9 Ceremony Planning Dos and Don'ts

Don't underestimate planning your ceremony—there's way more to it than just showing up and saying "I do."
Outdoor backyard military wedding ceremony
Eliza Morrill
simone hill the knot wedding planning and style expert
Simone Hill
simone hill the knot wedding planning and style expert
Simone Hill
Wedding Planning and Style Expert
  • Simone Hill is a Technical Product Owner for Estée Lauder Companies.
  • A former editor for The Knot, Simone has experience in web development and editorial writing.
  • Simone has a Master of Business Administration degree from Columbia Business School.

We know you're probably more excited about choosing cake flavors and centerpieces than writing vows and ceremony programs, but your ceremony is the most important part of the day by far. It's easy to minimize logistics and prioritize other things over it, but you'll be glad you have everything squared away for the ceremony first. Not only does it set the tone for the whole day, but it's when you actually tie the knot! Here are our top dos and don'ts for planning your wedding ceremony.

1. Do: Get to know your officiant ahead of time.

This is the person who's going to lead you through the emotional commitment you're making, so it's crucial they're someone whom you're completely comfortable with. And if you get to know them ahead of time, your ceremony will feel personalized and authentic. Your meet up doesn't have to be formal—you could grab coffee together or take them up on their offer for premarital counseling (which is a completely normal thing to do, even if there are no issues).

Bonus tip: If you're not required by your religious institution to use a particular officiant, you could choose someone you're already close with, like the pastor of your childhood church or a friend who's known you both forever. Just check what the requirements are for getting them certified and ordained in your state, if they aren't already.

2. Don't: Pick a spot that's extremely far away from your reception.

Keeping your ceremony space close to or at your reception venue is the easiest way to cut costs (on venue rental, transportation, and even photography and videography), simplify your planning and cut down on logistics, like figuring out how your entire wedding party is going to get from the ceremony to the cocktail hour (not to mention all the guests). Book a ceremony venue that's nearby or at the same place as your reception and you'll have more time for things like photos and mingling with your guests at cocktail hour.

Bonus tip: If you're dead set on your ceremony venue or have already booked a space that's far from the reception, consider providing transportation for your wedding guests—it's the courteous thing to do. Book a bus and supply it with an upbeat playlist and snacks. Your guests won't notice how long the trip is if they have fun getting to know one another during the ride.

3. Do: Pad in time when you're getting ready.

From getting ready to traveling to the venue, there are a lot of prewedding to-dos that can potentially put you behind schedule and make your ceremony start late. In many cases, you only have the ceremony space for a limited amount of time, and you don't want to make your guests wait on you. Typically, hair and makeup take about 45 minutes each, so plan two and a half (or even three) hours just for beauty.

Bonus tip: Ask each pro for a realistic estimate on how long it'll take and then add on 15 to 30 minutes just to be safe. That way, if everything runs smoothly, you'll still have some time left over if something unexpected sets you back. Plus, any extra time can be used for photos or just fun chatter before everything begins.

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4. Don't: Spend your entire décor budget on flowers for the entrance.

Start with decorating high-impact areas like your aisle and altar, since these are going to draw the most attention from both guests and the photographer. Then, use the rest of your ceremony décor budget on the entrance, chairs and ceiling. A flower-entwined trellis and petal-covered aisle are classic ceremony décor ideas, but you can go as simple as hanging paper lanterns from the aisle chairs or as elaborate as draping the space from floor to ceiling.

Bonus tip: If you're just planning for a few arrangements, work with a florist to figure out what you'll need. But for a more complex design, enlist a floral or event designer to help you create and execute your vision.

5. Do: Offer comfortable seating.

If guests are comfortable, they'll be able to focus on just enjoying your ceremony, which sets the vibe for the rest of the day. That might mean adding colorful cushions to your church pews or exchanging wobbly plastic folding chairs for something sturdier. Think about the setup too—there should be enough space between chairs and rows, so guests have some leg and elbow room.

Bonus tip: Planning your ceremony space yourself? Keep in mind: There should be at least 10 square feet per person, and an extra 20 to 30 square feet for the altar and bridal party to stand.

6. Don't: Get too hung up on your program.

Your programs can include anything from song lyrics to your love story. But before you start penning a novel, you should know there's nothing wrong with sticking to the basics, like the names of your wedding party members, the order of events and info on any readings. So don't stress about putting down every thought, or worry about giving acknowledgements to every guest (save all that for toasts or thank-you notes). That way, you have more time to focus on things like picking the perfect processional music instead.

Bonus tip: In this day and age, a lot of couples don't have programs at all. If you're not into the idea, you could always consider one large sign (like a chalkboard) at the entrance with all the ceremony info instead.

7. Don't: Insist that your shy friend should do a reading.

Before you choose your readers, think about whether they're the right person for the role. And don't take it personally if someone declines because they're not up to it. If a reader isn't comfortable speaking in front of a lot of people, they may get nervous, which could mean a lot of awkward pauses, an unsteady voice or a total freeze-up. Your readings will go much more smoothly if your readers are confident and excited to do it.

Bonus tip: Finalize your selections at least a few weeks ahead of time, so your readers have time to practice. That way, they won't have to be glued to the paper they're reading from or stumble through the words. If they feel comfortable, the audience will feel at ease too.

8. Do: Have a backup plan if your ceremony is outside.

Prepping a plan B in case of rain, snow or whatever the weather may bring is a must, and that might mean reserving an indoor alternative or a tent. And you should also think of ways to make everyone as comfortable as possible for your outdoor ceremony. That could mean reserving heat lamps to ward off chills in late fall or buying parasols for a hot summer day.

Bonus tip: You can get a feel for what you'll need by doing a walk-through at around the same time as your ceremony (if you did all your venue visits in the evening, you may not have realized there's no shade over your ceremony space at your early afternoon start time). And keep an eye on the weather leading up to the day for any sudden changes.

9. Do: Outline traditions in your program.

Including cultural customs that are meaningful to you as a couple is a great way to personalize your ceremony, but it will be hard for your guests to feel included if they have no idea what's going on, like if you're putting your own spin on the unity candle or reciting a reading in another language. A note in the program explaining the traditions you've chosen is all you need to help guests follow along.

Bonus tip: Ask your officiant to give the guests cues when a custom is beginning or when you're transitioning from one tradition to the next. Don't hesitate to use your program to share why these particular traditions are meaningful to you both (maybe your unity ceremony is a Celtic hand fasting because he proposed while you were traveling in Ireland, or maybe you're including a tea ceremony as a nod to your Chinese heritage).

Find everything you need to know about getting a marriage license right here.

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