The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Wedding Ceremony *

Image by Raw Shoots Photography. See more of this real wedding here.

Planning your wedding ceremony can be one of the most daunting but also the most rewarding parts of the entire wedding planning process! You get to choose readings, music, florals, seating options, backdrops, and everything in between — all to craft the perfect environment to profess your heart to the love of your life. Is there anything better? If you already feel overwhelmed or just aren’t sure where to start, take a breath and rest assured that you’re in the right place! We’ve rounded up all our best ceremony planning resources, guides, and inspirational posts to walk you through every step.

Image by Rachel Rowland. See more of this real wedding here.

Setting The Foundation

There are few things more special and heartfelt than writing your wedding ceremony with your partner. This is the reason for the entire celebration in the first place, so take extra care in crafting a ceremony that speaks to you as a couple. There are so many different ways of creating the perfect wedding ceremony — and so many different tips and opinions. So, start with these 3 basics to set a good foundation, and let the rest of the pieces fall naturally into place.


Unless you’re having a religious or cultural wedding ceremony for which the order is set, the first step will be to figure out the order of your ceremony. Traditionally, a non-religious wedding ceremony would include these moments:

  • Processional
  • Welcome
  • Introduction and/or remarks on marriage
  • Readings
  • Vow exchange
  • Ring Exchange
  • First kiss
  • Unity ceremony
  • Final remarks + announcement of the newlyweds
  • Recessional

There are some obvious moments you absolutely cannot leave out, such as the vows, ring exchange, and first kiss. But most of the other moments can be changed, moved around, or removed entirely depending on your style and preferences. Think about what’s important to you, about what kind of ceremony will be most impactful to you, and plan the order to fit that vision.


Your wedding ceremony should focus on at least 3 important themes: your past, your present, and your future as a couple. When planning your ceremony with your officiant, be sure to give them insight into each of these areas of your life so they can integrate those into the overall story they will tell with their opening remarks, prayers, and/or advice. Keep your readings focused on those themes to continue that story throughout the entire ceremony. Give thanks to the people who have gotten you where you are, to the blessings you’re enjoying in the present, and be optimistic about what the future holds.


The sweet spot for a non-denominational wedding ceremony length is between 20-25 minutes. If it’s shorter than 20 minutes, you’ll likely feel rushed and your guests might leave feeling confused and disappointed. If it’s longer than 25 minutes, you run the risk of losing everyone’s attention. Try to stay within that sweet spot, and you’ll be golden.

Image by Arielle Teft Photography. See more of this real wedding here.

Personalizing Each Moment

After you’ve set the foundation by figuring out the order, how to integrate your themes, and the timing, it’s time to personalize each moment of the ceremony. This includes the vows, the readings, the unity ceremony, the music, and even the grand exit. Most of these personalizations will be easier to implement in non-denominational weddings, but they can also be added to religious and cultural weddings. We’ve also provided some religion- and culture-specific tips to add some personalization the rules from your church or family are more strict.

Image by May Iosotaluno Photography. See more of this real wedding here.


If you’ve followed us for a long time, you already know that we strongly believe you really should write your own vows. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and even put together a how-to guide and a list of unique tips for writing your wedding vows to make it as easy as possible! After all, the true purpose of your wedding day is to promise your lives to each other, and we think the best way to do that is in your own words.

All that being said, some churches do require couples to recite a standard set of vows to make the wedding official. And, while there’s really no way to get around that, we do have a tip for couples who want a religious ceremony but also want to write their own vows: do both! During your wedding ceremony, recite the standard vows that your church requires. During your first look — or even during your post-ceremony portrait session — read the vows you wrote to each other. If there’s anything better than writing your own vows, it’s stepping away from the rush of the wedding day to read those vows privately with the love of your life!

Looking for the perfect book to write those heartfelt words? Here are 41 wedding vow books to fill with your love!

Image by Lorenzo Accardi. See more of this real wedding here.


Aside from writing your own vows, adding readings is one of the best ways to personalize your wedding ceremony. Ask 1 or 2 family members or close friends to read passages that reflect your views on marriage or your hopes for the future. These can be totally unexpected wedding ceremony readings, such as quotes from movies or books, or they can be more traditional and classic, like one of your favorite romantic love poems. The key is to choose readings that fit the vibe of your day and the statement you two want to make about love and marriage.

Image by MemoryBox Photography. See more of this real wedding here.

Unity Ceremony

The unity ceremony serves as a visual representation of the couple joining their separate lives into one, which is why it usually takes place after the couple has exchanged vows. While this is not an official requirement for a wedding ceremony, it is a beautiful, symbolic way to complete your first task together as newlyweds. Many couples opt for the traditional candle lighting (which we always love), but a lot of couples are going the more non-traditional route with unity ceremonies that range from making a PB&J sandwich to taking a shot of whiskey! If you’re looking for unique ideas, check out these 11 sweet and sentimental unity ceremonies from some of our favorite real weddings.

Image by The Ferros. See more of this real wedding here.


The beauty of wedding ceremony music is that it can be as elaborate or as minimal as you want. You can also keep it super traditional or go out on a limb with whimsical, unexpected tunes. This is your opportunity to create a soundtrack for part of your life, so have fun with it! Here are a few key moments that most couples choose to highlight with music:

  • Parents and grandparents’ entrances
  • Groom’s entrance
  • Bridal party entrance
  • Bride’s entrance
  • Unity ceremony
  • Recessional (see our recommended songs here)

If music is a top priority for you and you plan to include as possible, we highly recommend you invest in live musicians. Even if ceremony music isn’t a high priority, we can’t say enough how special it is to have live music on your wedding day! Of course, if your budget doesn’t allow for it or you’re planning to use just a processional and/or recessional song, a recording is a good alternative — just be sure to find someone reliable to press play.

