• Siân Julia Jackson

Alternative Ceremonies

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Humanist Ceremonies – Anything is possible!


Sian and seven friends, standing in a circle on Swansea Bay as she begins performing a Celebration of Friendship ceremony. In the background you can see the Meridian Tower and some of the residential falts on Swansea Marina. The sun is setting and the sky is a little cloudy and the clouds are reflecting colours of pink and orange


What’s the point of a ceremony anyway?


Ceremonies allow us to step out of the everyday and help us take stock of the very things that bring meaning and joy to our lives: people, connections, the spaces we inhabit, our planet and the resources that help us survive and thrive. Ceremonies are communal, supportive structures that can help us find gratitude, are channels to show appreciation, aid with transitions in our lives and help us let go, refocus or move on.



Lockdown blues…


A photograph of Sian the celebrant looking thoughtful

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a gob-shite of a year… I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in a national, regional, local or personal lockdown (on account of some nasty back problems) since March. After eight months of this madness my memory has gone into meltdown and I spend half my time wondering what bloody day it is!


I know I shouldn’t moan, for the most part, the people I love and I are well and some real positives have undoubtedly emerged out of this shitty saga: communities uniting, recognition of our resourcefulness and, for many, a sharpened sense of appreciation. Now more than ever, I feel fortunate to have love, company and comfort… (apart from the back pain that is!)



With a distinct lack of weddings, there has been a ceremony shaped void in my life. But recently, I have managed to pull-off a couple of unexpected, and rather magical, ceremonies which have broadened my horizons as a celebrant and have reminded me that ceremonies don’t need to be confined to births, deaths and marriages.



The story of a mad, multifunctional ceremony


A photo of the field that Sian and her friends went camping in. You can see a few tents at the bottom of the hill

Just after the first lockdown in Wales began to ease, a small group of friends decided to plan a camping trip to celebrate a couple of birthdays and finally being able to see each other (outdoors and socially distanced of course!) after months of bloody Zoom quizzes which drive me slightly barmy!


But the campsites were rammed; there was not a spare patch of grass in the whole of South Wales. One of our crew came up with a cunning plan, and cheekily asked some friends with a farm and a few fields if we could rock up there for a couple of nights. Not knowing exactly what they were letting themselves in for, Kate and Arwel said yes, in exchange for a bit of manual labour: painting a shed. We’re a rowdy bunch so much better confined to a spot with cows as our only neighbours… we’d cause utter carnage in your average family campsite anyway!



It was an ace weekend spent laughing, getting soggy and dodging cow pats! (I didn’t do so well at dodging them and somehow managed to get poo all over my dressing gown!) Saturday was the agreed day for shed painting. I started and realised fairly sharpish this was an terrible idea for the old back so, instead, set about planning some entertainment for the evening which, being me, of course came in the form of some sort of ceremony.






Two of Sian's friends, Rachel and Mike, having a drink and enjoying camping in a friend's field.
Rachel and Mike!

When I thought about it, we had a couple of things to celebrate: two birthdays and being reunited after all this time in lockdown for a start. But on that day, we remembered something else.


Amongst our posse were Rachel and Mike. Rachel was raised in England but has lived in Wales for 20 years now, longer than she lived in England. She always said that when that point hit, she would celebrate with a massive party and wanted to be officially recognised as Welsh from there on in. For some reason she’d forgotten about this temporarily, but it came back to her that day. Now this was screaming CEREMONY! A change of identity should surely be marked in a memorable way. Mike had also spent more of his life living in Wales so, with everyone’s consent, I set about writing a ceremony to celebrate the lives of the two birthdays girls, rejoice in our reunion and magically turn Rachel and Mike from English Roses into Welsh Daffodils!


Considering I knocked it up in an afternoon, (I usually spend somewhere between 20 and 30 hours writing a first draft of a wedding!) it went down a treat. It had all the components of any worthy ceremony: attentive guests, meaningful content, tears of joy, heckling, roaring laughter and imaginative ritual or two – involving a sheep called Derek and a sword fashioned out of tinfoil!

A photo a badly made sheep. He's constructed out of wool and possibly gaffa tape
What remains of Derek


Sadly, the words spoken that night dissolved into the lush green grass on account of the Welsh wetness but we will always have the memories… Well actually, I just had to ask on a Whatsapp group "can anyone remember anything about the ceremony?!" The wine and the painkillers I was on at time didn’t do much preserve my memory! Sometimes, some things are better left in the moment.


After four months apart, this was exactly what we needed to reconnect on a cosmic level (perhaps the booze helped too!) and this ramshackle of a ceremony was a trail blazer for another, more considered, one to follow in a couple of months time....



