Since the actual ceremony doesn’t happen until near the end of the six months, it may seem a bit odd to treat it as the next of the 16 headings. However, the reason I do so is because so much of the planning that goes on and the tasks that have to be done in advance are related to figuring out what your ceremony looks like for the big day. As such, I’m going to walk through this one early as it is one of the two biggest components (the other is the reception). Let the games begin.
Decide on a maid/matron of honour [and what role you want them to play! (overlap with the Planning category)]
Why start with your bridal party? Partly because you may want them involved in a few of the early things you have to do RIGHT NOW, like buying a dress, and if you do want their help, you need to decide right away who it will be. In our case, it was easy, my wife only has one sister, she was her first choice, and she said yes. Done. [Must-have: Week 2]
Decide on a best man (and their role)
Very few of the early tasks for men are ones where they are likely to ask for help from their best man. Not saying you can’t, just not common. So deciding on a best man often isn’t super urgent.
In my case, it became a bigger problem than you might think. I had three brothers, two brothers-in-law, and another brother-in-law-to-be after the wedding. Six choices of key family members to be my best man? At different parts of my life, I’ve been close to all of them. I didn’t feel like that was something I wanted to decide. I also had other ways to engage them for other tasks without being singled out as best man.
My first choice would have been my nephew. We’ve been pretty close over the years, but he hates anything formal with a passion, and asking him to put on a full suit, stand around for all the photos, a bunch of other things that generally go with being best man, and it just wasn’t an option. I asked, to be sure, but he confirmed he would love to, but not really his thing. Fair enough, and no surprise.
My next choice was my best friend. We had worked together, hung out, been friends for close to 12 years at that point. And he too was willing with one simple problem. When I called to tell him the good news of our engagement and wedding date, he also had news for me — his wife was pregnant and would be due the same week as our wedding! Not great timing for him, and in fact he missed the wedding because his son was born that week and he brought them home from the hospital that day.
It seems really weird to have to triage “best man” candidates, as all of them are different. It’s not really a ranking, but that’s the job of groom, I guess, ranking your friends and family.
Anyway, I had a third choice, a female friend I had known for almost 13 years. Except she was going on posting and would be overseas then. Strike three.
That took me a few weeks to run through, and by the time I got to the end, I had realized that I didn’t really need a best man, it had moved from the “must-haves” for me to the “nice-to-haves”, and if I still wanted one, I was now starting to get into either areas where I would have to choose among a group of friends that were all the same “rank” (as much as I hate that term) or back to the family members to make one “first among equals”. In the end, I decided I would simply stand for myself.
And not for nothing, what we really needed a “best man” for is to have someone act as one of the two witnesses for the registry. I chose my mom to do that.
Nevertheless, if you want to choose a best man, now is a good time to do it, even if only to be able to answer the question when someone says, “Oh, she’s maid of honour, cool. Who’s your best man?”. [Nice-to-have, Week 2-4]
Buy wedding dress
When we started this article journey, I mentioned that the biggest thing to realize is that if you are inflexible on one thing, you have to be flexible on something else. For a lot of people, the dress is a deal-breaker. Some women want the perfect dress, which they’ll know when they see it, after trying on 400 other dresses over a five-month long search. Guess what? If you want to get married in six months, you don’t have five months to do a dress search. You have about two weeks. ** Spousal edit — My wife points out that we told the parents, chose the Minister and bought a wedding dress at week 2, all in the same weekend.
If you are a guy reading this part, I’ll tell you straight out that the wedding industry for dresses seems nuts to me. They’ll say, “Sorry, it takes 18 months or 12 months or 9 months to get THAT dress.” Unless of course you are willing to pay extra for a “rush”. Uh huh. Let me ask this…how many women do you hear say that their dress wasn’t ready for the actual wedding date and they had to wear something else instead? Not that many. Like close to zero. Sure, aunt Martha’s friend’s sister’s husband’s cousin, twice removed, had it happen, but that’s it. There may be problems with alterations, it may be a crush to get it right in the last few days, but I don’t know a single person who didn’t have their dress when their wedding happened. It almost never happens unless something else wonky happens which in turn causes a problem with the dress — a boat sank that had the shipment on board, a fire hit an alteration shop with the dress inside, the dress shop went out of business. Problems, but not simply because of normal business delays.
