Wedding Etiquette Guide

Rules of Civility – Wedding Etiquette

With spring now upon us in the northern hemisphere, the wedding season is just starting. Maybe you’ve only attended small weddings in someone’s home or church basement, and now you’ve been invited to a large wedding and reception. Maybe you’ve received an invitation that reads “formal attire” and do not know what that means, exactly. Maybe you’ve received your first invitation to a Buddhist or Muslim wedding. For every gentleman that knows how to behave and how much to spend on a gift for an American-couple-to-be and what to wear, there are other gentlemen with questions.

The Most Important Role of the Wedding Guest

Expectations of wedding guests may seem cumbersome or too fraught with opportunities for failure. If you can remember and fill your heart and mind with the following knowledge, you will have no difficulties at anyone’s wedding: One or both members of the couple have asked you to attend the wedding as a witness to their joy and to your importance to one or both of them. Set aside any lingering cynicism (which is difficult in the United States, with our multi-billion dollar wedding industry) and relax! The couple expects you to bring levity and laughter to the nuptials. You will make the wedding as boring or fascinating as you choose to. If you are truly lucky, you may even meet your future partner at a wedding. What follows below is a two-part etiquette list. One is a basic list that addresses wedding guest expectations in the United States; the second list describes what you can expect at explicitly religious ceremonies.

Children will be specifically named in a wedding invitation

Children will be specifically named in a wedding invitation

RSVP

Respond to an invitation as soon as you are able to do so. Most invitations contain a response card with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Please use it before the requested date. Even if you respond months before the wedding, the couple-to-be appreciates your timeliness. Meal costs drive up wedding expenses in the U.S., and the number of guests, for the most part, dictate meal costs.

What Does Plus One Mean

If an invitation reads “requests the company of you and a guest,” that means you and a guest. That is it. You cannot bring anyone else. If the invitation requests you alone, then you’ll be attending the wedding by yourself. An invitation for you alone will have your name only on the envelope. If the envelope reads “Mr. X and Guest,” then the couple expect you to bring a guest on your choosing.

Plus one means one only. Not two or three. Not your brother visiting from out of town or your dad because he’s lonely. Unless your children are mentioned in the invitation, either by name or “and family,” they are not invited. Hire a babysitter for the day.

A wedding invitation with an invitation to the reception and a response card

A wedding invitation with an invitation to the reception and a response card

What Saying Yes Means

If you agree to attend the reception, then attend. Unless you are deathly ill, hospitalized or have a family emergency, go to the wedding.

Wedding Attire

Follow the advice given in the invitation. If no dress code is specified, ask your hosts. In the near future, we will create a separate guide about wedding attire. In the meantime, take a look at the stroller article and guide to cocktail attire.

Proper morning coat at a wedding

Proper morning coat at a wedding

Weddings Gifts

If the couple has registered at a department store, buy something from the registry and have it sent to either one of their homes (or their joint home if they live together before the reception). Alternatively you can give money. as a rule of thumb you should spend at least as much on the gift as the party is spending on you. In the U.S. that means at least $75 per person or more, depending on the venue and state. A wedding in New York City is going to be more expensive than a wedding in rural Ohio.

Outside the U.S. traditions are different but cash is a common gift most of the time, though gift amounts are higher. For example in Spain you are expected to pay at least the cost of the dinner which is usually €150 + the gift at least €150 per person. So altogether that’s $400 person. If you are not sure, ask someone else who will attend the wedding as well.

Timeliness

Arrive on time to both the ceremony and the reception. Allot time for traffic. If you are traveling in an unfamiliar area, allow time for getting lost.

Attend the Ceremony

In the U.S., the wedding ceremony is often as important as the reception. For some couples, the ceremony is more important; they will invite only family and close friends to the ceremony and request co-workers and distant relatives attend the reception. If you are invited, do not skip the ceremony! Couples put effort and thought into this part of the wedding. If the couple does invite you to the ceremony (and do not assume they will), return their respect and show up on time.

What to Do If You Arrive Late to the Ceremony

In U.S. ceremonies, guests and family members who are not part of the wedding party sit down first. Then the processional begins. If you find you have failed to arrive in a timely manner, wait until the processional ends then sit in a row or pew in the back.

