Ceremony Basics: The Rules

Ceremony Basics:  The Rules


As in the rest of Nature, there are Natural Laws that govern weddings.  These Rules are not arbitrary, nor were they set up by a committee of any sort.  They evolved along with our species.

Rule #1:

Nothing at a wedding happens quite on time

or quite as planned.


There is a happy corollary.


Rule #1a:

You will end up married

and will have a good time anyway.


Serendipity comes into play.  Imagine a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of which change shape as you’re assembling it. The changing pieces will make you a little nuts!  But, in the end, all the pieces magically come together perfectly to make a great picture of the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building or of Kittens in a Box.

It is the same with your wedding day. Each facet of the day will be different (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) than you envisioned it, and each one seems to change shape as the process moves forward.  Experienced pros who know how this works allow for the inevitable fluctuations in the day.  In the end, all the facets will come together perfectly to make a great wedding celebration.


Rule #2:

The dumber you feel the better you will look.


This applies to photography.  This applies to the ceremony. If you feel too comfortable, you will look stupid. Count on it.

This is one of those Immutable Laws of God and Nature. It’s in The Bible somewhere… in one of the more obscure books… Second Baruch or something like that.

Think about it for a second:  When are you most comfortable? It is when you are asleep, drooling on your pillow.  Now, is that the photograph you want on the cover of People Magazine?!

In the Real World, we look best and feel most comfortable a couple of feet or more away from people.  However, in the World Defined by an 8X10 Rectangle, we look best bumping shoulders, turned 45 degrees toward each other, with our heads tilted slightly toward each other.  As odd as the people in the picture may feel, the people outside the picture feel comfortable to look at them.  The subjects look friendly – as if they want to be with each other.

In the Real World, four people standing in a group face each other with one or two backs to the camera, blocking the view of at least one other person.  Except at a sporting event, in a choir or at a train wreck, no group stands in a row looking in the same direction.  In an UN-posed group photo of people standing in a row, we face front to the camera looking uncomfortable, kind of chunky and a bit slow witted; like potatoes with faces.  In a photograph that looks good, we will pose in ways that feel unnatural to us but seem natural to the viewer.  That’s just how it is and why models get paid a hundred-fifty bucks an hour.

A similar principle holds true for your ceremony.  For example, the simple act of walking down the aisle begs us to be deliberate and elegant – whether parents, wedding party or the Bride herself.  When we are nervous and excited, we tend to rush and to look a bit frantic.  So, if we feel normal, we are probably sprinting.  If the goal is to look elegant and self-controlled, then we need to walk slowly enough so we begin to feel stupid…  Not severely stupid…  just a little stupid.

Remember this principle throughout your wedding day.  If you are not feeling at least a little dumb, then you will probably look a little dumb.  Do make an effort to feel foolish all day long.


Rule #3:

The Optimal Length of a wedding is 17.5 minutes.


Some years ago, someone did one of those studies.  You know… the ones that tell us something we already know.  The sociologists, anthropologists and other pseudo-scientists who made up the panel discovered that wedding participants / guests are happiest with a seventeen-and-a-half-minute wedding ceremony.

There is some latitude, of course, depending upon elements in the wedding and the personal culture of family and guests.  If they are accustomed to hour-long weddings with nothing of interest going on, they will be more tolerant of a shorter boring ceremony.  That is like hitting yourself in the head three times instead of six.  Things improve from there.

People enjoy live music mid-ceremony, but become impatient with recorded music.  Readings that are new to them or familiar ones with a new wrinkle keep guests interested.  It always helps if vocalists can sing on tune and if readers can be heard and enunciate well.  A little humor from the minister or moisture in the Groom’s eye will improve the show considerably.  Original vows or personal statements from the Bride & Groom are always interesting and make a ceremony more authentic and more memorable – especially for the couple and those closest to them.  Using familiar religious language and honoring family traditions, involving others in readings, prayers, and rituals can be a big plus in bringing authenticity to a ceremony.  I tell my clients that “it is not the Griffen Show.”  It is about them, and I encourage them to make the ceremony their own.  Guests and principles alike will fully enjoy it and will recall it warmly in the years to come.

There is also such a thing as “too short.”  Of course, that perception is relative, too.  For most people, a ceremony shorter than ten minutes makes them ask if that is all there is.

We got all dressed up for THIS?! I want my gift back!!”

Even so, one of the most romantic ceremonies I ever performed was shorter than 5 minutes.  Again; content and enthusiasm make all the difference.  I receive many compliments on the wedding ceremonies I officiate.  Always good to hear, of course.  But honestly… the couples bring the magic.


Rule #4:

Recorded Music at the Ceremony is Boring.


It’s your favorite song!  It was playing on the radio the first time he told you he loved you.  You envision the two of you standing, gazing lovingly into each others eyes for the whole 3 1/2 minutes of the song right after you exchange your marriage vows.  The DJ has dutifully found the exact recording you want and is prepared to play the whole thing for you as you wish.  Don’t do it!!  Those 3 1/2 minutes will stretch on interminably.  People will check their watches and wonder when the beer will be served.  It will be the most boring 3 1/2 minutes of the day, certainly for your guests and possibly for you, too.

In all fairness, it is NOT the song.  It is the presentation.  Use that wonderful piece of music as you enter or leave your ceremony.  Use it as background music when you light a Unity Candle, present your Mothers with roses, or share some other ritual.  Make it the song for your First Dance together at your reception.  If there is something going on, a hundred fifty guests will love it.  But if they are to simply sit and listen to a song which they have heard hundreds of times on the radio, they will be bored to tears. 

They will sit and listen happily to the same song if it is performed live.  Chances are you can’t get Nora Jones to sing Come Away With Me at your wedding.  But there are talented local performers who will offer their own rendition of great favorite songs, and your guests will sit quite happily and listen to an entire concert if given the chance.


Rule #5:

The only thing crazier than a Bride is

a Bride and her Mother.


It’s true! And can you blame them?

Your wedding is just possibly more important to your parents than it is to you.  As your wedding draws near, you may feel your head changing shape.  So is your mom’s (and your dad’s) It is a natural phenomenon.  It has been this way since the Dawn of Man, when we lived in caves and prehistoric weddings were taking place.  (Yes! There is clear evidence of this in cave paintings!)  It’s not unlike the werewolf and the full moon.  The closer we get to the wedding day, the more emotional (excited, tired, anxious, eager, etc.) we become.  The Space-Time Continuum seems fluid, and the laws of physics seem to change.  They don’t actually change.  It just appears that way to you and your mom.

Within a few days after your wedding, everyone will return to their normal, perfectly sane and pleasant selves.

In the mean time…


Rule #6:

When photographs are to begin at 3:00 PM,

the Bride’s Brother will walk in at 3:05

with his Tuxedo over his shoulder.

He will believe he is on time.


If the Bride has no brother, it will be some other man in the wedding party.  There is always one.  I don’t know why.  I just noticed this over the years.  It’s an empirical fact.  (I’ll leave the Why to theologians and pseudo-scientists.)  Don’t kill him until AFTER the reception is over.


Rule #7:

During the week of the wedding,

the Bride will either lose or gain 5 pounds.


There is no telling which way you will go.  So, make sure your gown has some adjust-ability to it.

Remember Rule #1a.

You will end up married

and will have a good time anyway.