Wedding Etiquette

Your Wedding Processional


Marilyn Woodman
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    These articles on wedding etiquette are not designed to cover every single situation that come up during a wedding, but to point out the general principles of wedding etiquette and offer some tips in dealing with awkward situations that often arise. 


    We would appreciate your sharing your experiences, and with your permission, we will be glad to publish them on this page, if we feel that it would be helpful to our visitors.  Please write us at to share with us.


    Wedding etiquette is really just a guideline based on tradition.  It actually the art of making those around you feel comfortable and accepted.  The most important part of etiquette is the latter--making those around you feel comfortable and accepted.  That requires putting yourself in their shoes, and it can be an especially tough thing to do when you are up to your elbows in wedding preparations.  It's a necessity, though--with the merger of two families, this is a big day for your friends and relatives too and your behavior, good and bad, will be remembered for years and years to come.


    Here it is--the moment has come!  Unfortunately, your preparation is not over, though!  You and your bridal party, as well as both mothers must have one essential thing to get them through the ceremony--handkerchiefs or tissues!  Weddings are emotional moments, people will cry, and unless you want the yourself and the members of the wedding to look like circus clowns in your wedding pictures--you better have something for them as well as yourself!


    The very best way to deal with that is to have the person who is in charge of emergencies hand out the tissues or handkerchiefs at the last minute, just before the party is to go down the aisle.  You can be sure that no one will forget theirs, and, if you decide on handkerchiefs, it can be a nice, unexpected and gracious gift that the members of the wedding (especially the mothers) will keep as a memento for years to come. 


    There are many sites on the Internet as well as party supply stores and wedding planners that can arrange to have your handkerchiefs monogrammed for the mothers of the bride and groom, and it is a touching moment when they are handed to the mothers just before they proceed down the aisle.  If feelings have been hurt during the preparations for the wedding, it can go a long way to soothing them with this little gesture of thoughtfulness.  The bride need not hand them out personally--after all, she is in line to proceed down the aisle herself--but she can have the person she has asked for assistance present them, along with words like, "Mary Jane has especially asked me to present this to you."


    Remember, though, that tissues will do, and nice men's linen handkerchiefs will also do.  The bridal party as well as the bride can "cup" them around the handle of the bouquet they're carrying unseen.  If a runner is used, it is usually unrolled by one or two (two is better) ushers after the mothers have been seated.  It can also be unrolled just before the bride enters and after the wedding party is at the front of the church or ceremony site, but it causes delays in the bride's entrance and therefore can be awkward that way.


    Processionals can have a lot of options and variations, and while we can list them here, remember that it is your wedding and there is room for variations.  In most Christian weddings, the mother of the groom and then the mother of the bride proceed down the aisle, escorted by an usher.  Females walk on the left, and their corsages are pinned on the left shoulder.  The father of the groom may either walk behind the two, or more commonly will already be seated.  The father of the bride is typically escorting the bride, but if she is walking alone or with her groom will be seated in advance of the beginning of the processional. 


    The groom, escorted by his best man, take their places next to the officiate at the beginning of the processional, which is usually marked by a change in the music and the volume of the music being played.  The groomsmen and/or ushers may either stand behind the best man, or may be seated at the front of the ceremony site.


    The first bridesmaid, followed by the other bridesmaids, then the Maid/Matron of Honor and the Flower Girl(s) and Ring Bearer(s) follow the bridesmaids, then the bride.  An alternative arrangement is to have the ushers escort the bridesmaids down the aisle.  The helper that you have appointed should be standing at the side near the bridesmaids but out of sight of your guests to make sure that the bridesmaids don't go down the aisle too close together. 


    The rule of thumb regarding the processional is that the second bridesmaid should begin down the aisle when the first one is at least half way down the aisle of a medium sized church.  That is the shortest delay between bridesmaids; you can also space them so that the second bridesmaid doesn't start until the first is at the front.  If the bridesmaids are too close together, the photographer and friends of the bridesmaids won't be able to get a clear shot of them walking down the aisle.  The Maid of Honor should wait longer; she should not "step off" until the last bridesmaid is at the front of the church and in position.  The flower girl and ring bearer may walk side by side or one at a time; if they are walking down the aisle one at a time the ring bearer would go after the Maid/Matron of Honor. 


    The flower girl is the last to proceed down the aisle before the bride; her job is to strew rose petals in the path of the bride, if the church or ceremony site permits it.  Please check on this in advance; some churches no longer allow this, but if they do, they require that someone remove the petals immediately after the ceremony.  We have also seen a charming arrangement where the ring bearer was a little too young to be a ring bearer and was thought not to be reliable enough for the task, so the flower girl pulled the little boy down the aisle in a toy car that he rode in.  It worked wonderfully, but you need to make sure that the car is not too awkward to pull and can be pulled straight.  It was, by the way, decorated with ribbons, and was very well received by the guests at the ceremony.  Again, it is your wedding, and you definitely have room to be creative.  It would also have been possible to have a well-dressed parent pull the little car or a cart, as long as the parent was not a part of the regular wedding party--that is a bridesmaid, although if the groomsmen or ushers were not to escort the bridesmaids, one of them could perform this task.


    In the Jewish religion, the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom escort their children down the aisle, as a symbol of their approval of the union, and the uniting of two families.  This may also be done in any religion, and is considered most acceptable.  If you are planning such a recessional, the groom and his parents typically approach the location of their marriage before the bridesmaids go down the aisle, then the bride is escorted last, accompanied by her parents.  The parents then stand in back of their children as the ceremony is performed, or may be seated behind them in chairs or a pew.


    The bride walks on the left side of her escort, and she also has the option of being escorted by the groom, escorted by her father, escorted by her mother, a male family member or older male friend, or may walk down the aisle alone or with her children.  All of these configurations are considered quite socially acceptable.


    The bride's "helper," the person who has been helping space her bridesmaids as they walk down the aisle, should quietly slip behind the bride just before she goes down the aisle to spread her train and give it a "flip" as she takes her first step.  The helper's goal is not to be seen by the rest of the guests.  "Flipping" the train puts a small cushion of air under it, and will insure that the train does not wrinkle or twist and will remain in place until the bride arrives at the side of her groom.  Just before the bride arrives at the side of the groom, she and her escort stop, and he raises the bride's veil if she is wearing a veil over her face, and kisses the bride.  This is strictly optional, however.  Her escort should then pull the veil back over her face if it was there before; it will be the groom's honor and task to pull it back for the final time. 


    When the bride steps forward to join her groom, she hands her bouquet to her maid of honor.  Bridesmaids may either be seated, or stand next to the Maid of Honor.  Both the Maid/Matron of Honor and the Best Man must stand next to the couple during the ceremony to hear the words exchanged; by law, they are legal witnesses to the union.


    In some religions, the escort is required to stay in the same place after the bride moves a step or two forward to join her groom to answer a question asked at the beginning of the ceremony.  In those ceremonies, the officiate will ask who gives the bride in matrimony, and the escort may answer, "I do," or, "Her mother and I do," or, for instance, "Her aunt and I do," if her escort is her Uncle, and she was raised by them.  The escort then sits in the front row; he should be able by this time to avoid stepping on the bride's train because she has moved forward to join her groom.


Now, on to Your Wedding Ceremony!


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