Your wedding ceremony represents the love that you have for each other and the lifelong commitment that you’re making for that love. It’s arguably the most important part of your whole wedding and the reason for all of the auxiliary celebrations like your reception and pre-wedding day festivities.
To ensure that your wedding day runs as smoothly as possible, we put together a guide that details how to plan a wedding ceremony. Don’t forget to send out themed save the dates and wedding invitations so guests can RSVP and reserve your special day on their calendar.
- Ceremony Planning Schedule
- Ceremony Planning Tips
- Who to Include in Your Ceremony
- Wedding Ceremony Order
- Final Ceremony Checklist
To keep your ceremony on schedule, it’s best to assign due dates to your tasks and stick to them. It’s very important to keep physical or digital wedding ceremony and reception checklist updated as you plan your wedding—some people also like to compile an ultimate wedding checklist. We organized the most important tasks by the time frame they should be completed by.
Nine Months Out
- Pick your dates — Select your wedding date as early as possible so you can make the proper reservations. Make sure to verify that the important people in your life don’t have any conflicts with your desired wedding date.
- Finalize your budget — Figure out your total wedding budget so you can plan financially for your ceremony. A wedding budget calculator can help make the process painless. You should also figure out who is paying for the wedding or how you plan to divide up your budget.
- Book your venue — You’ll want to secure the location of your ceremony as soon as possible. Some high-demand venues require reservations a year in advance.
- Book your officiant — If you have a specific officiant that you want for your ceremony, make sure they are available on your wedding date before you make other reservations. If this is not as important to you, you should be able to find a great officiant on your desired date.
- Book your vendors — Research and book your vendors as soon as possible. This includes photography, videography, florals, musicians, decor and other vendors.
- Pick your wedding party — In order to plan your ceremony, you’ll need to select the people in your wedding party. There are many sweet quotes and fun “bridesmaid-posals” or ways to “propose” to the members of your wedding party.
- Pick wedding attire — Keep your ceremony venue and the climate in mind when selecting your wedding attire. This includes attire for the bride and groom as well as the wedding party. Some couples like to have separate bride and groom ceremony and reception attire.
Six Months Out
- Send save the dates — For non-destination weddings, you should send your save the dates six months out. If you are having a destination wedding your save the dates should be sent nine months to one year in advance. Your destination wedding invitations should be sent five to six months out.
- Start creating your day-of plan — Figure out the specific timing for your ceremony. Make sure to leave extra time for photos and getting ready as they can run longer than expected.
Three Months Out
- Send invitations — Send out your wedding invitations, don’t forget to provide an RSVP card or online RSVP option!
- Finalize the readings — Figure out which readings you want in your ceremony and who you want to read them so they have enough time to practice.
- Purchase or resize your rings — Pick out your wedding bands in advance in case you need to have them resized or wish to have them engraved.
- Solidify music choices — Confirm your ceremony music with your musicians, DJ or create your own soundtrack to play at your ceremony. Ensure there is enough music to cover your prelude, procession and exit.
- Finalize floral and decor choices — Make sure your vendors have finalized plans for your big day and a clear schedule of the events with times. It’s also recommended that you provide them with a separate point of contact for the day-of.
- Create your final ceremony order — Figure out your ceremony order and distribute it to the wedding party and anyone else involved in the ceremony.
- Print your ceremony programs — If you wish to provide ceremony programs, it’s best to print them out well in advance. There are many program templates and wording examples to help you create the perfect program.
One Month Out
- Apply for your marriage license — Sometimes this process can take up to seven business days so it’s better to get the license earlier.
- Touch base with vendors and wedding party — Ensure that everyone is on the same page so that everything runs smoothly on your wedding day.
- Gather RSVPs — Reach out to anyone who hasn’t responded by now so you can give your final numbers to your vendors or planner.
- Write your vows — Practice reading them aloud so you’ll feel confident on your wedding day. It’s also a good idea to read them to a third party so they can check for grammar issues and sentence flow.
The Week Of
- Distribute contact info and schedules — Send a schedule of events and the contact info for the wedding party and vendors, if you haven’t already.
- Pick up wedding attire and attend appointments — Pick up your altered attire and attend any hair, nail or skin appointments, if needed.
- Relax and spend time with loved ones — Reduce stress by booking a massage or spa treatment and get excited about your wedding! As your family and friends gather for your big day, make it a point to spend quality time with those you love.
Every ceremony is special and unique to the couple but there are some things that everyone should keep in mind. We cover everything you need to know about planning a wedding ceremony.
