Putting together a small wedding (what we call a “microwedding”) differs from organizing a traditional wedding in many ways. Below, I’m covering the ceremony specifics––from the venue setup and the processional, to the exchange of vows and everything in-between.
Of course a small church or wedding venue can work; but remember, microweddings are flexible, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Mountain-tops, art museums, and breweries are all great options. Check out this article on finding the perfect venue for your small wedding.
Seating / Decor
As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that ceremonies with less than 20 guests don’t require seating. In these cases, setup doesn’t have to be anything more than your group finding a nice spot in a local park.
With more than 20 guests, I recommend seating. If you’re at a venue, they should take care of it. If you’re in a park, search online for a rental company that will drop off and pick up chairs. Beyond the seating, some couples opt for a wedding arch, flowers, decorations, etc. But if you have an outdoor location with its own scenery, this really isn’t necessary.
Microphone / Music
You generally don’t need a microphone at smaller weddings. If you’re doing a processional, I do recommend having some music play when you walk down the aisle. Assuming you don’t have a professional DJ, you’ll want to have a trusted cousin man a Bluetooth speaker.
The processional (the pre-ceremony walk down the aisle) should have one song that plays for the bridal party and a different song that plays for just the bride. The recessional (the post-ceremony walk down the aisle) should have its own song as well. This could be played as soon at the kiss or after the officiant announces the couple.
The processional is when the bridal party walks down the aisle before the ceremony. The recessional, is the bridal party’s walk back up the aisle post-ceremony. For small weddings, these can end up being done a bit differently.
If your guests are standing for the ceremony and there’s no bridal party, you may not need a processional. In this case, just have the bride, groom, and officiant start up front. If the bride prefers to do a walk up (with or without an escort), have the officiant and groom start up front, and let her join them.
If the guests are seated, or there is a bridal party, go the more traditional route. Here’s the order to have people walk:
1) The Officiant and Groom
They can walk side by side or one after the other.
2) The Family
Parents, grandparents, etc. (groom’s family first, then the bride’s).
3) The Bridal Party
Bridesmaids are on the right arm of the groomsmen (or they can all walk separately). The groomsmen/bridesmaids who will stand farthest away from the bride should go first, with the best man/maid of honor walking last. Once they’re at the front, make sure that they’re staggered so they can enjoy the ceremony.
Also, make sure they give the bride and groom plenty of space. (No one wants wedding photos with the bridal party breathing down the couple’s necks.)
4) Ring Bearer, then Flower Girl
Not everyone has young kids in their family, but if you do, this is a great way to make them a part of your special day. Just remember to put someone that the kiddos trust in charge of guiding them in case they get confused or lost. This will happen (but they’ll look so darn cute wandering around that it all works out in the end).
Give the real ring to the best man, and let the kid carry a fake ring. It won’t hurt his feelings, and may save you a lot of money.
5) The Bride
She walks by herself or with an escort on her left or right arm––depending on which side the escort will be sitting.
After bride and groom kiss (hurray!), make sure they turn toward the crowd and join hands. The maid of honor hands the bride her flowers, and the officiant announces them as “Mr. and Mrs…” Then they walk back down the aisle.
When they get ALL THE WAY down the aisle, the bridal party and family follows them out in the reverse order they came in. You don’t want the bridal party to upstage the new married couple’s big moment.
After the processional, the ceremony gets underway. This is lead by the couple’s officiant, who walks them through the primary elements of the ceremony. These elements vary in style and order, but here’s a general breakdown:
The couple’s love story and the meaning of marriage
Exchange of promises (read by the couple or repeated after the officiant)
Declaration of Intent
Exchange of Rings
More about the awesomeness of marriage
Kiss / Pronouncement
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs…”
Beyond these, there are a few other elements couples will commonly add into their ceremony. I’ve detailed a few of them below:
Unity candles or sand pouring ceremonies are the most common, but if you do some Googling you will find a whole range of unique ideas—my favorite being the “Wine Box and Love Letter Ceremony.”
This can be done by a family member or friend. Note this reading does not need to be religious; poems and book excerpts work great!
Vows / Love Letters
Often times couples think that if they want to say something of their own, they have to write “vows.” This is not the case. As a wedding officiant, I encourage my couples to write “love letters,” which can be read in addition to traditional vows. These letters range in length, and have no rules or framework to follow—simply write whatever you’d like to say to your soon-to-be spouse. These letters are then read out-loud during the ceremony, prior to the traditional repeat-after-me-vows lead by the officiant.
Remember: It’s your day
When it comes down to it, there are no rules on how a wedding ceremony is structured! Setup the venue however you feel comfortable, do a processional/recessional that works for your group, and have whatever sort of ceremony best reflects the love you share as a couple.
Need help finding the perfect officiant for your small wedding?
“How Do I Choose the Right Wedding Officiant?”
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