How does a wedding work?

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Wondering how to plan out your wedding ceremony order? The great news is that most ceremonies follow a similar format, so if you've been to (or been in) a few, you've probably got an idea of how the wedding order of service usually flows. Of course, different cultures and religions will incorporate other elements or swap things around, but if you're planning to create a ceremony of your own, this is a great place to start. Read on to learn how a ceremony usually runs, from walking down the aisle to the first kiss!

As you gear up for the big day, you've probably put a lot of thought into the order of ceremony for your wedding. The most important thing to know is that no two wedding ceremonies are alike. Even though most follow the same generic order, the couple is free to customize their order of ceremony to their own unique style. Whether that means incorporating religious or cultural traditions or throwing a celebratory fist in the air during the kiss, each couple can and should make their ceremony a reflection of their relationship. 

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So you're ready to start planning your wedding ceremony structure? Congratulations! While each ceremony will have its unique flavour, there are a few basic parts that tend to remain the same. From the processional to the recessional - and everything in between - here are the elements you won't want to forget. Remember, you can always add and omit some parts as you see fit - it's your wedding, so you make the final call.

We've compiled a list of the complete order of the wedding ceremony to help shape your special day. From the processional to the recessional, we've got you covered. Remember to include the elements of the ceremony in your customized wedding program template. Be sure to mention who's who in the wedding party to properly acknowledge your friends and family who helped to make this day so special.

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The procession begins with bridesmaids and groomsmen walking down the aisle, typically paired up. The maid of honour and best man walk down after all other bridesmaids and groomsmen have made their way down the aisle. The ring bearer will then carry the rings to the altar, followed by the flower girl.

In a traditional Christian processional, the bride is walked down the aisle by her father while the groom waits at the altar. In a traditional Jewish procession, the groom's parents escort him down the aisle, followed by the bride being escorted down the aisle by her parents.

Every ceremony kicks off in a procession. This is the grand entrance of all the key players in the wedding. Each will take their turn walking down the aisle and taking their spot in the audience or at the altar. While it all depends who you've included in your wedding party and who will accompany the bride, here's the traditional order:

  • The bride's mother
  • The groomsmen (if they're not going down the aisle with the bridesmaids)
  • The best man
  • The groom
  • The officiant
  • The bridesmaids (and possibly groomsmen)
  • The maid of honour
  • The flower girl(s) and ring bearer(s)
  • The father of the bride and the bride

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Opening Remarks

Next, come the opening remarks. These include any words of welcome that the officiant may express. Typically, they begin with "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…" or some may just address the crowd as "Friends and family…".

The officiant may then share the significance of marriage with the crowd or a small antidote of your love story. You can delegate what you would prefer your officiant to open with ahead of time if you wish to do so.

Once everyone is in their rightful place, the officiant will begin the show. He or she will kick it off with a phrase you've probably heard once or twice in your life: "dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join X and X in matrimony…". Depending on whether your service is secular or religious, your officiant's opening remarks may change slightly. You'll want to review their speech with them before your ceremony so that there are no unwanted surprises on your big day.


A few people may be invited up to share or exchange readings at this point in the ceremony. Whether these readings are religious, spiritual, or excerpts from your favourite romance novel, you can tailor the readings to reflect you and your partner's idea of love and marriage.

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Officiant Addresses The Couple

The officiant will then address the couple, emphasizing the significance of the responsibilities of marriage and vows in which the couple is about to take.

After the officiant has introduced the ceremony, he or she will say a charge to the bride and groom. This is a reminder of the meaningfulness of the vows they are about to exchange and the journey they are about to embark upon together. Once again, this may have a religious twist depending on the type of ceremony taking place.

Exchange Of Vows

The wedding vows to provide the couple with a great opportunity to add a personal touch to the ceremony. Couples may choose to write their vows to each other, exchange how they first met and reflect on their relationship or use the traditional phrasing guided by the officiant. This is your opportunity to make a special promise to your love, so plan how you wish to express this feeling in advance.

Once the officiant has finished, it's time for the couple to get involved by saying their wedding vows. Whether you go with pre-written vows or something from the heart is your call. Remember that this is the time in the wedding ceremony structure to express your love and make some promises to your future spouse. If you need some tips on penning your vows, we've got your back.

Ring Exchange

Right after the vows comes the ring exchange. The officiant will prompt the ring bearer to present the rings. Typically, you will say "With this ring, I thee wed…". Remember to place the ring on your partner's left hand, as this side is closer to the heart. The bride's wedding band will be placed on the same finger as the engagement ring.

