Q: I have heard of something called a Unity Candle. What is it and how can I incorporate it into my wedding ceremony? —Newark, Delaware
A: The Unity Candle symbolizes the joining together of two separate families and has become increasingly popular over the years. Basically, its a tall candle that stands, unlit, between two smaller, lit candles during the ceremony. One of these smaller candles is placed in the bride's side and the other is on the groom's side. After you are pronounced husband and wife, you each take your respective candle, meet at the Unity Candle and light it with your joined flames. Some brides and grooms choose to light the Unity Candle on their own, while others have parents and other members of their families join them. For those couples marrying for the second time, it is an especially appropriate way to include children from their first marriages in the ceremony and to acknowledge the uniting of two families as one.
Read our article on Ceremony Procedures for more about the Unity Candle.
Q: I will wear a halter-style dress with opera-length gloves. What do I do with my gloves while exchanging rings? —Pecos, New Mexico
A: Easy. Just ask for a little help from your maid of honor. Once you have reached the altar or huppah, remove your gloves and give them to her along with your bouquet. She will hold them for you throughout the ceremony. After the recessional, you can put your gloves back on. You will want to wear them as you enter the reception and during special dances (your first dance as a couple, your dance with dad). From then on you can either wear your gloves a while longer, because you just love the look, or take them off.
Q: I am confused. Where does the matron of honor stand during the ceremony? I thought the maid of honor stood nearest the bride. —Houston, Texas
A: You are right. Traditionally, the maid of honor stands closest to the bride. At a Christian ceremony she is to the brides left and the other bridesmaids (including the matron of honor if there is one) stand behind them. At a Jewish ceremony the maid of honor stands to the brides right with the brides parents next to her and the other attendants to their right. However, as with so many bridal traditions, the rules have relaxed a bit and you can certainly choose to have both your maid of honor and matron of honor stand beside you at the ceremony.
Read our article on Ceremony Procedures for more about who stand where.
Q: What is the best seating arrangement for my divorced parents during the church ceremony? My mom has not remarried, but my dad will be there with his fiancé. Also, how should I handle photography after the ceremony? Should I have both my parents in the same picture with me and my new husband? I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings. —Charleston, South Carolina
A: I don't think you need to worry about hurting anyone's feelings. It's obvious that you are wisely planning ahead now to make sure that there are no misunderstandings or uncomfortable situations awaiting your parents—and I'm certain they will appreciate your concern and thoughtfulness.
At the church, have your mother sit in the first pew with either her parents or other close relatives. In the second pew, your aunts, uncles and other members of your mom's family can sit. And in the third pew, your father and his fiancé can be seated with his family.
As far as your wedding pictures, meet with your photographer ahead of time to discuss the types of photos you want and which members of your family should be included. A professional photographer will have dealt with divorced family situations before and can probably offer some expert advice on how to handle potential problems. Make sure you hire someone you feel comfortable with - a pro who can handle difficulties with diplomacy and tact.
If your parents are on friendly terms you can have them in the same family photograph together, separated by you and your husband. You should also have pictures taken with each parent separately. No doubt, your father will ask for a picture of the two of you with him and his fiancé. This is fine (it will certainly please your dad and nurture relations with your future stepmother), but be sensitive to your mom's feelings and include any of her close friends or relatives as well in her photos.
Let your parents know what type of photographs will be taken and who will be in them so there are no surprises or hurt feelings on the wedding day. A little planning and communicating now will go a long way in ensuring that everything runs smoothly so you and your family can celebrate the day without incident.
Read our article on Dealing With Divorced Parents for more ways to prevent hurt feelings.
Q: On which side of the church is the brides family supposed to be seated? —Lansing, Michigan
A: Traditionally, during a Christian wedding ceremony the brides family and friends are seated on the left and the grooms family and friends on the right (as they face the altar). The Jewish ceremony calls for the opposite arrangement: The brides family and friends are seated on the right and the grooms family and friends on the left (as they face the huppah). If you are both expecting about the same number of guests, this arrangement can work out well. However, if either you or your fiancé has invited more people, its a good idea to have the ushers spread everyone out evenly on both sides of the church.
Read our article on Ceremony Procedures for more about seating arrangements.
Q: Do we need to explain to our ushers how to seat guests at our church ceremony, or can they just do so at random? —Salem, Oregon
A: There are some traditional rules about ceremony seating, but its really not as stuffy as it may seem. Its not necessary to have reserved seating, with the exception of saving the first few rows for the brides and grooms immediate families.
Traditionally, the brides parents sit in the first row on the left (as you face the front), along with her grandparents and siblings. If the brides parents are divorced and prefer to sit separately, the mother and her husband might sit in the front row while the father and his wife site behind them in the second row. Other special relatives may sit in the second and third rows.
The grooms family is seated in the same manner, but on the right side. (This is the Christian tradition; the Jewish ceremony calls for the opposite arrangement.) And while the guests of the bride and groom are traditionally seated accordingly on the left and right as well, its perfectly acceptable to divide them evenly on either side if one of the partners has invited more people.