Yet when my fiancée was talking to friends in Ottawa, they all said, “OMG, six months, you’ll never get a dress, it’s a nine-month wait in Ottawa at least, closer to a year.” I admit I’m skeptical, even if that’s just what some of the stores say. Most of them, if given a choice between having it ready in six months or not making a sale, seem to find a way to have it ready for the date.
In Andrea’s case, she went to Peterborough. Three hours from Ottawa, a small handful of dress shops. She spent a weekend there in Week 2 or 3, found a dress in a day,
relatively off the rack, alterations planned, she was done. ** Spousal edit: My wife points out that it was the first dress she tried, though she did try others after that, before returning to her first one. But it wasn’t “off the rack”, it was ordered. And there were issues with alterations/fittings though so it wasn’t ready when it was originally supposed to be, which was stressful. Her and her mom ran around to do it. Was it stressful? Sure. Any more stressful than any woman buying a wedding dress? Nominally yes, but overall, not really, and I would argue probably less because she knew she didn’t have five months to turn herself into a squirrel while she was looking. And were they going to make the six month deadline? Oh sure, no problem. Not for nothing, most of the stores all have the SAME supplier, but the people in Peterborough could get it in six months but the stores in Ottawa were 9-12? Really? Okay, sure. Anyway, let’s add it to the tracker. [Must-have, Week 2-3]
This is also the time for a slightly different reality check. You have six months. You have a maid of honour. How big a wedding party can you afford in terms of time? In our case, we wanted a very small wedding party (us plus one each, although it turned out to be us plus just the maid of honour). If however you want to add six groomsmen and six bridesmaids, you are going to have a nightmare for getting dresses for them all, or at least, getting all the SAME dresses for them. Because you’ll need to corral them all right away, go pick dresses, get fittings, book it all, etc. Not very feasible. However, IF you are flexible on the dresses — such as telling them they all should pick a blue dress, even if they don’t match — you can be as insistent on the numbers as you want. Again, it’s the trade-off of which piece is most important — having six bridesmaids or having all the dresses exactly match or not turning yourself into a stress squirrel? [Nice-to-have: Week 2-3]
Of course, the dress isn’t everything. You’ll also want shoes, lingerie and accessories. Which means you should have a picture of you in your dress while you look for those things. [Must-have, Week 4-13] You also might consider wearing the shoes in advance to break them in so you don’t get blisters the day of the wedding. [Weeks 22-26]
Often this is where people start going for the “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” traditions.
And even with the dress, you’ll need to book first and final fittings. With a six month window, those first and final fittings are going to be a bit tight — likely the first one will be anywhere from week 18-20 and the final at week 24 although some add in a “final final” alteration the day before just to make sure. [Must-have, Week 18-20, Week 24, maybe Week 26]
Get clothes for the Groom
Just as with the bride, you need some clothes for the groom. For some, they want a tux, and while most men don’t own a tux unless they’re into galas, they can be rented easily enough. In my case, I didn’t want a penguin suit, I just wanted a normal suit. Nothing outrageous, just a couple of nice suits to choose from, a new tie or two for options, new pair of shoes. Mostly stuff I could reuse later too. [Must-have, Week 1-12, depending on tux rental or suit purchase]
Again, however, as with the bridesmaids, if you want six groomsmen all in the same tuxedos, you’ll need to pick and fit them early. [Nice-to-have: Week 1-3]
Other related activities
One of the other things people usually want for the day is to have their hair and make-up done by a professional salon. As soon as you have your date finalized, book the hairdresser [Week 3 for Week 26]. And at the same time, book them for a test where they’ll try a few different things, see what you like. [Week 3 for Week 20]. And then remember that you’re going to do that on the day of your wedding, with appropriate adjustments to your schedule. If the salon doesn’t open until 8, and it takes two hours to do your hair and makeup, or yours plus mother of the bride plus mother of the groom plus bridesmaids plus maid of honour, plus you have to get your dress on and get to the venue, you’re not going to be able to do that AND have a morning wedding, even if the church of your dreams is available from 11-1:00. [Week 26]
If you’re so inclined, you might also consider having a waxing, manicure, pedicure, and facial that week, but get it done a day or two before the wedding, not the SAME day obviously. [Week 26]
I’m also a fan of the groom doing some basic grooming that week too. Since it often takes a couple of days for your hair to reset after a haircut, I would schedule it for the end of Week 25.
