In western culture, many weddings are rooted deeply in tradition. Be it cultural, religious, or simply passed down through generations, these traditions carry great meaning for many people.
But for others, these traditions can feel outdated or even stifling. Chief among these are those traditional orderings of dances, speeches, the procession—even the order of the entire wedding day.
Where do these traditions even come from? And do they have a place in modern day weddings?
Who Dances First (And Second, And Third…)?
Looking into the traditional order of who dances when, it’s clear that there are a lot of strong opinions. It’s common to find articles titled things like “The Proper Order of the Wedding Dances,” or “First Dance Etiquette.” Both of these titles imply there’s only one way to do things but that’s just not true.
The order of the dances is more or less consistent for many weddings in western culture. Typically, they proceed as the following
The First Dance for the Newlyweds
The Father-Daughter and Mother-Son dance
The Parents’ Dance (where the newlyweds’ parents dance)
The Anniversary Dance (which welcomes all couples married for many years to dance)
The Money Dance (where guests pin money to the bride’s dress)
The Reception-Wide Dance (where everyone is invited to dance together)1
It’s easy to understand the type of tradition that this order is rooted in.
We begin with reverence for the newlyweds, celebrating the couple of the day by watching them dance. This is still commonplace at many weddings.
But increasingly, couples are doing away with the rest of the order. The Father-Daughter and Mother-Son dance can be seen to reinforce expectations of patriarchal leadership and heterosexuality, two traditional values that don’t appeal to many couples today.
The later dances, including the Parents’ Dance can be seen as a celebration of the families of the newlyweds, paying homage to the people that raised them.
But by the fourth dance, well—the crowd can begin to get restless.
And the Money Dance? Fewer and fewer brides are interested in having anything pinned to their multi-thousand dollar gowns and, while the Money Dance is intended to symbolically send the newlyweds off into a life of comfort and success, there’s probably a less garment-damaging way to do it.
The Order of Toasts and Speeches
Did you know that traditionally, in western weddings, the bride didn’t give a speech?
Typically, the order went like this:
Father of the Bride’s Speech
Best Man’s Speech
Other Toasts (Optional)2
You’ll find an awful lot of silence from the women in the wedding party in traditional etiquette guides. In heterosexual marriages, half of the partnership wasn’t expected to speak; for a wedding with two brides, would neither speak?
Again, it’s easy to recognize that the traditional order for wedding day speeches and toasts sprouted from a culture which heavily privileged patriarchal leadership. This order is still perfect for folks that hold these values or that want a traditional wedding.
But for newlyweds wanting to incorporate the voices of both parties, the memories and jokes of all those in the bridal party, or the mothers of either party, a different order is necessary.
Keeping flexibility in the order of your wedding speeches has the added bonus of ensuring that only the best storytellers have the floor. Removing the pressure for awkward, stilted speeches from folks that are nervous about public speaking is truly good for everyone!
Designing Your Perfect Procession
The procession is the ceremonial entrance of the wedding party and the soon-to-be newlyweds. They walk, typically to music, in a set order from the foot of the aisle (in a traditional ceremony arrangement) to the altar, where they take their respective places.
Religious ceremonies often have set processional orders which cannot be rearranged. Because the processional takes part of the ceremony, the rules are less flexible than they may be for other parts of the ensuing reception.
For non denominational wedding ceremonies, the traditional procession order often follows this format:
The Mother of the Bride, who takes her seat in the front row
The Groom, who walks to the altar
The Groomsmen, who stand next to the groom
The Bridesmaids, who stand on the bride’s side of the altar (sometimes, the wedding party is paired and they walk down the aisle in twos)
The Maid of Honour, who stands at the altar just behind the bride’s station
The Flower Girls and Ring Bearers, who are seated after they’ve done their duties
The Father of the Bride and the Bride, who walk down the aisle together where the father “gives the bride away” to her soon-to-be-husband 3
Central to this procession is the tradition of “giving the bride away.” It splits up the parents of the bride but still includes them both, partially because of another tradition—that the bride’s parents pay for the wedding. Including them both in the procession even though the mother of the bride has no “job” indicates thanks and gratitude to both parents.
The obvious problem with this order is that many weddings don’t have full rosters of bridesmaids and groomsmen; the parents of the bride are not always present; and for many couples, “giving away the bride” doesn’t resonate.
Make Your Wedding Day Yours
A theme has emerged from all three of these traditional wedding orders. Traditions became traditions because they carried great meaning and, even today, they play important roles in many lives. But just because they are tradition doesn’t mean they are right for you.
It’s important to think deeply about what will make your day special: if it’s adhering to every tradition outlined here, you should embrace that. If you feel better about starting from scratch and designing your wedding day to be completely bespoke, you should embrace that, too.
Take these traditions and build from them. Use them as a template to create something of your own.
So are these specific orders that important for your wedding day? Is it really poor etiquette to not follow them if they don’t resonate with you? Absolutely not. The traditional order of wedding activities is only useful insofar as you feel it makes your own day special.
The right order of modern wedding day is the one that feels best to you.