Veronika Robinson has had the immense pleasure of being a celebrant for twenty seven years. She officiates across all rites of passage from Callanish to Cornwall (and overseas upon request) however mostly works in Cumbria. She is a tutor at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training and editor of The Celebrant magazine.

 

This intimate wedding ceremony took place at Augill Castle in Cumbria. Surrounded by immediate family and a few friends, this beautiful ceremony reflected my couple’s Christian values. The beautiful bride arrived with her three daughters while Jill Lowther played guitar. It was a gorgeous Summer’s afternoon. 

 

We began with a wedding invocation followed by a ring blessing. Intentions were set based on their Christian values of caring, commitment, compassion, fairness, faith, forgiveness, gratitude, kindness and trust.

I talked about the blending of families, and the sacredness of family.

 

This reading was shared:

Blessing for a Marriage ~ James Dillet Freeman

May your marriage bring you
all the exquisite excitements a marriage should bring,
and may life grant you also patience,
tolerance, and understanding.

May you always need one another –
not so much to fill your emptiness
as to help you to know your fullness.

A mountain needs a valley to be complete;
the valley does not make the mountain less,
but more; and the valley is more a valley
because it has a mountain towering over it.

So let it be with you and you.
May you need one another, but not out of weakness.
May you want one another, but not out of lack.
May you entice one another, but not compel one another.

May you embrace one another, but not encircle one another.
May you succeed in all important ways with one another,
and not fail in the little graces.

May you look for things to praise,
often say, “I love you!”
and take no notice of small faults.

If you have quarrels that push you apart,
may both of you hope to have good sense enough
to take the first step back.

May you enter into the mystery
which is the awareness of one another’s presence –
no more physical than spiritual,
warm and near when you are side by side,
and warm and near when you are in separate rooms
or even distant cities.

May you have happiness,
and may you find it making one another happy.

May you have love,
and may you find it loving one another.

 

Rite: Rosemary and Rose Ritual Handwashing

We drew upon an ancient Christian tradition of matrimonial handwashing.

 

The Giving of Rings

The couple had chosen vintage wedding rings as collecting vintage items was a shared interest.

 

Braiding of the Cross: Handtying

They also symbolised their bonding with a handtying. Each ribbon symbolised a quality they admired in their children. I then included a Christian reference.

The first ribbon symbolised a son’s quality of stability. This is something which will bring solidity to this marriage. May we be reminded of Psalm 16:8 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

The second ribbon was chosen to symbolise another son’s ability to remain steadfast.  In Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

The third ribbon symbolised their daughter’s unconditional love.

From John 4:19 we are reminded: “We love because He first loved us.”

 

Another daughter’s resilience in life and to life was symbolised by the giving of a fourth ribbon. It is said that ‘tough times never last, but tough people do’. We asked that along the roads and bends of life, their blended family remain resilient.

The fifth ribbon symbolised another daughter’s generosity. It is hoped that throughout their married life, they will not only be generous with each other but extend this to all those who happen upon their path. From Proverbs 22:9 “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.”

 

The sixth ribbon symbolised the abiding and generous love of God. 

 

Caudle

Another ritual in their ceremony was drinking from the caudle. This vessel, traditionally used in castles, is symbolic of love, trust and peace between two people.

 

Their celebratory drink was warm apple and honey. Apple to symbolise God’s children and honey to symbolise the sweetness of God’s love. Together they remind us how much better our lives are when we remember God’s love.

While it is fair to say that the majority of my couples do not want a religious wedding, it was lovely, as a celebrant, to create something quite different from my other ceremonies.

 

Couple: Inga and Greg

Celebrant: Veronika Robinson

Venue: Augill Castle

Photographer: Joanne Crone

Veronika Robinson has been a celebrant for 27 years. She officiates ceremonies, across all rites of passage, from Callanish to Cornwall, however works primarily out of Cumbria. She is also a celebrant trainer at Heart-led Celebrants, and is editor of The Celebrant magazine.

 

Rite of Cocktail Mixing: Dark and Stormy

by Veronika Robinson

It was a dark and stormy time in Laura’s life when Steve brought just the right ingredients to turn things around. This ritual symbolises the blending together of their two lives.

The Dark and Stormy Cocktail is a rather mystical, mysterious and strong libation based on just three distinct ingredients:

Kraken spiced rum

Ginger beer

Lime juice

Rum symbolises that happiness and a good time were coming their way!

They each took turns adding the ingredients.

Rum improves with age. It has a way of becoming bolder and more confident, and this is what we wished for them individually and as a married couple.

Lime symbolises fidelity. We asked that they stay faithful to each other physically, emotionally and with each thought they had. Lime brings out the elements of this drink and, just like marriage, a tangy touch can bring out the essence.

 

Ginger is for abundance and good fortune coming into their home. We wished that this remains so for the rest of their lives.

 

To give this cocktail its stormy feature, Steve add a second shot of rum.

The individual ingredients still existed as entities in their own right but blended together made something interesting, distinctive and strong.

They then enjoyed three celebratory sips, with each one symbolising a different aspect of their love.

Couple: Mr and Mrs Stables 

Celebrant: Veronika Robinson

Venue: New House Farm, Lorton near Cockermouth, Cumbria

Photographer: Joshua Wyborn

 


There are so many aspects to the art of creating a ceremony that, if you’re planning to book a celebrant, it’s worth really looking into what’s involved. Your investment in a celebrant goes way beyond paying someone to stand up and speak for 20-30 minutes or so.

 



Opening Up to Inspiration
From the moment I’m booked, ceremony development is happening. It is entwined in every interaction between me and the people I’m serving. My mind is integrating each piece of information I’m given, and I begin creating (in my head if not on the page). Certainly, when I come to the page (blank screen on my laptop or notebook), I’m already hosting an influx of ideas.

 



Listening
Listening is, I believe, the most important aspect of being a celebrant. By this I mean deep-level listening. This is about more than what you hear. It’s also about what’s not spoken, and having a keen awareness of body language. There’s another listening that happens, too, and for me this is listening to my inner voice (or intuition). This guidance supports me in all my ceremony writing (even, and especially, when my ‘logical’ voice is telling me otherwise).

To listen is to have a solid foundation for what is placed upon that.

 



Creating
Next comes creating. As a sensual person, my whole being is involved in ceremony creation. I can see it, hear it, perhaps have a sense of the scent of it (if there are perfumery rituals or we’re outdoors), and I really can feel the ceremony in my whole being. THIS, of course, has to be translated to the page.

 



Choice Making
Before a script is written, there are choices to be made (by me and/or my client), communication, research, considering my reaction to various ideas. Even in scripts with a short turn-around time, such as a funeral, where I’m working to the pressure of having to send off a script within 24 to 48 hours, I still go through the same phases of ceremony development (just in concentrated time).