The timing of your ceremony is a very important factor as the rest of your wedding day schedule depends on it. Aside from specific religious ceremonies, the best ceremony length is 20–30 minutes long—including the wedding party’s entrance and exit.
Use your time at the rehearsal dinner well by running through your entrance, ceremony and exit to make sure everything runs smoothly. Iron out the details and answer any questions that your wedding party has about the ceremony. Readings, remarks and vows should be meaningful, concise and well-practiced.
- Accessibility – When planning your ceremony, location is one of the biggest factors and accessibility is one of the most important elements to consider. You want to pick a location that fits the needs of your wedding and one that is accessible for the wedding party, guests and vendors. Also keep in mind if any of your guests have mobility issues that need accommodation.
- Terrain – The terrain is another important factor that could affect the attire of the wedding party, the aisle and seating. If the terrain isn’t smooth (i.e. sand, grass, gravel), inform guests in the invitation so they can wear the proper footwear and clothing.
- Weather – If you are having an outdoor ceremony, the weather is a huge factor. You need to be prepared with a backup location should poor weather prevail on your big day. Also, consider where the sun will be during your ceremony and if you should provide shade for the wedding party and guests.
Past, present and future is the overarching theme of almost all wedding ceremonies. Many people like to include these three elements in readings, remarks, blessings, poems and vows.
If you have a design theme for your wedding that you love you can also weave it into your vows. For example, if you are having a beach or nautical themed ceremony, you could include metaphors about sailing to represent marriage as a part of your ceremony.
There are many ways to make your wedding ceremony unique and personal. You should include any special cultural or religious traditions, ceremonies or practices that have meaning to you. If the custom is unfamiliar to some of your wedding guests, try outlining it in your wedding program so they can follow along and feel included.
If you are having a less traditional ceremony, you should think of creative ways to infuse your personalities into your ceremony. Many couples love to include readings from poems or books that have special meanings to their relationship.
Some couples will add in special unity ceremonies to make their nuptials more unique. One of these is the sand unity ceremony. The couple pours their own containers of sand into one which represents them coming together as one. Another is the tree planting ceremony where the couple plants a tree together to represent future growth.
The decor for a ceremony is typically a lot simpler than the reception, but the decor for both should fall under the same theme and color scheme. When planning your wedding decor, keep your location and season in mind, as they will impact your overall design direction. This applies especially to flowers, since in season, local flowers are a lot more budget-friendly.
Whether you are picking out church wedding decorations or decorations for urban rooftop nuptials, make sure the decor represents both spouses. If designing your wedding decor seems daunting, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of design-savvy friends or a professional. Some elements to keep in mind while planning your ceremony decor are:
- Canopy (optional for sun protection)
Music And Sound
Many couples prefer to hire live musicians for the ceremony. Some of the most popular options include string ensembles and other instrumental groups. If you hire live musicians you will need to provide them with a list of the songs you want to be performed for your prelude, professional, recessional and postlude.
To ensure that they play your preferred version of the piece, provide each individual musician with the sheet music of their part. Some couples opt to have a DJ or friend play their ceremony music for them out of a sound system. Just make sure you test this system out for glitches.
If you are having a large number of guests or an outdoor ceremony, you might consider using a microphone system to ensure that your guests can hear. If a videographer is recording the ceremony, they might have mics set up anyway, which would be good places to add amplification. If you have guests with hearing impairments, make sure they are accommodated with devices or closer seating.
Vows are a representation of your love and lifelong commitment to your soulmate. There are many different ways to write your vows depending on culture and preferences. Vows are legally binding (see the legality section below) and usually include promises to love, honor, care for and respect each other.
Not everyone writes their vows—many couples opt to recite traditional vows by repeating after the officiant. Some people like to do a hybrid of original and traditional vows—another great example that your wedding can be whatever you want it to be. There are also various wedding vow templates to help you write your own.
There are many different wedding vow styles—not all have to be romantic or traditional. Some people prefer funny vows while others opt for non-traditional vow options. If you’re stuck writing your vows, try journaling about your relationship and see what you can grab from your stream of consciousness. You might be surprised what you come up with if you take the pressure off and write to your partner from the heart.
It is customary to include representations of the past, present and future in your vows. The past could be represented by the story of how you met, the present by the feelings that you have for your significant other, and the future by making promises to honor and love them for the rest of your life.
Whether you’re having a traditional or non-traditional wedding, there are still a couple of legal requirements that you need to meet for your marriage to be official:
- The officiant must introduce themselves (using their full legal name) as the person ordained with the authority to marry the couple.
- The full names of the spouses must be spoken aloud at least once during the ceremony.