Dinner Table at Wedding Reception

Dinner Table at Wedding Reception

The Wedding Reception

Seating

When you arrive at the reception, there will be a table with place cards or the place cards are on the table. If you pick the cards from a table, they will be displayed in alphabetical order by name. Once you find your card, there will be a table number on it. Take your card to that table and put the card in front of the plate(s). Sit in the chair directly across from your name card. Do not swap name cards. If there are no name cards, sit whereever you like. Introduce yourself. Follow up with a question like “are you a friend of the bride/groom” or, if it is a gay or lesbian wedding, “you are a friend of which bride or groom.” Brush up on the art of conversation.

Small Bills

Some traditions have a money tree or a money dance. Bring some small bills to contribute.

Say Thank You

Thank the couple before you leave. Thank their parents, too.

The place card will have your name and table number

The place card will have your name and table number

After the Wedding

Call the couple and congratulate them again. But wait a week or two after they’ve returned from their honeymoon.

Write a Note

In years past cultural etiquette dictated a handwritten thank you note from all  gentleman and ladies. There is nothing stopping you from keeping up this now largely forgotten point of etiquette. You might also think about writing a note to anyone you met at the reception you’d like to contact again. Your handwritten note will set you apart.

The Wedding Guest Do Nots

Do not make a spectacle of yourself, whether by drink, dance or disrobing.

A Ketubah in Hebrew and English

A Ketubah in Hebrew and English

Guidelines for Guests Attending Religious Weddings

What follows are suggestions. Religious weddings will vary depending on the degree and type of religiosity, the ethnicity of the couple as well their personal preferences. Gay and lesbian couples may also choose to have religious ceremonies. How they will enact their faith through the sacrament of marriage will probably depend on the couple and their faith tradition. If you receive an invitation to a religious ceremony, and are unsure about anything, ask. You can expect a varying degree of differences even within a single religious tradition. Some weddings may directly contradict the tenets of the couple’s faith. A flexible and nonjudgemental attitude can help when confusing situations arise.

General Suggestions for Religious Weddings

A dark two piece of three piece suit and tie is an excellent choice to wear to any religious ceremony, regardless of what other attendees may wear. Unless specifically asked by either person being married, avoid so-called ethnic dress, unless it is your appropriately ethnic dress. If you attend an Islamic wedding or a Conservative or Orthodox Jewish wedding with a woman, she should wear conservative dress. Her arms, neck, knees should be covered (even while sitting) and her head covered. Take some time to understand what you should do at a religious ceremony. Kneeling is act of extreme humility in Catholicism; less so in Judaism. Orthodox Judaism segregates women and men by gender. Reformed Judaism does not. Islam prohibits dancing at weddings, but many Muslim ceremonies are infused with cultural practices that may predate the adoption of Islam. Some of these practices include dancing. More modern interpretations of the teachings of the Prophet allow for photography and videography (see the video below). This Indian Muslim wedding video perfectly encapsulates the many contradictions within Muslim communities. Photography may be forbidden by Allah (haram), but there are interpretations of the teachings that suggest pictures done by artistic renderings are haram but photographs, which simply capture and store an image, are not.

Protestant Weddings

With the worldwide popularity of Hollywood movies, most people have been exposed to the general flow of a Protestant ceremony. Each denomination may have specific requirements (whether Communion is served, for example). There is an overall unity to a Protestant service, across denominations. After the processional is finished, the minister will make opening remarks and follow with a prayer. If you do not wish to pray, you may bow your head or close your eyes. If the wedding is a traditional one, the father will give away the bride. There is then an exchange of vows, the exchange of rings and the presentation of the couple. There may signing of hymns or not. Protestation denominations run the gamut from very strict to extremely casual. With a nod to Hollywood, most of us have a general idea of what to expect. Ubiquitous images of Protestant wedding ceremonies does not, however, exempt us from politeness. Dress well, listen in silence, sing with joy and act with kindness towards everyone and you will not have anything to worry about.

Islamic Wedding

Islamic Wedding

Islamic Weddings

You may be invited to attend the ceremony (called a Nikeh) or the reception (Walimah), or both.  If the ceremony occurs at a mosque, you should remove your shoes upon entering this sacred space. Out of respect wear little, if any, jewelry. Islamic weddings will typically be segregated by gender. If the couple being married are pious, and you have a significant other but are not married, you may be asked to attend the wedding alone. At the Walimah you may continue to sit at sex-segregated tables. Food will be in abundance, and dancing will not. Islam proscribes dancing because music is haram  (forbidden by Allah). If there is dancing, and many Muslim cultures do have dancing at weddings despite Allah’s proscription against music, watch what others do. Know that you may very well dance with other men, not women. You should give a gift but do not overspend. Islam requires that no one go into debt because of a wedding! Give what the bride and groom require in a humble manner, which is to say your gift should not be ostentatious. Photography is out. Taking a photo of living beings is also haram. Keep your camera at home and your cell phone in  your pocket.