 



Unseen Qualities
There is no price that you can put on a celebrant’s experience, creativity, empathy and intuition.

Obviously, we charge a fee as an energy exchange (money is, after all, our cultural currency) for our services but I often wonder about that potency or accuracy of that. For example, coming home from a double-grief funeral, when my heart is split in two from the trauma and tragedy story I’ve walked into and out of, I know that there is no price you can put on being ‘the keeper of stories’. What fee can you place on all the hours of walking beside another in grief?

 



And who holds the celebrant as they integrate all the grief they’ve absorbed from a congregation of mourners? Whether we like it or not, being a funeral celebrant can have a massive impact on our health as we’re having to ‘master’ emergent grief and empathy from spilling out. It takes a toll. And then there’s the stress of making sure a funeral service in a crematorium doesn’t run over time (even though a skilled celebrant writes their scripts to be time sensitive, other timing issues are well out of our control).

 


As a celebrant who officiates across all rites of passage, many of my ceremonies are happy and joyous. These too, despite the upbeat tone, also carry the weight of responsibility: to ‘get it just right’.

There are times, to the untrained eye, where I might look as if I’m just pottering around the garden admiring my flowers (which I am) but it’s also a quiet space in which to allow ideas to unfurl. Sitting on the sofa in silence, watching flames flicker in the woodstove or standing in a steamy shower are also times for ‘creating ceremony’.

 

 

My creativity isn’t marked by being at the laptop from 9am to 5pm. This is no ordinary job. I don’t actually see celebrancy as a job so much as a way of life. It is a constant energy exchange between me, the world around me, and the people I serve.

So I’m just as likely to be celebranting (creating ceremony) while cooking up a curry, watching rain drops slipping down the window pane, gathering raspberries at sunrise, or out walking in the woods.

 

Wherever I am, and no matter the time of day, all these places and moments have one thing in common: my heart. And this ‘ol heart is what takes me through each moment of ceremony development.



Veronika Robinson has been officiating ceremonies since 1995. She’s also a celebrant trainer for Heart-led Celebrants, and editor of The Celebrant magazine. She officiates ceremonies from Callanish to Cornwall, though primarily works in Cumbria.

By Veronika Robinson

 

Across the years, the question of whether children should be ‘allowed’ at funerals has remained a sensitive topic. There’s no definitive black-and-white answer, however, I would like to share the case for, and place of, children at funeral ceremonies.

A few years ago, my best friend ended her life. It coincided with the 40th anniversary of her late father’s passing. Over the course of our eighteen-year friendship, the one recurring story I heard was about how, as a ten-year-old, she’d been denied the right to attend his funeral. This, she said, had a life-long impact on her mental health. There was no closure. The emotions which bubbled up were quickly shut down. I’ve heard this story from many other adults who’d shared a similar experience. Let me say here, I fully understand that the adults who made those decisions for their children did so with the best possible intentions. They were endeavouring to protect. How were they to know the life-long impact?

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be so much as ‘should this child go to the funeral?’ but rather ‘will it help their healing and grief to share in this moment of remembrance and saying goodbye?’

 

Culturally, we have been taught to suppress feelings with comfort food, alcohol, shopping, sex, Netflix, endless scrolling of social media, and so it goes on. Why are we so scared of our feelings? Yes, crying (and grief) is exhausting. There can be anger, guilt, even betrayal at a loved one’s death. When someone dies, we each have our own experience of grief (no one can EVER know how you’re feeling). Because adults are often well-versed in how to ‘numb out’, it can be confronting to see a youngster who is fully in their feelings.

As a funeral celebrant, I’m acutely aware (at any ceremony, of any type) that it could be the first time someone goes to a ceremony or may be the last one they ever go to. And this applies to children, too. There’s an added responsibility (in my opinion) for the person leading the service to ensure it is child/age appropriate and sensitive. But more than that, it is a unique opportunity to show that in the face of loss, grief and tragedy there can be deep love shining out. And interwoven in our stories that we share on behalf of the family, are moments for crying, yes, but also for laughter or at the very least: gentle knowing smiles. However these emotions are expressed, they offer a release valve. Movement helps to assuage the fight-or-flight response.

 

Where possible, I will find ways for the children to be involved in the ceremony at a level that feels right for them. This can range from writing a few words, a poem, drawing a picture, helping decorate a coffin, or helping with a ritual. This active participation ensures they are at the heart of meaning-making, and will have the whole range of their tender and fragile feelings honoured.

At what age is it ok to allow a child attend? I’ve experienced every age at funerals from a nursing newborn whose father had died through to a crematorium full of toddlers(racing around the whole time), preschoolers and up to teenagers.

 

There is a difference between children attending because they knew the deceased as opposed to toddlers attending because their parent (who knows the chief mourner) doesn’t have a childminder. As ever, awareness and sensitivity of the mourning family and their ability to be fully present in the ceremony should be uppermost in your decision making.

 

When mourners attend a funeral, their focus is primarily on the person leading the ceremony and their loved one in the coffin or shroud. As a funeral celebrant, MY focus is not only on officiating the ceremony but I have full awareness of all the faces before me, whether it’s a small ceremony of two or one with 500 mourners. I’m constantly ascertaining the energy in the room, the body language of people, emotions being displayed or withheld, and the faces. It is a constant study of faces. I’ve had funerals where, the mother in me, just wanted to leave the lectern and wrap a crying child (whose mother was in the coffin) in my arms. That’s my natural instinct: to ease pain. To offer a balm. My job, however, is to offer healing in other ways. I do this through my word medicine, the kindness, care and authenticity I bring to the ceremonial space.

A number of my recent funerals have had quite a few children in attendance. The one thing which has really struck me with all the children was that they were 100% present. And this, I believe, is key. It means that in the liminal space of the funeral ceremony they were actively integrating everything that was happening. Their faces spoke to me of grief and devastation, yes, but ALSO of curiosity, love, tenderness and, at times, laughter.

 

Language is important. I never use words like ‘sorry for your loss’. Their loved one is dead, not lost. They’re not coming back. I might say “I’m so sorry for all the pain you’re going through.” I use words like death and dying because this is the reality. For the same reason, I don’t talk of a “baby born sleeping” (unless the parents want those words).

Life on Earth is transient. We only need to look to the season of Autumn to see that even Nature has her endings. This isn’t about being cold or harsh, but the opposite. The kindest thing we can do for any grieving person is to stand in a state of love and grace. To do so, means we’re less likely to choose the wrong words or try to cover over the reality of the situation. We’re offering our presence. We’re there to listen or to gently reflect the memories they’ve shared with us.

