What’s the difference between a celebrant and a registrar?

Celebrant weddings are on the rise and it’s estimated that more than 14,000 ceremonies were conducted by celebrants in 2021, but there’s still some confusion about what’s involved. A question I often get asked is “What’s the difference between a celebrant and a registrar” – read on to learn more and find out whether a celebrant is the right choice for you. (It is of course – but I’m biased!)

In the past there were two main ways to get married – a religious service at a place of worship or a civil ceremony conducted by a registrar. But now there’s a third option, which couples are seeking out for a more personal expression of their relationship and their values – the celebrant wedding ceremony.

If you’re planning your wedding, here’s everything you need to know to make a choice:

What exactly is a celebrant?

Independent celebrants are specialists in creating and delivering ceremonies which are written especially for you. This makes every ceremony just as unique as you are, which is why they’re so special! Look out for celebrants that are certified with a training body, qualified to diploma level and members of a professional association (that’s me by the way!).

What’s the difference between a celebrant and a registrar?

Well, there are lots, but here are the main ones:

Legality and freedom – A registrar can marry you legally, but the options for personalising your ceremony are very limited. A celebrant can’t marry you legally just yet (although the law is changing – hurray!), but can offer complete freedom over the style and content of your ceremony.

Content – A registrar must use a prescribed form of words for the legal declarations and no religious or spiritual content is allowed. Celebrant ceremonies have no restrictions and can include a mixture of spiritual, cultural and religious elements. Most couples that choose a celebrant wedding, don’t have a particular faith, but if you do want to include a prayer, bible reading or blessing then you’re free to do so.

Getting to know you – Often a registrar will only meet you on the day of your wedding, whereas a celebrant will get to know you over a period of months or possibly even years beforehand. You’ll almost always meet your celebrant in person at least once before the big day (unless you’re overseas during the planning period and in that case – there’ll be a lot of zoom calls!).

Time – Registrars do a fantastic job, but they usually don’t have a lot of time to spare (they will have other ceremonies to perform that day) and rarely have time to wait if there are delays. Most celebrants only conduct one wedding each day, so unexpected changes (like moving weddings indoors in a sudden downpour) are no problem. They’ll take time to check in with your co-ordinator, meet your guests, steady nerves and fix buttonholes. Twilight and early morning weddings are also possible … although not too early please – hahah!

Location – Registrar weddings must take place in a licensed venue. Celebrant weddings can take place quite literally anywhere! The family farm, your mum and dad’s back garden, the beach, the park where you first met, the PUB where you first met! Let your imagination run free …

Inclusive – Even with the best will in the world, scope for personalising a registrar ceremony is limited. So personal elements like taking time to deliver your own vows, including guests in a pebble casting, or making a commitment to your children as part of your ceremony are only possible with a celebrant wedding.

Suited to you – Pretty much all registrar weddings follow a traditional format – aisle arrival, vows, rings, kiss, hurray! But if you want to cut the cake at the end of the ceremony, or stand in the centre surrounded by your loved ones, jump the broom or celebrate with a handfasting – then a celebrant wedding is the only way to go.

I love the idea of a celebrant wedding, but won’t I need to get married twice?

Nope – fear not! True enough, you’ll need to do the legal bit at a register office, but this can be a simple 15 minute declaration with 2 witnesses. It costs £46 and can take place at any register office, whenever’s convenient for you. Then you’re free to have the celebrant wedding of your dreams.

Okay, let’s go – how do I plan my celebrant wedding?

Step 1 Book your celebrant – That’s me of course! Or if you’re outside Oxfordshire, Warwickshire or Northamptonshire you can contact one of my brilliant colleagues via the Association of Independent Celebrants.

Step 2 Give notice of your intention to marry – This needs to be done however you choose to get married and takes place at your local register office at least 29 days before Step 3. It normally costs £35 each and involves signing a legal declaration and presenting some documents, like proof of address.

Step 3 Register your marriage – This can be done before or after your celebrant ceremony at any register office and involves making two legal declarations in front of two witnesses and signing the marriage schedule. It takes about 15 minutes and costs £46.

Step 4 Work with your celebrant to create your dream ceremony – This is where the fun starts. Choose any content and any style. You can keep things traditional and classic, or take inspiration from your heritage and the things you hold dear (love knots for the Welsh, oathing stones for the Scots and a world of other options …). You can include prayers or blessings if you wish, involve your children if you have them, celebrate with a Mexican wave … whatever feels right for you.

Celebrant ceremonies are full of warmth and personality and are completely unique to you. Get in touch to find out more about how we can create a really beautiful ceremony together.



Bluebell Ceremonies – Creating beautiful, bespoke ceremonies to celebrate the special moments in your life.
Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and the Cotswolds.