One last thing we did that last week…we booked massages just before the wedding to help keep us calm and relaxed. [Week 26]
Choose an officiant and a location for the wedding
Let’s face it, with only six months to go, you’re either going to be setting the date as whatever date your venue of choice is available or you’re setting your preferred date and finding an out-of-the-box venue to match it. And who is officiating is often tightly entwined with your venue choice, so I’ve lumped them together.
Like almost everyone else, we had three main possibilities for an officiant to perform the ceremony:
- A court official (judge, justice of the peace, etc.);
- A registered officiant (someone who’s completed one of those online courses, quite often, and done some training); or,
- A religious representative of some sort (priest, minister, pastor, etc.).
There are a few other possibilities I suppose (like a ship’s Captain), but for most people, the above three are the core options.
We had someone we wanted…a retired Minister of my wife’s church back in Peterborough. We had no real religious ties in Ottawa, and he was a good choice. He had kept his license so that he could perform ceremonies from time to time, and he had performed the ceremony for my soon-to-be-sister-in-law a few years before too. We met with him, he seemed like a good choice, and so we were set for the “who”.
I want to digress a moment however. I have heard some horror stories about people who chose a Minister that they didn’t know very well, and in the middle of the ceremony, as part of the open part where the Minister addresses the guests somewhat informally, the Minister proceeded to basically comment on society’s failings or some such issue, including gay marriage. If it had been me at the altar, I would have stopped the ceremony. Seriously, I’m not joking. I would have been so embarrassed and offended, I would have ended it there and kicked the priest to the curb.
And so, since I didn’t know the Minister that well, I told my wife-to-be that I wanted to grill him like a fish to be comfortable. I have very strong views about the importance of openness and tolerance, and it was the only way to make sure nothing “untoward” happened during the ceremony. Once we met, and started talking, all of my fears went away. But for me, it was important to make sure the person performing our ceremony wasn’t some closeted bigot that I couldn’t stand (I didn’t think he would be, my wife-to-be liked him after all, but I needed to be comfortable too).
In terms of the “where”, I expected the Minister was going to want to perform the ceremony in a church. I totally forgot that he had performed the sister-in-law’s wedding in the middle of a forest for them. And when we met, he said it was actually easier to NOT be in a church, since churches come with the church officials for that church, and some officials don’t play well with others (they might let the guest Minister use the church, but might insist upon them performing any ceremony in their church). Since we didn’t have a regular church anyway, it wasn’t an issue.
So we started hunting for a venue. I wasn’t that excited about having it in a hotel banquet room, too bland and generic. And we weren’t sure what we wanted for a reception, but we had the same concerns. We looked a couple of open-air parks in the area, which would have been great, but no guarantees for the weather and no easy backup locations if the weather was bad (particularly with out-of-town guests who would have to be told where to go at the last minute to change a venue). There was a decent little area at the University of Ottawa that seemed promising, but turned out to be fully booked in September (something to do with classes being back in session for university, pffft). A couple of places had little auditoriums that we could use, but nothing was gelling.
But somewhere in the auditorium consideration, we started thinking about theatre venues. Good seating, good sight lines, small area to perform a ceremony, it could work. And we did have a theatre we liked — the Ottawa Little Theatre. It was near where we used to live, we had had seasons tickets to it before, could work. My wife followed up with them to see if they even did rentals for weddings, and while they had almost no experience with it previously, they said, “Sure, why not?”. The only caveat was that they had a show opening a week later — called The Perfect Wedding, surely a sign! — and so we could use the theatre, but not the stage. We checked it out, there was a large enough area between the first set of seats and the raised stage, we really only needed room for the Minister plus us.