 

My role as a funeral celebrant is to hold the space. The energy I bring to the ceremony is one of inclusivity and kindness. This is a safe space in which to allow children a place to honour their feelings around a loved one’s death. If a celebrant can reverently reminisce about their loved one, and show the panoramic view of their life, followed by the gentlest of goodbyes, steeped in the reality of a physical ending, this will help a child on their path of healing. As adults, this is what we’d want for ourselves. Let us extend the gift of grief awareness to children, too.

 

Veronika Robinson is a Heart-led Celebrant in Cumbria who officiates across all rites of passage. She’s also co-tutor at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training, and editor of The Celebrant magazine.

 

 

 

 

Paul Robinson, the voice and presentation coach for Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training



Here at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training, we place great value and care on the use of voice and presentation skills and qualities in celebrancy work. As a result, our modules include one-to-one coaching with industry expert, Paul Robinson. There are at least five hours of vocal coaching, and more sessions are available to each person should they wish to pursue this element of their celebrancy.


Here’s what some of our celebrant graduates have said about their vocal/presentation part of their training.


Paul is a superb voice and presentation coach. I can still hear his voice in my head with his brilliant advice and techniques that he taught me with such humour and care. The breakthrough for me was recording myself reminiscing about a memory and then listening back to how I sounded and the rhythm and pace of my speaking voice, and that is what I aim to achieve whenever I am officiating either in the eulogy with a funeral or the love story at a wedding. Paul has such a calm and caring manner, and his training has really paid off – because families often comment on my voice and mention how calming and soothing my presentation is, which is all down to Paul. And he taught me how to stop swaying from side to side when I’m speaking too! I would highly recommend Paul, he is simply amazing!
Petra Rigby, Heart-led Celebrant, Blossom Tree Ceremonies



Paul Robinson is an alchemist. The definition of an alchemist is: a person who transforms or creates something through a seemingly magical process.

When someone has the ability to help you to weave your written words into something that touches others, then that is alchemy. You may have written a beautifully crafted piece or you might have written something you feel is quite average. You read it to Paul and he helps you to transport it into a living memory…there is a chemical reaction that happens when he highlights to you that those words need to come from your heart space as if they were new thoughts to you. He teaches you how to pause, as if there is a new idea, a new memory and bring it to life. That sense of making your words come “alive” can bring depth, range and meaning to others in the way you present them. You can have the most amazing speaking voice….but if you have not had the training that Paul offers…..or have had speech training…there is no way that you can deliver them in a way that makes your words have “life”. He helps you to add colour, strength and majesty to your words. Having had the hardest task of conducting a funeral for a dear, dear friend, I can truthfully say that without Paul’s help and guidance, I would not have been able to do so and honour her with anchorage and trust that my voice would be heard, and my delivery would be authentic. As I said….Paul is an alchemist. I thank my lucky stars for his training.
Kay Manby


I was thrilled with my voice coaching with Paul. I had a very confused accent, a mixture of Scottish, English and a posh telephone voice used only at work! When we started to practise scripts, my breathing and inflection had a lot to be desired… Thankfully, Paul, with his vast experience helped me craft all my accents into one.
He shared how to improve my word inflection, and helped me understand my breathing. Indeed, now when I hear my voice, rather than cringe, I’m amazed that it sounds quite warm and engaging.

Paul helped me with writing in such a way I now adapt my scripts so that I communicate with everyone individually as I deliver my scripts. I’m still working on my eye-contact, this comes as part of the training and has been quite a challenge for me. Like all life skills, practice, practice and then some more practice can only help soften and sharpen these amazing skills.

I’m still a work in progress, but delighted with how my voice coaching has given me a new found confidence for public speaking.
Jacquie Wilson, The Turquoise Celebrant


I found the vocal training aspect of my Heart Led Celebrant training far more difficult than I anticipated. As an experienced and confident public speaker, I was challenged and guided to make my delivery more authentic and sensitive.  Paul was always supportive and encouraging. He offered me constructive advice and modelled his expectations to me. His methods, including breathing technique, where to focus, what experiences to draw on etc, are something that I will refer to frequently as I go on to deliver a range of ceremonies.
Juliet Golding


Paul’s voice training sessions were always something I looked forward to attending. His wealth of experience around how to listen to, analyse, and work on improving the sound of my voice are second to none.

I learned how best to breathe and how to use feelings to improve the delivery of my ceremonies. His use of humour and anecdotes along with the pace of the sessions all enabled me to understand and absorb fully the learning points. At the beginning of my training, I felt nervous and self-conscious about performing but his constructive analysis of my voice and kind manner have made me more relaxed about speaking in front of a group of strangers.

Paul has built confidence in me which I am so grateful for, I highly recommend training with him.
Aileen Palmer

The voice training provided by Paul has been an interesting and thought-provoking process. My initial contact with Paul was very positive. With efficiency, Paul set the standard straight away. Emails responded to quickly and acknowledgement of course fees being received set the bedrock of trust.

The new knowledge I received: – how the voice works; awareness; warming up; watching and listening to the professionals; lifting the words from the page and managing the nerves. An invaluable experience!
I keep in touch with Paul in monthly celebrant Zoom meetings and he continues to give top tips and model techniques using his own voice.
Gill


Before I started on my Celebrant journey, I hadn’t actually given much thought to the sound of my voice, but during my training, I discovered just how important a tool the voice is – and Paul helped me to hone that tool, to improve my performance AND my confidence.

Paul’s knowledge and professionalism is excellent- he patiently guides, giving feedback at every stage, and he does so with a sense of fun. We laughed a lot, which helped to settle my nerves; but we also explored the effects that emotion has on the voice.

As a Funeral Celebrant, there are many times when tears and emotion can affect my voice. Paul gently taught me how to harness that emotion to actually improve my performance, rather than detracting from it.

Paul is generous with his time, and he is always willing to help with ongoing development- I had some problems with breathing last year, and Paul guided me through the exercises which helped me to overcome the issue.

Paul is quite simply a great coach, and a thoroughly nice guy!
Glynis

Your voice and style of presentation are so important in delivering a good ceremony as a life celebrant, helping people to mark the milestones in their lives. I enjoyed online voice coaching sessions with Paul as part of my Heart-led Ceremonies celebrant training – it was invaluable. With his wealth of experience, Paul really helps to guide you to get the most from your voice and how to use it to its best to create beautiful ceremonies, with stories well told. Lots of helpful tips, exercises and practical advice to enable you to bring your carefully crafted words to life in a clear and natural manner.
Anne Armstrong
 

Paul immediately put me at ease and made me feel comfortable even though I personally felt very new to the work and process. His playful and relaxed way of engaging made the sessions really enjoyable and made any exercises feel accessible and not intimidating. He tailored the session to my specific requests and needs, making it extremely helpful as it personally addressed what I most needed to attend to most at that time. I would readily book more sessions with Paul for any areas I wish to further hone and develop and would highly recommend him to anyone wanting to learn how to better communicate and engage with public speaking.

