Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

Wedding Ceremony Structure

Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

Stumped when it comes to your wedding ceremony structure? Here’s how a traditional ceremony plays out.

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So you’re ready to start planning your wedding ceremony structure? Congratulations! While each ceremony will have its own unique flavour, there are a few basic parts that tend to remain the same.

From the processional to the recessional – and everything in between – here are the elements you won’t want to forget.

Remember, you can always add and omit some parts as you see fit – it’s your wedding, so you make the final call.


Every ceremony kicks off with a processional. This is the grand entrance of all the key players in the wedding. Each will take their turn walking down the aisle and taking their spot in the audience or at the altar. While it all depends who you’ve included in your wedding party and who will accompany the bride, here’s the traditional order:

  • The bride’s mother
  • The groomsmen (if they’re not going down the aisle with the bridesmaids)
  • The best man
  • The groom
  • The officiant
  • The bridesmaids (and possibly groomsmen)
  • The maid of honour
  • The flower girl(s) and ring bearer(s)
  • The father of the bride and the bride

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Opening remarks

Once everyone is in their rightful place, the officiant will begin the show.

He or she will kick it off with a phrase you’ve probably heard once or twice in your life: “dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join X and X in matrimony…”.

Depending on whether your service is secular or religious, your officiant’s opening remarks may change slightly. You’ll want to review their speech with them before your ceremony so that there are no unwanted surprises on your big day.

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Charge to the couple

After the officiant has introduced the ceremony, he or she will say a charge to the bride and groom. This is a reminder of the meaningfulness of the vows they are about to exchange and the journey they are about to embark upon together. Once again, this may have a religious twist depending on the type of ceremony taking place.

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Exchanging of vows

Once the officiant has finished it’s time for the couple to get involved by saying their wedding vows. Whether you go with pre-written vows or something from the heart is your call. Remember that this is the time in the wedding ceremony structure to express your love and make some promises to your future spouse. If you need some tips on penning your vows, we’ve got your back.

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Exchanging of rings

Now it’s time to upgrade your engagement ring with a slightly less flashy new model. The officiant will begin this phase of the ceremony by asking one party to place a ring on the other’s finger (and then vice versa). The couple usually accompanies the exchanging of their brand new wedding bands with the phrase, “with this ring, I thee wed”.

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Unifying Ritual

An optional element in the wedding ceremony structure is the inclusion of a unifying ritual such as a candle lighting, wine box, tree planting or sand ceremony as a symbol of the unification of the couple into a new entity.

 Keep in mind that there are no real rules as to who should be involved in the ceremony.

Some couples choose to include their officiant or celebrant, while others choose to bring in their children or parents to show the bonding of the two families.

Declaration of marriage

Congratulations! You’re almost officially hitched. At this point, the officiant will state something along the lines of “by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife” and the deal is sealed.

First kiss

Your officiant will then say “you may now kiss one another”. This is your cue to celebrate your nuptials with a smooch. This is your first kiss as husband and wife so be as dramatic as you want (just remember that your family is watching). This is one of the money shots for your wedding album, so make sure your photographer gets it!

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The signing

Next is the paperwork portion of the wedding ceremony structure: the signing of the marriage license.

Though you’re probably busy soaring off on cloud nine, you’ll need to get that document signed to make your union legal.

The ceremony will briefly break so that you, your two witnesses and your officiant can sign the papers. Then it’s time to wrap up your ceremony and move onto the reception to party!

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Closing remarks

Think of these as the credits to your wedding. The officiant will close out the ceremony with a few words and congratulations to the happily married couple.


Now it’s time to head out to the party (AKA your reception). The happy couple followed by the wedding party will make their way back down the aisle before the guests start exiting the ceremony venue starting with the front row. This usually involves an upbeat dance track and possibly the throwing of confetti.

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Images: Kristin & Adrian's wedding at Belcroft Estates & Event Centre, Gilford, Ontario; photography by F29 Studio.

Turn to the experts to help with your wedding ceremony structure. Find your wedding officiant on WeddingWire »


What Are the Essential Parts of a Wedding?

Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

A wedding is a ceremony and its associated rituals by which two people vow to spend their lives together in marriage.

Though it is basically a celebration of love and partnership, a wedding is tailored to a couple in a variety of ways, from their personality to their religious or cultural beliefs.

