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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Withall Celebrant

Let's talk about the difference between Celebrants and Registrars

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

One of the most common questions a celebrant gets asked by the happy couple-to-be is: what is the difference between a celebrant and a registrar? It’s a common question because people are often bound by tradition, and for years the way of getting married has been to either have a church service or book the registry office. While celebrants have been around for many years now, they are still classed as ‘new’, relative to the rest of the industry, and as such, many people still don’t know exactly who they are and what they do.

The first thing worth considering is what registrars and celebrants specialise in, and their employment status. By definition, according to the UK government website, “registrars collect and record details of all births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships,” and are employed by the government. This essentially means that a registrar is not specifically focused on weddings and marriages; they also register births and deaths as part of a job which can be dominated by paperwork. While this multi-faceted role can be rewarding for those in it, it does mean that a registrar is unable to devote all their time and attention to the couple getting married, or indeed the ceremony itself. This means that many registrar-led ceremonies follow a fixed pattern and have generic wording and vows, and they may not even meet you before the ceremony itself.

While a celebrant may also do funerals and naming ceremonies, their main focus is on meeting their clients to get to know them and learn what they want, writing and hand crafting a personalised ceremony, and delivering it with professional skill. No two celebrant-led ceremonies are the same, and this is the main appeal for many couples choosing a celebrant over a registrar. Celebrants are also self-employed and will very rarely conduct more than one wedding a day, allowing them plenty of time to prepare your dream wedding.


All registry offices across the UK can conduct legal weddings, and there are also some 7,000 approved venues that are also licensed to have legal, registrar-led weddings. Celebrants, however, are unable to conduct legally-binding marriages at present, while this may be changing in the very near future, for now, couples who chose a celebrant-led wedding, must plan to get legally married in a registry office with two witnesses before having their larger personalised ceremony with all their friends and family at their venue and manner of their choice. This is in fact how the rest of Europe have always conducted their weddings.


Registry offices will often have multiple weddings taking place at the same office every day. In addition, it’s very possible that the individual registrar conducting your wedding may have other weddings at other sites on that day as well. This leaves you with very little flexibility when it comes to timings of your ceremony. You may have a fixed time slot, and you will be unable to go over that time slot. Furthermore, you are also restricted in terms of where you can have your wedding – many hotels and other venues are not licensed for legal marriages – and also restricted by content: while you may be able to choose a reading and a piece of music during a registrar-led wedding, any sort of religious content, spiritual blessing, hand fasting or songs that mention a deity, are prohibited.

Flexibility is one of the key reasons people choose a celebrant over a registrar. Because essentially you have freedom of choice over how you wish to celebrate your day. A celebrant is there to tie all your ideas together to create a unique ceremony. Depending on your venue, there may be no time restraints on the ceremony at all, day or evening, and can take place anywhere you like – the top of a mountain, your home, or even at your dream holiday destination.

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