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How Weddings Work - A Brief Guide To The Big Day

by Matt Jacks, Freelance Writer

Weddings are about many things: Romance certainly, with the (hopefully long lasting) union of man and woman in either sacred or secular happy matrimony. A sense of occasion therefore cannot help but be strongly involved in the drama of the day, however humble the surroundings may be. It is also about the coming together of two families, the making of new friends, the sweet sadness of parents who see the final evidence that their little girl or boy is that no longer, and of course, the free drinks at the reception.

But weddings can vary so much nowadays that there is no fixed right and proper way for a wedding to work. Influences from other cultures and religions may affect the modern marriage, and not only if either the bride or groom is of a different faith or from a foreign land.

And with individualism being a part of democracy in a comparatively wealthy society, there are many crazy options open to those not wishing to wed in a church or equivalent. So this article is not meant as an instruction, the happy couple may wish to wed in diving suits at the bottom of a lake, and nowadays this is usually viewed with amusement rather than shock by family and friends alike (maybe not by moms though) who will probably be waiting on the shore for the party to begin.

But it is perhaps a touching fact that so many people still prefer to tie the knot in a traditional setting. This is not surrendering to convention, as some unwisely criticize; it is more an attempt to link the known safeties and sureties of the past with a future that is hoped and prayed for, but still never certain.

And whatever or wherever or however, a successful wedding, like a successful war, is mostly down to planning!

So start early, the very next day after engagement is probably about right (because if you don't then someone else will be starting the planning for you, and everyone knows who that will be, mom.) The first decision that must be made is what sort of wedding it's going to be. Simple? Semi-formal? Formal? Only close friends and family? Everyone who knows you?

Remember that the more extravagant a wedding will need more fine planning, so you'll probably need some help and advice, but if so then don't allow your original ideas to get hijacked or diluted by those who would see things differently if they were in your place, because quite frankly, they're not.

The venue must be picked right from the start so all other things can fall into place around it. Book early, especially if you've opted for a summer wedding which is the most popular marrying season in most countries.

The reception venue also needs to be booked early (with the receiving of confirmation in writing a wise precaution). Candidate venues should be scouted out first by either one or both of you or a trusted relative or pal. Try to think about how what they offer matches up to your requirements, and ask for written quotes to give time for impressions to sink in.


Now the subject of money must raise its head above the parapet. So be sure to involve everyone who is footing the bill in the early discussion of what is going to be added to the essentials, and just how extensive those essentials are going to be. This will remove the possibility of any 'pecuniary tension' arising later on. A financial misunderstanding is not a good start in any language, but it is better than the brakes being applied halfway through, when some things have already been settled on and ordered.

This unfortunate situation would inevitably lead to various aspects of the wedding day looking out of place with the rest. Unless you are very lucky and money is not a factor, then it's usually better to spread the budget widely but evenly, rather than splashing out big time on a few things and having to tighten the belt elsewhere. Imagine your wedding day scenario as a car park if you will; better to have smart BMW's everywhere, rather than a scattering of gleaming and ultra-expensive Aston Martins and Lamborghini's amongst battered old Fords and Chryslers.

Like other things to do with weddings, who is paying for what in the event can now be a changeable list of characters, including the groom's family and maybe the couple themselves chipping in a bit. No longer must the father of the bride meet the entire bill. But for modern traditionalists; here is a rough guide to what might be expected (should they be followed):


Wedding gown and headpiece / headdress. All flowers for the ceremony and the reception, including decorations and bouquets for the bridesmaids and corsages for the grandmothers. All things rented for the ceremony and the reception, the wedding invitations, announcements and programs. The church fee, the catering fee, the confetti or rice bags, any musicians' fee, the photographers (video and or stills) fee. The wedding breakfast and bridal brunch charge, all the wedding favors. The mother of the bride's outfit, the formal wear for the father of the bride, and the wedding cake.


The rehearsal dinner, the groom's cake, the formal clothes for the father of the groom.


The groom's wedding ring and wedding gift. Gifts and luncheon for the bridesmaids, and traditionally accommodation for guests from afar.


The flower bouquet, wedding ring and wedding gift for the bride, and his own formal wear. The corsages for both the mothers and gifts for the ushers. The fee for the officiant or cleric, and the marriage license. The limousines, buttonhole flowers for the groom and ushers, gloves and ties for all the ushers, and the honeymoon.