For this reason, every wedding is a little different. There are, however, some parts to a wedding that tend to be universal.

Wedding ceremonies vary greatly. Some are very traditional church ceremonies steeped in religion while others are more casual affairs that are very secular. A wedding may be the ceremony alone with just a few intimate guests or an elaborate all-day affair that includes a reception and dance. Whatever the case may be, there are two essential parts of every wedding:

In addition to the essentials, there are also other rituals that are typically incorporated into a marriage ceremony. Some of these may have legal or religious significance. For instance, it may be the signing of a state marriage license or a religious document such as a ketubah, or asking for God's blessings upon the marriage.

Many couples choose to have a ceremony that follows a traditional format.

These include the processional in which the wedding party walks down the aisle, leading to the debut of the bride escorted by her father or a similar person that's very close to her.

The ceremony may also include blessings, readings from scripture or literature, family or community vows of unity, and an exchange of wedding rings or other gifts.

Following the ceremony, a couple may have a wedding reception or party. This typically includes a meal, though that's not a requirement.

Traditionally, wedding cake is served. Historically, this was a symbol of fertility, but today it is more often used to express hopes of a sweet life for the couple. One ritual that remains popular is having the couple cut the cake together, sometimes even feeding it to each other.

Some people choose to have music and dancing at the reception as well. This portion of the day often includes the couple's symbolic first dance and various family dances such as the father-daughter dance.

A wedding is not just about the couple getting married. It is also an exchange between that couple and their community of family and friends. It is a moment where the couple vows to be together as a pillar of support, and simultaneously thanks their community for supporting and loving them.

By attending a wedding, the guests are also agreeing to uphold this couple in their marriage together. A couple may even ask their guests to take a community vow of support.

A wedding can also be a way for a family to display their social and financial status. Some couples use it as a way to express their personalities, characters, values, and morals. There is no minimum that a couple must spend—the basic vows and agreements are free—but some couples have spent millions of dollars on their big day.

When planning your own wedding, the important thing to keep in mind is that it is your day. Choose the elements that you enjoy, put your personal spin on tradition if you , and stick to a realistic budget.

If you feel stressed about it not being absolutely perfect, take a deep breath and relax.

After all, this day is just the beginning to what everyone at the wedding hopes will be a bright and happy future, so have fun with it!


The 15 Elements of an Unforgettable Wedding

Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

Your wedding day is first and foremost meant to be a celebration of the love between you and your husband-to-be, but that doesn't mean your ceremony and reception can't also be a seriously fun party.

When it comes to planning a wedding, there are a few basic elements you have to have: the ceremony where you and your groom will exchange vows, followed by some form of reception (whether that means a sit-down meal or simply cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres).

And while these basics do make up the event, you can transform these essential details into unforgettable elements of your big day as a whole.

You'll be pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is to transform your big day into something unforgettable. Whether that means upgrading certain details ( your menu or music) or selecting more unexpected elements ( the décor or lighting), these small changes have a big enough impact that your guests will remember your wedding day for many years to come.

We've started from the very beginning, highlighting the importance of personalized stationery, and go all the way to the end (may we recommend an after-party?), so you can decide which details are worth the investment for you. And while we're sure you'd happily include all of these elements, you don't need each and everyone to have an unforgettable wedding.

Ready to start planning the most unforgettable wedding ever? Keep reading to see all of our tips to throw a wedding your guests won't soon forget!

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Your wedding invitations are the first indicator of what kind of party you'll be hosting, so don't miss the opportunity to tell your guests all about your big day.

An invitation suite option that reflects your specific wedding style is a great way to let friends and family know what to expect.

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Whether you're tying the knot at a far-flung destination or right in your hometown, selecting a venue that fits your wedding style and can accommodate all of your plans is key. Translation: if you're looking to host an ultra-modern bash, a romantic renovated barn is probably not the venue for you.

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All eyes will be on you on your wedding day no matter what, but there are a few ways to ensure your ceremony entrance is extra grand: set the tone with some amazing music, choose unique lighting, and wear a spectacular wedding dress.