And so we now had both a Minister and a venue. Ideally, this would have happened in Week 1, but for us, it pushed to Week 3 and 4 [Must-have: Week 1-4, meeting with Minister: Week 5-12].
Plan the actual ceremony
From talking to a few people about planning their weddings, I realized early that there were two camps of people: those who wanted to plan every minute aspect of the ceremony and those who wanted “script A or B”. Custom tweaking or standard wording, basically.
The main elements of a ceremony are rather simple though for your planning:
- Seating everyone
- Intro by the Minister (or whoever is running the ceremony)
- Possible: Some religious elements (service, prayers, communion)
- Possible: Readings
- Likely: Some general words from Minister about marriage and/or the couple
- Ring exchange (maybe with a blessing of the rings too)
- Signing of the Registry (i.e. the documents)
- Closing by the Minister
Some of the order may change, some pieces (like d and e) might be larger or smaller, vows might be standard or personal, etc. And somewhere in the 26 weeks, you’ll meet with the Minister or Priest or Officiant and discuss what pieces you want in there. They may have elements they insist upon, or be completely open to whatever you want. More likely than not, they’ll have several “options” for you in terms of choosing a reading, or one of several scriptures, for example.
But let’s go through the list again in a bit more detail.
- Seating everyone — Some couples let people seat themselves, some people prefer to have groomsmen act as ushers. We had one of my brothers and a couple of friends help with the seating of general people, and handing out programs (a separate category for later). However, you may also want to have a couple of “special” people seated near the end — once everyone else is seated, often the grandparents and parents are seated last, and often escorted by someone. Not quite formally part of the processional, but close to it.
- Processional — When a lot of people think about a wedding, they think about a bride walking down the aisle. However, just before they do, the groom has to get to the front of the church to be waiting for them. Often they come in from the side, not formally part of a processional, but it is an option. For the bride’s processional, they may be proceeded by flower girls throwing petals, or multiple bridesmaids (sometimes escorted by groomsmen, but not always), and a maid of honour. They may be flanked by a father (traditional) or both parents (modern) or someone else entirely or by themselves or even hand-in-hand with their groom. Any will do, with two small things to watch out for…first, the more people coming down the aisle, the longer it takes. Not a huge issue, but it does add to the length of your ceremony. With everyone potentially in a hot room/church, no easy way to take a break and get some air, etc. Second, if you are having both parents escort you down the aisle, remember that the aisle then has to be wide enough for three people to walk abreast. Uh-huh, that’s as silly as it sounds…I watched a ceremony one-time (remembering that you may be in a non-traditional venue) where the bride had a father and mother on each arm, and they were were struggling to walk, sandwiched together, in order to fit down the aisle.
- Intro by the Minister (or whoever is running the ceremony) — This is often very basic, thanking people for coming and saying why we’re all there (“To witness the union of Jane Elizabeth and Thomas Patrick in the holy state of matrimony…”).
- Possible: Some religious elements (service, prayers, communion) — If you’re having a religious ceremony, some of the questions (particularly for Catholicism) is whether or not it will include a full “mass”. Offerings, communion, wine, the whole service. Some priests/ministers will insist, others will offer. Often, they’ll suggest some prayers which may or may not be merged with the readings. While we weren’t in a church, and we weren’t going for a full “service”, we did identify a couple of prayers to be included in the ceremony. For instance, we did the Lord’s Prayer which was a staple of my Catholic upbringing and a source of comfort to hear. But we wanted a bit beyond that.
Now here’s where it gets weird. Often the ones chosen are from the Bible (duh!), and are about love or marriage, or both. But remember, the Bible is the ultimate in “old school”. Some of the prayers may be quite familiar to you, but you may never have really thought about the words. Now you will. And you may be thinking, “Wait, did it just say something about the wife obeying the husband?”.
What did we do? First we googled “wedding readings” and from the results, we chose some verse that were better than others (or at least less egregious). Second, in some cases, I edited them. WTF? Yep, I edited them. I don’t mean I changed the words, I just mean that we used the upfront part, maybe some from the middle, and some from the end. Kind of an abridged version, editing out some of the parts we didn’t like.