Jewish Weddings

Whether the service is outdoors or indoors, and especially indoors at a Synagogue, wearing a kippah (yarmulke in Yiddish) is a sign of respect but not one of religious identification. However, the tallit, or braided shawl, worn by men and some women in liberal congregations is a sign of religious identification. (The four corners of the shawl remind Jews to keep God’s commandments). As a non-Jew, you may wear a kippah but not a tallit. Your invitation may contain two different start times. The first one is a time to greet the couple before the ceremony begins (kabbalat panim). You can arrive at the time indicated or at any time between the start time of the kabbalat panim and the second time. The second one indicates the start of the ceremony itself. If your invitation contains one start time, that probably indicates the start of the ceremony. Unlike the kabbalat punim, you should be on time to the start of the ceremony. During kabbalat panim, you greet the couple in a room. If it is a traditional wedding, the bride and groom will be in separate rooms. There may be light refreshments. Feel free to eat in front of the couple. But know that some couples may fast on their wedding day until after the ceremony. In this situation, you would be considered rude if you offered food to either person getting married. There may also be a tisch for the groom and bride (depending on whether the service is liberal or not). The tisch is time of fun and singing. The groom (and also the bride) may attempt to share words from the Torah (done from memory). At this time, family and friends may heckle him or her by shouting or singing. The goal is to cause the speaker to stumble. You may feel free to participate in these activities. The ketubah, or Jewish wedding contract, is typically signed during this period. In traditional weddings, the ketubah is signed by two witnesses in the groom’s tisch. In more liberal ones, everyone in the kabbalat panim will join, and the ketubah will be signed by two witnesses in front of the bride and groom and all guests. Unlike Christian weddings, where guests typically sit on either the bride or grooms side of the aisle, guests may sit on either side of the aisle. If the wedding is a conservative or Orthodox one, however, the seating will be sex-segregated. Near the end of the ceremony, the groom will break a glass. This act symbolizes the fact of pain in even the most joyous moments of life. Now is the time to join everyone as they stand and yell “Mazel Tov!” Then the dancing begins. Expect to eat a full meal, too.

Edit Post ‹ Gentleman's Gazette — WordPress

Edit Post ‹ Gentleman’s Gazette — WordPress

Catholic Weddings

In the Catholic faith, weddings are one of the seven sacraments. Sometimes called Holy Matrimony, Catholic weddings will have a mass. As Catholic services in general have the reputation for a certain kind of devotional practice absent from Protestant and other religious services, most Catholic ceremonies include an order of service for non-Catholic guests. Upon entering the Church, you may see Catholics dip their index and middle fingers into a small cup of water and genuflect (or bow if the knees are bad) in front of the altar before seating themselves. Catholics do not expect non-Catholics to genuflect. At the beginning of a Mass, the priest may say, “Peace be with you.” The congregation responds in kind. If he asks you to greet your neighbor, it is typical to say “peace be with you” to all the people whose hand you shake. The mass ritualistically requires participants to sit, stand and kneel depending on the order of service and what is happening. Congregants stand for the reading of the Gospels and sit during other readings and the homily. Kneeling is of especial religious significance. Believers kneel during prayer, which will typically happen towards the end of Mass. Out of respect, you may participate in these actions or you may not. You may choose to stand and sit and not kneel. You may be older and have bad knees or believe kneeling to pray is not appropriate or are not a believer. If you can, try to be consistent for the service. Even if you don’t kneel, you can close your eyes or bow your head. What you may never do as a non-Catholic is take Communion. Communion (eating the wafer and drinking the wine) is the holiest of sacraments in the Catholic church. Taking Communion as an Anglican, Espicopalian or Luthern does not qualify you to take Catholic Communion. Technically, only Catholics in good standing may take Communion. Some couples may make provisions for the non-Catholics attending their wedding to receive Communal blessings. The priest will instruct non-Catholics to cross their arms over their chest (cross their arms and place their hands on their shoulders). You will then receive a verbal blessing during Communion. If the option to receive a blessing is not available to you, stay seated in your pew row. It is a sign of respect to do so.

