What Is a Wedding?

Every wedding is unique, but some parts are essential

Jewish wedding ceremony

 

Frank Rosenstein / Getty Images 

A wedding is a ceremony and its associated rituals by which two people vow to spend their lives together in marriage. Though it is basically a celebration of love and partnership, a wedding is tailored to a couple in a variety of ways, from their personality to their religious or cultural beliefs. For this reason, every wedding is a little different. There are, however, some parts to a wedding that tend to be universal.

The Essential Parts of a Wedding

Wedding ceremonies vary greatly. Some are very traditional church ceremonies steeped in religion while others are more casual affairs that are very secular. A wedding may be the ceremony alone with just a few intimate guests or an elaborate all-day affair that includes a reception and dance. Whatever the case may be, there are two essential parts of every wedding:

  1. The marriage vows, which can be traditional, non-traditional, or vows that you write yourself.
  2. The Pronouncement of Marriage by your officiant or celebrant, which is usually followed by the big kiss that melts everyone's heart.

Other Ceremony Rituals

In addition to the essentials, there are also other rituals that are typically incorporated into a marriage ceremony. Some of these may have legal or religious significance. For instance, it may be the signing of a state marriage license or a religious document such as a ketubah, or asking for God's blessings upon the marriage.

Many couples choose to have a ceremony that follows a traditional format. These include the processional in which the wedding party walks down the aisle, leading to the debut of the bride escorted by her father or a similar person that's very close to her. The ceremony may also include blessings, readings from scripture or literature, family or community vows of unity, and an exchange of wedding rings or other gifts.

A Wedding Reception

Following the ceremony, a couple may have a wedding reception or party. This typically includes a meal, though that's not a requirement.

Traditionally, wedding cake is served. Historically, this was a symbol of fertility, but today it is more often used to express hopes of a sweet life for the couple. One ritual that remains popular is having the couple cut the cake together, sometimes even feeding it to each other.

Some people choose to have music and dancing at the reception as well. This portion of the day often includes the couple's symbolic first dance and various family dances such as the father-daughter dance.

Community Support

A wedding is not just about the couple getting married. It is also an exchange between that couple and their community of family and friends. It is a moment where the couple vows to be together as a pillar of support, and simultaneously thanks their community for supporting and loving them.

By attending a wedding, the guests are also agreeing to uphold this couple in their marriage together. A couple may even ask their guests to take a community vow of support.

A Family Expression

A wedding can also be a way for a family to display their social and financial status. Some couples use it as a way to express their personalities, characters, values, and morals. There is no minimum that a couple must spend—the basic vows and agreements are free—but some couples have spent millions of dollars on their big day.

It's Your Wedding

When planning your own wedding, the important thing to keep in mind is that it is your day. Choose the elements that you enjoy, put your personal spin on tradition if you like, and stick to a realistic budget. If you feel stressed about it not being absolutely perfect, take a deep breath and relax. After all, this day is just the beginning to what everyone at the wedding hopes will be a bright and happy future, so have fun with it!