- Legal vows must be exchanged aloud by the couple—either one at a time or back and forth is fine, as long as both people recite their own vows.
- Two witnesses (over the age of 18) must observe the whole wedding ceremony and sign two marriage certificates. The certificates can be signed after the ceremony and must also be signed by the couple.
- The officiant must also recite a “monitum” which lays out the legally binding aspect of the couple’s marriage vows.
The wedding officiant you choose will play a huge part in the overall tone of your wedding. It is important to do your research and get to know your officiant before the wedding. Some people go less traditional and have a close friend get ordained to officiate the wedding. Others keep it very traditional and have their minister, rabbi, priest, Imam or pastor officiate the marriage.
Together, you should discuss the things that are important to you, the vision that you have for your ceremony and outline your ceremony script. You should also discuss any special requests and any blessings or readings that you wish to include in your ceremony well before the wedding date. Choose your officiant thoughtfully as they will be one of the most influential parts of your wedding ceremony.
Below is the list of people to include in your wedding ceremony. This is just a suggestion as many people prefer to do more simple or modern ceremonies that involve fewer people.
- Officiant — A legally recognized officiant is required to have a legal marriage.
- Parents, guardians and step-parents — There are many different ways to include your parents and guardians in your wedding and variations on the traditional wedding entrance. For example, some couples like to have both parents walk the wedding couple down the aisle.
- Grandparents — Many couples include their grandparents in the wedding party, while some choose to have their grandparent(s) escort them down the aisle.
- Maid of honor and best man — usually a sibling or best friend of the wedding couple, these roles are sometimes known as a matron of honor, best woman or bride and groom honor attendees.
- Bridesmaids and groomsmen — the bridal party varies in size depending on the couple’s preferences. Most people prefer even numbers but there are ways to make odd-numbered wedding parties work.
- Readers — Anyone reciting a passage or poem in your ceremony is considered to be part of your wedding party.
- Flower girl and ring bearer — these roles are usually filled by young relatives of the wedding couple although many people incorporate pets in the wedding and have them carry the rings down the aisle.
- Other less common roles:
- Ushers to hand out programs and help people get seated.
- Train attendees hold up the trail of a long wedding dress.
- Junior bridesmaids and groomsmen are those who aren’t old enough to be bridesmaids and groomsmen but are past the age of being a flower girl or ring bearer.
Your ceremony order may vary depending on your religion, culture or general style. The ceremony order below is what’s most commonly used.
- Prelude (music plays as guests take their seats)
- Entrance (music plays as the wedding party enters)
- Grandparents (groom’s paternal first and then maternal grandparents second, followed by the bride’s paternal third and then maternal grandparents last)
- Groom’s parents (enter together or escorted by ushers)
- Mother of the bride (if not walking with the bride and her father)
- Groom and best man (enter from the side of the altar)
- Groomsmen (one by one)
- Bridesmaids (one by one)
- Maid of honor
- Ring Bearer
- Flower girl
- Bride and father of the bride (or both parents)
- Opening remarks
- Officiant addresses the couple
- Ring exchange
- Pronouncement of marriage
- The kiss
- Unity symbols
- Closing remarks
- Recessional (music plays as the wedding party exits)
- Bride and groom
- Flower girl
- Ring bearer
- Maid of honor and best man
- Bridesmaids + groomsmen (exit paired with one another)
- Parents of the bride
- Parents of the groom
- Grandparents of the bride
- Grandparents of the groom
- Postlude (music plays as guests exit)
Things move fast on your wedding day and in the days leading up to it, so make sure you double check the items below before walking down the aisle.
- Don’t forget the wedding rings! Sometimes the smallest (and most important) items can be forgotten.
- Make sure you have a handwritten version of your vows so you don’t end up reading from a phone or tablet.
- Don’t forget to eat and drink water. This might sound trivial but many people get swept up in the excitement and forget to properly fuel themselves for their big day.
- Check the weather and be prepared for potential weather changes.
- Don’t forget to bring your legal documents. We recommend assigning a responsible member of the wedding party to be in charge of them.
- Pack and bring an emergency wedding day kit. This could include touch-up makeup, nail polish, stain remover, medication, hairspray, bobby pins and other items that could come in handy.
Now that you have your ceremony under control, it’s time to plan the reception and honeymoon of your dreams. While the reception and other celebrations play a huge role in your wedding, the most important part is your ceremony.
You get to express your love and loyalty to your soulmate, surrounded by people who support you. Your ceremony and entire wedding day will go by quickly so try to slow down and enjoy every moment—after all the hard work and planning, you deserve to thoroughly enjoy it!