I admit I was so lost on how to organize the order of my ceremony when I planned my own wedding six years ago. I had watched so many wedding movies and shows and watched friends and family walked down the aisle and thought it would be a no-brainer when it came time to plan my ceremony but boy was I wrong. If you’re on the same boat that I was on and feel overwhelmed with all of the info of a processional, recessional, and what happens when, then have no fear - I’m here to clear it all up for you.
I can’t stress enough that every couple is different - so every wedding will be different. This info is a rule of thumb, not a “law”. You can mix things up and make it yours. However, if you’re having a religious ceremony you may be required to include certain elements of the ceremony in specific orders. My first suggestion is to meet with your Officiant (Minister, Pastor, Priest, Rabbi or whomever) to discuss how they would typically go about the order of a wedding ceremony. They will almost always be more than happy to modify or incorporate elements of the ceremony to fit your couple style and personality - if they don't, you may want to find one who would work really well with you.
I’m about to go real-in-depth with you here, but I promise to put things into layman's terms while still being as thorough as possible. I’m going to walk you through a “traditional” wedding ceremony order based on American-Christian traditions and suggest some non-traditional/alternative options and ideas along the way. This model can be used for civil (non-religious) ceremonies by removing or modifying elements that work for you.
By the way - the photos on this blog are from my wedding ceremony, so hope you enjoy!
Basically, this the part where the wedding party walks down the aisle
The wedding party includes everyone from relatives to the Bride. Each religion or culture will have their own guidelines - so again, check with the person whom you’ve chosen to officiate your wedding. It also wouldn’t hurt to talk to your family before deciding on the final order, especially if you have a blended family. The order of the procession will go something like this:
Relatives: Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Godparents, or any other significant people in your lives that you would like to be represented in your wedding will walk down the isle first. They will take a seat in the first couple of rows reserved for family (the Groom’s family is typically on the right, and the Bride’s is typically on the left).
Parents of the Groom: They will walk down the aisle together and sit on the front row to the left side of the aisle.
Mother of the Bride: Typically, this is the last person to be seated before Officiant and Groom arrive at the altar. She can walk down the aisle with a male relative (son, brother, etc.) if she wishes. Of course, there are other alternatives:
If the Bride would like both parents to walk her down the aisle and give her away, the mother can walk down with the Bride and her Father at the end of the Processional.
If the Bride was raised by a single mother, she may want her mother to be the one who gives her away, so she would take the traditional place of the father at the end of the Processional.
If you’re incorporating a unity ceremony (see below) you can switch this up and have both mothers walk down the aisle together holding the unity elements and placing them on the altar before walking back to their seats.
Officiant: The Officiant will await the couple at the altar. He/she doesn’t typically walk down the aisle to the altar but will appear from “backstage” or walk up from the side.
Groom: He will enter the ceremony venue and stand at the altar. He will most likely enter the way the officiant did, or they may enter together. Another option is to have the Best Man enter with the Groom.
Bridesmaids & Groomsmen: You’ve got lots of options here. If you’re lucky enough to have an even number of each, then they can walk down the aisle by couples. Make sure bridesmaids are on the left and groomsmen are on the right for a smoother transition when they make it to the altar. Here are some other options that might work for your bridal party:
If you have more Bridesmaids than Groomsmen, you can have two ladies on each/some of their arms (as I did).
If you have more Groomsmen, you can stagger them to where every other Groomsman will walk behind a couple.
You can stagger Bridesmaids and groomsmen to walk down one by one.
If you have a total of 3 aisles, you can have the men walk down the right one and ladies walk down the left, reserving the center isle for the Flower Girl & Ring Bearer and, of course, the Bride & her father.
There’s literally so much you can do here. They can dance down the aisle with choreographed moves if that’s your thing!
***Keep in mind don’t have to have them standing up front with you, especially if it’s a long ceremony, large bridal party or small altar. You have the option of letting them sit at reserved seats at the front rows with the families.
Maid/Matron of Honor & Best Man: If the Best Man is already at the altar, your Maid/Matron of Honor can walk down solo and walk up to the aisle to stand at her position by the bride.
Ring Bearer & Flower Girl: One of my favorite parts of the ceremony! These cuties can walk down the aisle together or the Ring Bearer can go before Flower Girl (a great option if they don’t really get along). Some people have multiple children of different ages playing these roles and choose to either have them hand-in-hand, or have the older ones pull the younger ones on a wagon. I personally opted for older (10 year old) children to play this role - we didn't know any littles to take the part at that time.
