Rosemary for Remembrance

April 23rd is the day we commemorate both the birth and the death of the greatest English playwright, William Shakespeare.

If you visit his place of birth, Stratford-upon-Avon, you’ll find sprigs of rosemary dotted around many of the historic places he’s associated with – an acknowledgment of the fact he invoked rosemary at a pivotal point in one of his most famous plays, Hamlet.

I’ve written about the historic connection between rosemary, remembrance and love before and how the herb can bring powerful symbolism to both a funeral and a wedding.

But, as we learn more about how smell can be a remarkable trigger of memory, and on the day when we’re remembering and honouring Shakespeare, it bears revisiting.

The reason that smell plays such an important role in memory is because scent is the only sense that feeds directly into the part of our brain that processes emotion. To smell rosemary at a life event is to fix in our minds forever the feelings of that day.

In the 21st century, we know that through extensive research and experimentation; for Shakespeare, it must have been a cross between old wives’ tales and gut instinct.

In Hamlet, Ophelia tells us ‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance’. Shakespeare had studied the classics. That means he probably knew, like us, that ancient Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary during academic exams, hoping perhaps that a quick turn around the herb garden would replace hours studying.

But rosemary isn’t just associated with aspiring students, it has a deep-seated connection with the passing of loved ones that goes back millennia. Since pre-historic times, our ancestors have used rosemary in burial rites. We know that, as far back as 1000BC, the ancient Egyptians were using rosemary, along with other essential oils, to embalm the bodies of their dead.  

There’s evidence that Romans carried rosemary with them during funeral processions and then left the sprigs with the body. In the early sixteenth century, English statesman and politician, Sir Thomas More, wrote of rosemary: “Whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem of our funeral wakes and in our burial grounds.” Partly, we think, it’s because, as an evergreen plant, rosemary is associated with eternal life.

Rosemary is also associated with eternal love – and everyone wants to be assured of that at their wedding.

Again from the sixteenth century, the celebrated Doctor of Divinity, Roger Hacket, said in his ‘fruitful sermon on marriage’: “Speaking of the powers of rosemary, it overtoppeth all the flowers in the garden, boasting man’s rule. It helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memorie, and is very medicinable for the head. Another property of the rosemary is, it affects the heart.”

With the growing popularity of ‘natural’ weddings, the dark green leaf and pretty blue flower of rosemary is the perfect choice for an unusual and sweet smelling bouquet or as an attractive cake decoration. Charlie, from The Natural Wedding Company, has some wonderful ideas in one of her blogs about how to use the herb.

Whether because of its evocative smell or its symbolism, rosemary has played a long and honourable part in celebrating life and love.

To include it in your life event is to follow the customs of our ancestors stretching back thousands of years.

A Good Friday for a wedding

The Christian calendar may have Good Friday down as one of sadness but, if you’re planning a wedding, it could be the happiest of choices.

Think about it. Because it’s a bank holiday, many of your guests already have the day off. And there’s every chance they have Easter Monday off as well. So you can party on Friday, decompress over the weekend and, if necessary, travel on Monday, before hitting the office again on Tuesday. Your guests will thank you for the perfect mini-break.

The excitement and planned events of the Big Day means it can pass in a bit of a blur. I often hear couples – and their guests – regretting that they didn’t get time to spend with everyone. There was no time for a proper chat, they say, even with people they might not have seen in a while, or who had travelled long distances.

Marrying on Good Friday means you can follow it with a day or two of relaxation with all of those people still around you.

Perhaps you can meet for a leisurely brunch and a long walk. Or lunchtime drinks that morph into afternoon tea. When my niece married, a large group of us met the following day for a boat trip on the Thames. Fabulous though the day of the wedding had been, that boat trip was almost as memorable and was certainly a lot more relaxing.

The other benefit of a spring wedding is the weather. Yes, it can be cold, particularly if Easter is in March. Probably best not to plan a Good Friday wedding celebration in England on a beach unless you’re a particularly hardy family!

But, on the plus side, you and your guests are less likely to spend the day just wishing you could get out of your formal clothes and take a cold shower.

The pastel colours associated with spring are another reason to choose an Easter wedding celebration. The gentle blue of forget-me-knots, the pale green of unfurling leaves, the yellow of narcissus make a wonderfully delicate palette for your bouquet, decorations and bridesmaid dresses. And imagine how pretty your flower girl will look, scattering yellow and lilac-coloured primroses from a basket.

The cost implications of a Good Friday wedding celebration are more difficult to predict. A weekday wedding is generally cheaper than one on a Saturday. But, because it’s a bank holiday, some venue and suppliers’ costs may have to include higher wages. You’ll be shopping around anyway though, so you can ask for comparisons.

Spring is a time of renewal and a Good Friday wedding celebration does have a deeper additional meaning as an appropriate time to start your new life as a couple. But practically, as well, there are many benefits.

Next year, Good Friday is on 7th April, in 2024 it’s 29th March and in 2025 it’s 18th April.

Start planning now because, as the saying goes, Easter is the only time when it’s safe to put all your eggs in one basket.