Tips from an Edinburgh Celebrant: Love in the time of Covid-19

In a time when almost every newspaper headline makes for stark reading, it is heartwarming to be hearing from couples planning their wedding ceremonies during 2020-2022.

Raini Rowell Photography

Admittedly, there have been some moments of dark humour though in our ceremony-planning conversations: 

“We could have themed face masks!”

“How about hats or fascinators with 2-metres long feathers?”

“Well obviously the Quaich can’t be passed around… the invite would have to read ‘Join us for a Covid-19 party’”

Jokes aside, it is worth spending a bit of time considering how we might need to adapt ceremony plans in the coming months. It is absolutely possible to get creative and look forward to a magical day despite the surreal times we are living through. 

Raini Rowell Photography

Guest numbers

Government guidelines will continue to detail the numbers of guests that will be allowed to attend ceremonies as the marriage licence suspension is lifted. It is likely that the numbers will vary during the different phases of Covid-19 restrictions being rolled out. Currently the Government advice for Phase 3, from 15th July, is:

We are advising that no more than 20 people should attend a marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration, provided they can safely be accommodated with physical distancing in the venue. This suggested maximum includes all those at the ceremony, including the couple, the celebrant, the witnesses, any interpreter and guests. It also includes any carers accompanying an attendee. It includes as well any staff who are not employed by the venue, such as a photographer, musicians or others a couple has employed for the purpose of the ceremony or registration.

As the virus hopefully becomes more controlled, and as we progress through the Government Phases for Covid-19 containment, we hope that more guests may be allowed at each gathering.

As Celebrants, we will have a responsibility to follow the Government legislation around numbers attending and as such, it is important to ensure that your plans reflect the Government guidelines and legislation (we have included links below). Planning for all scenarios will help manage the expectations and emotions for those involved (yours included!). Whilst you might be hoping to invite all your friends and family for a love-filled joyful gathering, it’s worth considering what you will do and how you would feel if you are limited to say 8, 20, or 50 guests. 

There is a different kind of beauty in an intimate wedding or elopement. So, whilst it might feel a huge shift from your original plans, it could reassure you to check out the photos and read the blogs of people who are involved in creating intimate weddings and elopements, or who have experienced one themselves. We have links to useful sites and articles at the end of this blogpost.

Given the evolving and hard-to-predict guidelines around numbers of guests being allowed at gatherings, considering all scenarios at the outset could help you feel more relaxed when looking ahead to your ceremony. 

Raini Rowell Photography

Physical distancing

It is a possibility that all guests (from different household groups) will be expected to physical distance and stay 2-metres apart for the foreseeable future. As such, we would encourage you to discuss this at the outset with the event manager at your chosen venue. This will help to ensure that you feel relaxed about how your important day will unfold and you won’t be disappointed if harsh restrictions on numbers and physical distancing are enforced. It’s always important to feel good about your Plan B.

Of course, if everyone is being asked to physical distance at gatherings then that will include your Celebrant. There may be some aspects of your ceremony that might need to be adjusted to account for this – such as rituals (see below).

Graeme Wilson Photography


We weren’t joking about themed face masks. At the moment, the Government guidelines recommend the wearing of face masks at indoor gatherings where space is limited. Of course, by the time the marriage licence suspension is fully lifted there is the possibility that all wedding guests might be able to get tested for Covid-19 prior to attending, or that a test, track and trace programme will be fully underway and completely reliable. It’s possible to get creative. It is also important to understand face mask safety – you can find the World Health Organisation Guidance here.

There are some beautiful material face masks being made by local businesses and crafters. You will find some links under this blog. Masks are likely to be a part of our world for the next year or so, and perhaps might seem less alien to us once we are all used to seeing each other wearing them. 

Songs and hymns

Sadly, we know from the devastating effect of church gatherings and choirs around the world that singing together is a sure way to optimise the spread of the virus. Even with the wearing of masks, this might be something to consider replacing in your ceremony. You could play music, read poetry or extracts from your favourite books instead. We are always happy to offer suggestions and help you find the perfect elements for your ceremony. 

Photo by Samantha Gades

Quaich Ceremony 

Traditionally, during a Quaich Ceremony, the newly married couple would each take a drink from the shared cup of love to symbolise their union and to toast their future together. The cup might then be passed around the gathering for all present to take a sip and share in the toast to the couple. It is clear that it will be unlikely that the passing of the Quaich among guests is recommended during the current pandemic. 

Current guidance from the Scottish Government is that no food or drink should be consumed within the ceremony. We are seeking advice on whether it is possible for couples to enjoy this ritual without the sharing of the cup among family and friends. The toast could be limited to the couple and the words of the ritual adjusted accordingly. It might be that everyone present is invited to join in with the words of the toast, or to take a moment to wish the couple well by sending a thought, wish, blessing or prayer their way. We will update this blog as soon as we hear.


A Handfasting Ceremony is a gorgeous ritual and a wonderful Celtic tradition. As Celebrants, we are often asked to include a Handfasting in Wedding and Life-Partnership Ceremonies. Whilst it is usually the Celebrant that places the cords or ribbons on the hands of the couple, and the Celebrant who ties the knots as a symbolic act of sealing the vows of the couple, this may not be possible with physical distancing measures in place. 

