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I give couples bold, beautiful and true to color wedding images! I have photographed over 200 weddings and am a resource to my couples throughout their entire planning process. I organize chaos and provide you with your very first family heirlooms.
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Episode 017. Everything About The Ceremony

April 19, 2022

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Weddings & Life with Taylor Nicole, a podcast by Denver Wedding Photographer,
Taylor Nicole Photography

wedding podcast, wedding planning advice, wedding planning podcast

Intro: Welcome back to the Everything Series! Last week we talked about everything getting ready on the wedding day. Today we are diving into everything I can share with you about wedding ceremonies! This episode won’t be specific to a certain type of ceremony. We will talk about church, outdoor, religious, not religious, short and long ceremonies. I won’t dive deep into too many traditions but am packing this episode full of tips about the flow of the ceremony, things to avoid or that are easily forgotten and more. Also a reminder, there is truly no right or wrong way to do any of this. The ceremony is a more “traditional” section of the wedding day, but that will depend on your plans. My hope is that this episode will leave you feeling prepared for your wedding ceremony. Thanks for listening in again!

Okay so welcome back to the podcast, thanks for listening to me as I talk about all the wedding things. I hope these episodes are helpful for you all, and especially this series. I’ve felt so excited putting this together. Part of the stress when it comes to wedding planning is the unknown. Like you’re engaged and then making all of these decisions about how your day will go but you’ve never actually experienced being the bride or being the groom before. So I hope by listening to me talk through the whole process that it will eliminate a bit of the stress and help you make some of the decisions by feeling bit more prepared.

So something I have realized more and more the more weddings I’ve seen is that weddings are a cultural tradition. I did an internship in India after graduating college and while I didn’t attend a traditional Indian wedding in that time I could definitely see elements of the culture and the traditions that happened in those parties were so different than the weddings I had been to in the US. Well in my head the US weddings weren’t really cultural, they were just normal. Obviously I had a smaller world view haha but really if you think about it we decide we want to get married, then we throw a party inviting guests to come witness a ceremony where we commit our lives to each other, followed by a dinner party. During the dinner party we have special dances and we cut the cake and listen to speeches. It’s so funny to see that all of that is steeped in tradition, how much of that is specifically related to which culture I am not sure and definitely not an expert on. However if you think about it the ceremony is one of the most traditional and perhaps cultural parts of the wedding day.

I’ve seen all sorts of ceremonies, jewish, christian ceremonies of all denominations, catholic masses, and not religiously affiliated at all ceremonies. Some of these ceremonies have more wiggle room than others, and also having wiggle room in your planning isn’t always the easiest thing because that leads to more decisions you end up needing to make.

So essential elements of a ceremony- aka to make it legal. You need the couple and the officiant. In some states like Colorado, you actually don’t even need an officiant to be legally married, and if you do use an officiant that person does not need to be ordained. I decided to google how many states don’t require an officiant for a legal marriage – California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania However I’ve only actually witnessed this in Colorado so I’m not sure the legal hoops of the other states on this list.

I have already mentioned earlier in this podcast that I am not an elopement photographer, I special in the bigger, more traditional wedding days that take place at venues whether that is a church, backyard, or event venue. I’ve photographed a handful of intimate elopements and they’re so fun but the majority of my wedding experience is with traditional weddings in the US, mainly Colorado. So the advice and experiences I share will come from that experience.

I am going to try to walk through the ceremony advice chronologically. We will see how far that goes as I listed out all of my ceremony thoughts/advice earlier and I can’t say for sure if it will all fall into order. There might be a random section at the end.

Let’s start with pre-ceremony. How early should you arrive to your ceremony. There are lots of opinions here and it will depend on your situation. If you’re ceremony is at an event venue and there is a separate area where guests gather once they arrive then it might not be a big deal to arrive for your ceremony just 15-30 minutes before. If you’re having a church ceremony the coordinators at the church might request or even require you to be there one full hour early. This is probably to make sure things don’t run too late with their scheduled services. And I’ve also seen some venues require one hour of downtime before the ceremony.

Why the downtime/arriving so early? Because traditionally the guests shouldn’t see you (the bride/groom) in your wedding attire until you walk down the aisle. Think back to the tradition that the first look breaks aka the groom not seeing the bride in her dress until she walks down the aisle. So a similar thought process here. Now I’ve seen a lot of breaking from tradition but very few times have I had a bride/groom that wants their guests to see them dressed up before the ceremony.

Well then the next question is how early are the guests going to start arriving. It’s funny because a tip I have coming up is actually about how guests are often late, but there are early birds too. Depending on where your wedding is, ex. If you’re having a destination mountain wedding that is quite a drive, you might start seeing guests at your venue close to an hour before the ceremony. Props to those guests who didn’t want to be late haha! So in order to avoid seeing your guests before the ceremony, or to avoid them seeing you to be specific. You will need to be to the ceremony location/waiting area before they start to arrive. This is important to me as a photographer because that will affect how many portraits we can finish before the ceremony if we are planning on those.