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Your officiant can be anyone—your lifelong religious leader, a great friend, or a special family member. Whoever it is, it's important that you feel they understand you as a couple and can relay your love story to your guests on the big day. On top of that, you want someone articulate, outgoing, and entertaining since these attributes will all help capture the attention of your guests.

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Lighting is an important part of any party, but particularly one where photography will be a big part of the proceedings. Whether it's for your ceremony or reception, it's worth the investment to upgrade to unique or romantic lighting that will add tons of interest to your photos.

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While you might be able to get a better price for an early ceremony time and a later reception, it's best to keep the gap time between your events short enough that guests won't be left wondering what to do.

Of course, there are circumstances when this just isn't possible (say, if your childhood church or temple only offers one time for the ceremony and your reception venue cannot accommodate an earlier start time).

If that's the case, it's nice to plan a mini-reception for guests, offering small snacks and drinks, or arrange for a group outing, a local wine tasting or museum visit.

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Arranging transportation for your guests (whether it be from the hotel to ceremony and reception or back to the hotel at the end of the evening) is a very thoughtful detail to include, especially if you'll be hosting several out-of-towners that won't have a car readily available. Plus, it's the safest option if you'll be serving alcohol at the reception.

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It should come as no surprise that there are countless ways you can decorate your reception venue, but going with the less-than-expected picks (read: those hidden gems buried deep on your Pinterest board) will make your event truly shine. Sure, twinkle lights and lanterns are beautiful, but how often have you seen ivy chandeliers and dangling crystal-inspired lights?

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While a well laid-out seating plan is an important part of any wedding, choosing a creative seating pattern will make the evening unforgettable. Long banquet-style tables look beautiful and, when planned well, make for easy conversation among guests.

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From your bouquet and ceremony flowers to your reception décor, splurging on something a bit more statement-making than your average bundle of blooms makes a big impact. Pretty details floral table runners and ceremony structures, a flower wall, or bold bouquet are all details that will stand out in the minds of your friends and family long after the event is over.

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An open bar is a nice touch at any wedding, but offering signature drinks or a specialized menu makes your reception even that much more memorable. Consider a curated selection, a few interpretations of the Moscow Mule, or a martini or margarita bar where guests can imbibe in your favorite cocktails.

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If you want guests to remember having a blast at your reception, then it's worth investing in a great band or DJ. These pro-entertainers can read a crowd and will make sure they're playing a selection of tunes that will get your friends and family their seats and on to the dance floor.

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Your guests may not remember the exact details of your floral arrangements or what song you walked down the aisle to, but they'll ly remember what they ate—especially if it was particularly delicious! Choose a menu with tons of tasty options (and one that accommodates common food allergies and dietary restrictions) and your friends and family are sure to leave your reception happy.

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There is a multitude of reasons why it's a nice touch to offer more than just cake for dessert, but chief among them is really quite simple—people options! Sure, it's kind to have a gluten-free confection if you have family members with food allergies, and it's great to have a nut-free selection of treats, too, but even your guests who can eat everything will appreciate that there's more to nibble on than just cake.

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Whether you're shelling out to extend your reception hours or moving the celebrations to a smaller venue (or even a bar!), it's nice to give your guests the option of partying past 10 p.m. After all, some of your friends and family have traveled far to be with you, and by heading out promptly at 10, you'll ly miss out on spending precious time with your guests.


Wedding Reception Timeline: A Step-by-Step Order of Events

Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

“You may now kiss the bride!”

There is no doubt a wedding ceremony is unforgettable. But what happens after the ceremony is over? The reception! Usually the wedding planner, MC or venue manager is in charge of keeping things in order. For this reason, providing them with a wedding reception timeline is a must.

We’ve included a five hour reception timeline and answered 7 common reception and party questions to keep your unforgettable night running smoothly.

Bride and Groom: During this time, the couple is usually takes their wedding pictures in a remote location. The wedding party, parents and close family members are included in the photos as well.

Guests: Your guests are slowly exiting the ceremony and moving their way to the venue or reception location. The cocktail hour is a great time to have your guests mingle, eat some hors d’oeuvres and wind down before the party gets started.

Bride and Groom: The bride and groom are arriving from their photo session and preparing to enter the venue as newlyweds. If the wedding party plans to enter the hall along with the bride and groom, they should be lining up at this time as well.

