Weddings can feel a little intimidating for guests who may be nervous about attending a religious ceremony they may be unfamiliar with. Etiquette rules do not always relate to religion, for example, at all weddings, etiquette requires that no one be blind drunk at the reception or gets into a fight with the groom. With regards to Christian wedding traditions and etiquette, some basic practices are outlined here for the couple getting married and their guests.
Certain etiquette rules apply to all weddings, including sending your RSVP within two weeks of receiving your invitation even if the date is far off, this allows the couple to be clear about how much the wedding will cost since so much is determined by guest numbers.
If you are invited to the ceremony, make every effort to attend since this is the most important part of the day. Follow the crowd if you do not understand the format. It is disrespectful to deliberately miss the main event so that you can be first at the open bar. If you are unsure of the dress code on the invitation, ask a bridesmaid or maid of honour for confirmation, but not the bride.
Etiquette dictates that if you receive an invitation to a wedding, you owe the couple a gift, even if you are unable to attend the wedding itself. When considering wedding gifts, shop from the couple’s registry to be sure they receive what they want. Many couples do not have a gift registry which leaves you open to gifting something you believe the couple will love. This could be something they can treasure forever, either a physical gift, an experience gift or a donation to a charity close to their hearts.
In the Christian religion, lighted candles symbolise Christ as the light of the world who will guide the couple throughout their lives. Some couples light a Unity Candle created from two other candles that are lit by the couple’s mothers to represent the faith, wisdom, and love the bride and groom have received from their parents. Taking these two candles, the couple lights a centre candle which represents their union. The two smaller candles remain lit to emphasise that though a couple, the bride and groom remain unique individuals.
White wedding dress
The tradition of wearing a white wedding dress started with Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. White is a symbol of the wife’s purity in heart and reverence to God. Most modern bridal gowns are ivory, which is very flattering and allows the details to stand out beautifully. Ivory also symbolises purity, holiness and virtue, as well as respect and reverence.
The Groom enters the church first
The officiant, groom and best man take their places to the right of the altar, usually entering through a side door. The groomsmen either join the groom or escort the bridesmaids down the aisle and take their place by the altar, facing the congregation. The maid of honour, the flower girl and ring bearer then walk down the aisle, followed by the bride and her escort.
While a white bridal gown is quite a modern tradition, a bridal veil has a much longer history and symbolises the modesty and purity of the bride and her reverence for God. A wedding veil is also used in Islamic and Jewish wedding ceremonies representing innocence and submissiveness.
The exchange of rings
The wedding ring is an outward symbol of the couple’s bond and eternal love since circular rings have no beginning or end. When the couple exchanges wedding rings, it symbolises the giving of all of themselves to the other in marriage. This includes their talents, emotions, wealth and possessions.
The hand of the groom is placed over the hand of the bride when cutting the cake to symbolise his support for her and her promise to take care of him and their family. Cutting the bottom tier of the cake symbolises the longevity of their relationship. The tradition of the bride and groom feeding each other from the cake symbolises their commitment to take care of one another.