The best thing is to be strategic with your kiddos and have parents/relatives on hand just in case of meltdowns or to help keep them focused. Rehearsals are a great time to put a strategy into place, because you never know how kids are going to react - they've got a mind of their own.
***Note: this goes for pets too if you plan on fur babies taking on this role.
At this point, the procession music will change, the wedding march or another song you’ve chosen in place of that will play. At this time the Bride & Father of the Bride will have time to get into position to walk down the aisle. Dum, dum, da-dummmm….
The Bride & Father of the Bride: The Bride will enter on her father’s left arm and these two will be the last to walk down the aisle. Of course, all families are different, so here are some alternatives:
If there isn't a father present, this role can be taken by a father-figure: Grandfather, Stepfather, Brother, Uncle, or Mother.
You can walk down solo if you'd like.
If you’re blessed enough to have multiple father figures you can choose to have them both walk you down, or have each of them walk you down half way.
Always do what feels comfortable, appropriate and special for you and those men in your life. Remember to have an open and honest conversation with them when planning this part of your ceremony.
The Officiant will then ask "who gives this woman to be married to this man" (or something along those lines) and the father/father-figure will say "I will" or "Her Mother and I". You'll then kiss him on the cheek if you feel so inclined- he may hesitate or pretend to pull you away as he hands you off- but hey, that's what Dads do.
During the ceremony the Bride stands on the left and the Groom on the right, both facing the Officiant.
(Phew, that's the end of the Procession)
The Officiant’s Opening Remarks
Your Officiant will start of the ceremony by addressing the audience or congregation. Some of your officiants may mix-it-up a bit, but this is typically the part where they start with “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today . . . .". They may also go into a special prayer or welcoming message. Again, this is your wedding day, so if you want anything special added here, make sure to mention it when you meet with him/her to go over your ceremony order.
The Officiant Addresses the Couple
Next, your Officiant will direct his/her words to you, as a couple, and take the moment to explain how important the vows you’re about to exchange are. He/she may also include a reminder of your duties and roles within your marriage according to your religious texts.
The Exchange of Vows
Another one of my favorites! This is another part of your ceremony that you can make uniquely yours - remember, the vows are your promises to each other. You can write your own vows, repeat the traditional “to have and to hold, for better or for worse . . . ” or recite a mix of both. I’ve had a Bride sing her vows to her Groom and I’ve seen a Groom recite his vows in a Poem.
If you’re a shy or more private couple, you can always recite your vows to one-another without the presence of a microphone. You can choose to have a song playing in the background during this time for a private exchange and then follow with the repeat-after-me vows for your guests to hear.
Exchanging of the Rings
Here, your Best Man - or whomever you’ve entrusted with these precious metals (hopefully not the toddler with the pillow) - will hand the Officiant the rings and he/she will lead you into the vow of “with this ring, I thee wed”.
The Unity Ceremony
If you’re planning on having a unity ceremony, here’s the time to do it. There are different types of unity rituals, but all are used to symbolize the couple’s new union.
This can be done by lighting a large candle from two smaller candles, blending sand (this is a great one if you’d also like your children to participate), or binding hands together with ribbon.
As I mentioned above, the mothers can walk down the aisle together holding the unity elements and placing them on the altar before walking back to their seats. This enhances the symbolizing of two families coming together as one.
The Pronouncement of Marriage
This is where the officiant makes you official and will now “pronounce you husband and wife” . . . . you know what’s next
“You May Kiss the Bride”! Finally, the moment they’ve all been waiting for - make it a good one! (and get ready for all of the flashes, camera clicks, whooping and hollering).
The Closing Remarks
The officiant will wrap up your ceremony with a few closing words and a final prayer if it is a religious ceremony
Just think of this as the Procession in reverse - starting with the Bride and Groom, followed by the Maid/Matron of Honor and Best Man, then Bridesmaids & Groomsmen, parents, relatives. Play some fun and upbeat music for this part, because it’s off to the party!
I hope this has helped you get a better sense of how you can organize your own ceremony and got your head out of “Frazzle-mode”! To help you visual learners out a little more, I've included some examples (below) of programs from some of my past weddings.
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