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Terrible Traditions

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Paper Lanterns HiRes Background - Non-Religious Independent Sydney Funeral Celebrant Stephen Lee

There are lots of really great things to do at weddings, but there are also some really great things NOT to do. So here are five ideas to avoid.

Some ideas may sound fun or appealing until you realise the real story behind that perfect photo opportunity. So if you’re considering one of the following, read why they should be avoided, and why I politely decline to include them in my ceremonies.

Dove release

During “dove releases,” birds are let out of a cage, and event attendees likely assume that they have been “set free” and will live happily ever after. But that four-second visual display claims many of their lives.
The “doves” that people rent for weddings, funerals, and other occasions are often actually pigeons who are bred to be all-white. They’re stuffed into cages, dragged to unfamiliar locations in the middle of noisy crowds, and turned loose. As they try to find their way back, the domesticated birds often get hurt or lost, are killed by predators, or starve to death.

In nature, doves mate for life and work together to raise their babies. They’re considered symbols of love and fidelity, as well as peace. Harming and killing them doesn’t honour a loved one, and it’s no way to begin a joyous new life together.


Breeders mass-produce butterflies and post them to customers. They’re often flattened and sealed in envelopes or tiny boxes and then shipped over long distances. Many are crushed or die before they even reach their destination.

When captive-bred butterflies are turned loose and left to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar area, they struggle to find food sources and often can’t survive in the new climate.

Mass production also makes it easy for diseases to spread. When commercial-bred butterflies are released, they carry diseases to native populations, which are already in decline.

Balloon release

Releasing balloons is effectively an exercise in mass littering, as it would be impossible to collect and dispose of each one.

A 2015 academic paper presents strong evidence that balloons are among the most dangerous types of pollution for sea life, along with fishing gear and plastic bags, all of which can end up being ingested by, or entangling, aquatic creatures.

When they float back down to earth, they are slow to decompose and as a single use product go straight into landfill – if you’re lucky. Some latex balloons are chemically treated in ways that prevent natural biodegradation.

Passing on the balloons also has the added benefit of reducing stress on the world’s finite helium reserves, which are needed to operate some medical devices and heavy scientific research equipment.

Paper lanterns

Like balloons, what goes up must come down. Paper lanterns must fall back to earth somewhere resulting in – at the very least – an eyesore for someone to clean up.

Made from paper, they either burn away or are relatively quick to biodegrade. But the real issue is the thin metal wire frames that support the lanterns. They are a hazard when they lay on the ground and do not degrade. As one farmer put it, “If it gets wrapped up in hay bales it would be like swallowing razor blades for farm animals and if it falls into grassland it will kill wildlife.”

And let’s not forget that sending burning lanterns into the sky in a dry country like Australia is a clear bushfire hazard. Three German states have now banned the sale of the lanterns following the death of a 10-year-old boy in a house fire caused by a sky lantern.

Glitter confetti

Glittering confetti looks great. But consider where all that plastic goes after the big moment.

If you’re marrying outside, much of it will remain on the ground where animals might find and swallow it, or it’ll get washed into waterways, or trodden into the ground. If your wedding is indoors, it might be swept up and tossed in the bin – but that’s just something else added to landfill.

By Stephen Lee
Sydney Marriage Celebrant