Q: My father died two years ago, and I would like to have him symbolically represented at my wedding. How best can I do this? —Jacksonville, Missouri
A: For any bride or groom who has lost a parent or close family member, the wedding day can evoke a flood of mixed emotions. You will feel great happiness on this day as well as a certain sadness that your loved one cannot be there to see you walk down the aisle and share in your joy and excitement. It is only natural that you should want to remember your father on this day by expressing your love for him with a symbolic gesture.
You may want to carry some special keepsake of your father's such as a religious medallion, a piece of jewelry, a pocket handkerchief, or a photo. In your ceremony program, you can include a special tribute to your father written in your own words.
At the reception, you can offer a toast in memory of your dad or ask that the band play one of his favorite songs to which you and your groom might dance. Whatever you choose to do will have a very special meaning to you, and your remembrance will undoubtedly be very touching to other family members and guests as well.
Q: My fiancé's mother would like him to escort her to her seat at our Christian ceremony, even though her two other sons will be groomsmen and can easily walk her down the aisle. Is her request inappropriate? —Carmel, California
A: Yes. Especially if she is aware of your feelings and in light of the fact that her two other sons will be groomsmen and one or both of them can escort her. At a Christian ceremony, the groom does not usually escort anyone—that particular duty belongs to his groomsmen. He and his best man enter from a side door in the front of the church after the priest or minister has taken his place. The groom stands next to the officiant at an angle facing the congregation with the best man one step behind him.
Perhaps there are other issues that need to be recognized and discussed with your future mother-in-law. She may have very mixed feelings about 'losing' her son, so to speak, and may want him to escort her as proof that she is still an important part of his life. Emotionally, she may be refusing to let him go and needs to know that he will do whatever is asked. Your fiancé should explain that not escorting her down the aisle does not diminish her importance in his life. Perhaps he can plan a special lunch or dinner with his mom right before the wedding. And you might assist him in putting together a photo album of his memorable moments with his mother from infancy to the present. She will no doubt be extremely touched by this sentimental gesture. And rather than focusing on who escorts her, your fiancé can emphasize how much he is looking forward to dancing with her to the special mother-son song hes chosen. That should go a long way towards easing her fears!
Read our article on Getting to Know Your Mother-in-Law for more ideas.
Q: I am a Baptist and my future husband is Roman Catholic. We have no problem with our different faiths and would like to find a way to incorporate both religious traditions in our ceremony. Our families want us to be married in our own churches. Any advice? —Eugene, Oregon
A: There's no denying it: When two people of different faiths marry, challenges, obstacles, and hurt feelings almost always arise. The most important thing you and your groom can do is remain focused and flexible. Visit each others churches and become acquainted with the services and rituals of the other religion. Discuss what type of ceremony you want to have and where best to have it. You may decide on an interfaith, or ecumenical, service which includes different aspects of both religions. This type of service can be equally divided between the two faiths and often takes place on neutral ground (thus eliminating your families demands that the ceremony be at one particular church). Or, one of your officiants may offer to act as the host at his church, inviting the other clergy members to participate in the ceremony. In either case, it is important to communicate your preferences to your families and emphasize that both religions will be equally respected and represented in a spirit of acceptance and cooperation.
However, your biggest challenge may be in finding the officiants who will participate in an ecumenical service. Some priests, ministers and rabbis simply refuse to officiate at marriages performed outside of their own churches or synagogues. But with interfaith marriages becoming more and more common there are many clergy who will administer the marriage vows in an ecumenical ceremony.
Start by speaking with the priest and minister at your own parishes to find out if they are available and check local magazines and newspapers for advertisements of ecumenical clergy. You might also call theological seminaries, where clergy receive their training, for suggestions.
After you have found your officiants, be sure to meet with both of them at the same time to carefully plan the ceremony. Determine all of the requirements that must be included from both religions. And, once you have established your ceremony procedures, you might want to explain the rituals of each religion in your wedding program so that your guests understand their meaning and feel more included.
Q: Do you think a wedding program is a good idea? My fiancé and I would like to have one, but we’re not sure what information to put in it. Any suggestions? —Phoenix, Arizona
A: A wedding program is definitely a good idea, for a number of reasons. It helps explain to your guests what they are witnessing and makes them feel more a part of the celebration; it reflects your personal style and it provides you and your guests with a lovely and fitting memento.
The wedding program should include the date, time and place of the wedding and the names of the bride and groom, their parents, the attendants and the officiants, as well as information on any religious or ethnic rituals. You should list the titles and composers of any music performed and identify the musicians and soloists. If you plan to have any readings or prayers recited during the ceremony, be sure to include the words and sources, along with the names of those doing the readings.
Many brides and grooms with deceased parents, relatives or friends choose to write loving tributes to them in the program. Other personal sentiments are acceptable as well, such as thanking your parents or welcoming your guests to share in your joy.
The program itself can be formal and elaborate or more simple in design. Consider a calligraphy-inscribed scroll tied with a ribbon or a printed booklet with a cover sketch. For an outdoor, warm-weather wedding, let your program double as a pretty fan to keep guests cool. Many couples like to create their own wedding programs on the computer. Ultimately, the design choice is yours, and the selection you make is yet another opportunity to express your personal style.
Have an etiquette question? Leave a comment below — and check back soon for a follow-up feature with personalized advice!