Popular Wedding Ceremony Traditions

Choosing which traditions to follow when planning your wedding ceremony is an important part of creating the meaning of the ceremony itself. Depending on you and your fiance’s backgrounds, religions, and cultures, you will have a variety of traditions to choose from. For some of you, this will be relatively straightforward.  For others, such as interfaith or multi-cultural couples, it can be a challenge to mix and match traditions. This article looks at the most common American wedding traditions.

At the most basic level, all you really need for a wedding is a bride and groom who both want to get married plus somebody to officiate the ceremony (religious or secular). In addition, it is usually a legal requirement that there are two or more witnesses to the marriage. Just as the signing of many legal documents requires witnesses, so does a wedding.

Beyond that, there are several common traditions that bridge many religious faiths. Typically, the bride and groom have several attendants and invite their families and friends. The bride may have her father or another male relative to give her away, plus a maid of honor (called a matron of honor if she is married), one or more bridesmaids, and a flower girl. The groom will invite a best man, plus often one or more groomsmen. The ring bearer is often a young boy who carries the wedding rings on a cushion.

To keep things runny smoothly during the ceremony, there are ushers who help with the organization, show guests to their seats, hand out the wedding program, and pitch in a hand where needed. Guests will usually sit on one side or the other depending on whether they are more closely associated with the bride or the groom, but this is not always followed. If one has a much bigger family than the other, for example, the seating may need to be mixed.

Close family members will sit near the front, with the very first seats often being kept for the wedding party. Sometimes, the attendants remain standing during the ceremony. In that case, the parents and grandparents of the bride and groom will sit in the front row on each side.

The groom, however, should be ready and waiting at the wedding location long before the bride arrives. It is often traditional for the bride to be a little late, but the groom must never be late!

In America, the wedding ceremony traditions specify that the attendants enter first, beginning with the bridesmaids. They are followed by the maid of honor who may be accompanied by the best man. Then comes the ringbearer and the flower girl, separately or together. Finally, the bride enters on the arm of her father or the male family member who is giving her away. In some cases, the bride may walk down the aisle with her mother and father together.

In some other cultures, for example in the UK, the bride and her father will enter at the head of the bridal procession with the maid of honor and bridesmaids following behind. If the bride has a long trailing dress, the train may be carried by the bridesmaids or an older flower girl.

After the ceremony, the marriage license or register must be signed by the bride, groom, officiant and witnesses. For a Jewish wedding, the couple will also sign a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. Without this happening correctly, the marriage is not legal, however closely it may have followed the other wedding ceremony traditions.

Just be aware that these are the most basic, popular traditions.  There is absolutely no reason that you have to follow them.  You can create your own traditions, or even borrow ones that you like from other cultures.

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