Traditionally, in a Christian or Civil ceremony, the Groom enters down the aisle and goes to his Right. (which is my Left as I face the guests.) Traditionally for Jewish couples this is reversed. Being a matriarchal lineage, if the Bride is Jewish, people who always use proper etiquette, unless instructed to do otherwise, stand them Jewish for an Interfaith Ceremony. But remember if it's a Civil Ceremony where the couple is Culturally Jewish this may apply as well.
Most folks these days are not acquainted with Emily Post. However I try to always inform them of proper etiquette and then let them make a decision that works. Spatial limitations, if there's more guys than girls and more room on one side, or as with one of my recent couples, she's deaf in one ear and needs to hear me on the repeat after me, these are great reasons to swap sides.
The Preamble - Padding the Edges of Your Ceremony
My ceremonies almost always begin with a preamble. As the title implies it comes before the processional music begins and the entrances are made. It is used to call the guests to order with a friendly welcome and a request to turn off their cell phones. Not because we expect them to be rude, but because we know they are excited and happy to be there, seeing people they haven’t seen in ages, and eagerly awaiting the Bride’s entrance. It’s only natural that they forget being that we all wear our phones with as little thought as we give to a watch these days. These days it also includes a request not to reach cameras and smart phones into the professional pictures.
The preamble can also be used to explain anything in the ceremony that may be new to them. This is very helpful for Interfaith and Multicultural ceremonies, because understanding what’s going on allows your guests to participate emotionally and intellectually in the ceremony. It is also an opportunity to promote an understanding of the new culture or faith that is joining the family. This is often the same information that goes into a program.
If you have gone to the trouble of ordering rose petals, bubbles, wedding rice, or even Fruit Loops for that colorful touch to your exit pictures this is the place to tell them why they're there, and then cue them just before you want them thrown.
So the Preamble is delivered and the Music begins...
Although many Groom’s would rather not be in the spotlight and opt for just stepping up into place, with their parents already seated, the thing to remember about walking down the aisle is that it is a photo opportunity, and that those pictures will be priceless in 40 years. On the other hand if the couple has not seen each other yet, having the Groom already in place gives the bride more freedom of movement.
With that said, the Groom can:
be in place alone
be in place with his Best Man
be in place with all of his gentlemen
enter down the aisle alone
enter down the aisle with his best man
enter down the aisle with all of his attendants
enter down the aisle with his parents (one or both)
BTW Guys a clean handkerchief is a great thing to have in your pocket to wipe a tear from your beautiful bride’s eye.
I am a big fan of just asking people what they want to do. In the case of Grandparents the
question is are they well and active enough that walking down the aisle is something that they wouldn’t miss for the world... or would it be burdensome for them.
Before people could read, the processional was your family line on parade. Walking showed their agreeing to join the families, kingdoms, and fortunes. Where people walked showed their side and rank within the family. Grandparents gave birth to the Parents, who gave birth to the couple. So, Grandparents usually lead the Family portion of the processional Groom’s side first and then the Bride’s side. Wonderful if they are in pairs! But they can be escorted by Ushers, or family members. Members of the Bridal party may circle back for double duty if the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen are entering in pairs.
You’d think this would be an easy one, right? Well that depends on your family structure.
Couples today have the option of sending them down the aisle in pairs after the Grandparents, with the Groom’s Parents first as the Mother of the Bride is traditionally the LAST to be seated before the Bridal Party enters. Mother of the Groom would be seated before the Groom's dad if they are not together. The other option is the Bride and the Groom entering with both parents. It’s not only for the Jewish couples anymore! Any why should it be when it symbolizes the coming together of two families.
For families with a more common but less traditional structure the entrances can also go:
Father of the Groom with or without partner
Mother of the Groom with or without partner
Father of the Bride if not escorting Bride with or without partner
Mother of the Bride with or without partner
Partners may, but do not need not make a formal entrance if divorced parents are amenable to entering together or if it is the couples choice not to have them formally enter.
