldly legal ‘let’s sign here and now I can visit you in hospital if you’re breathing your last’ sort of transaction.

Holly Austin-Davies conducting a Humanist Wedding Ceremony — photo copyright Hannah K Photography

How have you found the couples you’re working with and planning weddings with, have reacted during this Pandemic?

I think a lot of people have obviously been upset — but the situation is so completely out of their control that I think that has helped. The overriding response has been one of concern for others — nobody wants granny to pop her clogs because she turned up at a wedding, which is completely understandable. There has been a lot of resignation, and a grim acceptance. All of my couples have postponed, and to be honest it’s been really quite sad, although I know all of them are planning on rearranging. I know a few celebrants have done online meetings to mark the date, but that’s not something any of my couples wanted or have been interested in, I think because they don’t want to think of that date as their wedding anymore — it’s sad, but they want to let it pass and have the new date to focus on.

As someone whose own wedding has been postponed due to all of this — I completely agree! For you, what are your favourite bits of helping a couple put together a ceremony?

That moment when you have your first meeting with a couple, and pull out the little things that you’re going to incorporate into a ceremony, the little events in their lives that might be nice to recall and reflect on, and they invariably go off into a tangent — it can end up being an incredibly rich and detailed retelling of the relationship. From that you can pick out bits that make them a couple — moments where they’re relying on each other and bouncing off each other, making little digs at each other and references to things they’ve done. It’s those sort of things that show you the essence of who they are, and help you to build the ceremony. What they tell you may just be about a story about a holiday, but it’s so much more than that, and indicative of so many things that make them who they are, and show how they fit together so well and accommodate each other and celebrate each other. The proposal stories — the effort that goes into some of these! Not necessarily the grand, romantic proposals, but couples who have bought the rings three years in advance because they were convinced five minutes in that they’d met the person they want to marry, or when someone has spent a considerable amount of time picking an inconspicuous spot for a proposal, like a table in a restaurant where they’ve phoned up beforehand in order to ensure that they’ve got a quiet table in order not to put pressure on their shy partner. It’s all those little considerations and care that goes into a relationship that you can pick out through those stories. It’s nice and uplifting.

Photo by Gustavo Tabosa from Pexels

Lastly — what do you think makes a Humanist wedding stand out?

If you’ve never been to a Humanist wedding (and most people haven’t), then you have no idea of just how different they are until somebody sits down and explains one to you. Certainly when I got married — I didn’t know about humanism or humanist weddings, so I just had a Civil Ceremony. We were really fortunate that the registrars were lovely, but you pick the vows you want five minutes beforehand, picked a couple of readings, and after the briefing and the vows you’re done. It serves a purpose, but you feel like it should be a bigger occasion with more consideration — and whilst it is a solemn legally binding ceremony, it can feel like a visit to the solicitor when it should be bigger — you’re getting married! With religious weddings — there’s obviously that issue if you’re not religious then the wedding isn’t going to reflect you, but I feel that, even if you are religious, there’s an argument that the wedding still isn’t reflecting you — it’s reflecting god, and perhaps how god is manifesting in your relationship or how you choose to celebrate god, but it doesn’t get around the fact that there’s clearly a third person in the relationship. Humanist Ceremonies are purely about the couple and their intention, and the essence of what that celebration is supposed to be about, which I think we’ve maybe drifted away from, or perhaps never really had in the first place. We hold up marriage as this incredible pillar of our society — it’s an aim and something to be celebrated, but we do it in such an abstract way that I think we’ve lost sight of the reasons for it in the first place. So many ceremonies you go to, it is almost like watching the signing of a contract, and I think with Humanist ceremonies, it is so completely different -so much about why you’re there. With so many weddings people go away thinking “Wasn’t the food nice” or “Didn’t she have a nice dress”, but I hope that people go away from humanist weddings reflecting on what’s good about humanity. Whether you’re religious or not, you should be able to see in a humanist ceremony, love expressed in whatever way it needs to be expressed. It’s this huge and overwhelming emotion that we feed into so many aspects of our lives, but we don’t really celebrate it, or if we do it’s in an abstract way. I feel that a humanist ceremony really brings that emotion to the fore, saying “Here are two indivuals who, to all extents and purposes may never have met, who may never have got on. But by some weird quirk here they are today, making this incredible commitment to each other, and celebrating each other, saying look how amazing this person I’ve found is, I want to spend the rest of my life with them! We may not believe in god, we may not believe in an afterlife, we may not see this as anything other than celebrating this day, this moment in time, everything that has brought us to this point and everything we hope to go on to do”. It’s one hell of a thing to celebrate -that connection between individuals who think that each other are amazing. It should be shouted from the rooftops, and a humanist ceremony allows you to properly shout about it — this is who we are, this is what we plan, isn’t it fantastic, and let’s party!

Holly Austin Davies is a Birmingham based Wedding Celebrant who can be contacted through her website, and Instagram.

Join our Online event on Humanist Marriage

Holly will also be speaking at our online discussion on Humanist Marriage — head to the event page here to check out the details and sign up

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Young Humanists

Young Humanists is the 18–35 section of Humanists UK. We want a world where tolerance, empathy and reason prevail.