As I mounted the steps, the music of Circle of Life from The Lion King swelled out from the speakers. The couple entered the room first, holding up their baby son in much the same way as Mufasa held up his newborn cub Simba at the very start of The Lion King. Then I came in, in the guise of the wise monkey Rafiki, banging a staff against the ground and chanting ‘Asante sana squashed banana…’
This was the day of my nephew’s naming ceremony. For the occasion, my brother and his partner had kitted me out in a red cape and fashioned a staff with coconuts at the top of it. I supplied a felt cap of my own that gave me a wizard-lik quality. I introduced myself as Dwardle the Druid and said to the audience that I was the celebrant for this shindig. Back then, celebrant was just a word. When my brother asked me to officiate, I just saw it as a speaking gig.
Conducting the Ceremony
The Internet had proved a valuable source of information in preparing the ceremony. I was able to gather readings and vow templates, and advise the couple about ways of capturing memories of the day for the child. For this, my first ceremony, I did not stray far from the template familiar to me from Church christenings.
I began with a short talk. It’s a cliché to describe life as a journey, but I subverted the cliché by describing my nephew’s life as a quest. A quest is a journey of sorts, but it’s broader than that. It’s an adventure which challenges you and helps you discover strengths you never had. And it’s an adventure with a goal in mind.
In this case, the goal was to envisage the best possible life for my nephew. There are certain essential ingredients to a quest: travel, companionship, challenges and a longing for home. My talk was punctuated by bursts of unexpected laughter and contributions from children in the audience. This all added richness to the talk.
Readings and Vows
I chose two readings: one called A Message to My Child by Jessica Weslock (link) and the other a gloriously bonkers reading from Dr Seuss. Warning: this one is a bit long. I shortened it, but it still challenged the audience’s attention spans. They were read by the eldest sisters of the couple, who are both mothers themselves. I drew attention to this because I thought it was a lovely link.
At the heart of the ceremony were the vows. I decided the vow templates I had seen online were a bit treacly for this audience, so I stripped them back and kept the vows simple, just a question and answer format. The couple answered their vows first with ‘We do’ and then the audience answered with ‘We will.’ We all made promises to support my nephew and allow him to be fully himself.
Naming the Child
Another moving moment in the ceremony was when I gave the background to the names the couple chose for my nephew. They were family names which carried a lot of history. In invoking them, we all became powerfully aware of the rich past that lay behind this child and the equally rich future that lay before him, all that life, all those possibilities.
To capture memories of the day, the couple asked everyone present to put a small item into a memory box for the child. This could be a memento that was precious to the guest, or something that the guest felt would capture the spirit of the times for the child. You live and you learn with ceremonies. People had brought rather large mementos and these had to fit into quite a small box. But these little niggles can easily be overcome, and the box has now been stored and sealed, waiting until the child opens it on his eighteenth or twenty-first birthday.
The ceremony ended on a wonderfully light-hearted note with a rendition of ‘The Bare Necessities’ from The Jungle Book. Everyone joined in with enthusiasm. Later, as we ate a meal with equal enthusiasm, people kept saying to me, ‘You should become a celebrant for a living.’
A thunderclap went off in my head, a shouted yes that reverberated through my brain. I could help people celebrate the greatest moments of their lives, give shape to the emotions they were feeling, bring meaning into their lives. ‘You know what?’ I said. ‘I think I will become a celebrant.’