If you are planning a Handfasting as part of your ceremony, it is possible to adapt the ceremony so that you can tie your own knot, or use the fabric wound around your hands as a symbol of betrothal or binding. Or you could consider who among your immediate family – people you are already mixing with – could step in for the Celebrant to place the cords and tie the knots. This is something that some couples already choose – they might have a relative they wish to ask to be the one who seals their vows – and it works well. We will guide you, of course, and the person fulfilling this role to ensure that you are all confident about how to perform this beautiful ritual. 

Ring Warming

Many couples choose this gorgeous ritual as part of their ceremony. The commitment bands are tied to a piece or ribbon or cord and, during the ceremony, are passed from guest to guest. The Celebrant will have invited each guest to take a moment when the rings reach them to offer a blessing, thought or prayer for the couple. That way, when the rings make their way to the front for the exchange of rings between the couple, they are imbued with all the good wishes and feelings of their family and friends. 

Photo by Positive Images

There’s no getting around that this is not likely to be possible during the pandemic given the limitations on contact and avoiding touching the same surfaces as others. However, there are other ways that this well-wishing by the couple’s family and friends can be included in the ceremony. For example, the Celebrant might invite all present to take a moment during the ceremony to send a thought, blessing, or prayer towards the couple just before the couple exchange rings. 

Signing of the Register

After the newly-married couple are declared legally married, it is a legal requirement that the Marriage Schedule be signed by the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses. Usually, the Celebrant would provide a black ink fountain pen for this purpose. This is important as the type of ink used is a Registry Office requirement.

Photo by We Are Elopers

Given the likely restrictions on sharing items, touching the same surfaces as others, every person signing the document has to use a separate pen, or the pens must be wiped clean between uses. In this scenario, the individuals can either bring their own pens, or the Celebrant can provide all the pens then bag and clean them after the ceremony.   


It is going to feel strange not being able to hug those around us at such a poignant and joyful time. We will all need to adapt to showing our love and appreciation in other ways. There are beautiful rituals that can do this – rituals that can show the couple how much everyone present cares for them, and that involve all the gathering in a meaningful and shared moment. 

There are many varied rituals that can be adapted to suit the personality and wishes of the couple involved. One such ritual might involve inviting everyone who attends to bring a ‘symbolic hug’ with them to put in the hug jar. These ‘symbolic hugs’ could be tokens such as shells, buttons, feathers. The couple then have the pleasure in the weeks following the ceremony of working out which hug belonged to which guest. 

The inclusion of visualisations or guided meditations can also be a powerful way of involving everyone in the gathering. Simply inviting all present to place their hand on their heart and consider the future of the couple then send a loving thought their way is incredibly powerful. 

The Oathing Stone ritual is another poignant way of including everyone at the ceremony. This works especially well for outdoor ceremonies. The guests are given a stone on arrival at the ceremony. They are invited to hold them whilst the vows are being made and recognise their relationship with the couple. Just before the wedding vows are made they are invited to send their warm wishes, thoughts and prayers for the couple as they hold the stone. Following the ceremony the couple invite their guests to throw the stones in nearby water such as a river or lake and send blessings. Blessings made near water have been thought to be more binding.

An alternative to this is for the stones to be placed in a container such as a glass vase or a bowl which the couple take home to remind them of the good wishes of their guests. Another is for the stones to be placed together in a cairn on the ground when the ceremony is outside.

As Celebrants, we can help you create a beautiful, unique and meaningful ceremony despite all that is going on in the world at this time. The most important thing is to remember that whilst your ceremony may have been postponed just now, your love for each other continues to grow stronger. 

Post-Ceremony Celebrations

Current Government guidance for indoor and outdoor gatherings pre- or post- ceremony are:

In Phase 3 you can meet and take part in outdoor recreation with people from up to 4 other households at a time. You should meet in small numbers – no more than 15 people in total at a time.

In Phase 3 you can meet people from up to 2 other households at a time indoors. You must stay at least 2 metres apart from people from other households at all times. For this reason you should meet in small numbers so that physical distancing will be possible. Our advice is that – as a guide – 8 people in total may represent a safe maximum number of people in most cases.

We are being advised that until Phase 4 there will be significant physical distancing measures in place and restrictions on numbers at all group gatherings. During Phase 3 it is therefore important to consider how to plan your pre- and post- ceremony celebrations.

Depending on the space in your chosen wedding venue, it may be possible to enjoy an evening dance with a small number of guests physically distancing during the dance. As such, it is hard to imagine how a traditional Scottish Ceilidh could go ahead during Phase 3. It is important to discuss the options available to you with your venue provider.

Our promise to you

These are uncertain times and the more security you can have in your plans the more relaxed you will feel in the lead up to your wedding. In the event that your chosen celebrant is physically unable to conduct your ceremony e.g. due to illness, enforced virus related self-isolation or quarantine, or for some other reason, then we will do our utmost to arrange for a fellow Agnostic Scotland celebrant to conduct your ceremony on their behalf.

We are looking forward to working with you to shape your ceremony into all that you wish it to be. All the ceremonies we conduct are entirely reflective of the individuals involved – their personalities, their stories, their beliefs, values and wishes. During this time of physical distancing and restrictions we are even more committed to putting our creativity to work to create a ceremony that will make your heart sing. 

Graeme Wilson Photography

Useful links

Government Guidelines

Scottish Government Latest Update 15th July 2020

National Records Scotland Office updates

Scottish Government Covid-19 Routemap


Raini Rowell Photographer – What does ‘elopement’ mean

Sean Bell Photographer – how to elope to Scotland

Sean Bell Photographer – where to elope to Scotland

The Elopement Society


Freja Wedding Dress Designer – beautiful face masks

La Robe a Caro

Small Weddings

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