Whether you want a super-traditional celebration or exactly the opposite, it’s handy to know the standard running order of a wedding day so that you can follow it to a T, pick-and-mix the bits you like, or rip up the rule book altogether! So, from the ceremony to the first dance (and with some ideas for adding your own spin), let’s take it from the top…
The details and order of your official ceremony will depend on whether you choose a religious or civil ceremony, and will of course vary between religions. Make sure you discuss the details with whoever will be conducting your ceremony and ask them to give you a running order of what will happen and when, so you know what to expect.
Typically, the newlyweds and wedding party are whisked off for pictures in or around the wedding venue while guests enjoy reception drinks (see below). Your photographs can take as long (or be as speedy!) as you like – nail down a shot list with your photographer to make sure you get all images you want. Of course, if line-up shots and trad newlywed poses aren’t your thing, you can skip formal photos altogether and ask your snapper to focus on reportage-style shots throughout the day instead – it’s up to you!
Whether you want a formal receiving line or a relaxed, cocktails-and-canapés affair, this a chance for your family and friends to meet and mingle before you all sit down to eat.
Your post-ceremony meal (traditionally known as the wedding breakfast) can start whenever you like. And if you don’t fancy a big, sit-down evening meal, more and more couples are choosing alternative options such as food stations or wedding brunches – talk to your venue to see what they can provide and what you’re allowed to hire in.
The wedding speeches are traditionally made after dinner, although nowadays many couples choose to schedule them beforehand, so that pre-speech nerves don’t spoil anyone’s appetite. It’s customary for the father of the bride speech to go first, followed by the groom and the best man… but, of course, many modern couples are giving brides, mums and maids their turn on the mic too. Why should the guys have all the fun?
Cutting the cake
The newlyweds make the first cut, then the cake is taken away to be sliced, so that you can serve it as dessert (a great way to stretch your budget, rather than having a wedding cake AND a separate dessert) or give it to guests to take home.
Traditionally, couples tended to kickstart the evening reception with a romantic slow dance. And whilst this is still the Holy Grail of first dances for many brides, the custom has now evolved so that your first foray onto the dancefloor as newlyweds can be anything you want it to be! Don’t fancy smooching in front of an audience? Choose an upbeat tune, ask all your guests to join you on the floor or rehearse a routine to knock their socks off – this is your dance, so do it your way. It’s also traditional for the bride to dance with her father afterwards – and, again, this can be as much or as little as you both feel comfortable with (this ‘safety-in-numbers’ Brides writer had a cheesy ’80s power ballad for her first dance, then My Girl for a dance with her dad, and asked everyone to join them on the dancefloor for both).
And after all that? One word: PARTY!