The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony Checklist
It's always fun to focus on flowers and favors, but don't put off preparing for the main event. From music and readings to vows and officiants, there's a lot to plan before saying "I do," and it's easy to get overwhelmed without a little help.
Ahead, a comprehensive guide through the basics you need to know, from aisle etiquette to making the ceremony your own. Here's how to turn the moment that officially makes him yours forever into one you'll always remember. Trust us, it'll be worth all the planning!
Choosing an Officiant
"You may now kiss the bride." It's not a done deal until those words are uttered—the question is, by whom? The options are many, from traditional to offbeat. Whatever you decide, aim for a face-to-face meeting at least three months prior to your day. Getting to know your officiant even a little bit will make their delivery more personal.
Priest, Minister, or Rabbi
If you want a religious service, this one's clear-cut. In lieu of a fee, you'll likely be asked to make a donation.
Want to combine a Catholic prayer, a Buddhist blessing, and a Jewish observance? Or maybe you're not into organized religion, but want your day to feel spiritual. This is the route to take. The fee could range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on how much planning is involved on the officiant's end.
Justice of the Peace
When making it legal is all that matters, tap a JP or judge. While the service won't be religious, it can still be special, particularly if you add your own readings and rituals. The fee varies by state, but you'll likely pay less than $500.
Friend or Family Member
The most intimate choice—being wed by a person who really, truly knows you—calls for a couple of extra steps. First, make sure whoever you pick is comfortable speaking in public, then triple-check with the county clerk's office to make sure she's met all the requirements for getting ordained.
Creating an order of events means hammering out every detail of the ceremony, so it's smart to begin early. On the following slides are primers on four types of celebrations, plus music, readings, and rituals to consider incorporating. And remember: this is just a starting point—your event will be as personal as you make it.
Old Testament reading
New Testament reading
Vows and ring ceremon
Sign of Peace
Typical length: One hour. Want it shorter? Have your choir recite prayers instead of singing them to save about 10 minutes.
Added touch: You can ask your priest to add the Prayer of the Faithful as a significant way to honor family members who have passed.
Ketubah: Signing of the marriage contract
Badeken: Veiling of the bride
Huppa Ceremony: The bride and groom move under the canopy, which represents the couple's new home and life together
Kiddushin: Circling and exchanging of rings
Sheva Brachot: Seven blessings; breaking of the glass
Yichud: Couple's alone time before the reception
Typical length: 30 minutes. Want it shorter? The only absolute requirement is the signing of the Ketubah, so you can select what else you want to weave in.
Added touch: Appoint a friend to collect the broken pieces of sheva brachot glass, which you can have hand-blown into a piece of art.
Ganesh Puja: Prayer to dispel all evils
Baraat: Arrival of the groom
Parchan: Arrival of the bride
Kanyadaan: Giving the daughter away
Ganthibandhan: Tying the knot
Mangalfera: Walking around the fire
Saptapadi: Seven Steps
Saubhagya Chinha: Blessing the bride
Viddai: The bride's departure
Typical length: Three hours. Want it shorter? Cut anything but the Seven Steps, because without it, the marriage isn't valid.
Added touch: Place a coconut under the wheel of your getaway car, a modern update on the tradition of a carriage driving over the fruit to test its strength.
Declaration of intent
Exchange of rings
Blessing or closing remarks
Typical length: 30 minutes. Want it shorter? Go straight to the declaration of intent, vows, and exchange of rings.
Added touch: Get creative by having loved ones stand up and give marriage advice.
When picking a song, make sure these four things are checked before hitting play:
1. What are the lyrics saying? Breakup tunes can sound just like love songs!
2. Does it fit the venue? The Rolling Stones might seem wrong in a church.
3. Very tight budget? Ask someone from the reception band to strum during the ceremony.
4. Will your tunes stand the test of time? If in doubt, swap a Top 40 hit with a classic.
Your selections should reflect you as a couple. Keep them under 90 seconds, and limit yourself to three, max. A few good ideas:
1. Involve special friends or family in the ceremony by asking them to read.
2. If you love travel, use a section from Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!
3. Major music lovers? Share the lyrics of a song you both find meaningful.
4. If you started out long-distance, select a passage from your first missives.
Rituals to Adapt
Even if your ceremony isn't religious, it can still feature touches that symbolize unity.
Water: representing openness and fluidity, it can be run over your hands or poured into a vessel.
Lei exchange: A Hawaiian tradition, this garland represents commitment.
Arch of sabers: The newlyweds walk back down the aisle under swords held by fellow military officers.
Pen Your Promises
The vows you swap at the altar will go down as the most important conversation you and your groom ever have in public. Here's how to make sure it's worth the weight.
Go with the Tried and True
The traditional vows from the Anglican Communion's Book of Common Prayer have been adapted over time, but more than four centuries later, they're still the most popular. Use them as is, or work the general sentiments into vows you script yourself.
"I, (bride/groom), take you (groom/bride), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward till death do us part."
Add Something New
Find a pen, paper, and some alone time, and follow this advice for getting to the heart of the matter:
The beginning: Jot down a love letter to your fiance. Don't think about it too much—just write honestly and try not to edit yourself.
The middle: Note all the things he has offered you while dating, such as support, space, or unconditional love.
The end: Write a promise that you would like to make for your marriage. If you have trouble with this, consider the most common stressors you encounter in your relationship. Do you spend too much time at work and not enough hours together? If so, vow to prioritize your fiance. Or, if you tend to shut down when you argue, pledge to remain open and present even during times of difficulty.
Keep order—or don't. the wedding march traditionally starts with the bride's mother. Modify as needed to suit your group. (As for the recessional, the newly married couple walk back up the aisle, followed by the groomsmen escorting bridesmaids.)
1. Mother of the bride
3. Best man
7. Maid/matron of honor
8. Flower girl and ring bearer
9. Father of the bride and the bride
Set the Scene
Your hosting duties commence as soon as your guests arrive for the service. Get folks settled into their seats with ease, and establish a festive mood straightaway.
Appoint a Welcoming Committee
Ask your parents to greet people as they are trickling in. From a guest's perspective, there's nothing lovelier than having the opportunity to talk to the hosts of the party before it begins.
Go for Comfort First
Consider your location—is it warm or cold? Is inclement weather on the way? Rather than thinking, "Oh, it's just 20 minutes, they can grin and bear it," do whatever you can to help them acclimate. A thoughtful suggestion: Provide hot cider on a cool day or ice-cold lemonade for a summer affair.
Mix it Up
It used to be that the groom's friends and family would sit on one side and the bride's VIPs would be on the other. These days, planners encourage mingling. Reserve the first few rows for family members by placing name cards on their chairs, and let everyone else sit wherever they want.
Don't forget to have the greeters and ushers join the rehearsal. Explain where you'd like the programs to be handed out and how people should be seated.
Don't make the ceremony standing-only if it's going to last more than 10 minutes. Remember, people might arrive early, so they could be on their feet for longer than you think.
Don't keep your guests waiting. A few minutes is understandable, but more than 20, and they'll be tapping their feet and likely frowning.
Do arrive at your venue ready to go half an hour before starting time. Make sure all you'll need is a little lip gloss and a bit of powder.
Do cool down if you're overheating. Run your wrists under very cold water and then press them to the sides of your neck.
Do let go. By the time you're walking down the aisle, what's done is done. Enjoy each memorable moment. You've earned it.