I think it helps to be ‘a hopeless romantic’ when you’re a celebrant. Surrounded by love on one of the best days of anyone’s life you can’t help but be inspired and touched by the bridal couple’s love story and the love that surrounds them from family and friends. Sarah of Sarah Aird Civil Celebrant brings to celebrancy her own sense of fun, but importantly is able to personalise your ceremony to fit your personalities. Armed with lots of resources, experience and suggestions, she is your go-to person to start your wedding day festivities with the panache they deserve. Let’s join Sarah as she tells us all about her profession.
How long have you been a celebrant?
I was registered to perform marriages in October 2013, and officiated at my first wedding in January 2014.
Why did you decide to become a celebrant?
Following a senior administration career, I left a toxic work environment and couldn’t decide what to do next. All I knew was I didn’t want to be a PA anymore. A couple of months later I attended my cousin’s wedding, and I was so inspired by the celebrant I immediately thought that’s it! I’m going to be a celebrant.
What excites you about wedding celebrancy?
I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, and I’m completely in love with love. I love that couples have a special day where they get to say beautiful things to each other and vow to spend their lives together in front of their most important people.
What personal qualities do you bring to your job?
Apart from being extremely well organised and efficient, I’m warm, calming (very important for stressed out brides!), and truly passionate about providing an incredible experience for my couples.
How many ceremonies do you conduct in a day?
Two is generally my maximum, no less than four hours apart. I like to leave enough time between ceremonies for the first bride to be an hour late, the ceremony to take an hour, the drive to the next venue to take an hour, and still arrive an hour before the start of the next one! Because of my well-honed organisational skills and processes, I am able to easily switch between couples, ensuring I have the right paperwork and the right script for each ceremony. My timing also allows me to take time to disconnect from the first ceremony and get in the right headspace for the second ceremony.
Having said all that, my record so far is four in a day! I had two legals only ceremonies at the same venue at 11am and 11.30am, a premium ceremony at 3.30pm, and a short and sweet surprise wedding at 8pm. There was more than enough time between each ceremony for me to drive between venues, relax, and even eat proper meals!
How many meetings do you usually have with the couple when planning their ceremony? What do you look for at the first meeting?
I meet with a couple up to three times before their ceremony: once for an obligation free meet and greet to talk them through my process and see if we’re a good match, once three months before their ceremony to complete legal paperwork and plan their ceremony, and once for a rehearsal (if they want one) in the week before the ceremony.
At the first meeting I’m looking to ensure the couple understands how I work, what I charge, and what I can offer. From there it’s up to them to decide if I’m a good fit for their day!
What if a couple has no idea where to start?
No problem! I have SO MANY resources to help out my couples. The beauty of a civil ceremony is that apart from the 124 legally required words, couples can pretty much do whatever they want. However it’s hard to build a ceremony out of nothing, particularly if the couple hasn’t been to many weddings before. Every couple gets a comprehensive ceremony builder booklet with lots of ideas and suggestions of things they might like to include in their ceremony, and on top of that I have additional resources that I can send them if and when they’re required.
Do you encourage couples to personalize their ceremony?
Absolutely! As much as I’m happy to give my couples whatever kind of ceremony they want, whether it’s traditional and non-personalised or completely whacky and unique, everyone loves a personalised ceremony and I always encourage my couples to think about what they really want to include. I love it when I get to tell the story of how they met, why they fell in love and what they’re looking forward to about being married, and I love it when they write heartfelt, personal vows to each other. These are the pinnacles of the ceremony for me, and as much as they’re more work, it’s all worth it on the day.
How much guidance do you give them?
As much or as little as they want! Everyone gets my comprehensive ceremony builder booklet, but there’s also lots of additional resources I can provide if needed, as well as the posts on my blog on all sorts of ceremony-related topics. Some couples know exactly what they want though, and that’s fine by me too – I get to do this every day but most couples will only do it once, so it needs to be perfect for them!
Are you able to provide examples of ceremonies and readings that are a little different from the usual?
What I would say re readings that are a bit unusual is that couples shouldn’t feel afraid to choose “non-wedding” readings – passages from books or films, song lyrics, and kids’ books all work really well.
My absolute favourite reading ever was at a commitment ceremony in April this year. Dan and Cam wanted their sisters to have a role in the ceremony but couldn’t find any readings that felt right to them. Between them they have 12 nieces and nephews aged 4 to 12, and they asked them four questions:
What does it mean to be in love?
How do people fall in love?
What tips/advice do you have for Cam and Dan?