Lynda Gibson

Paul is a brilliant teacher and instructor. I really enjoyed working with him for my voice training as part of the Heart-led celebrant training programme.

Paul is a really engaging teacher; he is very empathetic, intuitive and understanding. I learned a lot from my sessions about voice work and all aspects of projection and protecting the voice. I found it really easy to have a conversation with him, about the voice or anything else for that matter! It was great to learn in such a fun and relaxed way.

 

I am looking forward to working with Paul again.

Josie Perry

 


Heart-led Celebrants

 



“You charge HOW much?” is a question many celebrants hear from prospective clients. On the surface, it’s a fair question to ask particularly if all you think celebrancy involves is “standing up to speak for 20 or so minutes!”

This blog is an invitation into my life as a celebrant so that you can see exactly what you’re paying for if you employ my services.

 

Veronika tying the knot at Jake and Lyndsay’s Ceremony at Askham Hall. Photograph by John Hope Photography.


There are often many, many hours involved from initial contact to the moment I walk away from your ceremony. It isn’t dissimilar to when you watch a movie. It might last for 1.5 to two hours but could have taken four years to make. The finished ‘product’ has been created, toiled over, refined and then presented after much behind-the-scenes work.

 

Ceremonial quaich (Scottish loving cup). Photo by Veronika Robinson.


The initial contact I have with a potential client might involve them emailing or phoning me. Some couples are happy to book me without a meeting based on what they’ve seen on my website or because of a recommendation by a friend, family member or wedding planner.

Others like to have a face-to-face meeting first by Zoom (many of my wedding couples are from overseas and come to Cumbria for a destination wedding).

 

Chantal and Rene’s wedding in Outback Australia. Photograph by Veronika Robinson.


It is important that you have a connection with the celebrant who is going to be involved in creating, writing and officiating your ceremony. This relationship works both ways. If I don’t feel there’s an easy connection between us, I’ll recommend a celebrant that I feel will be a better fit. To me, this job is about relationships and the fit between celebrant and couple has to be right. I’m not a ‘take the money and run’ celebrant. I’d rather pass on a booking.

Once the couple has decided they wish to book me, they enter into a contract for my services by filling out a booking form and paying a deposit (50% of my fee). This deposit secures the date. It ensures that I don’t book anyone else in (I only book one ceremony a day), and allows me to start the ‘getting to know you’ journey.


Unlike many celebrants, there is no restriction on the number of meetings we have. (Some celebrants limit the meetings to one or two). I find, on average, that I meet with my couples 2-3 times during the lead up to their wedding. Again, this is primarily on Zoom but can be in a local café or other venue if they live near to me or are visiting the area. If it helps a couple to have more meetings than this, I will accommodate.

I also give my couples a questionnaire which augments the information gathering I need to do. It gives them time to really think about the questions, and provide me with thoughtful answers.

Our conversations are relaxed and easy. It’s not an interview process. My wish is for us to feel familiar and enjoy each other’s company. I won’t be in your life forever, but I hope that on your wedding day when you see me you’ll feel relaxed and in safe hands. That I’ve been a celebrant for 26 years also means you’re working with someone who is experienced.

I take a lot of notes as I’m getting to know my couples, and regularly write down thoughts I have, flashes of inspiration, and so on. There can be a lot of research, for example, if I’m writing a ceremony for someone who is including rituals, prayers or blessings, from another culture or religion, or if I’m creating a bespoke ritual.

 

Autumn wedding in a flower meadow. Photography by Veronika Robinson.


About one to two months before the ceremony I write the full script. By now I have learned about what is meaningful to you individually and as a couple, what your hopes are for marriage, and what you’ll bring to the relationship. Your vows will be unique to your relationship.

I know how participatory you’d like your ceremony to be, and who’ll be involved whether they are a child, friend or relative. I’ve learned the style you’re after. By this stage, it all falls together and the months of ‘creating’ your ceremony with various ideas and inspiration is now on the page.

By this point, I could already have spent 5 to 10 hours on meetings, 5 or more hours on research, writing drafts, and completing a script.
Then, I send through the ceremony to you. Ideally you think it is perfect and don’t wish for any changes. You may, however, upon seeing it black and white, decide you’d like to add or delete something. If any revisions are required, these will be done too.

Upon approval of the script, I then ensure I have everything I need for the day: e.g. ceremonial items and presentation script. I now start familiarising myself with the script, going through it many, many times (this takes a good few hours, minimum) so that on the day the words fit like a second skin and I’m connecting with your audience, and you, and not ‘just reading’. Anyone can stand up and read! A celebrant is there to connect and engage. My aim is to be relaxed, but focused, dynamic yet graceful.

 

Loz and Katie’s gorgeous handtying by the waterfall in Yorkshire.



The day before your ceremony I meet you at your venue (if it is more than an hour away, this is negotiated). We use this day to meet in person for the first time if you’ve travelled in from overseas. It is also a chance to go through the choreography of the ceremony, in particular any rituals such as handtying. The rehearsal day could take 3 to 4 hours of my time not necessarily including my travel. (I usually spend more time on this day than the wedding day). So, on rehearsal day there’s the travel time (on average 2 to 3 hours), waiting around time till you and your bridal party are ready (you’re a chatty lot, and may not have seen each other in some time so it’s hard for you to be focussed on the reason I’m there! ~ don’t worry, I’m patient), and then going through the choreography.

Your wedding day: Whether the venue is five minutes up the road or 50 miles away, I ensure that I’m there at least one hour beforehand to avoid any travel hiccups. It also gives me some relaxed time before the ceremony to set up my amplifier and check my sound. I may liaise with your wedding photographer or wedding planner. Depending on the venue, I set up a ceremony table with ritual items, ceremony cloth, flowers, etc. I almost always go and see my couple before the start of the ceremony to let them know I’m there.

And then: your ceremony. The moment in time that you’ve spent months or years planning for and dreaming about. It’s here.

Before long, you’ve kissed and are walking down the aisle to your smiling friends and family.

 



I pack up my belongings. My feelings are mixed: joy at your delight, sadness that this shared journey is over. “What a lovely job I have,” I say to myself as I put your wedding card, ceremony script (and handtying cord, if you’ve had one) with all the cards and gifts from your guests.

Once my car is packed, I seek you out to say goodbye. Generally you’re covered in confetti by this point. What a journey we’ve had together.