Hindu Wedding

Hindu Wedding

Hindu Wedding

Hindu weddings are bright, lively multi-day events. There are multiple ceremonies to attend over three days. Clothing is both casual and formal. You will attend some or all of the events depending on whether you are a friend of the groom or bride, and how close you are to the bride or groom. Mehndi (the bride’s family and friends) – the henna painting party for women. Men will hang out in a room near the party. Later they will meet the women to help feed them as the women wait for the henna to dry. Sangeet/Raas-Garba (the bride and the groom’s family and friends) – happens the night before the wedding. Sangeet is the Sanskrit for singing with instruments. Guests dance Raas dances (traditionally male folk dances) and Garba dances (traditionally the Gujarat state dance, with many variations) throughout the night. Family members also plan a production of songs and dances that tell the couple’s story. As an invitee, you will probably be asked if you want to participate in this excellent production. If you can, do it! Gran Shanti (the bride’s family) – members of the bride’s family and her closest friends gather the morning of the ceremony to make offerings to the Gods to ensure a blessed union. The wedding ceremony (the bride and groom’s family and friends) – a ceremony that varies in length that ends with the tying of the sacred thread (manga sutra) or the saying of the vows (sapta padi). Below is a lovely video of a Hindu wedding.

We The reception – hosted by the groom’s family. It may be more Western-like if the wedding is in the United States, with further dancing and eating. If the wedding is in India, the reception is something closer to the receiving line in Western weddings. The bride and groom spend several hours greeting guests, who bring envelopes of cash.

Buddhist Wedding

Buddhist weddings will follow the traditions of the country from which the bride and groom come. Compared to other religions, it is a relaxed affair. Unlike other religions, in which marriage is a sacred act and an enactment of a couple’s religion within their marriage, the decision to marry is not a specifically religious one in Buddhism and does not affect a person’s practice. In fact there are no specific instructions in Buddhist texts regarding weddings. Dress should be respectful. When entering a temple (if the wedding takes place in the temple), you must remove your shoes. Your feet must never point to an image of the Buddha. The ceremony is about thirty minutes long and consists of the temple monks chanting Pali texts. As the chanting as evolved over centuries, the bride, groom and guests are expected to listen and not participate in the chanting. There is no organ or choir. Monks chant during a Laotian wedding.

Photographs and video recordings are allowed. When the service is over, there is  typically a reception.

Have you ever attended a religious service? How was it for you?

Of course, things such as table etiquette are very important at a wedding. Take a look at all our etiquette guides.



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22 replies
  1. TheLittleOne
    TheLittleOne says:

    Gerard you probably have never been in any Muslim wedding. Don’t know where you found your ideas (some anti muslim website or some Al Qaida’s website – who are also anti muslim). But you should have done your job of journalist and asked real muslims to answer.

    • Daniel Gerson
      Daniel Gerson says:

      a) The article was written by Mr. Sennett and not Mr. Welsh, who mearly posted a comment expressing his appreciation of said article.
      b) Why did you not right the wrongs that are present in the article, in your opinion, instead of denying the research Mr. Sennett has done? As it stands now, you have only been rude and non-supportive to your own cause.

      • Sven Raphael Schneider
        Sven Raphael Schneider says:

        Exactly, the little one. Please share your thoughts instead of just saying something is wrong. In my experience, sometimes people who leave these kind of comments are wrong themselves. For example the other day someone claimed that Only Scotch was referred to as Whisky, and Canadian was Whiskey – but he was wrong…
        So point out where and why you disagree, we can discuss it and at the end of the day we all know more than before.
        That’s the whole point of a discussion to learn more once we are done with it. It’s always easy to say something is bad or wrong, but making it right is more difficult. So please join in!

        • Jiri Hanzl
          Jiri Hanzl says:

          Another great article, Sven. Thank you. But I must agree with TheLittleOne here. The part on Islamic wedding seems rather anti-Muslim or focused on the most severe way of practice at least. Music in Islam is not haram, just certain kinds of music and that can still be disputed. And dancing generally is not prohibited neither, in fact some of the mystic movements within Islam are dedicated to perform dancing (i.e. Whirling Dervishes).

  2. Drake Osaben
    Drake Osaben says:

    This was a good article and helpful as usual.