For us, we chose a couple of common scriptures:
Notice a couple of line gaps in there? Shorter is good, in my view, and allows you to control the messaging too. If one of you is particularly religious, you may consider this blasphemy, but you are choosing what is said at YOUR wedding. Shouldn’t it reflect YOUR views?
- Possible: Readings — There are three elements to having readings during your ceremony, and none of them are religious in nature (particularly as the readings don’t have to be scripture, although they often are). First, which readings will you choose — scripture or something else? In addition to our two scripture elements above that the Minister said, we had three other readings (poetry and prose choices). Second, tightly tied to the first, why are you including them? Some people do a reading because they want their third cousin who is 7 to be part of the ceremony cuz “aren’t children cute?”. Okay, your wedding, your choice. But for me, for us really, we wanted readings that spoke to us, that reminded us of different elements of faith, of love, of commitment. The whole ceremony is an expression of you as a couple. Third, the alternate view perhaps, is once you have decided on WHAT you want to include, then ask yourself WHO you want to do it, and equally, if they CAN do it. You obviously aren’t going to ask your four-year old nephew to read a difficult passage because they won’t be able to do it well or even understand what they’re reading. Equally, asking your great-grandmother who is partly senile and has very limited mobility to read for three minutes is probably a bad idea. For us, we chose three people who had special hearts capable of obvious love for others and to whom we felt a kinship of spirit.
Reading #1 by Kate, Andrea’s cousin, an excerpt from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran and Reading #2, by Linda, Andrea’s friend, an excerpt from “I Love You” by Erich Fried, translated by Roy Croft:
Reading #3, by Corinne, my friend, an excerpt from “The Irrational Season” by Madeleine L’Engle:
- Likely: Some general words from Minister about marriage and/or the couple — I mentioned earlier that this was my “danger zone” for the ceremony. I wanted to know what the Minister might say. The example I gave of a horror story started along this line…it was a Catholic priest noting that they were celebrating marriage. And that marriages had high divorce rates, but that at least they were even bothering to get married, and he noted that marriage in a CHURCH rather than a civil ceremony had lower rates. And CATHOLIC churches even lower. And of course he was talking about marriage between a MAN and a WOMAN because anything else wasn’t really marriage. As I said earlier, if that happened to me, I would have ended the ceremony immediately. My wedding, my rules. If you care about what he or she says, this is the place where it will come up; if not, go with it. While I had “vetted” the Minister prior to the ceremony, there was one phrase in this section that was a bit grating to my ears. An ad-lib line talked about union between this man and this woman, which we were and thus “true”, but it sounded so “off” to me when the Minister said the words, that I worried perhaps that it was insensitive to a number of our gay friends in the room. (I checked afterwards, and one told us while she noticed it, it hadn’t been done offensively in her view, just descriptively.)
- Vows — The officiants all have standard wording available if you want it, pretty much the same wording you have seen on TV shows and in movies since you were a kid (“Do you take…”). And at the end, the couple says “I do”. Most of the time now, though, the officiant will ask you if you want to say the words yourself (“I take you, (wife’s name), to have and to hold…”) and if you want to write the vows yourself. Since I style myself as a wannabe-writer, of course I wanted us to write our own. But unlike TV shows and movies, there is a HUGE danger in writing them in secret. If you go by stereotype, the wife will say a whole bunch of nice mushy things, the husband will say she has a nice butt. And now you have the grounds for the first fight. Remember too that planning a wedding is stressful, and if you are doing your own vows, you have to find time to ACTUALLY write them down. Personally, I liked the fact that we did them together. We looked at a bunch of versions out there, including traditional, and decided what we wanted to include or not. We wrote them down, didn’t memorize them, and then we had the Minister read them to us a line at a time:
- Ring exchange (maybe with a blessing of the rings too) — There really isn’t that much to talk about for the rings. Oh wait, yes there is… who is looking after them prior to this moment? A best man, the maid of honour, the groom? The Minister? And of course, you had to buy them earlier. Some Ministers offer to hold them, some Ministers DON’T want the responsibility. Someone who is going to be reliable is the goal.
