Even the most casual of wedding ceremonies requires a little bit of choreography. And though there are many traditions, it’s important to remember that there are no real rules. While this guide outlines a traditional wedding ceremony order of events, keep in mind that it’s your big day, so start planning with your own personal touches.
When planning your wedding ceremony order, you may even decide to take a page from another tradition’s book. In Jewish ceremonies, for example, the groom’s parents walk him down the aisle. Then, the bride’s parents walk her down. Perhaps you’ll use this processional even if you aren’t Jewish.
This general wedding ceremony outline will help you determine how to envision your big day. Then, meet with your officiant to discuss your ideas and be open to his/her suggestions. After all, this isn’t their first rodeo — unless, of course, you got your bestie ordained to conduct the ceremony. That’s the great thing about contemporary weddings: Anything goes!
Traditional Wedding Ceremony Order
Wedding ceremony tradition can vary widely across countries, generations, and religions. In the United States, the general ceremony order is similar. We’ve outlined the most common ceremony traditions here. If you’re adhering to a specific religious ceremony, you’ll want to consult with your place of worship for more details before planning.
1. Seating of Guests
Wedding guests will start gathering around the ceremony site up to 45 minutes before the ceremony begins. You’ll want to enlist some ushers for your big day. This can be groomsmen who are able to help before the ceremony. It’s also a great way to include a close friend or relative who may not be in the wedding party.
Ushers will help guide guests to their seats. They should seat people front to back, with the exception of the first row or two. These should be reserved for immediate family. You may want to reserve some seats for the flower girl or ring bearer’s parents, or anyone participating in the ceremony as well.
For traditional Christian weddings, the bride’s family and friends are seated on the left. The groom’s family and friends are seated on the right. In the Jewish tradition, the sides are reversed, with the bride’s side on the right and the groom’s on the left.
A more contemporary trend is to reserve the front rows for immediate family and have everyone else sit where they like. Some popular verbiage for signage includes: “Pick a seat, not a side,” “You’re loved by both the groom and bride,” and, “Pick a seat, not a side. We’re all family once the knot is tied.”
2. Seating of Parents
Parents and grandparents should be seated last. For Christian ceremonies, grandparents are seated, then the father and mother of the groom, and then the mother of the bride. In Jewish tradition, the parents walk in with the bride. They stand under the chuppah during the ceremony.
3. The Processional
The processional can be arranged in several ways. First, the officiant takes their place at the altar. Typically, the groom will stand to their left. The best man may come out at this point, or you may have him enter with the rest of the groomsmen.
Once they’re arranged, the rest of the wedding party arrives. You may have all the groomsmen walk down first, followed by the bridesmaids. Or, groomsmen may escort bridesmaids. Either way, the wedding party will take their place on either side of the groom, facing guests. The maid or matron of honor is the last bridesmaid to take her place.
Then, the little ones enter, if you’re having them. The ring bearer and flower girl are the last to proceed before the bride. Last, and certainly not least, is the bride. Traditionally, Christian services have the bride escorted by her father on his left arm. Jewish parents both walk their daughter down the aisle.
Today, many of these options are adjusted to the bride’s and groom’s wishes. Brides of any religion may choose to have both parents walk her down the aisle. Or, same-sex couples might walk together or enter from opposite sides of the venue. They may or may not be escorted by a parent, or both.
Once the bride reaches the altar, the groom will typically hug or shake hands with her parents. The bride will hug and kiss her parents and give her bouquet to the maid of honor. Then, the couple will hold hands.
4. The Officiant’s Remarks
Once everyone has taken their place, the ceremony begins with the officiant’s opening remarks. They may lead with “we’re gathered here today” or something else. Then, they will address the couple. Depending on the ceremony you have decided on with your officiant or place of worship, this can be brief or lengthy. Your officiant will probably reinforce the importance of the upcoming vows. They may also talk about love and the duties of each partner in marriage.
Religious ceremonies typically include some scripture during this time. If you’re having anyone do a reading, this would take place at this point as well. If you’re doing a unity candle or sand ceremony, now is the time to do so.
5. The Vows
After the officiant’s remarks, you will now exchange vows. These can be prepared by the officiant and read aloud. Or, you might decide to write your own. You can also choose to read your own vows as well as reciting traditional vows. However you express them, these are the promises you are making to one another for your marriage.
6. The Ring Exchange
Once you’ve exchanged your vows, the wedding officiant will instruct you to exchange rings. Most couples choose to have the best man hang on to the wedding bands until now. You will repeat a phrase such as “I give this ring as a sign of my love” or “With this ring, I thee wed.”
7. The Pronouncement of Marriage
The officiant says those words you’ve been imagining since your engagement: “I now pronounce you husband and wife” or “I now pronounce you married.”
8. The First Kiss
Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for. After the declaration of marriage, the bride and groom — or bride and bride, or groom and groom — kiss. Guests break into applause.
9. Closing Remarks
Your officiant will say their last few words to wrap up the ceremony. In religious weddings, there is often a blessing.
Cue the celebratory music! Your officiant will introduce you as a married couple for the first time. As newlyweds, you will lead the wedding party out in reverse order. If bridesmaids and groomsmen walked in separately, they will still typically escort each other out.
How To Determine Your Processional Order
Figuring out your processional order can be hard. You’re probably worried about hurting feelings. Or, you might be stressing about an uneven bridal party. Don’t worry. This is common and there are many ways around these issues.
How Should the Bridal Party Stand?
From you and your groom, going outward, the maid or matron of honor and best man stand on either side of you. After that, the easiest way to avoid hurt feelings is to go by height. You can either do shortest to tallest or the reverse. This is an easy way to make your decision, and it has the added bonus of being visually appealing.
That said, you can choose the order of your bridal party by importance. This can place a closer friend or sibling to the center. Or, it can go by how long you’ve known that person. It’s your wedding day, but be sensitive to how your friends and family might react — make sure everyone in your wedding party knows how much you appreciate their presence.
What to Do if Your Wedding Party is Uneven
It’s much better to have an uneven wedding party than to cut a friend who is important to you. It’s also not much better to ask a friend to be in the wedding party who isn’t that close to you. It’s a huge honor, and you’re asking them for a big commitment of time and money.
Oftentimes, this may mean your bridal party is uneven. For this reason, you may decide to have groomsmen and bridesmaids walk separately. Or, there are many other clever workarounds. Here are some examples:
- Have a groomsmen escort the mother of the bride.
- Have two groomsmen escort a bridesmaid.
- Have two bridesmaids on each arm of one groomsmen.
- Have a bridesmaid or groomsman walk with the flower girl or ring bearer.
Wedding Ceremony Order: Many Ways to Say “I Do”
The best thing to keep in mind when planning your wedding ceremony is that you don’t have to adhere to any one tradition. You can follow a traditional wedding ceremony order to provide some structure and then make it your own.
No matter how you choose to arrange your ceremony, at the end of it you’ll be married and embarking on an exciting adventure with your life partner.