Celebration of Friendship Ceremony


Come the autumn, with even more lockdowns under our belt, morale took nosedive for me. I was proper down in the dumps, and I could see my friends struggling too. Let’s face it, life has been crap for everyone this year. There has been no let-up from this nightmare, unless you’re a sqillionaire living it up on your private Fijian island! So, based on the success of the random, impromptu, cow-pat-laced ceremony at Kate and Arwel’s, I wondered if I could do something more to temporarily elevate me and my pals out of this Covid-ridden, positivity stricken, cesspit of a shit-uation …and what was conceived was a Celebration of Friendship!


A photo of Sian Jackson delivering the Celebration of Friendship ceremony.. She is standing on Swansea Bay, you can see the sea in the background and there are bottles of beer and wine in the foreground.

Once I stumbled across this idea in my mind, I felt a great potential brewing: there was clearly a place for a ceremony that could serve to acknowledge the evolution of our friendship group, give thanks to some of the mechanisms/vehicles which have made those friendships possible and most importantly big-up a bunch of incredible, inspiring, tenacious and fantabulous beings that I’m thrilled to call my friends. What an awesome idea! And when I told them of my plans, they were up all over it!


Just the same as planning a wedding ceremony, everyone involved needed to be proactive. I sent the seven friends a series of questions about each of the other girls, to generate material for the script. Thankfully, as ever, they didn’t disappoint and every person submitted perceptive, relevant, touching and damn-right hilarious contributions, making the writing process a sheer pleasure.


I then spent some time reflecting on our friendships, some of which have been 17 years in the making. I considered the catalysts that sparked those unions, and the measures that have kept them going. I thought about all the special places that served as their breeding grounds, the milestones we’d marked together, our wild escapades, the headaches and the heartaches. The unadulterated hedonism in the form of crazy parties, freaky dancing and infectious laughing. The freedom of self-expression which we allowed each other through our discussions and debates. The many, many, wicked raves and the odd revolutionary riot. There have been squabbles and wobbles which have strangely served to fortify our alliances. And so much caring, giving and forgiving. I reminisced about all those who had passed through our group but briefly and remembered those who sadly lost their lives along the way. Phew! There was so much to contemplate.





When I sat down and thoroughly considered all these elements, I felt in awe, and so lucky to be dancing the waltz of life with this lot. The idea for this ceremony dropped quickly, so I didn’t have much time to turn it around but, after all this thinking, I was determined to deliver a shit-hot ceremony worthy of depth, strength, magnificence and resilience of all the interwoven connections laid before me. This needed to be one EPIC celebration of Love and Life!



I love my job!


A photo of Sian Julia Jackson, Wedding celebrant, wearing a striped, multi-coloured shirt with her hands up in the air with a big smile on her face.

For me, writing ceremonies is an emotional business. What I love so much about my job is having the opportunity to step into other people’s lives, understanding their deep connections and making new connections myself. I’ve married plenty of friends, and that’s super special, but this was something different: for the first, and possibly only time, I got to compose a ceremony in which my life, and my connections, were part of the content.


Having been in a bit of a sorry state during these last few months, looking back on my experiences with these luscious lunatics, who have played such crucial roles in my life, was beautiful and cathartic. And my whew, was it intense?! Hell knows how many tears rolled down my cheeks, splashing onto my keyboard over this one!



The big day


Thankfully, the day of the ceremony was bright and fresh. I was zinging with a zesty energy after a creative and liberating photo shoot with Kat and Lucy from Everything We Do Photography. We arrived and met my mates on Swansea Bay. As instructed, they showed up looking a little merry armed with bottles of fizz! And for once, it was me who was late… not strictly true; I told them to turn up half an hour earlier than planned as they can be right buggers for faffing, getting lost in the moment and losing track of time. Naughty of me, but essential given past experiences!



Sian and seven friends, standing in a circle on Swansea Bay as she begins performing a Celebration of Friendship ceremony. In the background you can see the Meridian Tower and some of the residential falts on Swansea Marina. The sun is setting and the sky is a little cloudy and the clouds are reflecting colours of pink and orange


We hoped the sunset would provide a scenic backdrop for the ceremony and the universe granted us near-on perfect conditions. The splendid sky was filled stringy clouds, illuminating shades of pale pink and burnt orange. Conveniently, all other beach bums scattered (perhaps we scared them off… we did look like some kind of mad cult!). We had the entire beach to ourselves, so, I gathered everyone around and began…


“Firstly, thank you all for coming together for whatever weird-ass ceremony this turns out to be”


The atmosphere was electric from the word go. I could feel the buzz and anticipation festering in my friends’ unknowing minds. Unlike my usual ceremonies, none of the participants had any idea what was about to ensue. But I was sure that everyone felt secure in the love and trust between us and there was only one direction this was going, and that was up up up!