Above order may be juggled to put a buffer where needed.
Mother of the Bride is traditionally last to be seated, as a place of honor, before the bridal Party enters. Sometimes the father of the Bride does double duty, escorting mom and the Bride, other times she has a husband of her own, a brother, son, or someone else to escort her. Can she enter alone? Sure if she wishes!
Here is where it gets a little tricky! They can of course escort their spouse but placement in the processional is a visual symbol of their place in the couples life. Seating a Stepmother after a biological mother indicates that you were raised by your Stepmom. Grandparents are also sometimes last to be seated if they were the primary influence. Sometimes the mother of the groom is in that last to be seated lace of honor because she is the one who has been like a mom to the Bride.
The Best Man
The most frequent entrance for the Best Man is with the Groom. The original tradition of the Best Man goes back to the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals and other European tribes. Among these peoples it was customary to marry within ones own tribe or village, unless of course there was a shortage of women. Then you would have to go and kidnap one from the neighbors. The “Best Man” was the best of your friends with his weapons who would go to watch your back as you absconded with a Bride. At the wedding ceremony his job was not to hold the rings but to guard the perimeter in case the Bride’s family tried to kidnap her back before the marriage could take place. Sometimes he would even have to stand guard over the honeymoon cottage in case they tried to rescue her before the marriage could be consummated. With this in mind remember that today’s Best Man gets off pretty easy by comparison. But all that information does explain why the Best Man is supposed to be at the Groom’s side as much as is reasonably possible. So he can....
Step up with the Groom
Enter down the aisle with the Groom
Escort a Parent or Grandparent then join the Groom
In the case where the Groom is entering with both of his parents the Best Man follows and steps into place while the Groom is seating his parents and receiving their blessing.
So your Best Man is a Best Woman? You have two Best Men?
Fabulous! Same thing as above happens.
The Bridesmaids and Groomsmen
You have even numbers and you want them to enter in pairs? Lucky you! You’re almost done! Traditionally they enter in reverse order of emotional closeness. So, boys go to the far right - Girls go to the far left and the other couples take their places closer and closer to where the Bride and Groom will stand. If you don't care who walks with who, we can line them up in height order on the day! Those of you whom this works for, you can just skip to the Maid of Honor, unless of course you’re curious as to what your other options are.
Uneven numbers.... Remember this effects the exits as well. Some couples have all the men enter together in a line or step up from the side in a line. “Groomsmen” the word comes from them being his guards so this works. It is also a great photo opp. if they all come in one at a time and shake the Groom’s hand in congratulations as they reach him. All the women can then enter either alone or in pairs in Medieval style where they would be coming from another kingdom or castle with their Lady. I have also had one of my Brides ask her girls to enter half way, where they were met by a Groomsman who then escorted them the rest of the way to the front. This allowed some of them to do double duty. They exited then three across. If you choose a three across entrance or exit it is important to communicate this with your hall so they make the aisle wide enough to do this comfortably.
Jr. Bridesmaids and Jr. Groomsmen
Letting them lead the adults is usual, or keeping them closer to the Bride if they are the couples own children are your options. How do you envision it to be? What are the other factors? Will their placement make young children want to follow them? If so then before the Ring Bearer and Flower Girl might be wise.
Ladies flowers are held at belly button level, if you are with two gentlemen - or if you are a Bride entering with two escorts, they cup your elbow. This prevents the interlocking of arms from raising your flowers to your chin!
The Maid of Honor / Matron of Honor
Traditionally she would go after the last Bridesmaid. If you have two send them alone or
together. Rarely Brides without parents choose to enter with their Maid of Honor. Something that I should have said earlier as rule #1, something that is good to remember in every case, the phrase “What ever works for you.” During the ceremony it is the Maid of honor’s role to keep the dress splayed, the veil back off the Bride’s face, to hold the Bride’s flowers and to make sure she doesn’t walk back down the aisle without them. Sometimes she will have the Groom’s wedding band. If there is a Maid and a Matron remember to divide the honors during the ceremony equally, some brides even have them switch positions. Asking one to stand closest to you and hold the flowers, then having the other switch places to give the wedding band means that nobody feels like just another bridesmaid.