Now it's time to upgrade your engagement ring with a slightly less flashy new model. The officiant will begin this phase of the ceremony by asking one party to place a ring on the other's finger (and then vice versa). The couple usually accompanies the exchanging of their brand new wedding bands with the phrase, "with this ring, I thee wed".

Unifying Ritual

An optional element in the wedding ceremony structure is the inclusion of a unifying ritual such as a candle lighting, wine box, tree planting or sand ceremony as a symbol of the unification of the couple into a new entity. Keep in mind that there are no real rules as to who should be involved in the ceremony. Some couples choose to include their officiant or celebrant, while others choose to bring in their children or parents to show the bonding of the two families.

Pronouncement Of Marriage

Once the rings have been properly placed, the officiant will pronounce you and your love husband and wife. Now it's time to seal the deal officially.

Congratulations! You're almost officially hitched. At this point, the officiant will state something along the lines of "by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife" and the deal is sealed.

The Kiss

Next comes the most anticipated moment of the whole ceremony. The officiant will say "You may now kiss the bride". Some grooms will choose to dip their bride as they kiss them or lift them off their feet in a warm embrace. No matter what you and your partner choose to do, it will be a magical moment and a must-have wedding photo that you'll look back on for the rest of your life.

Your officiant will then say "you may now kiss one another". This is your cue to celebrate your nuptials with a smooch. This is your first kiss as husband and wife so be as dramatic as you want (just remember that your family is watching). This is one of the money shots for your wedding album, so make sure your photographer gets it!

The signing

Next is the paperwork portion of the wedding ceremony structure: the signing of the marriage license. Though you're probably busy soaring off on cloud nine, you'll need to get that document signed to make your union legal. The ceremony will briefly break so that you, your two witnesses and your officiant can sign the papers. Then it's time to wrap up your ceremony and move onto the reception to party!

Unity Ceremony

Some couples opt to have a unity ceremony after the first kiss. Some unity ceremony ideas include the mixing of two different colours of sand or water to symbolize two becoming one or a candle lighting.

Closing Remarks

The officiant will end the ceremony with a few closing words. For a religious ceremony, he or she will also include a blessing for the couple to have a long and happy marriage.

Think of these as the credits to your wedding. The officiant will close out the ceremony with a few words and congratulations to the happily married couple.


Now it's time to head out to the party (AKA your reception). The happy couple followed by the wedding party will make their way back down the aisle before the guests start exiting the ceremony venue starting with the front row. This usually involves an upbeat dance track and possibly the throwing of confetti.

The bride and groom are the first to exit during the recessional. They are then followed by the flower girl and the ring bearer. The maid of honour and best man will then make their way down the aisle, followed by the remaining bridesmaids and groomsmen. The bride and groom's parents will then exit. The guests should be the last to exit and will make their way to the cocktail hour or reception.

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Now that your wedding ceremony has gone off without a hitch, it's party time! Celebrate your marriage with all of your family and friends at the reception where you'll pop some bubbly, indulge in a fabulous wedding cake and dance the night away.

If you have a smaller guest list or want a more intimate celebration, check out these inspiring backyard wedding ideas. As the night draws to a close, have your guests participate in a unique wedding send-off idea to match the theme of your wedding. Regardless of how you choose to execute your ceremony and reception, it is sure to be a day that you and your partner cherish for the rest of your lives.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wedding

Traditional Wedding Ceremony Order
  1. The Processional. First off, the processional. 
  2. Words of Welcome. Once everyone is in place, the officiant will say a few words of welcome. 
  3. Introduction. 
  4. Readings. 
  5. Officiant Addresses Couple. 
  6. Exchange Vows. 
  7. Ring Exchange. 
  8. The Kiss.

Traditionally, the speeches and toasts are given by the groom, the best man, and the father of the bride. However, at modern weddings, you may well wish other people to speak, such as the bride and the maid of honour. Each speech ends with a toast to the bride and groom, the wedding party, and/or the guests.

Traditionally, the bride and her family are responsible for paying for all wedding planning expenses, the bride's attire, all floral arrangements, transportation on the wedding day, photo and video fees, travel and lodgings for the officiant if he comes from out of town, lodging for the bridesmaids (if you have offered).

As a rule of thumb, wedding ceremonies typically last 30 minutes to an hour—although short and sweet wedding programs are okay, too—and most wedding receptions typically last four to five hours.

But what happens after the ceremony is over? The reception! Guests: Your guests are slowly exiting the ceremony and moving their way to the venue or reception location. The cocktail hour is a great time to have your guests mingle, eat some hors d'oeuvres and wind down before the party gets started.

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