I continued, staying fairly close to the planned script, veering off here and there and allowing plenty of space for the inevitable chuckling and heckling and, of course, the unavoidable, mildly offensive and highly inappropriate remark from Rachel that always occurs at such poignant junctures.





I took the girls on a journey, exploring the progression of our now exquisitely entangled involvements and recognised how far we’d moved as a collective, and individuals.


“We’ve watched each other turn from young, carefree chicks into women on a mission, making the world a better place, and still managing having fuck-loads of fun!”


*Please note, there was much more swearing in this than my usual ceremonies!! I write each ceremony to appeal to the very people I’m writing it for, and my buddies love colourful language and a good whiff of toilet humour!


We celebrated our womanhood and also took a moment to gave thanks to stunning, charismatic, confused, underrated, pretty-shitty-city of Swansea. She undeniably deserves due recognition for igniting, hosting and nurturing our relationships.



Sian and her seven friends are standing in a circle in Swansea Bay. You can see the sea in the background and all girls are holding their hands in the air as they say thank you to Swansea for igniting their friendships


I amalgamed the responses I received from all of my friends and wrote an homage to each of them present. I sensed a slight awkwardness as every girl listened curiously to our perceptions of her and these touching tributes were met with coy smiles, blushing cheeks and the odd happy tear.





Non-traditional rituals


Of course, no ceremony would be complete without some sort of symbolic act. I envisioned an idea that I hoped would help us remember the event and also allow us an opportunity to connect with each other individually, on a personal level, after the ceremony. Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to do a dry run of this, so I just had to wing it and hope for the best!


The ritual involved a collection of rather long, brightly coloured ribbons. I asked each girl to clasp the bundle as I passed it to the next, creating a continuous circle of ribbons between the eight of us. We all bestowed these ribbons with a big blast of love and positivity then took it in turns to server the strands between our hands, so each person was left with a bunch of eight separate ribbons and I’ll explain what became of those later.





The end of the ceremony got really flipping emotional: two of our tribe had plans to leave our sacred sanctuary of Swansea to pursue ventures new. All those who were remaining (I no longer live in Swansea but I’m not too far away) wrote well wishes which were received and distributed with tides of tears.





The event concluded, in the only appropriate way I could envisage for such an affair, with a simultaneous popping of corks!!! By which time night had fallen so we crawled to the nearest bar to continue the celebrations.



Sian and her seven friends are standing in a line, all popping bottles of fizzy wine. They are all smiling and there is foam from the bottles spraying all over the sand. It's dark and you can see the lights of Mumbles in the background



A photograph of a woman holding a bunch of brightly coloured ribbons

So, what became of those ribbons? We each ended up with seven ribbons, one for each of the other girls present. Over the course of the night each person took others aside for a private connection, for just the two of them. As one girl tied a ribbon around their other’s wrist they spoke with deep sincerity about their hope for the other’s future.


Now I loved every minute of writing and delivering such a special ceremony, but it was these priceless moments in the hours that followed that were the most precious morsels for me. The ceremony had paved the way for all of us to speak openly, honestly and with candour. I am the first to admit that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I always speak my mind (which is not always welcomed!) but the ceremony gave everyone the strength and permission speak from the heart. The entire evening was humming and purring with words of truth. The love between us all was burning bright and the heat from our conversations kept us warm all night.



Conclusions


Life is short. We should spend more time connecting powerfully with those we love. It’s doesn’t take much for me to spill my soul, but I know that not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s why we need ceremonies. They allow us the space to take a step back from our lives so we can view them objectively for a short while. By concentrating on something so intensely, unpacking and unravelling the love and joy in our lives that we sometimes take for granted, we can find a whole new appreciation for what we are fortunate to have.



As I said up top, there’s no need for ceremonies to be restricted to the ones who know and cherish, there are limitless possibilities.


On our journey through life, we will encounter so much to mark and celebrate. And it’s worth noting here that ceremonies don’t have to take the formal shapes and structures we’re accustomed to. For the birthday/reunion/becoming Welsh ceremony, we were just a bunch of friends sat huddled around a fire covered in cow shit! The profoundness of an event isn’t judged by it’s grandness, rather its authenticity and impact on those present.


Yours contently,

Siân X

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