10 Things the Best Wedding Ceremonies Have in Common

I was fortunate enough to go to a fabulous wedding the other day (congrats and mazel, Lauren and Jon!), and even though the music was pumping, the setting was top-notch, and the food was flawless, it’s their ceremony’s that stuck with me. I realized as different as it was from every other of the 22 I’ve attended (yes, I counted), the most enjoyable ones shared some key characteristics.

They’re personal.
Writing your own vows is one way to accomplish this, of course, but it’s not the only way. The officiant can share your how-you-met or -got-engaged story, which everyone loves hearing even if they know it. Or even something about your relationship, say, that you bonded over kung-fu movies.

They’re inclusive.
If you’re having a religious wedding and not everyone in attendance shares your faith, a little explanation goes a long way in making your guests feel welcome. Listing events in the order they’ll occur in a ceremony program isn’t quite enough when those words are meaningless to the uninitiated–homily and sheva brachot come to mind.

They’re interactive.
Beyond the “Does anyone have any objections?” question. At my friend Abby’s wedding, a crucial part of the ceremony was inviting guests to share their wishes for the couple. It was touching.

They put their marriage in context.
I get goosebumps when officiants recognize that the marriages they’re performing are the result of other successful unions that came before them. Yes, the bride and the groom are the stars of the day, but admitting that, hey, we’re not the only ones who’ve ever done this shows humility and endears witnesses to you.

They’re gracious.
Attending a wedding isn’t easy or cheap. Dedicating a few moments to acknowledging those that have schlepped to be there to watch you get hitched is probably more appreciated than a trinket at their reception place setting. And the more specific, the better. At Lauren and Jon’s ceremony, the officiant welcomed guests who had traveled from “foreign lands like England, Japan, and Portland, Oregon,” which got a big chuckle from guests who know about Portland.

Guests are physically comfortable.
No witness wants to sweat or shiver as you exchange vows. A/C when it’s hot and heat or cozy wraps (which Lauren and Jon provided; love my new gold pashmina) when it’s cold are a nice touch. Chairs for a ceremony longer than 20 minutes are fairly essential.

There’s appropriate music by well-rehearsed musicians.
A tune that feels out of place in the setting can ruin the mood, but melodies that naturally fit the venue enhance it. Same goes for the performers: The unskilled or ill-practiced can shake guests out of the happy place in which you want them to be. But talented folks who are familiar with the pieces are a delight.

They’re easy to hear.
Listening to proceedings you can’t quite make out is equivalent to waiting in a room to be selected for jury duty.

They’re easy to see.
You spend hundreds, if not thousands, on your look. Your bridal party’s in their finery, too. What good is it if you’re obstructed by trees or your guests can’t see past the heads in front of them?

They feature an obviously happy couple.
Even if you’re nervous, smile anyway. Think about how lucky you are to be marrying your soul mate. Looking scared makes people wonder if you’re confident about your decision–and makes them second-guess why they came out to support you in the first place. But grins are contagious when the bride and groom are wearing them. Because at the end of the day, there’s no better sight than witnessing two people in love commit themselves to each other forever.

Anything you’d add to this list? Did your ceremony have all these (sadly, mine didn’t!)?

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