The formal wear for the best man, ushers, groomsmen, and the gowns for the bridesmaids, maid of honor/chief bridesmaid and the matron of honor should be paid for by themselves. And the formal clothing for any children who are pageboys or flower girls or just among those attending should be paid for by their respective parents.

Any attendants to the wedding ceremony should pay for their own travel, and gifts for the couple should be paid for by everyone. There is no rule that says gifts must be given, but it is often expected that they are.

These wedding gifts may also be the cause of some friction, so it is advised for the couple or their representative to remove the gift tags when they are on display (after noting who gave what so that a thank you note can be written, yes handwritten, not printed). This act will avoid any comparisons over the expense of presents to be made which may otherwise cause embarrassment.


The guest list is always a problem. Everyone will have an opinion on who should and who definitely should not be there. But again, it is your wedding, so it should be your choice. Though consultation might be a good idea when it comes to seating arrangements, as you may not be as aware as you think you are about all long standing family and workplace feuds or recent heated disagreements.

When eventually a final list has decided upon, or negotiated upon, don't forget to send out the invitations giving plenty of time for a reply. About six to eight weeks before the date should be okay.


Eight weeks is also around the minimum notice time for the wedding gown to be made, so choose one earlier than this if you can. Any color can be acceptable in modern weddings, but white and variants are still the most popular choice. Some experts in the coordination field will advise that pure white is only really suitable for brunettes; natural blondes and redheads should go for cream or ivory in their opinion.

And use this opportunity to decide on what style of outfits is right for the bridesmaids, so none can outshine the bride, and making doubly sure that the mothers of the bride and groom do not wear clashing colors.

It is traditionally the prerogative of the bride's mother (who after all will be the official hostess of the occasion) to choose her outfit first, and then for the mother of the groom to select a complimentary but not matching color and style, this means a shorter or longer skirt depending on the first mom's choice. Both of their dresses should also be easily distinct from that of the bridesmaids. And whilst we've got these two notables in our sights; a happy couple should always encourage the two moms (and dads) to meet as early as possible after the engagement is announced, to allow for the smooth ironing out of any differences of opinion by the time that the big day itself comes around.

The flowers should be sorted out a couple of months in advance as well, as florists sometimes have to take rush orders later, the extra cost of which might interfere with their plans for your plans etc. And remember you need two extra bouquets on top of the rest, as it's traditional for the groom to give both moms a flower bouquet when he makes his speech at the reception.

Before this though, get that wedding cake ordered with plenty of time to spare. A good cake must mature. It is going to be very expensive, but a sly way to save a bit of cash is to make it yourself and then get it professionally decorated.

If having live music, don't forget that the musicians will need a break, and never hire any on the say-so of a friend or relative. Always listen to them yourself first.


So the day is here at last! All the preparations are in place, and disasters have been avoided; the wedding flowers have arrived on time, no-one has get lost, the caterers are not going to run out of anything, and no limo has lost a fan-belt.

What exactly happens next is down to the couple, the actual ceremony (if being held in a church) is not abided to by rules set in stone. At least, not with most modern ministers, who allow far more variation within the ceremony than may be realized by some, who leave it all for the clerics to decide upon.

Some churches have 'ceremony workbooks' where they have groups of suggestions which the couple can pick and choose from, using these as a frame of reference it is easier to compose a wedding ceremony which is both individual and in the long line of traditional practice at the same time.

Some are still sticklers though, and may not allow virtually any changes to be made. And sadly, a number of locations and denominations still refuse to countenance interfaith marriages, though perhaps they will if a promise is made to bring up the children according to the 'proper faith,' whatever that might be.

But you have decided on the type of ceremony for you. Not too long, or a distinct 'shuffling of the feet' may be audible. Not too short either, the proceedings being too overly curtailed may lead to a feeling of anti-climax. Some authorities will state that between 20-30 minutes is just right for a modern wedding service.

Before this can start though, people must arrive in the correct order. The ushers go in first as the guests begin to file in. Around fifteen minutes later the bells begin to ring and the organist starts up. Next the groom, and accompanying him, the best man who will sit next to him and hand over the ring at the right moment. His duties will also include; announcing the speeches at the reception, as well as making one of his own; also, 'decorating' the couple's limo. Already the best man should have acted as the groom's bodyguard at any stag night, to prevent him from being tossed naked into the cargo hold of an airliner, or similar.

Around five minutes later, the bridesmaids should make their entrance, excitable and probably slightly resentful as well, these young ladies should be of similar number to the ushers, to allow for a neat and matching exit in pairs later.

