A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Wedding Ceremony

Your at-a-glance outline of how a ceremony unfolds.

From the seating to the service, find out what to expect for the timeline and details of your wedding ceremony.

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Photo: Facibeni Fotografia

Although the ceremony is typically the shortest part of your wedding day, it is also the essential reason that you, your fiancé, and your friends and family are gathered to celebrate. Unfortunately, too many couples end up disappointed after relying on their officiant to handle the details of the service without any input. Make sure your vow exchange doesn’t draw the short straw of the day – familiarize yourself with the standard outline of a wedding-ceremony service and consider in advance what you’d like to lose or incorporate.

Wedding Ceremony Seating

Having ushers or greeters present as your guests enter the ceremony space can be helpful. Your guests typically do not attend weddings every weekend, so this helps with any initial confusion as to where they should go first or where they should sit. If you do not have a few additional friends or family members to serve as ushers, you can always repurpose a couple of groomsmen.

In my opinion, the tradition of the bride’s side and the groom’s side is not necessary. However, it is important to reserve seats in the first one or two rows (depending on the number of family members) for the parents and grandparents of the bride and groom. If you do choose to follow this tradition, be aware that bride’s side is to the left in a Christian wedding, and the on the right for a Jewish wedding. Keeping this tradition can cause an imbalance in having one side of the ceremony full and the other side empty. If a guest asks an usher which side they sit on, the usher can simply reply saying it is open seating.

The Wedding Ceremony Processional

A Christian Wedding

The processional begins with the officiant entering from the side. The grandparents of the groom are seated first, followed in order by the grandparents of the bride, the parents of the groom, and then the mother of the bride. After all family members are seated, the groom enters from the side along with the best man.

When deciding the order of bridesmaids and groomsmen for the processional, they typically walk in pairs down the aisle, or the groomsmen enter from the side before the bridesmaids process down the aisle individually (this is a great solution if you have an uneven number of bridesmaids and groomsmen). The maid of honor is the last bridesmaid to enter, followed by the ring bearer and then the flower girl(s). Last, but certainly not least, the bride enters standing to the left of her father. For the recessional, the order is reversed and led by the bride and groom.

A Jewish Wedding

The Rabbi enters first down the aisle. The groom’s grandparents are then seated followed by the grandparents of the bride. The groom is escorted down the aisle by both parents. The groomsmen and bridesmaids follow down the aisle (individually or in pairs), followed by the ring bearer and the flower girl(s). The bride is walked down the aisle by both parents. In a Jewish wedding, the bride stands to the right of the groom. The recessional is then reversed and led by the bride and the groom.

Depending on your religion and the participants in the wedding, this order can be altered to best suit your needs. For more ideas, get tips on how to order wedding processionals for nontraditional families.

The Wedding Ceremony Service

You can add your personal touches to different elements of the ceremony, such as music, vows, readings, and incorporating other cultural traditions. One thing you want to be sure to review with your officiant is the opening remarks. Make sure that you work on these remarks together with your officiant prior to the wedding day so that you are comfortable and at ease with what will be said.

Wedding Ceremony Music

There are several moments throughout a ceremony when you can integrate personalized songs. You can choose songs that have meaning to your relationship or have a solo performed by a friend or loved one with an amazing voice. You can even hire a professional writer to write a wedding song just for you. Music typically changes between the seating, the wedding processional, the interludes (i.e., lighting of the candles, before or after a reading, during a cultural element, etc.), the recessional, and the postlude as guest exit the ceremony area.

Wedding Vows

Many couples choose to alter the traditional wedding vows to suit them best. This is my suggestion if you want something different from the classic vows. By personalizing traditional vows you are beginning your marriage on a solid foundation, while incorporating your own feelings at the same time. If you choose to start from scratch and are having a religious ceremony, be sure your vows are approved in advance.

Ceremony Readings and Cultural Traditions

Incorporating a reading that is religious, cultural, or otherwise meaningful to you is great. However, be aware of including too many readings – more than two is usually too many! A lot of brides and grooms will research their respective cultures, so they can incorporate their heritage into the ceremony in an amazing way. This truly demonstrates to your guests who you are and gives them an opportunity to learn something as well.

I even encourage my brides and grooms to incorporate traditions from other cultures that they love! From the Jewish tradition of breaking the glass, to the Lasso taken from my own Spanish culture, incorporating cultural traditions can be very personal and fun. If you are getting married in a religious institution, be sure to have everything you intend to add to your ceremony pre-approved. 

For more wedding ceremony ideas, find out what should be included in a secular wedding ceremony, get inspiration for your wedding ceremony aisle décor, and listen to instrumental versions of popular songs for your ceremony music!

Opening photo by Facibeni Fotografia; From Real Wedding: Romantic Destination Wedding with Blush & Burgundy Hues in Tuscany