Understanding the role of a wedding party in your wedding.
I don’t know when or where I first learned the term wedding party. It may have been when I was in a friend’s wedding while stationed in Korea. Anyway, it was long before I started celebrating weddings.
So it took me by surprise when most of my couples don’t know or understand the term. Most folks come to me thinking “wedding party – that’s the same as the reception, right?”
Well, that is the reception, the celebration after the ceremony. Not quite the same, though the Wedding Party is important to the reception, as we’ll see.
Who is the Wedding Party
The Wedding Party is the core group of the ceremony. Besides the couple, it includes parents and other VIPs, adult and youth attendants, the officiant, and anyone designated to help the officiant perform their duty during the ceremony. All of that makes it sound big and important, doesn’t it?
It is important, though it doesn’t have to be big. And I’m going to break down the roles so you can decide who gets to play!
During the ceremony, there are important people in the first row. This is most often the parents and close family of the couple. It can also be anyone who’s help and mentorship are significant in your lives.
Many couples invite VIPs to walk down the aisle during the Processional. Sometimes Dad escorts Daughter, and sometimes all the parents walk. These days, this is a very individual decision. As you might imagine, other people in the row include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings.
Traditionally, these are the bridesmaids and groomsmen. I’ll go over historical roles in a moment. Before I do, I’ll mention that children and some animals can be attendants, too. Basically, an attendant is anyone who comes up to the altar during the ceremony.
Historically, the noble or well-to-do couples had attendants in daily life, and these same folks served the roles in marriage. The groomsmen (Groom’s men) was an honor guard of retainers that ensured the security of the chapel. If you look at historically inspired weddings out of Europe, or are a fan of Historical Romance, this is probably a familiar image.
Similarly, the bridesmaids (Bride’s Maids) were the bride’s ladies-in-waiting. These personal attendants, among other things, ensured the honor of the bride by acting as chaperone.
These attendants stood with the bride and groom during the ceremony, representative of their honorable duty. But what about now?
Choose your attendants from close, responsible friends. You no longer need to pay attention to gender tags, of course. We may refer to them by traditional titles or they can be Bridesmen, Groomsperson, or simply, Attendant.
Beyond the ceremony, this posse of yours forms a core of volunteers for your wedding day. They act as hosts and coordinators during the event, while you are busy with your other wedding day obligations. They’re also a pool of witnesses for the legal paperwork of the wedding.
Two traditional roles are something you should seriously consider when creating a Wedding Party. These are the Best Man and Maid of Honor. These are your Primary Attendants, and have the most to do during the ceremony. And the weight of tradition makes them the leading attendants, acting in your stead. These two are charged with making you look your best in all things.
This attendant stands for the groom. In olden days, he was the chief retainer. Similarly, it’s now a friend or relative your trust to watch your back. During the ceremony, this attendant stands by and serves as ring bearer if you haven’t made other arrangements. Afterward, they’re often a witness on the paperwork.
Maid/Matron of Honor
This person stands for the bride. Traditionally, the first lady-in-waiting of the peer, she was responsible for her mistress’s health, hygiene, and dress. In some ways, that still holds true as they’ll help you with the bits of the dress you can’t reach. (Wedding dresses are complicated.) During the ceremony, they arrange and tidy The Dress and take your bouquet. If you have a train, they’ll make sure it’s pointed in the right direction for the Recessional. They, too, are a witness on the wedding.
Don’t get too wrapped up by my use of traditional language. I’ve worked with Best Women, Men of Honor, and other appropriate titles. If you or they are non-binary, or have other reason to ditch patriarchal language, it is no big deal to simply refer to them as Jewel and Martha’s First Attendants.
Other Adult Attendants
It’s normal to have several attendants on each side. I usually recommend that the number of attendants not exceed 20% of the expected audience for esthetic reasons. It looks and feels awkward to have the Wedding Party outnumber the audience. Another part of that has to do with “additional duties as assigned”.
Besides serving as backup witnesses, you can put these folks to work. They can help with all aspects of planning, loading in, and making your day. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, they help keep the reception going and ensure everyone has a great time celebrating your wedding.
You can involve minors in your wedding, and there are a number of ways to do that. It depends on their age, maturity, and willingness to be in front of an audience.
Older children, from around 10, can participate as attendants the way adults do. You and they need to realize that there is a lot of standing around before, during, and immediately after the ceremony so that plays into the decision. My longest ceremonies have averaged around 20 minutes or so, which is a long time for a pre-teen.
More typically, youths participate as ring bearers or flower children. My recommendation is to have them take their seats in the audience after performing their duties. That let’s them take part in the celebration without putting them under a spotlight for too long.
Cats and Dogs…
As I mention in my previous post, I’ve had couples bring their animals into the ceremony. In the rehearsal and ceremony there are actions you should take to ensure your animal friend’s success.
- Always have a handler. Designate someone to be with the animal 100% of the time. Out of about two-dozen canine ring bearers only 1 behaved perfectly off-lead. That left more than a dozen that ventured into the audience or ran away. The remainder followed my advice.
- Have a plan. We usually have the dog walked in with a ring pouch. After they deliver the rings, they’re taken behind the audience. This does two things:
- Minimizes the input for the dog. This is terribly important for our sensitive friends.
- Minimizes the distraction for the audience. If doggo stays out front, that’s where Auntie Lisa’s eyes will be. Let’s keep the focus appropriately on you.
- Have a backup plan. If you decide Fido can handle the crowd, definitely have a backup plan. Give the rings to the officiant, or keep them in your pocket. Fido may prove you are right, and I’ll cheer with you. But if he takes off with the rings, we must stop everything to collect him.
I haven’t had horses, goats, or birds in any of my weddings yet. Those happened after the ceremony. I had a couple who wanted their cats to be ring bearers at a public park. Fortunately, they thought better of it once they arrived with the kitties in their bubble.
The Officiant and Their Helpers
I mention the helpers because that was part of the high-church tradition. Usually, they provided deacons and ushers to help with the congregation, and within the ceremony with various ritual elements.
Although I’ve yet to take part, some couples with diverse spiritual or ethnic backgrounds may hire two celebrants to come up with an appropriate and culturally sensitive ceremony. For example, I’m familiar Jewish wedding traditions, but I would want to involve a cantor or rabbi in designing those parts of the ceremony.
I put up one post about hiring a professional celebrant. As you can imagine, it’s a topic dear to me. I’ll likely put up another post in future. The key thing with hiring a professional is you get access to their training and experience. Cousin Tommy may have gotten himself ordained online, but how many weddings has he done?
“But we want Bill to do it because he knows us.” That’s been a common refrain, and it overlooks the relationship you will build with your celebrant. By the wedding day, they will know you too.
Knowing is Half the Battle
So, now you know about wedding parties. You know a bit of the history and tradition that bring us to today. I given you my thoughts and experience. May you find inspiration!
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