You've rehearsed, you're in costume, you know your lines by heart. You even have a touch of stage fright. Your wedding ceremony may be the most intensely emotional, honest event of your life -- but it is also likely to be the most theatrical. And, as at any great performance, the members of the audience will appreciate having a program to follow.
A wedding program is never considered a necessity -- which is what makes it so nice. It is a winsome little extra that shows you've tended to all the details. And because it is not required, it is not subject to strict rules of etiquette, which makes creating a program an easygoing, creative endeavor. But the program is no mere vanity: It serves the rather noble purpose of guiding your guests through the ceremony you've planned so carefully, and it provides you with a way to communicate with everyone who has come to share your day.
As guests arrive, they will pick up one of these programs offering clues to the mood of the event. The use of first names and an abbreviated date herald a wedding that's not too formal.
The most basic program is straightforward and purposeful. The bride's and groom's names act as a title of sorts and are typically followed by the date and location of the wedding. The order of the service, often including titles of readings and songs, helps guests follow along. And listing the names of the celebrant, members of the bridal party, and others who have a role in the wedding, then giving a brief description of the person's relationship to the bride and groom if you wish, enables everybody to put faces to the names they've heard before -- "So that's the bride's brother!" Including the musicians, like an organist or a soloist, is optional, but it's a lovely way to thank them for their participation.
Where to Begin
Etiquette doesn't dictate what a program should include, but this one can be considered the standard. On the cover, below, are the couple's names and the date and location of the wedding. Inside, above, are the names and roles of participants in the ceremony and the order of the service. Silver thread is strung around the off-white folded card and tied to a shimmering little tassel.
Incorporating other elements into the program can enhance the ceremony for the guests. Include the words to readings, hymns, and vows that you've written yourself, so everybody can savor them -- the recitations themselves are so fleeting. And putting the words down on paper can even prevent guests from missing out completely: Depending on the acoustics of the space and how loudly and clearly people speak, those sitting in back rows may not be able to hear perfectly.
The program can also describe religious or cultural customs; when Joy Kaplan married Morey Wildes in Cedarhurst, New York, they knew that not all of their guests would be familiar with all of the rituals in the traditional Jewish ceremony. So they included explanations in the program. "We wanted people to feel involved, to feel comfortable," says Joy, who recalls that several friends told her later that the detailed program had allowed them to appreciate the ceremony even more.
Also consider offering translations, if that would prove helpful to your friends and family. To further personalize the program, include a favorite poem or quotation that expresses your feelings about the day. It is also appropriate to write a brief thank-you to parents or other special people. To pay a tribute to deceased relatives or close friends, include a dedication to them in the program, or explain that you'll be lighting a candle in their honor.
More to Share
A program allows you to speak to your guests and set a tone. Here are some things you might want to say. Above, verse makes a lovely opener or ending to a program. These lines, in the original French with an English translation, are from "The Footsteps," by Paul Valery.
Below: Your guests will feel more involved in the ceremony if they understand it; here, the program explains cultural and religious rituals.
Honor someone you're missing on your wedding day with a written dedication. You may also thank others who have been supportive during your engagement -- and your life.
Provide the words to hymns, so guests can sing along. Unembellished store-bought cards serve as covers; the computer-generated pages are bound with ribbon.
Once you've assembled the information, decide how to present it. Programs may be booklets, folded cards, or single sheets of paper or stiff stock, as small as postcards or as large as letterhead. They may be engraved or printed to match or complement your invitations. But programs and invitations are not usually ordered together, because most brides and grooms haven't finalized the details of the ceremony at the time the invitations need to be made.
Having your programs professionally designed and assembled is not your only choice. In fact, there's no reason for them to be a major expenditure. You can keep costs down by having your stationer print only the booklet covers. And because you will already know the information required for the covers -- your names, the date, and the location of the ceremony -- you can have them made along with the invitations, which may reduce printing costs. The inside pages can be created on a computer and then photocopied. Or, have your stationer make all the pages, but assemble them yourself at home.
This is the most straightforward format, shown above. Clockwise from left: A tree tops this program; chartreuse on white looks summery; a calligraphed version can be printed many times; this program has the service on the front and bridal party on back; this little square was designed on a home computer; vellum is joined to aqua paper with ribbon.
These have the feeling of a booklet but don't require binding. Below, clockwise from top left: This program was printed on store-bought paper; for a French fold, the paper is folded horizontally, then vertically; French-fold cards are wrapped with pewter thread and a vintage tassel; strips of vellum are stitched to paper folded accordion-style.
Many couples choose to save even more money by making the complete programs themselves. You needn't be a designer to come up with something simple and lovely on a computer, especially since many desktop-publishing programs come with templates that you can customize and a wide selection of images to use. Recruit the help of a talented friend if your computer equipment or skills aren't up to snuff. Print out all the copies you need, or take them to a copy shop to be reproduced. When choosing paper, consider weight, texture, and color; you can't go wrong with thick stock in white or cream, but you may find something else at an art-supply store, a stationer, or even an office-supply store. Good-quality note cards with a border or small image make perfect covers for computer-generated pages; if you like, add your names, monograms, or any other information with a custom-made rubber stamp. You can buy a stamp with a single letter or image like a leaf or flower to embellish any handmade program. You can also have a single program professionally calligraphed, then photocopy it onto good paper. If binding pages together, search out the prettiest ribbon, even tassels and beads, at notions stores -- and make sure you use a small-hole punch. Most important, proofread. Have one or two people who did not work on the program read over it carefully before you have hundreds made.
There's no best time to complete your programs, but you'll be wise to give yourself a deadline. Many a couple has been known to dash off to the copy shop the night before the wedding or to stay up until the wee hours tying tiny bows. You'll sleep easier if the programs are ready at least two weeks in advance. On the day of the wedding, have your ushers offer programs as they greet the guests, or assign the task to another friend or family member -- this is an excellent way to include someone who is close to you but not in the wedding party. Or, you can place a program on each seat or stack them in a tray or basket near the entrance. But don't forget to save a few for your scrapbook. Years from now, this written record of your starring roles will stir as many memories as any photo.
The binding should complement the program's design. Above, clockwise from left: Pearl-beaded ribbon trails from creamy stock; a single staple is almost invisible; silver thread runs along the spine and is tied in the center; a note card, rubber-stamped with a monogram, gets matching ties; a white-on-cream booklet; a booklet bound with brown satin ribbon.
Surprise guests with a program that's fun to open. Below, clockwise from top left: A scroll is stamped with the couple's names; card stock is closed with an initialed notch; cards are encased in onionskin, wrapped in ribbon, and sealed with a sticker; a similar scroll; cards are tucked in organza pouches with rose petals.