The heart of ceremony


Lisa Hartley
Focus on Adoption magazine

Celebrating life’s big moments

When people hear about the work of Celebrants, their excitement reminds me of the importance of stepping intentionally into life’s big changes. People who participate in a Celebrant-led ceremony (such as a homecoming or a baby blessing) experience joy, tears and deep gratitude for the opportunity to respectfully celebrate life’s meaningful moments. Adoptive families, because of the lengthy and sometimes difficult process they have walked through to bring their children home, are primed and ready to share their stories with those they love. Adoption is a conscious and intentional choice. It takes commitment and devotion. It’s powerful to recognize and celebrate that with a heart-felt ceremony.

Telling stories from the heart

What is a Celebrant?

Celebrant is an old word originally used by religious priests. Celebrants today are professional life-cycle ceremony officiants who believe in the power and effectiveness of ceremony and ritual. They collaborate with their clients to create and perform personalized ceremonies that reflect the clients’ beliefs, philosophy of life and personalities. Celebrants officiate at all types of life-cycle ceremonies and rituals including baby namings, adoption ceremonies, coming of age ceremonies, weddings, civil unions, commitment ceremonies, and memorials. Source:

The foundation of any Celebrant-led ceremony is the personal story at the heart of the participants. Most people intuitively understand the need to celebrate the powerful stories in their lives, but they’re not personally skilled in the art of ceremony design. Life-cycle Celebrants are trained to evoke meaningful responses from their clients through questions, conversations, and deep reflection. They use their skills in ritual and ceremony creation to design a ceremony that is unique to each family.

The process of reflection inherent in a Celebrant ceremony strengthens the tapestry of your extended family and sets a secure emotional and psychological foundation for your child. That same deep intention that carried you through the adoption can be put into words in a ceremony where you openly commit to your child and your dreams together. You are saying to your children, and to your community, “I see you, I love you, I trust you and I believe in you. You are an incredible gift in my life.”

A unique and beautiful tapestry

Each ceremony will be as unique as the family that commissions it. Perhaps the godparents will tell the story of the child’s arrival, or other siblings wish to talk. Sometimes there have been losses that can be spoken aloud, shared, and released. Candles may be lit; charms, gifts and blessings may be offered; and trees may even be planted. The rituals come from what is alive and meaningful within each family and community. Together we create a beautiful tapestry of memories, dreams, feelings, and emotions.

I remember the dinner where I met my cousin, Tien, who was adopted from Vietnam in the 1970s. My aunt and uncle intuitively understood that some sort of celebration was needed, so they hosted a welcome dinner. They also saved the newspaper articles about his arrival. Recently, on his 40th birthday, his sister presented him with a book containing all of those records. I now understand that this was a transformative event for both Tien and his family. Tien went from being an only child in an orphanage to being woven into an enormous extended family with siblings, cousins, parents, and grandparents.

How beautiful it would have been if Tien could have been part of a ceremony that honoured this transition. Maybe he would not have understood at the time, but if it happened today, his family would receive a keepsake copy. A simple thing, perhaps, but imagine how he might feel as he read and re-read that ceremony at age eight, 13, or 40.

What do you want to celebrate?

Ceremonies can be designed around any situation that changes our lives profoundly. Consider the arrival of a newly-adopted child, the completion of a legal adoption, a name change, or a marriage that blends adopted families. With the skills of a Celebrant, you can tell the story of your child’s arrival, share your hopes and dreams with your friends and family, and celebrate an experience that will live forever in the memories of your loved ones.

What is your family story? What is your child’s story? What dreams do you have for them? What fears do you want to release? What promises can you make? Who in your extended family and community will stand by your child? Consider these things. What do you want to celebrate?

Lisa Hartley is a professional photographer and Celebrant in Vancouver, B.C. Find out more about her services at and

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