Wedding Day Timings – A Rough Guide To What Happens When

Timings for Wedding Day Planner

The Running Order And Approximate Timings For A Traditional Western Wedding

In my roles as Magician, Magical Emcee and Toastmaster, I must have attended over a thousand weddings. When I’m helping couples to plan their big day, I’m often asked about the running orders of a traditional wedding and also the time that each section is likely to take. So, I’ve detailed below the breakdown of an entire wedding day, along with what to expect throughout. I’ve also added some approximate timings but, of course these are just guidelines. You can work with your wedding co-ordinator to tweak these to suit your individual day.

The Ceremony

What is it?

It’s the bit when you tie the knot! After this, you will be officially married!

How long does it take?

Civil ceremonies usually take around 30 minutes but religious ceremonies may take longer.

What usually happens?

There’s quite a lot that goes on during a wedding ceremony. So, I’ve broken it down into a lot of detail.  That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect and when. I’ve also tried to highlight the areas where you can and can’t make personal tweaks and adjustments. I hope it’s useful.

The Processional

This is the bridal party’s entrance and walk down the aisle. The guests stand, but take their seats when the bride reaches the front. If there are bridesmaids, flower girls or page boys, they will usually enter ahead of the bride, before taking their seats.

The Groom and Best Man usually await the bride at the alter.  Traditionally, the bride is accompanied by her father, but this is a personal preference.

For same-sex weddings, some couples enter together, while others prefer to have one partner waiting at the front. As with all of the non-legal aspects of the ceremony, the choice is entirely down to the couple’s preference.

The Welcome

Once the couple are at the front, the officiant will welcome everyone to the proceedings. If you are having a religious ceremony, there may be a set introduction. However, there is likely to be more flexibility with a civil ceremony. It’s worth speaking to your officiant beforehand to find out what your options are.

The Marriage Ceremony

The Charge: The ceremony begins with what is known as “the charge to the couple”. This is where they are reminded of their responsibilities and the meaning of the vows that they are about to take. At this point, all those present will be asked if they know of any legal reason why the couple shouldn’t marry. In the hundreds of ceremonies I’ve attended, I’ve never know anyone to object here. Nevertheless, it always seems a curiously tense moment!

Song or Reading: Often there is a song or hymn at the beginning of the ceremony but this can be replaced with a reading.  It’s worth remembering that, in the UK, it’s not permitted to sing religious hymns during a civil ceremony.  Additionally, some churches will ONLY allow religious music.  So, it’s a good idea to discuss this with you officiant in advance.

The Vows: The couple will then exchange vows. To make the marriage legal, there are certain declarations that MUST be said. Many couples like to add to these by writing their own personal promises and declarations.

Bear in mind though that religious services in particular sometimes have strict rules about what can and can’t be said.  It’s a good idea to speak to your officiant when planning your vows.

Exchanging Rings: Once the vows are exchanged, it’s traditional to exchange rings. It might surprise you to learn that this isn’t a legal requirement. However, most couples tend to stick with tradition. The officiant is handed the rings, usually by the best man, and the couple will place a ring onto the other’s finger.

No doubt the phrase, “With this ring, I thee wed,” will have just sprung to your mind but you can certainly request a bespoke declaration.  Speak to your officiant beforehand.

The Declaration: The officiant will then announce that you are officially married, before inviting you to enjoy your first kiss as married couple.   What a wonderful way to begin your married life together.

Optional Address, Prayers, Reading and Song: At a religious ceremony, the priest or vicar will often give a bible reading before finishing with a prayer of blessing.

In a civil ceremony, this is an opportunity to enjoy a reading or song.

Signing the Register: All that remains to make the marriage official is for you both to sign the marriage licence.  This must also be signed by the officiant and two witnesses.  This can be anyone but is often the maid of honour and best man.

This is a nice opportunity to chose some background music, as your guests will be sat for a few minutes during this time.

Some couples hire a professional musician for the musical interludes.  Some, invite a talented friend or family member.  This can add a beautiful personal touch to the ceremony.

Ending of the Service: Your officiant will speak some closing remarks. Usually these are congratulations, well wishes and occasionally a few words of thanks.

Recessional and Exit: Here’s a very romantic moment.  You arrive individually  and now you will  leave together.  You and your spouse will walk back up the aisle together, usually to music.

The wedding party will follow and then guests will start following you both, starting from the front row.

And that’s it!  You can then make your to…

The Afternoon Reception

What is it?

It’s your opportunity to meet and greet your guest for the first time as a married couple.

How long does it take?

The standard duration for an afternoon reception is 90 minutes
(It’s really not advisable to exceed 120 minutes, as guests may start to become restless!)

What usually happens?

Mingling and Socialising: The afternoon reception is a chance for guests to mingle with each other and also to congratulate the bride and groom.  Guests are usually supplied with drinks and often some canapes or light snacks.

Photography: It will vary from photographer to photographer, but usually the group shots will be taken towards the beginning of the reception. The happy couple will then be whisked away for the “couple shots”, leaving guests to continue to socialise.

Optional Entertainment: It’s worth noting that, although your guests will all be known to you, many of them won’t know each other.  Some couples organise games such as Giant Jenga, or entertainment such as a Singer, Musician, Caricaturist or Magician.  This can be a great way to help break the ice between strangers.

At the end of the afternoon reception, guests will then usually be invited to take their seats for…

The Wedding Breakfast

What is it?

It’s the big meal of the day.  A banquet where everyone can celebrate your union.

Erm…  Why is it called the Wedding BREAKFAST?

Even though there’s unlike to be any bacon, eggs or cereal in site, it’s called a breakfast it’s your first meal together as a married couple.  Aaah, now it make sense!

How long does it take?

A three course meal is likely to take about two hours from when guests are seated up until the speeches at the end.

Optional Receiving Line

Sometimes, the bridal party will wish to greet guests individually as they enter the dining room.  The two families line up to meet and greet each guest before taking their seats. This traditional custom has become less popular at modern weddings, but can still be a really nice touch at more formal occasions.

Greeting 100 guests is likely to take about half an hour but this will obviously vary depending on the number of guests attending.

The Couple’s Entrance

Once everyone is seated the bride and groom will be announced into the room.  This is a great opportunity for cheers and applause.

Here’s an often overlooked custom.  In a traditional same-sex wedding, the groom’s first official duty is to pull out the brides dining chair in order for his wife to take her seat easily in here wedding dress.  So, come on fellers! Step up. It’s a lovely touch.

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