Image by here. See more of this real wedding here.


There’s no better way to mark the end of your ceremony and the beginning of the party than with an unforgettable exit! Flower petals, confetti, sparklers, and bubbles are all great options for your guests to literally shower you with love as you walk (or dance) down the aisle as newlyweds. Just be sure to check with your venue to see if they have any restrictions or clean-up fees!

Image by For Love & Light. See more of this real wedding here.

Religious and Cultural Considerations

If you’re planning a religious or culturally traditional wedding, you might think you have no room to personalize your ceremony. But, we’ve seen time and time again that, with a little creativity, most couples are able to find at least one way to make their ceremony their own. If, for example, you’re having a religious ceremony for which you can’t write your own vows and have to use readings from scripture, choose a totally unique and unexpected unity ceremony. If you’re following cultural traditions for your wedding, choose non-traditional music that is meaningful to your relationship. Just because you’re having a religious or traditional wedding ceremony, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to personalize it. You might just need to get a little creative!

Image by Alineapict. See more of this real wedding here.

Design & Décor

At long last, you’ve made it to the best part of planning your wedding ceremony: the design and décor! From arches and backdrops to welcome signs to aisle markers, there are so many details that go into transforming your venue into your perfect ceremony space. Yes, there’s a lot to consider, but we’ve got this wedding décor checklist to help you nail every detail! We’ve also broken down the key elements of your ceremony décor below.

Image by Conie Suarez Bravo. See more of this real wedding here.

Arches and Backdrops

Of all the decor you can add to your ceremony, arches and backdrops just might be the most important. Not only are they beautiful stand-alone pieces, but they frame the most important aspect of your entire day: you two! We’ve seen everything from macrame to wood to wreaths to copper pipes and, we must admit, we love them all! We could go on and on about how arches and backdrops make your ceremony look complete and polished, but we’d rather show you instead. Here are round-ups of our favorite ceremony arches and backdrops to help you get inspired:

The 50 Ceremony Arches You’re Going to See at 2018 Weddings

Floral Ceremony Arches for Every Wedding Style

53 Head-Turning Wedding Ceremony Arches and Backdrops

The Best Etsy Macramé Backdrops for Your Wedding

23 Utterly Romantic Ceremony Arches for Your Big Day

See what we mean?! If you just can’t get enough, head over to our ceremony Pinterest board for even more arch and backdrop inspiration!

Image by SASs Photography. See more of this real wedding here.


When choosing seating options for your wedding ceremony, be sure to consider both form and function. If you’re trying to achieve a specific look, get inspired by these unique ceremony chairs that are as beautiful as they are practical. When planning the space, do your guests a favor and don’t try to pack the chairs as closely together as possible. Give everyone a little breathing room between each other and between the altar and the first row. Also, take into account the people sitting on the furthest sides or in the back row — will they be able to see everything? If not, use a semi-circle or full-circle design rather than a straight-row design to ensure everyone has a clear view of the altar.

Once the chairs are set, it’s time to add some pretty dimension to that aisle! We’ve got 45 beautiful wedding aisle markers to fit any style and any budget.

photo by Kayla Fisher Photography


While there is typically much less signage needed for a ceremony than for a reception, there are a few key signs you should try to include in your ceremony décor:

  • Welcome Sign — to greet your guests in style
  • Seating Sign — to let your guests know they don’t need to choose a side
  • Program Sign — if you’re not printing order-of-events programs
  • Unplugged Ceremony Sign — to politely remind your guests to put away their phones

For the full list of wedding signs to include in your big day, save this handy wedding sign checklist.

photo by Nicole Veldman Photography + Video


Wedding ceremony programs are totally optional, but they are a nice way to tell your guests what to expect and a bit about the wedding party. If you decide to print programs, they should include your names, the wedding date and location, names of your wedding party, officiant’s name, and the order of events. If you’re including traditions or readings you’d like to explain, this would be the place to do that, as well. Etsy and Minted have lots of beautiful, customizable templates to choose from, and we’ve linked some of our favorites here:

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photo by T&K Photography


For most couples, their wedding ceremony will be lit by natural sunlight, either outside or through the windows of their venue. That’s why we recommend couples plan their wedding timeline around the sun. When you’re saying your vows, you’ll want to be sure that you’re properly lit, that your photos will turn out beautifully, and that neither you nor your guests aren’t blinded by the harsh sunlight.

If you’re planning an evening ceremony or your venue doesn’t provide sufficient natural light, you’ll need to ensure your venue does have other forms of lighting or you’ll need to add your own. If you’re not sure where to start, that’s okay! We’ve got the ultimate guide to wedding lighting to help you decide what’s right for you.

photo by Eden Strader Photography

Final Thoughts

We know that we a lot of information, but we have just a few final tips to make sure your wedding ceremony goes off without a hitch:

  • Don’t forget the rings
  • Hand-write your vows rather than read from your phone — it will look better in photos and you won’t risk feedback in the sound system
  • Get to know your officiant ahead of time — it will make you and them more comfortable, and they’ll be better prepared to personalize your ceremony
  • Hire someone to run the ceremony — even if you don’t want a wedding planner or coordinator for anything else, trust us, you’ll want someone else keeping track of all the details and the timeline
  • Stay present — at some point during the ceremony, take a minute to breathe and look out at all the people who showed up to love and support you

We’re certain you’re going to have the wedding ceremony that exceeds your wildest dreams! Now it’s time for the ultimate reward: honeymoon planning!

How to Plan Your Dream Honeymoon

The Best 2018 Honeymoon Destinations

Use This Honeymoon Checklist to Help You Pack All the Essentials


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