You have just one chance to get all of your essential information to your guests before they sit down ready to hear you say your vows: your wedding program. With this folded sheet (or sheets) of paper, you can provide your guests with the information and context they need to understand and appreciate your ceremony. Here are a few things to make sure you include:

The People

A perfect wedding can’t happen without the people who make it special. Even if you’re planning an extremely small wedding, it’s still a thoughtful gesture to thank the important people in your wedding programs. For large weddings, the programs are a nice way to introduce the members of the wedding party to guests who may not yet be acquainted.

Introduce (and use the opportunity to thank) essential wedding personnel like the officiant, the wedding planner, live musicians, and any people reading passages or singing songs during the ceremony. Many couples find the programs a nice opportunity to thank their parents and siblings, as well. If you have departed loved ones you wish could be present for your big day, the programs are a nice place to include a photo and words of remembrance.

When listing the members of your bridal party, you might want to liven up your programs a little by listing one interesting fact about each person (like, “Sarah first met the bride at roller derby tryouts!”). If you have the room on the paper, it acts as a great way to get people mingling at the reception.

The Event

One of the most essential things to include on programs is the ceremony itself. Let guests know what to expect by listing each part of the ceremony in chronological order. Some big events you might want to mention are: the seating of the families, the processional, the unity ceremony, the readings, the vows, the ring exchange, and the blessings; although your ceremony will have its own unique itinerary. By putting them on paper, your guests can follow along and anticipate their favorite parts.

The Customs

If you are including any special customs in your ceremony, keep your audience in the loop by explaining the significance of each custom in your program. Religious traditions often mystify observers of other faiths–especially customs that involve prayer in multiple languages or standing, sitting, kneeling, and singing on cue. For portions of the ceremony spoken in other languages, the program is the perfect place to provide an English translation for your non-multilingual attendees.

Cultural traditions can also be confusing for people not in the know, so if you’re including aspects of your family’s heritage, include a few lines on the program explaining what you’re doing and why. From stomping on glassware to jumping over brooms, binding the couple’s hands together, and even sawing logs, every culture has at least one wedding tradition that causes outsiders to blink. Don’t underestimate your audience, though; once they have an understanding of the tradition, even guests seeing it for the first time will be able to appreciate its significance in your wedding.

The Message

If you planned any wedding details specifically to communicate the values you hold dear, your program is the perfect place to share your intention with your guests. For example, you may include a few lines in the program about why you opted for charitable donations instead of wedding favors, why you chose to have an “unplugged” wedding with no cell phones or cameras, or why you’re using live plants instead of cut flowers.

The Fun Details

Even the best-planned weddings have some down-time where guests are sitting and waiting. Use your programs to entertain your guests. Some couples include fun extras like “How well do you know us?” quizzes. (Provide the answer key upside down at the bottom of the page)

Harness your guests’ enthusiasm by using your wedding programs to point them in the same direction. For example, including a line that says, “Please tag any wedding pictures you post with #KenAndTinasWedding” or “Please email your best photos to KenAndTina@Wedding.com for inclusion in the album” will give you a steady trickle of photographs to enjoy after the big day.

Programs Aren’t Mandatory

When planning your programs, remember not to stress. If you find yourself struggling to think of ways to fill the blank pages of your wedding programs, it might mean you don’t actually need programs at all. For communicating just a few lines of basic information, such as the timing of the entrance, vows, and exit, you can write the words decoratively at the entry of the ceremony. (Consider hiring a calligrapher to put your words into an attractive form on a mirror or chalkboard for your guests to read as they arrive to the ceremony.)

The important thing is to let your guests know what to expect and to make sure they’re fully included in your wedding. As long as your guests understand and enjoy your ceremony, feel free to communicate the details to them however you wish.

GAEA DENKER-LEHRMAN

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