Ceremony Basics

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 5 1998

From the placement of guests in the pews or seats to the entrance of the bride and groom, any wedding ceremony requires a fair amount of choreography in order to run smoothly. Here are some traditional guidelines for seating arrangements, procession, ceremony formation, and recession. You can choose to conduct your ceremony in a different way, but be sure to ask the officiant if he or she is amenable to changes before doing so.

Seating at a Christian Ceremony
At a traditional, formal Christian wedding or a large civil ceremony, the bride's family and friends are seated on the left and the groom's on the right. Mark off the first few rows with flowers or ribbon as seating for immediate family and special guests (such as the flower girl's and ring bearer's parents, someone giving a reading, and close relatives), as labeled below. Divorced parents may sit together in the front row. If they are remarried or not on good terms, the father and his wife should sit in the third row. Ushers seat guests as they arrive, from front rows to back; the final guests to be seated are, in this order: grandparents, mother of the groom (with father walking just behind), and mother of the bride.

1. Bride's Parents
2. Groom's Parents
3. Bride's Grandparents and Siblings
4. Groom's Grandparents and Siblings
5. Bride's Special Guests
6. Groom's Special Guests

Seating at a Jewish Ceremony
At a traditional, formal Jewish wedding, the bride's side is on the right and the groom's is on the left. The parents stand under the huppah during the ceremony; stepparents may sit in the aisle seats in the second and third rows or stand under the huppah if they are very close to the bride or groom.

1. Groom's Grandparents and Siblings
2. Bride's Grandparents and Siblings
3.Groom's Special Guests
4. Bride's Special Guests

 

It is customary for the ushers and bridesmaids to be arranged in order of height, with the shortest attendants entering first, in all ceremonies.

Procession at a Christian Ceremony
Just before the procession begins in a Christian ceremony, the officiant takes his or her place, with the groom to the left, and the best man to the groom's left, all three facing the guests. The ushers may also stand at the front, or they may start the procession as shown here, walking in pairs. The bridesmaids follow them. The honor attendant (maid or matron of honor) enters next. The ushers and bridesmaids may also enter together, in pairs, with the best man and the honor attendant. If a ring bearer and a flower girl participate, they are the last ones down the aisle before the bride, who is escorted by her father, on his left arm. Today, a bride often asks her mother to walk down the aisle with them, on her other side.

1. Bride's Father
2. Bride
3. Flower Girl
4. Ring Bearer
5. Honor Attendant
6. Bridesmaids
7. Ushers
8. Officiant
9. Groom
10. Best Man

Procession at a Jewish Ceremony
The order of the procession at a Jewish ceremony is the same as for a Christian service, except that grandparents, the groom's parents, and the bride's mother all join the processional. The rabbi and the cantor often lead it.

1. Bride
2. Bride's Father
3. Bride's Mother
4. Flower Girl
5. Ring Bearer
6. Bridesmaids
7. Groom's Mother
8. Groom
9. Groom's Father
10. Best Man
11. Ushers
12. Bride's/Groom's Grandfather
13. Bride's/Groom's Grandmother

 

Formation at a Christian Ceremony
In a Christian ceremony the ushers usually form a diagonal line, with the first usher taking his place farthest from the groom, at the altar. Bridesmaids do the same on the bride's side. The flower girl and the ring bearer stand just in front of the bridesmaids and ushers.

When the bride reaches the altar, her honor attendant, the groom, and the best man turn toward the officiant. Alternatively, the bride and groom can face the guests, so the officiant has his back to the guests; or the honor attendant and best man can join the lines of bridesmaids and ushers, with the bride and groom standing on either side of the officiant, facing each other. These options allow the guests to see and hear the couple better.

1. Officiant
2. Bride
3. Groom
4. Honor Attendant
5. Best Man
6. Flower Girl
7. Ring Bearer
8. Bridesmaids
9. Ushers

Formation at a Jewish Ceremony
As they reach the huppah in a Jewish ceremony, ushers and bridesmaids form diagonal lines from the front poles or simply gather around the huppah; the honor attendant and best man stand next to the bride and groom under the huppah, or outside it, with the bridesmaids and ushers. The bride's parents and the groom's parents stand under the huppah as well.

Small children fidget during even the simplest ceremony; once the ceremony begins, it is perfectly acceptable for them to join their parents or take a seat on stairs leading down from the altar or pulpit.

1. Rabbi
2. Cantor
3. Groom
4. Bride
5. Best Man
6. Honor Attendant
7. Groom's Parents
8. Bride's Parents
9. Ring Bearer
10. Flower Girl
11. Ushers
12. Bridesmaids

 

Recession at Christian Ceremony
In a Christian ceremony, as the musicians start the celebratory recessional music the bride and groom turn to each other, link arms, and walk briskly back up the aisle. The rest of the wedding party follows them, also in pairs, with the women on the men's right arms. The flower girl and the ring bearer (if they remained at the altar during the ceremony) come first (if there's only one or the other, he or she can walk alone), then the honor attendant and the best man, then the bridesmaids and ushers. Ushers return to assist guests and direct them to the receiving line or reception site.

1. Bride
2. Groom
3. Flower Girl
4. Ring Bearer
5. Honor Attendant
6. Best Man
7. Bridesmaid
8. Ushers

Recession at a Jewish Ceremony
The newlyweds lead, followed by the bride's parents, then the groom's parents, the flower girl and the ring bearer, the honor attendant and the best man, and the bridesmaids and ushers; all are arm in arm, with the women on the men's left arms. Immediately following the ceremony, the bride and groom often take 10 or 15 minutes to themselves in yichud, the symbolic consummation of the marriage. During this time they duck into a private room, where they have something to eat (breaking the wedding-day fast) and reflect on their marriage. When they join their guests, they are announced as husband and wife and are greeted joyously.

1. Groom
2. Bride
3. Bride's Parents
4. Groom's Parents
5. Ring Bearer
6. Flower Girl
7. Best Man/Ushers
8. Honor Attendant/Bridesmaids
9. Rabbi
10. Cantor

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