For my part, 20 to 30 hours will have been invested in this day. One thing is for sure: I’ll never forget your ceremony. Thank you for asking me to be your celebrant.

Paul and Fiona’s kiss! (Askham Hall)



Funeral Celebrant
As a funeral celebrant, there is a tight time frame that I work to. In other parts of the country, there may be up to 6 weeks lead in to a funeral.

Where I live, in rural Cumbria, I get between 3 to 7 days notice of a funeral, on average. During this time, I make arrangements to meet you/your family. (Depending on circumstances, such as Pandemic restrictions or if you live out of the county, our meeting may be on Zoom. If it is in person, I may drive for up to an hour to meet you).
I listen for about two to three hours as you share memories of your loved one.

Eco burial. Photograph by Veronika Robinson.



When I leave, I let your memories fill my being. As I’ll be reminiscing on your behalf, it is important to me that I feel you’ve shared with me who they truly were. I will be writing ‘in my head’ for a few hours before I get to the laptop. I then type up all my notes that I took in our meeting. This usually takes at least an hour. Then I start to write. I’m a storyteller, so I’m not just going to read a bunch of facts. There is craft and care which goes into each script. Writing a funeral ceremony can take anywhere from an hour to ten hours. There’s never any way of predicting how long it will take. It doesn’t become quicker just because you’ve been doing the job longer! Sometimes it takes more time because you’ve got so much information and you’re trying to edit it down, and other times it is because you’ve got next-to-no information.

photo by Veronika Robinson

photo by Veronika Robinson


Once you’ve approved the script, I then have to ensure the funeral director has the order of service and that your music choices have been ordered through Wesley or Obitus.

Like with any other ceremony, I go through the script many times before the service so I am familiar with it.

Once I’m at the ceremony venue, I ensure everything is as it should be e.g. music choices.

My time investment per funeral is anything from 10 – 20 hours. You can be certain that a funeral celebrant who is officiating upwards of five funerals a week is not putting this level of care and attention to detail and creativity into their work. It’s impossible.

Another thing to consider when questioning the price of a celebrant is that they are independent, self-employed people. They do not get holiday pay or sick pay. They have to cover transport costs, office costs, insurance, stationary, CPD, and so on.

If I am blessed enough to be your celebrant, you can be assured I will give you 100%. I am fully aware that you only get one chance at your ceremony and I want it to be ‘just right’.

 



Veronika Robinson is a celebrant in Cumbria, in the north of England. She’s had the pleasure of officiating all manner of ceremonies since 1995. Her passion for ritual and ceremonies extends to her work as a celebrant trainer at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training, and as editor and publisher of The Celebrant magazine.



Without question, every day of my celebrant life is different quite simply because every person I work with is different. In some ways, I liken it to creating a school project (which I always preferred to exams) over and over again. Because each day is different and the ceremonial location is different, I thought I’d create an “amalgam of celebrant days”!



This is day 6 of World Celebrants Week and so it is timely to show a variety of experiences in my celebrancy.

 



The immense privilege of officiating a wedding ceremony on a Marae (sacred meeting place for the Maori people) in New Zealand.

The bonding ceremony with no guests, just me and the couple, as the sun set over Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria.

The drunk person running up the aisle in the crematorium, just as I left the lectern to stand by the coffin for the committal, yelling ‘NO, you can’t send him away!’

The window cleaner, oblivious to the sacred farewell ceremony taking place on the other side of the window, with his headphones in and singing away, his cleaning tool scraping against the window. Screech, screech, screech!


A beautiful fertility ritual, just me and the woman concerned, by a 3000- year-old secret spring in rural Yorkshire. (p.s. She now has twin boys aged five!)

A deeply moving naming ceremony, the day before Christmas, for a new baby who never got to meet his older brother (he passed away aged three) but wears his brother’s first name as his middle name.

A delightful naming ceremony for a gorgeous girl whose name Andorra was spelled out with colourful gerbera flowers.

Wedding ceremony in a castle. The bride arrived on horseback.



An eco burial for a woman I had the honour of meeting before she passed. I was able to create a nature-based ceremony in keeping with her deep love and reverence for the natural world.



A beautiful burial ceremony, with moss at our feet, in a private ancient forest.



A sunrise lakeside wedding ceremony in Cumbria.



Writing and officiating a funeral and then a memorial ceremony for my best friend, Pam, after she ended her life on Christmas Day. 

 


LOTS of children running up and down a village hall during a naming ceremony. Chaos.

A sagesse ceremony for a woman to honour her role as a wise woman.


A divorce ceremony to heal the wounds of parting.

Menopause ceremony for women entering a new chapter in their lives.

A home blessing to give thanks for each room and the garden which would contain the residents.

Arriving home after a client meeting and thinking about the life their loved one lived, and what images really stood out for me about their story.

 



Listening to estranged family members bicker about what should go into the deceased’s ceremony. Remaining calm and graceful, and mediating towards compromise so that everyone feels heard.

Watching ‘security’ at the crematorium door and wondering if peace shall prevail or all hell will break loose.

Spilling water all over myself just before a funeral started. (the cup had split en route to the crem, and I didn’t notice till the water was all over me!)

The day the grave collapsed. Yep. Having to do the ceremony ‘back to front’ and inter the deceased first.

Picking up a notebook (I have loads of notebooks around the house) to see if it still had blank pages so I could take it to a funeral meeting. As I picked it up, a whole load of pressed flowers fell out! I pull the rest out thinking to myself “Can’t have flowers falling out when I’m at the hospice!” Minutes into my conversation with the family, they tell me that he loved to press flowers and his home is full of them. Spooky! (and, yet, entirely normal in my line of work)

 



The stress when someone who said they were only speaking for one minute speaks for 15 minutes! Going ‘over time’ in a crematorium is a major stress for a funeral celebrant as the funeral director will be fined if you go over the allotted slot time. I time my scripts to ensure we don’t run over but when someone ignores my request to stick to time, it is anxiety inducing.

Drive home from town and a red squirrel crosses the road in front of me.
Phone a mourner to learn their loved one’s story. Lo and behold, she was a huge supporter of the Red Squirrel charity.

Come home from a funeral and have a big cry. It might not be ‘my grief’ but I find it emotionally harrowing to watch people suffer.



Holding a beautiful new baby as I anoint him/her during their naming ceremony.

A ceremony to honour a woman whose little finger was ripped off during a fall.

A ceremony to honour the life of a beloved cat.

Drive to a mourner’s house. Listening to Elvis and singing along to the Wonder of You. Ten minutes later I’m being told the music choices for the funeral include: Elvis, The Wonder of You. “Erm, ok.”

A ceremony to honour the passing of a kitten who died before or during birth.

