In this post we look at the duties of the principal players at a traditional English wedding. We have based the timetable of events primarily on a Church of England wedding, but the duties involved still apply to a large extent on whether the wedding is in church, chapel, register office or approved premises and for many other faiths, including Roman Catholic and some Free Churches, although it cannot be applied to foreign nationals marrying in this country or to weddings of members of the Jewish and Quaker faiths.
The marriage ceremony occurs continuously around the country throughout the year. Naturally it becomes more popular during the summer months, especially June, which is named after the goddess Juno, the adored and faithful wife of Jupiter, who is the protector of women and marriage. Juno is said to bestow special blessings on those who wed in her month:
Married in the month of roses - June Life will be one long honeymoon.
Guests who attend weddings, turning up on the wedding day in their best outfits and bearing gifts, have little occasion to think of the preparations that have been under way for many months, and the role of the principal players who will ensure that everything goes smoothly.
There are just half a dozen of these principal players, all playing their part, large or small, and invariably everybody goes away saying what a grand day it was, and didn't the bride look lovely.
The bride is, of course, the undoubted star. It is her day. She is going to be the centre of attention for the entire day; even the groom has a secondary role, and the other players form a supporting cast.
Every bride wants to look her best on her wedding day, when she will be the centre of attention for the bridegroom and all the guests, and the feature of wedding photographs and videos.
Invariably the bride's main concern will be her wedding dress, but there are many other things that she and her mother will need to organise before the big day such as: appointing attendants (chief bridesmaid, bridesmaids and page boys); compiling the guest list; drawing up the guest/gift list and writing thank-you letters; arranging press announcements; compiling a budget; booking the ceremony and reception; ordering the cake; booking the photographer and/or video maker team; booking transport; booking the florist; arranging the 'hen night'.
The bride's main function on this, her special day, is to look beautiful. She will have the assistance of her mother and the chief bridesmaid when she is getting ready. Then, with her father or whoever is giving her away, she leaves for the church, making sure that she does not arrive early.
At the church entrance the chief bridesmaid will arrange the bride's dress, veil and train. The bride then takes her father's right arm and proceeds slowly down the aisle to where the bridegroom and best man are waiting. She then hands her bouquet to the chief bridesmaid so her hands are free for the ring to be put on. At the end of the marriage service, the bride accompanies the groom in the procession to the vestry to sign the register. The bride and groom then lead the procession out of church with the bride on the left arm of her husband.
After the photographs have been taken outside the church, the bride and groom are the first to leave for the reception, where they will shortly be joined by the bride's parents and the groom's parents. Together they form a welcoming line for the arriving guests.
At the end of the meal come the toasts and speeches, and though the bridegroom speaks on behalf of his bride and himself, the bride may wish to say a few words of her own.
At some time the bride throws her bouquet to the waiting bridesmaids, the tradition being that the one who catches it will be the next to marry. Sometimes, of course, the eager, outstretched hands belong to some of the young, unmarried guests! The moment for this ritual is either when the bride is going upstairs to change into her going-away outfit or when she is getting into the car, ready to leave in a shower of confetti.
Traditionally the bride's family pays for the reception; the bride's dress and attendants' outfits; transport for the bride, her father, her mother and the bridesmaids to the church, and for the bride's father and mother and bridesmaids to the reception; flowers for the church and reception; stationery; gift to the groom; hen night.
Families nowadays are more likely to make alternative financial arrangements for some of the major expenses, so although traditionally the bride's father pays for her wedding dress, she may decide that she will pay for her own dress or alternatively for the bridesmaids' dresses.
As mentioned earlier, the bridegroom has only a supporting role on the day. If his earlier decision in the choice of best man was a good one, then he will have saved himself some anxious moments on the day, as a good best man can do a great deal to help the groom throughout the day.
The groom will liaise with the bride and her mother on most issues concerning the wedding arrangements. He is directly responsible for obtaining the necessary legal documentation by applying to the minister or registrar; choosing and advising his best man; organising outfits for the principal men; organizing the honeymoon; acquiring a wedding ring; organising transport to and from the church and transport from the reception in liaison with his best man; paying for flowers for the bride and attendants, for the buttonholes and sprays; preparing and delivering a speech.
Before the wedding day the groom will decide, probably with the help of his bride-to-be, what the male dress will be. If his choice is morning suit, then the best man, ushers and fathers of the bride and groom will be required to follow suit.
As the wedding draws near many of the groom's male friends and colleagues will be keen to know when and where the stag party will be held. It is advisable, for everybody's sake - and especially the groom's - to have the celebration at least two days before the wedding, so that any after-effects have time to wear off!