Is there anything else you want to say?
Of course, the answers the kids gave were absolute gold, and they put them together to create a reading that the sisters shared. It was personal, heartfelt, funny, and just beautiful.
I’ve also heard of other couples who’ve had family members or friends write them letters of advice or love that have been read out during the ceremony. The more personal the better as far as I’m concerned!
What are some of the most special or funny moments you have witnessed?
The funniest was definitely Fuzz and Nat’s life sized ring BEARer… Fuzz’s brother dressed up as a bear for the occasion, and the look on the guests’ faces when he came down the stairs was classic.
The most special moments for me are always the first time the bride and groom greet each other at the end of the aisle; there’s often tears, usually cuddles, and sometimes even a sneaky kiss – nothing wrong with that!
How do you draw the fine line between the serious occasion of getting married and injecting fun into the ceremony?
I am not a comedian and I don’t tell jokes, but I do tell funny stories, and I firmly believe every marriage ceremony should involve laughter at some point (as well as happy tears and much applause). I usually inject humour into my ceremonies through the couple’s story; it’s always great to be able to tell funny anecdotes from their time together. There can also be great humour in personal vows, and that’s definitely to be encouraged as well.
Having said that, my ceremonies are certainly not laugh-a-minute affairs. Ultimately a wedding ceremony is all about creating a marriage, which is a monumental transition for a couple, and that should be taken seriously through the choice of words and sentiments used. However I don’t believe serious has to equal cold or boring; I can be very serious with the message I’m giving but still deliver it with warmth in my voice and joy in my heart.
Do you have 5 tips for the groom before and during the ceremony?
- Relax! The planning may have been fraught at times, but it’s done now, and all that’s left is to relax and enjoy yourself.
- Trust your celebrant and the other vendors you’ve chosen; you hired us for a reason, so let us do our jobs and take control of the day. Don’t worry about a thing.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol before the ceremony! Legally we are unable to marry a couple if we believe one or both parties is unable to give consent because they’re intoxicated. So stick to light beer, and don’t have too many! There will be plenty of time for drinking it up with your mates after the ceremony.
- Try to take a few minutes out at some point before the ceremony to centre yourself and think about your bride to be. It can be hard to carve out that time, but it’s great if you can spend a few moments reminding yourself why you’re there and how much you love this person.
- When you see her for the first time, let your emotions take you wherever they want to go! Don’t hold back; if you want to cry, go ahead! This is one moment when no one will judge you for being emotional!
You are an advocate for marriage equality. Do you think it will ever happen in this country?
Yes, absolutely, but I’m not holding my breath. As much as I hope that it will happen sooner rather than later, I really don’t see it happening before the next election. It horrifies me that we live in a “democracy”, yet the ability to have a free vote in Parliament is hampered by one person, the Prime Minister, and his inability to stand up to his party for what’s right.
What is your promise to same sex couples?
My promise to all the same sex couples for whom I have conducted commitment ceremonies is that when marriage equality legislation comes through, I will make their unions legal marriages for free!
How do you keep your skills current?
We are required to undertake five hours of Ongoing Professional Development (OPD) every year in order to maintain our registration with the Commonwealth Government. I am so good at the legalities of our role that I now train other celebrants in their OPD requirements, and from next year I hope to be training aspiring celebrants as well.
I also read everything I can find, attend as many workshops as I can (whether they be about celebrant-specific topics or small business related, such as marketing), and go to as many wedding industry networking events as I can manage – last year I went to eight wedding industry Christmas parties! I’m always learning about not only my work as a celebrant, but about wedding industry trends as well.
Do enjoy passing on your skills to others?
SO MUCH!! My niche in my celebrancy work is in my training, and it is there that I have found my true calling. As much as I love performing weddings and other ceremonies, it is in teaching others how to do this work that I excel. I am known in some circles as The Oracle for my extensive knowledge on all the legal aspects of celebrancy, and I love sharing this knowledge with my colleagues.
What interests do you have outside of celebrancy?
Theatre, movies, reading, so much TV (Netflix is the best thing ever), and delicious food!
What book are you reading at the moment?
I read at least one book a week – fiction is my way of winding down at the end of every day. Right now I’m reading The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez by Ann Swinfen, about London in the late 16th century. It’s a period of time I don’t know much about, and I’m loving the historical features of the story!
Any secret laneway shops, café’s or restaurants that you’ve discovered in Melbourne?
I am about the least hip person ever – I know nothing about anything secret or interesting! The non-secret stuff is good enough for me anyway J