    I do have one comment to make though in regards to the Catholic wedding: after the somewhat recent new translation of mass the proper responses have changed somewhat. Particularly, the appropriate response to the greeting is now: “And with your spirit.” This is just a minor detail and many Catholics who don’t regular attend often are tripped up by this.

    In any case, it was a pleasure to read.

  3. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Sven,

    I know you did not write this particular article, but it seems better to address this comment to you as I know you will read this.

    Catholic weddings may not include Mass. It is by no means a requirement and will likely not occur if either the bride or groom is not Catholic. If both are Catholic then Mass may occur, but in larger Diocese it may not. Whether or not Mass will be celebrated depends entirely upon the couple, and the Priest. Catholic weddings will very very rarely be performed anywhere but in a Church.

  4. Alessio
    Alessio says:

    Another exquisite article of yours. You have talked about the US weddings but i think it would be useful to know that in Italy, the etiquette is quite the same. In the south in particular, where the catholic tradition is very strong, as the flashiness of the people that usually attend to a wedding. I did not note how to behave in two situations:
    1) what if someone is invited to a wedding and he need to travel to get there (for example i live in turin and my friend will get married somewhere in the world): Who have to pay for the trip and the hotel?
    2) There are some circumstances when you can’t avoid neither the ceremony or the party because in italy, usually the lineup is: ceremony (with the optional walk of the bride from the house to te church with all the court behind the bride and his father) at the church of the bride, congratulations, restaurant (6 hours only in this part). The problem comes when if some relative invites you but you don’t see them for years, or simply there’s an unspoken antipathy, you cannot avoid the partecipation otherwise in the public opinion of the family (and further) you are considered ill mannered. What should be the behave? last year there were two weedings, but my parents did not wanted to go so they sent me and my sister to the first (could not avoid because the groom was my father’s godson) and the second wedding (another cousin) was attended by only my sister.
    in the end, i wish to read soon, an article about baptism ceremony, party and gift.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Alessio,
      1) If you are invited to a wedding on the other side of the globe, it is your responsibility to pay the flight an accommodations. I know some people who refrain from giving a gift because they already spent so much money. However, I still think a gift is nice. At the same time, I invited my best men from Germany to the U.S. I paid for his tuxedo, accommodation etc. and he paid for his flight. A close friend will always be willing to chip in I suppose.
      2) A baptism is very religious, and I am not sure that fits to GG but thanks for suggesting it.

  5. Chris
    Chris says:

    This is a very through guide and timely for me personally, as my little sister is getting hitched this July … thanks for all your hard work!

  6. Colt
    Colt says:

    Having lived in Utah for most of my life allow me to offer a brief primer on Mormon weddings. Most Mormon (or LDS) weddings take place inside an LDS Temple. Only members of the LDS faith who hold a current temple recommend may attend the service. If you’re non-LDS and invited to a wedding, the host will likely invite you to the reception and not-actual ceremony (called a sealing). You may be invited to attend a lunch service that follows the ceremony likely held at a restaurant or local LDS chapel.

    Wedding receptions in LDS culture are generally held at either a chapel, home or other location receptions are normally held. There is no alcohol served. There is usually light refreshments provided and members of the local congregation (ward) along with family members volunteer to assist. Gifts are welcome and often left at the reception. Most guests are not expected to stay for the entirety of the reception, but are expected to go through “The Line”. The wedding line is made up of the bride and groom, their parents and siblings, and any members of the wedding party. It can cause for some awkward moments of forced conversation with strangers, but I find the best way to make your way through is to simply state how you know wedded couple.

    The attire is often casual and varied greatly from polos and khakis to suit and ties. I’d recommend wearing a sport jacket and tie for men and a skirt for women, unless otherwise stated on the invitation.

  7. destination wedding invitations
    destination wedding invitations says:

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    wear to provide a bridesmaid in a very beach wedding ceremony.
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  8. Pascal
    Pascal says:

    It reads: “Unless your children are mentioned in the invitation, either by name or “and family,” they are not invited. Hire a babysitter for the day”

    I don’t agree with this part of the article (which anyway is a brilliant one). My children are part of me and my family and so I think if you want me to attend your wedding is very kind to invite the “whole” of me, in respect of me and my family. Etiquette is expected from the bride/groom also.
    I would not attend a weeding in wich my children are not invited.

    Just my point a view.

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