During the ring exchange, you may have “additional” words. Simple tradition is “With this ring, I thee wed”. Others, like us, add some additional wording:
- Kissing — once you say “I do”, or the vows, you’ll get to kiss (it might be after the signing, somewhat of an individual process). And you’ve probably kissed before, so no big deal, right? Except you might want to practice a bit so that you know what kind of kiss you’re both planning to do. A full-on make-out session designed to embarrass everyone or get hoots and catcalls, or a relatively chaste kiss because you’re not really into public displays of affection? Doesn’t matter which as long as you both have the same expectations. I read one story online where the woman gave him a little peck and he felt slighted…but she was in a tight dress, in a hot church, and she was feeling a bit nauseated. She thought she was going to pass out. So regulating her breathing while kissing wasn’t an option.
- Signing of the Registry (i.e. the documents) — Most officiants will take the couple off to the side for a moment and have them sign the documents, no big deal, right? Except for three things. First, someone has to have the documents ready (usually the Officiant), particularly so if you have a non-traditional venue. Are you signing on someone’s back, or is there a little table to sit down at, and to take pictures of while you’re signing? Second, someone has to have a pen, preferably with a backup. Some people use special pens, some people use a little disposable pen, whatever feels right to you. Third, most importantly, two witnesses have to sign. So decide on who is going to sign in advance. Traditionally, it was the maid of honour and the best man, but in our case, as we only had the maid of honour, we had her and my mom sign. Which of course both of them had to know about and agree to beforehand so they would know where we were going and approximately when.
- Closing by the Minister — The Minister will then usually “close” the ceremony by saying a few words, wishing you well, and then “announcing” to the gathered guests that he / she is presenting the new couple. About the only part that matters here is what they are going to say — Mr and Mrs Bob Jones? Jane and Bob? Bob and Jane? Husband and wife? Happy couple? Up to you.
- Recessional — Usually, after being introduced, you’ll go back up an aisle and greet people at the back. However, after you leave, people tend to work it so that the first row leaves, then the second, then the third, etc. Some people want that very orderly and organized, and have an usher do it. Others, not so much. Up to you.
Whew, that is a LOT on the ceremony, right? Most of which you’ll pin down around Week 13 or so, just to get the structure, and then you’ll do the last pieces in the last month (vows, choose readings, ask readers if they’ll do it, etc.).
Every wedding is different for location and design, it’s hard to talk with specifics about music. If it’s in a church, you probably have an organist. Or they’ll offer you the choir. Outside of that, it’s whatever you choose to arrange. We had a small trio playing music beforehand, various musical pieces while people were being seated, starting about 15-30 minutes before the ceremony. For the processional, we went with “Sleepers, Wake” (Bach). Around the readings, we had “Largo” (Handel) and for the signing interlude, “Sheep May Safely Graze” (Bach). At the end, our recessional was to “Four Seasons, Autumn” (Vivaldi). [Musicians: Week 8-10; Music: Week 20-22]
There are a bunch of other little things related to the ceremony, but hard to pin down as separate headings:
- Get wedding license — yep, you have to go and get one from the city usually, often good for 30 days [Week 23];
- If you write your own vows, phrasing for the ring exchange, readings, etc., sometime you’ll have to print them all out so that you have them for the ceremony [Week 25];
- Plan what you are going to do for breakfast and lunch on the day of the wedding — some people think it’s no big deal, but if you’re rushing from the hair salon to wherever you’re putting your dress on, do you really want to be stopping to make lunch? Or before you go to the salon, are you going to be too nervous to eat? You need food and water through-out the day to keep your energies up, and often, even after the ceremony, there are 8 million people milling around you (or it will seem like it), just as you’re about to take a bite of something finally [Week 25];
- If you are going to have a guest book (and pens!) at the ceremony or the reception, who is responsible for setting it up and moving it from one place to the other? You might have your hands full [Week 25]…oh, and if you ARE having one, you probably need to have already bought it (but I’ll mention that under other topics); and,
- You’ll also have to take any payments with you for the day of the event to pay the various venues, caterers, musicians, etc., if you haven’t already paid in advance [Week 26].
The good news is, at this point, the ceremony is planned. You’re done, right?