The word funeral or the name Tracy goes through my head quite randomly. But, I always know it isn’t random, and that within minutes or hours my favourite funeral director will call asking if I’m available.

Ringing the Tibetan prayer bell at the committal for a Buddhist.



A full Handfasting Ceremony for a pagan couple inside a stone circle in Yorkshire.

 



A beautiful wedding by a waterfall, and that breathtaking moment when the bride walked towards the groom and I.

 

Typing a message on my phone to a friend when the thought ‘Tracy is going to phone about a funeral while you’re typing this message’ goes through my head…and there it is “Tracy Lazonby is phoning you” flashes on my screen. Maybe I should be a psychic rather than a celebrant?

Sitting at my laptop at midnight trying to finish writing a funeral script.

Contacting the crematorium with the music choices for an upcoming funeral.

Listen to my clients talking and have images and ideas coming into my head about how to create a beautiful ceremony. Ceremonies are often fully formed in my head before I sit at the laptop.

Wake up with the headache from hell. Officiating a funeral when your head is pounding is not fun.

A wonderful evening out with wedding suppliers enjoying a drink and nibbles.

Styled photo shoot with brilliant local wedding suppliers.


In the middle of a one-minute silence, a crem assistant hits the play button and a loud piece of music blares through the crematorium. It’s not the first time this sort of shenanigans has happened! Of course, the mourners all think the celebrant has done something wrong. In my local crem, the music is out of my hands. Remain composed and ad lib ‘[deceased’s name] never did like silence’…



Deeply moving wedding ceremonies where the bride or groom is terminally ill. Heartwrenching.


A vow renewal ceremony on a canal boat in Lancaster.


Scattering rose petals over the shroud at an eco burial.

Pass on various ceremonies to other celebrants as I’m either too busy or not feeling the right connection. Have learnt to really trust my instinct and to say ‘no’ more often.

Move to coffin for the committal and the loudest doorbell ever goes off. DING DONG. I’m thinking ‘why the hell has the crem installed a doorbell that can be heard in here? So thoughtless!’…seconds later, after hearing laughter, I realise it is someone’s mobile phone and not a doorbell. Obviously!

Officiating in gale force winds at a moorland cemetery.

Toes falling off in minus 3Celcius as I officiate a woodland burial.

Hearing the grass, so dry from drought, crunch beneath my shoes as I officiate a wedding ceremony. The sunshine burns the top of my feet throughout the ceremony. There’s no escaping the scorching.

Tying the paws of two dogs together because the couple wanted them included in their ceremony.



Furious about the email I received from a crappy (kindest word choice used there) funeral director. My client had chosen me as the celebrant because of my passion for eco burials. During one of our conversations she had complained about the cost of coffins. I asked her if she had considered a shroud. After all, it is a good fit for an eco burial. Her and her family were keen to explore that. The next day, said funeral director writes “it is completely out of your remit to tell the client about a shroud. I’ve already chosen a coffin for them!” My response: “It was your job to educate the client about the shroud. Why didn’t you? And, I know for a fact that they hadn’t chosen a coffin.” Client then tells me that the funeral director talked them out of a shroud by saying “what will people think if they see your poor dad going through town in nothing but a bit of cloth?” I am livid but don’t show that to my client. A shroud is NOT a symbol of a pauper’s funeral. Day of the burial comes. Poetic justice for the funeral director, from my point of view. Turns out that he’d never overseen an eco burial before and was completely out of his depth. Add in gale force winds and torrential rain… “This is a bloody nightmare!” he curses under his breath before trekking up the hill to the burial site. Despite the drowned-rat look, I keep my composure and deliver a meaningful and personal ceremony for my family’s loved one. All to the soundtrack of rain belting on umbrellas and raincoats. Note to self: NEVER work alongside this funeral director again.

Placing a flower crown on the head of a teenage girl as she celebrants her ‘new moon’.

Dealing with the one and only Bridezilla I’ve ever had. It would only be months later that I realised it wasn’t me, it was her. She’d been horrible with every single wedding supplier. Her groom, however, was an absolute delight. 

Start my day walking barefoot on the grass so I can ground myself and prepare for a new day officiating a ceremony, rehearsing another, and writing another one, and fitting in Zoom calls. Remaining as calm as possible helps me through such days.

Overseeing a placenta-burying ceremony.

Standing beneath a boab tree in Outback Australia officiating my brother’s wedding ceremony.



A healing ceremony by the river in the woods for a woman who needed to let go of a past relationship.

A coming of age ceremony for a young woman.

Menarche ceremony in a yurt for girls ‘new to the moon’ (menstrual cycle)

Sitting in the garden jotting notes down for a wedding ceremony and creating a ritual unique to my couple.

A communal phoenix ceremony with fifty families writing down everything they want to let go of (that no longer serves them) and then throwing their pieces of paper into the fire.

Wondering if it is true what they say about men in kilts. Hoping the breeze doesn’t reveal the answer.


Barefoot in a flower meadow as the bride approaches the ceremonial space.

A ceremony for a hamster to honour his wee life, and the pleasure he brought.

Double checking EVERYTHING before I leave the house: amplifier, microphone, ceremonial cloths, ritual items, water and so on. The most important thing of all is the SCRIPT.



A triple blessingway ceremony for three woman in bloom and ready to meet their babies.

Cringing at the sound of Prosecco Laughter (the sound of a bride who has drunk too much while having hair and make up done before the ceremony).

Naming ceremony in a cob roundhouse.

Ensure car has regular services, passes MOT, has fuel, oil and water.

Double check directions.

Create a New Moon Ceremony with appropriate manifestation rituals.



Create a personalised ritual for an interment ceremony.

Going on holiday, thinking my schedule is clear, only to have two funerals come in that I’ll have to write and, while on holiday, a short-notice wedding comes in. I spend time on beaches thinking about these ceremonies and what I’ll bring to them. For one man, he had lived his life in Bali and lived for sun, sand and sea. Although my Scottish beaches weren’t exactly tropical, I gathered driftwood, shells, sand and sea water so that upon my return I could use them in a personalised ritual.

 



Press SAVE every minute while script writing, even though autosave is enabled.

Send Order of Service to the funeral director.

Can’t procrastinate any longer: I must sit down and complete my annual accounts for the accountant. This is my least favourite part of self-employed life. There’s no escaping it. January deadline is looming.

Visit new crematorium with my favourite funeral director, and marvel at how beautifully thought out it is.

Chat with a new wedding planner to liaise about tomorrow’s ceremony.

Ensure I swim most days of the week to have ‘me time’, and undo my body from laptop/zoom time.