Five minutes again later, the bride's mother will appear, escorted down the aisle by the head usher. The mother of the groom can also be escorted by him, with her husband following a few steps behind.

A few minutes later the star of the show, the blushing bride, will arrive with her proud father. Hopefully with something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, as jewelry or embellishments on her dress for luck, as traditional superstition here sternly dictates.


The wedding vows themselves have changed much over the years, reflecting the changing role of the woman in Christian society. Today the choices of vows are almost as wide as the style of gown. They can be simple, or lengthy and detailed, they can take the form of a question from the minister followed by an vowed answer from the couple, or they can be made as individual statements - one for the bride and one for the groom, or they can be identical and spoken together; known as 'unison vows.' They can be made up on the spot; these are known as 'spontaneous vows,' or they can be written down before and memorized. Whatever feels right for the couple is right for the wedding, reflecting their characters and the sense of solemnity mixed with love and maybe, a bit of mischief thrown in for good measure.


Confetti is a tradition that may be frowned upon in some venues because of the mess, in this case, rice or flower petals are a more environmentally friendly alternative to meet the newly weds as they emerge, now joined in matrimony, into the great outdoors.

The posed wedding photos should be next, before the over the shoulder tossing of the bridal bouquet into a gaggle of ambitious females, whose dates may or may not be nervously awaiting the outcome. Seeing just who emerges triumphant as the holder of the bouquet is as much important for the males present as for the females, though it may be trite to suggest that this will be for a different reason.


If there is to be a reception then those invited will make their way now, and it is up to the ushers to make sure that everyone has transport available. At the reception a receiving line will be waiting, with the mother of the groom correctly standing between the bride and her mother, or if the two dads are also involved, then she should stand between them. Here she can introduce those guests from her side of the now extended family to the bride's family. This is her first and only official duty of the wedding.

The reception consists of a meal, either buffet style with self serving queues or a more formal sit down arrangement. The necessary but often dreaded speeches are next, followed by the cutting of the wedding cake, then some dancing and merriment.

The bride and groom should always be the first to dance; after this, the groom should dance with both moms and then the bridesmaids, starting with the maid of honor / chief bridesmaid.

Even if the newly weds are off on their honeymoon that day then it is still better for them to stay as long as possible. They are the reason everyone is present after all, and some receptions can go flat very quickly if the bride and groom depart too early. In tradition the last to leave is the bride's parents, with the best man with them or just before.


And then that's the wedding over, all the doubts and last minute fears forgotten. The honeymoon will follow, and we all know what happens there. So hopefully a successful marriage will have begun well. Of course that is up to the heart and not the brain, so planning can go awry, but divorce is not the end of the world, it's just an excuse to have another wedding, that's all.

And many weddings are successful, despite what we're told. So with luck and effort there will be many anniversaries to look forward too, when you can celebrate the big day when it all began, and get more presents too.

Here is a useful reminder to keep handy, for those future years of domestic bliss, what each anniversary is called and what your gifts from well wishers should therefore be made from, (money and patience willing).

  • Year 1 - Paper or Cotton
  • 2 - Cotton or Paper
  • 3 - Leather
  • 4 - Flowers and Fruit
  • 5 - Wood
  • 6 - Sugar or Iron
  • 7 - Wool or Copper
  • 8 - Bronze
  • 9 - Pottery
  • 10 - Tin or Aluminum
  • 11 - Steel
  • 12 - Silk and Linen
  • 13 - Lace
  • 14 - Ivory
  • 15 - Crystal
  • 20 - China
  • 25 - Silver
  • 30 - Pearl
  • 35 - Coral
  • 40 - Ruby
  • 45 - Sapphire
  • 50 - Gold
  • 55 - Emerald
  • 60 - Diamond
  • 70 - Platinum
  • 75 - Diamond

So although weddings can vary quite considerably, because of religion, culture, available finance, family politics, weather, and venue, there are still essentials of a bride and groom, vows and rings, common to all. And the lack of standardization is a good thing. Brides, the centers of attention at any wedding, and their grooms, are principally the same but individually unique, and so then should be their wedding.

That is why so many things and behaviors at a wedding can be recognized in purpose, if not in form, regardless of culture. Weddings are really about us, as people, and they lead to making more of us as well.


Matt Jacks is a successful freelance writer providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing wedding dress patterns, unique wedding favors and titanium wedding bands. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on "How Weddings Work" reprinted with permission. Net Guides Publishing, Inc.


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