What should you do in the downtime before the ceremony. First to be cheesy, have fun. The ceremony is usually the last part of the day you are feeling nervous about. After seeing each other and standing in front of your guests making the actual commitment the rest is really a party. So even if you’re feeling nervous it’s alright just soak in the moments, or distract yourself if needed.

This is a good time to drink a bit of water, we don’t want anyone passing out during the ceremony. Use the restroom. Reapply any makeup or touch up hair. Note- be careful when reapplying lipstick, you’re going to have a first kiss and I’d recommend it isn’t a smearing or smudging sort of lipstick so it doesn’t get all over your future husband’s face too.

One thing that might need to be added here is the bride’s veil. So if you’re taking portraits before the ceremony she might already be wearing this, but if it’s windy or not the most comfortable I don’t think the veil has to be worn all day. The ceremony is probably one of the more important times of day for the veil though. So putting it on this time window might work well.

When it comes to more religious oriented weddings I’ve seen this time used for prayer, like the bridesmaids and mom praying over the bride and the groomsmen and dads praying over the groom. Obviously optional here.

Next and an important point to remember- get the wedding rings to the right people before the ceremony starts. As a photographer my biggest nightmare is that the couple won’t have the rings because I forgot to have them take off their rings before the ceremony or I forgot to give them back after detail photos. This has never happened before thankfully haha, but it is a big deal. Sometimes for church ceremonies they will require that the rings be delivered to the priest/person early for blessing and safe keeping. I will discuss ring bearers and rings later on.

Another element that you could add before your ceremony is a first touch. Basically if you’re waiting to see each other until the ceremony you can have your photographer set you both up around a door or a corner and you can hold hands. Still keeping the appearance a surprise but it’s a comforting and special moment to share about how excited you are to marry the other person.

One of the last things you should do before the ceremony is to dry off all the bouquets- bridesmaid and bride. I mentioned this in the last episode I think, but bouquets are stored in the vases to keep them fresh, but usually when you pick them up they will leave water spots right where you don’t want them. So have a towel or paper towels ready for this as you line up! 

So that is everything I could think of pre-ceremony other than decorating which is always different depending on your venue and vendors. 

So let’s talk about your ceremony expectations-

  1. When your ceremony will start
    1. So remember when I told you that guests can start arriving close to an hour pre-ceremony… well that’s just some of them. Others might not make it on time. I generally see ceremonies starting 5-15 minutes late to accommodate seating of guests that arrive ‘on time’ or just after. If your ceremony begins promptly on time chances are you will have guests sneaking in during. Which the distraction level of that varies depending on your venue. (Picture old dark church with creaking doors.)
  2. How long your ceremony will be
    1. One of the reasons you might feel nervous about the ceremony is standing up in front of the guests for so long. So in general most ceremonies are about 30 minutes. Depending on what you have planned that might still seem like an eternity. I’d say in general that the more people you have to escort/walk in the longer your ceremony will be too. So if you have 8 bridesmaids and 8 groomsmen, four sets of grandparents and parents that will add to the technical ceremony time but won’t actually add to the time you’re standing up in front of everyone. Hopefully that helps! And you can probably talk to your officiant about possibly keeping it shorter.
  3. The weather
    1. Everyone is hoping for a clear wedding day for you! Your guests and your vendors. Rain, cold, hot, and wind does happen though. I’d say for rain, hail, or snow (yes I’ve photographed in all of the above) you might need to consider an indoor or alternative ceremony location for your guest’s sake. Unless your venue provides umbrellas for your guests and even then it would be a wet seat for everyone. Having a back up option is critical. Even in a place like CO which is sunny close to 300 days a year. I see a lot of afternoon rain showers that push ceremonies inside. It’s a bummer to face at first but it isn’t the biggest deal at the end of the day when you’re married.
  4. Unplugged ceremonies- friends I get it. Everyone wants an unplugged ceremony. YOu’ve probably seen the nightmare picture of cell phones in the first kiss picture. Yes I have battled that myself as a photographer. Well there are a couple ways to go about setting this expectation… and only one of them is mildly successful. Yes you heard it from me, the idea of people willingly disregarding their cell phones in this era is slim. You have to be creative.
    1. The classic ‘we would like an unplugged ceremony sign’… guys I’ve seen guests walk by, take a picture of the sign with their cell phones (or iPad) and then go right on by and continue taking pictures on their phones throughout the whole ceremony. In my humble opinion signs don’t work. It’s like a speed limit sign, a lot of people will take that as a suggestion. Which if the unplugged thing is just a nice idea then a sign is also a nice idea. If it’s really important to you then try the next idea..
    2. Having your officiant announce this at the beginning of the ceremony. Sort of like at the movie theatre when they show someone silencing their cell phone but in this case your officiant will actually be in person telling them. This might work.
    3. I’d say the best way to truly get an unplugged ceremony is to probably use a combination of signs and the officiant. Other than that I think you’d need someone walking around and catching people during your ceremony haha. 