Pop up to the venue for a rehearsal. I don’t do a word-for-word rehearsal but rather it is a choreography of the rituals and to meet anyone who might be involved in the ceremony. For all my destination wedding couples, it is often the first time we’ve met in person.



Tears flow when I receive beautiful gifts, bouquets of flowers or thank you cards. Gratitude is the foundation of my life, and when someone expresses gratitude to me I find it deeply moving.



Check I have plenty of ink in the printer.

Put my wellies in the car for the eco-burial. And raincoat poncho. It is tipping down!



Check diary date availability for a new wedding couple.

Admire the beautiful moss heart, surrounded by heart-shaped stones collected by the couple on beach walks, that they will stand in to say their vows.

 



Adapt to Zoom life during the Pandemic. Hugging is my currency. No hugs. No home visits. Meet on screen. This all feels so wrong. I can’t bear to see people separated from loved ones in the crematorium, sitting two metres apart even from someone they live with (!), and having to choose who is allowed at the funeral because of number restrictions. Their masks catch snot and tears. It is horrendous and heartbreaking.

Tell a funeral director I’m not available on the date they’ve called about but recommend another celebrant.

Meet up with the celebrant-in-training who is shadowing me at the ceremony. We talk through what is involved. Later, we’ll debrief to see what they learned by watching a celebrant at work.

Set up a YouTube channel and make some videos for World Celebrants Week. Completely out of my comfort zone!

 



Veronika Robinson has been a celebrant since 1995, and officiates across all rites of passage. She is also co-founder and co-tutor at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training, and editor of The Celebrant magazine.

Having had the pleasure of officiating ceremonies, internationally, for more than 26 years, I am so excited to announce that World Celebrants Week will take place from November 15th to 21st.



During this week, I’ll be wearing my three celebrant-related hats: Independent Celebrant, Celebrant Trainer at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training, and as editor of The Celebrant magazine.

 



As a celebrant, I’ll be sharing tips on what to look for in a celebrant. I’ll also give a peep into my daily celebrant life through images, videos and blogs. I hope you’ll join me! You’ll be able to follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and my blogs.

 



At the heart of celebrancy, we CELEBRATE LIFE!

 



Veronika x

 

 

Increasingly, people are seeing marriage, and certainly the patriarchal or religious influences around that institution, to be archaic. Indeed, at the time of writing, there is currently a long-awaited review into marriage laws as they are well and truly outdated.

Having a significant life relationship legally recognised, without the weight of traditions, is appealing to those who seek a balanced landscape upon which to honour and celebrate their union. Partnership is about equality.

 

A common question from fellow celebrants is: what’s the difference between a wedding ceremony and a civil-partnership ceremony? It’s understandable that there might be some confusion because of it being quite new to our understanding of what ‘bonds’ a couple in the eyes of others and the law.

 

A wedding ceremony (including contemporary and alternative ones) tends to share common themes such as traditional rituals like the processional of the bride, the bride being given away, the giving of rings, pledges/vows, and primarily the language used: husband and wife (wife and wife, husband and husband), marriage, and so on. These are so engrained in our cultural wedding traditions that we expect to see these in a bonding ceremony, even those with an alternative flair.

Loz and I the moment we see his beloved Kate arriving to join us and their guests beside the waterfall.

When I train celebrants, we talk about what makes a marriage commitment real. Is it the legal document the couple signs? Is it the wedding ceremony they share with friends and family? Indeed, does an elopement with only two witnesses constitute the same level of commitment as a ceremony with many witnesses? Is marriage God ordained? Does the legal signing of a document bond a couple? All these questions are important to ask, and from a celebrant point of view, I believe it is vital that we understand our own beliefs about relationships and bonding. What do we, as celebrants, energetically bring to the unions (traditional or otherwise) that we are so privileged to be part of?

Who decides if a bond is valid and/or sacred? Who has the right to ordain this? What words or actions need to be spoken or enacted to give credence to this rite of passage? Indeed, is a bonding ceremony considered meaningful only if it is in tandem with the legal contract? (which is essentially notification to the government about a change in taxation status [read that bit about the legal contract again])

 

It is because of all these questions/answers, and more, that some couples are turning towards civil partnership. Apart from the uninspiring label (no doubt decided upon by a civil servant), what couples like these are looking for is to have their loving relationship recognised for the co-creative equal union that it is, and in some cases they’re quite happy to sign the legal document and then carry on with life as per normal while enjoying the financial benefits that this brings.

For others, they wish to bring in the simplicity and balance that comes with identifying as partners rather than traditional titles but would also like a ceremony to share their commitment in front of loved ones. From a ceremony-creation point of view, this can still be as beautiful, romantic, creative, life affirming, and rich with symbolism, as any traditional wedding ceremony or alternative one. My job, as ever, is about creating a ceremony which reflects whatever is meaningful to the couples I work with, and which honours the truth about their lives and choices.

 

 

Veronika Robinson is a celebrant in Cumbria and has officiated all manner of ceremonies, internationally, since 1995. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant She’s the editor of The Celebrant magazine www.thecelebrantmagazine.co.uk and celebrant trainer at Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant-training

Veronika is currently the president of the Association of Independent Celebrants (AOIC).

 

 

 

Grief, Gluttony, Giving, Gratitude. Our experience of Christmas tends to fall into one or two of those areas.

 

Christmas has always been a cherished time in my life, made magical by parents who brought the festive season alive with enchantment and mystery. The Germanic tradition my parents passed onto me is something I still honour. And so, I celebrate on Christmas Eve by candlelight with a lovingly prepared meal and gentle time with my loved ones. This, to me, is Christmas. It’s based on simplicity, love, beauty, and kindness.

As children we would gather by the tree (one grown on our land), the scent of pine infusing the room as we sang Christmas songs in both German and English. To celebrate Christmas was to cross the threshold into another world: it was, indeed, ceremonial, and imbued with ritual, magic and love. I’ve always adored Christmas for its ability to bring heightened beauty into my life.

 

Carrying this beacon from my mother to my own children was no easy task. I’m not sure I ever managed to carry it off, but I will always cherish the years that my daughters were part of this season. I remember their sweet little faces as they sang songs, played instruments; and, as they grew older, their place alongside me in the kitchen preparing the celebratory food. There was nowhere in the world that I wanted to be other than with my little family all safe and happy under one roof. The whole of December was one long festive cheer. The fact my Christmas CD collection is disproportionately huge compared to any other type of music, is evidence of that. Those days are gone. Family Christmases are lost forever.