Guests: This is where the MC (DJ, wedding coordinator or family member) gathers all the guests and ushers them into the reception hall where the party will take place. Guests can also drop off their wedding gifts at the appropriate table.

Bride and Groom: Following their groomsmen and bridesmaids, the bride and groom enter the venue. (Usually this involves a silly dance depending on the theme of the party.)  

Guests: Guests are seated. No food is served during this time but the DJ is creating the perfect ambience for the bride and groom’s unforgettable entrance.

Bride and Groom: After the grand entrance, the couple is now the center of attention! Here, they will dance their first dance as husband and wife. Some couples choose to also include the mother and father of the bride and groom dances immediately after their first dance, so timing can vary.

Guests: Now that the wedding party has arrived, all guests should remain in their seats for upcoming speeches.

Bride and Groom: The bride and groom are seated at the head table.   

Father of the Bride or Groom: Usually the father of the bride gives a welcoming speech thanking everyone for attending. However, some couples prefer to do this themselves.

Bride and Groom: The bride and groom are seated at the head table enjoying their dinner. Afterwards, they make their rounds to each table (once everyone is settled). The couple may choose to take pictures with their guests during this time as well.

Guests: Depending on the time of meal, the MC either directs people to the buffet or the DJ plays music for a seated dinner.

Bride and Groom: During this time the bride and groom are seated (and crying with emotion), as they listen to beautiful words being spoken about them.

Maid of Honor & Best Man: While guests are still enjoying their dinner and mingling with the bride and groom, the maid of honor and best man share heartfelt speeches for the bride and groom.

Bride & Groom: The newlyweds get back on the dance floor to enjoy a sweet moment with their parents. The father and daughter dance typically happens first, followed by the mother and son.

Everyone: Now is the time to get your groove on and get silly on the dance floor. During this time the bride and groom may also choose to do the bouquet toss and garter throw. .

Bride and Groom: As the DJ slows down the music a bit, the bride and groom cut the cake! At this time, they also thank their guests for coming.

Guests: The cake cutting ceremony is usually a good time for guests to grab another drink, coffee or tea and head back to their seats. The cutting of the cake usually marks the half-point of the party.  

Bride and Groom: Usually the bride and groom take fun pictures during this time. The photo session can be on the dance floor, with their guests or even nighttime shots at a chosen location.

Guests: The party continues. If guests don’t show off their dance moves in the first hour, they certainly can now.

Bride and Groom: Whether they choose to stay until the end and make a grand exit, or sneak out for some alone time, the grand finale usually signifies that the party is over.

Guests: This is the perfect time to say your goodbyes to the newlyweds as they prepare to head out.

Tips For Scheduling Your Reception

Keep in mind, things do not have to be set in stone. If something lasts a little longer or a little shorter than expected, there is always room for adjustment. Here are some of the most common reception questions to keep your night running smoothly:

Who is in charge of the wedding reception timeline?

If there is a wedding planner, he or she is in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly. However, it is also common for the MC or DJ to direct your guests on what to do next. Make sure whoever is in charge of this has a printed copy of the order of events.

How much time should be scheduled for a photo session after the ceremony?

30 minutes is a good amount of time for a photo session with the newlyweds and their wedding party. Make sure to plan for a little extra time if the location is not within ten minutes of the venue or if you have a large family and wedding party.  

Does the wedding have to have an end time?

The wedding should always have an end time assuming it’s in a rented venue. Some venues allow for a little extra time, however, there may be an extra fee.

What is the wedding after-party etiquette?

Since most after parties involve casual drinks at a spot near the reception, there does not need to be a formal invitation. Many times, after parties are held by guests who want to keep the party going. The couple does not need to be in attendance, especially if they are heading off to their honeymoon!

Do the bride and groom have to personally greet each guest?

The bride and groom will be running around all day. Although their intention may be to greet each guest personally, time may not always allow that. If the newlyweds don’t say hello, don’t take it to heart.

Whether you are the bride or a guest at the wedding, it’s always good to know a wedding reception timeline so that you can plan ahead! Of course, weddings can vary in length but having a general idea of what a reception holds will at least give you a sense of what is expected on that beautiful day.

If you are a bridesmaid at the wedding, make sure to check out our ultimate bridesmaid duties guide and stay ahead of the game!