Okay that’s all for ceremony expectations, now we are on to the beginning of the ceremony. Let’s talk about seating your guests.

The tradition was to have ushers to escort guests down the aisle and seat them on either the bride’s or groom’s side. Well that tradition has faded quite a bit from what I’ve seen recently. 

Decisions you should make about your ceremony-

Will you have ushers?

Will you have a bride’s side and groom’s side? Or let people sit wherever they want?

From my experience if you aren’t using ushers or sides when guests arrive they will go ahead and seat themselves on whichever side they want anyways.

So now on to the processional of the ceremony- here is the order I usually see:

-guests are seated

-the officiant/priest enters (sometimes with groom&groomsmen sometimes alone)

-grandparents are escorted in

-parents are escorted in, sometimes the groom’s parents will be escorted by the groom tbd

-the bridal party enters- sometimes paired bridesmaid/groomsman, other times walking in individually

-the ring bearers and flower girls enter

-the bride is escorted down the aisle as everyone stands

I bet there are many options for order, but if you’re trying to organize your ceremony entrances hopefully that helps! 

Let’s take a minute to talk about the ring bearers. So when I got married I wanted to trust our two ring bearers with our wedding rings. They were little boys but not toddlers and I thought it was silly to have them walk down the aisle without the rings. However my relatives and husband disagreed and didn’t want to trust them with the real rings. I totally get it haha, so I bought fake rings to tie to the pillows they carried down. Lately I’ve seen ring bearers become more like sign holders with something cute like ‘here comes your girl uncle brad’ or ‘don’t worry ladies I’m single’ so there are a few ideas there. 

Also I’ve seen a wide variety of who fills the role of ring bearer and flower girl. Obviously it is normally little kiddos, but I’ve seen grandpa ring bearers and grandmother or mother flower girls. So I think it’s fair game on whoever you want to use for that.

One unique idea I’ve seen recently- the groom had a friend be the groom’s flower tosser… I’m not sure what the title was, but his friend entered in before the groom walked down and tossed flower petals ect. Actually they made it quite the show he basically danced down the aisle. It was fun and lighthearted. Then the flower girl came before the bride and her parents. 

One other idea I saw on instagram last year was to have drink bearers, or drink sharers. This only works for a certain type of crowd that would enjoy this, but basically you’d have a couple ushers walk down the aisle with a cart of beers to pass out to guests who wanted one before the ceremony. I can’t see this going over well in a catholic mass (10000% kidding!) But if you’re having a fun nontraditional outdoor or venue ceremony it could work if your venue allows. Obviously guests don’t necessarily need drinks at this point, they’re about to be wined and dined the rest of the night anyways.

Okay so that is escorting. The next stages of the ceremony are usually the giving away of the bride, where the officiant asks who gives this bride to be married to this man and the bride’s dad or parents say something and give her a hug. Or this is skipped sometimes too.

Then usually this is followed by a prayer or blessing. Sometimes before the giving away of the bride too. 

After the bride has entered and is settled in for the ceremony she will probably pass her bouquet to her maid/matron of honor. And then someone should fluff her train! This works differently for every dress but I fluff a lot of dress trains for portraits. I try to grab the dress with both hands apart so you’re holding the majority of the gown. and holding each layer in your hands or this won’t work. Then raise and lower the dress, it’s best to catch just a little bit of air under like the parachutes we all used in elementary school gym class, the air will help spread the layers naturally. Don’t raise it too high though, the guests don’t need to see the garter or more.

After that there can be readings or scripture or poems. This is a good way to involve other family members or friends as a part of your ceremony.

Then the main message, sermon, or just story follows. This totally depends on the religious affiliation and the officiant too. I’ve seen whole sermons given and I’ve seen the officiant just share some special details of the couple’s love story before the vows ect. I want to restate that I don’t think there is a right or wrong way here.

Then it is probably time to exchange vows. Let me stop here and say props to you all who write your own vows! That is a huge task and they’re always so sweet to hear! My husband is way too good with words and I am way too not good at all so I wasn’t about to subject myself to reading something I wrote in front of everyone. (I am just now realizing that is sort of funny because I have a podcast now and people listen to a lot of my words.. weird!) So you might share your own written vows, or repeat after the officiant. I’ve also seen both done here too. 