The groom will have the best man in attendance on the morning of the wedding, lending him moral support and making sure he gets to the church about 20 minutes before the ceremony is due to start. Before they set off for the church the groom can give the best man the wedding ring and the wedding documents. He may also want the best man to look after other items such as tickets and passports and possibly car keys. If the bride and groom are changing into going-away clothes at the reception, the groom should have these ready to give to the best man.
Having arrived early at the church, the groom now has to endure a waiting and wondering period until the bride's arrival. After the service he accompanies the bride in the procession to the vestry to sign the register. The couple then lead the procession out of church with the bride on the left arm of her husband.
After the photographs have been taken outside the church, the bride and groom are the first to leave for the reception, where they will shortly be joined by the bride's parents and the groom's parents. Together they form a welcoming line for the arriving guests. The recognized order is:
the bride's mother and father the groom's mother and father the bride and groom The bridegroom will be called upon to reply to the toast made by the bride's father and will speak on behalf of his bride and himself. Some information on the subject of speeches will be found towards the end of this post.
The bridegroom's expenditure starts with the engagement ring. Today he is not expected to stand the entire cost of the stag party; everybody present pays a share. Naturally he will pay for his own outfit, whether bought or hired, and if hired he might also pay for the best man's and ushers'. He may wish to buy the best man and other attendants a small gift each as a memento of the occasion.
The bridegroom also pays church or registrar's expenses; he should hand the money to the best man on the wedding morning so he may pay the member of the clergy or verger.
Naturally the groom will pay for his bride's wedding ring and her bouquet, together with those of the bridesmaids; he will also pay for buttonholes for himself and all the principal men, and for sprays for the two mothers. He will also pay for the car to take him and the best man to the church and the car to transport him and his bride to and from the reception.
Last, but by no means least, he will pay for the honeymoon.
THE BEST MAN
In the majority of cases the best man will be either a close friend or relative of the bridegroom. His main function is to look after the groom and to lend his assistance generally to see that the big day goes without a hitch. Together, the bridegroom and best man choose the ushers, whose main role will be to show the wedding guests to their seats in the church, hand out service sheets or prayer books and help the best man make sure that everyone has transport to the reception.
The best man's main task, of course, is to get the bridegroom to the church on time, but before the wedding day itself he has several important jobs which must not be neglected. Traditionally he has to make sure that everything is in order regarding the groom's clothes, both for the wedding and his going-away clothes. The best man may be entrusted with these and have to take them to the reception if the newlyweds are leaving for their honeymoon directly from there. He may also be asked to look after the bride's suitcase. If suits are being hired it is likely that the bridegroom and best man will go to the hire shop together; if the bridegroom is in a magnanimous mood he may foot the bill for the best man's and ushers' outfits, but the best man and ushers pay for their own suits if they are not hired.
The best man's other major pre-wedding day job is to organize the stag party which, from the men's point of view, of course, is a very important event. The best man should ensure that it is not held on the eve of the wedding, just in case there are any celebratory after-effects.
On the morning of the big day, if order-of-service sheets have been printed, he has to collect them from the bride's mother and get them to the church, or perhaps delegate the job to an usher. Buttonholes for himself, the groom and the ushers could probably be collected at the same time, together with any telemessages or cards for the couple.
He then sets off for the groom's house where he will take charge of any documents, such as tickets, passports, wedding documents and, of course, the ring.
Having made sure that the groom is looking his best, the best man should get him to the church about 20 minutes before the service is due to start. During the service the best man's prime function is to produce the ring or rings at the appropriate moment. After the service he will accompany the chief bridesmaid in the procession to the vestry for the signing of the register and may be called upon to sign as a witness.
After the photographs are done, the best man has to arrange transport to the reception for all the guests. Alternatively, he may entrust this task to the ushers and accompany the bridesmaids to the reception. If the bride and groom are leaving the reception by car, the best man may have the additional task of parking the car nearby and looking after the keys.
At the reception, the best man requests silence for grace, makes a short speech, reads out a selection of telemessages and cards and tells the guests the rest of the programme for the reception. Some information on speeches will be found towards the end of this post.
If the suits were hired for the wedding the best man will no doubt have to return the bridegroom's, together with his own and possibly those of the ushers.
Apart from buying himself a new suit or hiring an outfit and purchasing a wedding gift for the bride and groom, the best man's expenses are relatively light. The bridegroom will provide him with the money to pay any wedding fees and any other incidental expenses.
THE BRIDESMAIDS AND PAGES
The choice of bridesmaids and pages can sometimes pose problems for the bride, not only in the number of attendants, but their respective ages. Whatever the final choice, the selection of chief bridesmaid will no doubt be decided quite early on in the proceedings. She will probably be a sister or close friend of the bride. If she is already married herself, her title is matron of honor, but her duties remain the same.