 

 

The Grief-riddled Christmas

Over the years, I’ve invited people who’ve been on their own to spend it with me (firstly, when I was single) and then later, when I had my own family. One of those people was my dearest friend Pam. She hated Christmas. Her dad had died the week before Christmas, when she was just ten years old. As you can imagine, it had a life-long impact. Over the years, she’d come and be a valued part of our family celebrations. I always hoped that by having her share Christmas, it might help to disrupt the script she had of it being a hated event. I was wrong. Christmas Day 2016: She hung herself with the dog lead. There’s no nice was of framing that event. That’s the reality of it. Here one minute. Gone the next.

 

 

There’s a level of grief that will inevitably permeate every Christmas I experience from here on in (no matter how optimistic or determined I am to free myself from that weight). I alternate between missing our laughter, shared tears, hugs, long walks, the sharing of rom-coms at the cinema, and someone I could talk to in a way I’d never been able to talk to anyone else and wanting to slap her. I find myself so angry at her level of selfishness. “Christmas day, Pam? Ffs!” And then I remember how much she hated life, and I allow myself to understand. I respect her choice, knowing she’s at peace. Oftentimes, I find myself envying her and that complete freedom she now has from all earthly crud.

 

Types of grief

Of course, grief isn’t a one size fits all, and there are many types of grief which can riddle the Christmas season.

 

There can be the death of someone we’ve loved either at Christmas or throughout the year, and the ‘festive’ season being lived without their presence can take its toll. We feel obligated to wear the face of ‘good cheer’ so as not to ruin Christmas for anyone else, while all the time we just want to scream. We’re forced to suppress our grief.

 

There can be the death of family life as we’ve known it, either by circumstance (kids or parents moving far away), estrangement, or with them just being unavailable due to other commitments.

 

For those of a more sensitive, highly empathic, humanitarian disposition, world grief can bite at the heels causing us ongoing torment. How can we have all this greed and gluttony in our faces while people around the world are starving, in war zones, having homes burnt down, stuck in prisons, or enduring the violation of their human rights. Knowing there are people sleeping rough on the streets or others who’ve gone missing, animal cruelty, and so on, can take its toll on our wellbeing. That they are strangers, makes no less an impact than if we knew them personally. Our culture doesn’t offer support for those who feel this pain acutely. Serving up a festive meal and ensuring everyone has gifts and been sent a card can feel numbing and utterly pointless when the world is falling apart.

 

We may experience grief when our home has been taken from us in some way, through flood, fire, violation or even because a loved one has died there. Home is meant to be our sacred space, our safe place in this world. If you like, it’s our second skin. When that’s peeled from us, we’re more vulnerable than ever. Where do we go? How can we create a sense of safety in our life?

 

Maybe we are grieving our health, knowing illness is taking its hold and that our days or months on earth are few. Perhaps it’s amplified by unhealed rifts with friends or family.

Perhaps we’re grieving the loss of employment or other ways we identify ourselves or measure our value.

It could be that we’re grieving the permanent loss of a relationship: friendship, partner or child.

These forms of silent grief don’t have a funeral. There’s no one to pat us on the shoulder and say “I’m sorry for your pain.”

 

Grief may show up in the form of existential questioning. “Why am I here?” “What’s the purpose of life?” “Why do I have a charmed life while that person is on the streets?” Or maybe it’s “Why is my life so shit?” This can be as isolating as any other grief, and just as misunderstood. Like other forms of grief, there are no answers.

 

Grief, like water, is difficult to contain; always finding a way to seep through any available space. We use funerals to publicly share our grief, if only for a half hour or so. Mourning has no timeline. It doesn’t conform to trends, habit or belief systems. It is almost unidentifiable because it is unique to each person. No one can ever understand the landscape of our grief. For the most part, grief is an invisible parasite sometimes feasting and other times resting. All we know is that we aren’t in control of how it will behave at any given moment.

 

Of course, we don’t need the Christmas season to bring up all the variations of grief, but the expectation of festivity and good cheer is so mired in our cultural soup that it only heightens anything unlike itself.

 

Gluttony

Yesterday I popped out to the shop to get a red cabbage and Brussels sprouts for Christmas Eve dinner. The queues were eye watering and glacially slow but not nearly as much as the over-laden trolleys. The anger and bickering between couples and families as they fought their way through the jungle of Tesco, only highlighted just how far removed we are (culturally) from the point of Christmas. Even if the ‘cute baby Jesus story’ isn’t our thing, surely the reason for the season is actually about expressing love? If not, then WHAT IS IT FOR? Why do we continue to engage in something that seems to cause no end of stress to so many people? Every year, at least a dozen people will ask me: “Are you ready for Christmas?” That is, have I bought and wrapped loads of presents and stressed myself to the max. My answer is always the same: “I keep Christmas simple, and I don’t get overwhelmed by it.” About the only Christmas card I send now is to my mother. Gifts are for immediate family. It’s not selfish, it’s self aware. I could easily send out hundreds of cards and buy dozens of presents. These things don’t make the world a better place.

 

Christmas that straddles the terrain of crass commercialisation and the keeping up of appearances can only end up producing emptiness. A beautiful Christmas isn’t dependent on excess, greed, and over consumption (food, alcohol or presents). Giving isn’t determined by bank balance or baubles and tinsel.

Do we really need to buy that much food and alcohol for the couple of days that the shops are shut? Do we have to send Christmas cards to everyone we know? As with most things in life, if we’re always motivated or hindered by ‘but what will they think?’ it means we’re not being true to our self.

 

Giving

To give from the heart is to give of ourselves. In a world that’s riddled with pain, we can weave our way gently by touching others with sincerity and kindness. Even the smallest action can make a difference. Donating or volunteering to food banks, gifting to homeless shelters, visiting elderly people in a hospice who have no family, smiling at a stranger on the street, taking time to say to the person on the check out in hell city (supermarket), “I appreciate what you’re doing, and I hope you have a peaceful Christmas,” (ditto the people cleaning public loos) or checking on someone who has been bereaved – these acts of giving help to create a new world: a place that’s kinder and more gentle.

Gratitude

Gratitude is quite possibly the highest level of vibration that exists. The simplicity of just ‘being’ allows us to step beyond all cultural expectations and to be ourselves, grateful for our place in the world. Whether it’s from the perspective of ‘there, but for the grace of the Universe, go I,” or recognising that we could have been born into a different body, family, country, custom, religion or culture, and that where we are now is okay.

 

Do we have a roof over our head?

Do we have a meal to eat?

Do we have someone (no matter where they are geographically) we care for and who cares about us?

 

If we have these basics, is there a way we can share some of the good we have?

 

If we don’t have these, is there a way we can ask for what we need?

 

There will always be people with more or less than we have, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In the words of the late Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home”.

If that’s true (and I have no reason to doubt it), then what can we do to help each other enjoy that journey? Surely that’s the meaning of Christmas, and every other day of the blessed year.