After vows usually come the rings. So your best man and/or maid of honor will hand those to the officiant. And you will probably repeat again as you exchange those. (Ps if you’re still feeling nervous at this point you’re almost done when you’ve made it this far!) Also pss. Help your partner with which finger to put the ring on, don’t make them try to grab your left hand, it’s confusing in front of a crowd which hand to use when it’s opposite of your own.

  1. Also I’ve seen many different opinions on what a bride should do with her engagement ring during the ceremony. I’ve seen bride’s wear the engagement ring on the right hand and then switch it over later. Personally I wore my engagement ring on my left hand ring finger and we just put the wedding band on after it. I switched them later, but to me the order didn’t matter much. And if you aren’t added a wedding band to your engagement ring then no problem there! 

After the rings, At least I think it’s after.. there can be a unity ceremony/symbol. 

  1. This can be using two candles to light a new candle symbolizing your lives becoming one. 
  2. I’ve seen two colors of sand poured into a new container. 
  3. A plant/tree planted with soil from two separate containers (I’ve heard they gathered the soil from each of the parent’s homes which is a sweet idea!)
  4. I’ve seen wine mixing and whiskey mixing
  5. Also cord braiding (a rope symbolizing each of you and God braided into one strand) 
  6. There is a hand fasting ceremony
  7. A lasso ceremony 
  8. Creating an anniversary capsule
  9. Circling (seen in jewish ceremonies)
  10. Branding with a new family brand. 

If you have other unity ceremony ideas you should message me on Instagram and I will update my list!

After the unity ceremony I’ve also seen couples take communion and pray together. This can be combined with the unity ceremony too. The other new idea I’ve seen here is to invite the parents of the couple up to pray over the couple. I’ve also seen couples sign the marriage license during the ceremony. Totally depends on if this can fit well into your plans but a good way to make sure it gets signed! Then you don’t have to worry about it later.

Then usually another group prayer, blessing or reading

Followed by the first married kiss. Guests cheer for this one. If for some reason the order of your ceremony looks wildly different than this, maybe let your photographer know. Basically we just don’t want to be surprised by the first kiss! 

So let’s introduce a new idea here. A ceremony exit! So we’ve all seen the gorgeous sparkler exits at the end of receptions. They’re fun but what no one tells you about the end of your reception, a lot of your guests leave early. So if you were to do some sort of an ‘exit’ during your ceremony instead at least you know all of your guests will be there! So here are some ideas-

For an outdoor ceremony- biodegradable confetti (I’ve seen some epic videos of these! Probably expensive but super cool!)

Handing out flower petals or dried flowers to your gusts to toss over you as you exit. Note- if you’re doing this please tell the guests what these are for. Have the planner tell them or even have your officiant announce it. I’ve seen the couple exit and everyone is just holding the small cone of petals like it’s their party favor haha. 

If none of those work then maybe consider stopping when you’re halfway or almost all the way down the aisle and giving another kiss as you leave. Makes for a cute memory! 

The last thing will bridge us into the reception episode later. Receiving lines. This was the traditional effort so the couple could greet each one of their guests. I’ve photographed a handful of these and maybe I will make an episode on this one day so couples and their parents can understand when guests are most commonly greeted now weddings now. Basically the general idea is the couple should actually stay away from guests right after the ceremony so they can go finish the rest of their portraits and then the goal with that is usually to leave time during the cocktail hour for the couple to join and start greeting then. 100% optional but know that a receiving line is a big big big time commitment. I am sure now that I will do a future episode discussing this in more depth!

Okay so that is the whole ceremony process. Here are a few extra pieces of advice that didn’t fit into the timeline-

-Don’t lock your knees for the ceremony. This isn’t something I think about often because I move around so much during the ceremony, but make sure everyone knows to stand tall but not with locked knees. Like the childhood concerts haha. This also goes along with not drinking too much before the ceremony, and making sure to have some water also before the ceremony. Basically we just don’t need anyone passing out.

-let’s talk about pets in the wedding ceremony. I’ve only seen this go smoothly a couple times. Generally the dog or dogs are pretty dang nervous about all of the people around and cause some chaos. Also the dogs commonly will want to stand on the wedding dress, and also stand facing the couple/person holding their leash so then you have a ceremony full of cute dog tails. Just reality here. I’m not 100% pro or against here just wanted to share the experiences I’ve seen up front.

So I think that is what I have to share about wedding ceremonies! I hope this episode was helpful to you, and if you know a friend or someone who is currently planning their own wedding ceremony then share this with them. Always feel free to message me on Instagram and we can chat about all the wedding things together. And it’s always nice to know people listen to these episodes! 

xo,

Taylor Nicole

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