Some like to lead with them before the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen, but traditionally children were seen as fertility symbols. This is why they were kept close to the Bride and would usually go after the Maid of Honor and before the Flower Girl. Age is a huge consideration so always place them how you think they will perform the best.
Usually placed just before the Bride so that she is the only one to walk on the petals. When they are very young some put them before the Maid of Honor so that if they get.... stuck shall we say? She can swoop in and move things along. I love telling little girls that they are helping the bride to be like Snow White “with lips that shame the red, red rose, she’ll walk in springtime where ever she goes.” Tiny tikes can also be pulled in wagons which is just too cute!
Traditionally, she would enter with her Father or if Jewish with both of her parents. Entering with both parents has become popular with couples of all cultures and faiths simply because they LOVE both of their parents and like the symbolism of two families joining. The modern Bride walking alone works too, especially for those who wish to assert that they come of their own free will as an equal not to be given nor taken. Brothers, Stepfathers, Uncles, Best Friends and children all can be used of the representative of the Friends and Family of the Bride who wish her well and welcome the Groom into their circle.. Do your dad and stepfather get along? Why not have them escort you together? I even had a bride have her father walk her down the first half and then her stepfather the second half, so here you are again with the what ever works for you rule.
Bride and Groom entering together? Yes!
If they have a baby Bride and Groom entering together with their child can be wonderful as well. If it fits your life this makes a nice exit too.
Is all this too much to think about? If so decide to line everyone up in height order on the
wedding day. The photos will be symmetrical and there's no stress.
The Hand Off
Just before the Bride reaches the altar they pause and she has a personal moment with her escort. If the veil is down it is now lifted, a kiss is given as the family’s blessing upon the union and then they turn and look at the Groom as his signal to come forward. Groom goes to the Father of the Bride first with a handshake, hug or kiss, and then to whom ever else is escorting the bride with same gesture of acceptance. Father of the Bride then joins the couple’s hands which is “giving away the hand of the Bride” The couple then step forward into their future. If the dress is large letting dad sit before the couple comes forward removes the possibility of him stepping on the dress. If the bride is with both parents, the Groom should go to mom first and then to dad. Some Brides enter with their father then have their mother or stepfather rise as the get to the front to join them. The question of "Before we continue I would ask the Father of the Bride, does this marriage have your blessing?" is not a requirement. Some dads revel in it and others would rather not have to speak. If the question will be asked though... it's always good to
warn dad that there's going to be a test.
All in Place!
Once in place the Bride will usually give the Maid of Honor her flowers. M of H you're going to need your hands so pass your flowers off when you see the Bride coming. Her bouquet will be heavy so some like to place it on the altar table. Now is the time to splay her dress, straighten the veil, and then back into place. I tell my Maids of Honor to think of the camera shooting down the aisle and to keep their girl "picture perfect!" Thought we were done, didn’t you? Not so fast, you have invited all the people whom you love most in the world to share this moment with you... Do you really want to give them your backs? You can face one another, stand with your officiant in a wide V shape or your officiant can go to your guests to address them and then return to place to address the Bride and Groom.
Well that’s how we begin! Unless of course you are adding a pet.
If this is the case please refer back to rule #1 “What ever works!”
What about the exit?
Everyone folds back into reverse order. Bride and Groom, Best Man and Maid of Honor, then Bridesmaids and Groomsmen. Small children can go with parents or how ever they are comfortable. Leaving enough space for the photographer to get good exit pictures is always a good idea.
Who leaves first the Bride's family or the Groom's? Traditionally it was always the host who left last. However these days very few couples are lucky enough to have the Bride's family pay for their wedding, so I usually just go in full reverse order of the entrances.
Brenda M. Owen Wedding Officiant, Minister - http://WeddingWoman.net
A special thank-you to Pastor Marie April Gismondi