When it comes to your Big Day, one of the questions you might find yourself asking is: "What do we do about wedding ceremony seating?" Knowing where to sit your parents, your partner's parents, both sets of grandparents, and other important family members can be confusing—and then you have to consider which side is whose on top of that. (Um, can we just skip ahead to cocktail hour already, please?) Traditional wedding ceremony seating takes some consideration, but not to fear—today, we're breaking down the ins and outs of who sits where so you can say a stress-free I Do with all of your ducks (and guests) in a row.
Which side your guests sit on traditionally depends on the type of ceremony you're having. In Christian ceremonies, the bride's guests sit on the left side of the aisle (if you're looking at the altar), and the groom's will sit on the right. In Jewish ceremonies, a bride's guests will sit on the right, while the groom's sit on the left (the exact opposite of a Christian ceremony). In an Orthodox wedding, however, male and female guests typically sit on opposite sides of the aisle (all of the men on one side, and all of the women on the other).
Parents and Important Family Members
Be sure to save the first few rows of seating for parents, grandparents, and other immediate or important family members. (In Jewish ceremonies, however, both sets of parents will stand under the chuppah. And in Indian wedding ceremonies, both sets of parents will sit under the mandap.) You can reserve seating by having your planner rope off the first 3-5 rows of both sides of the aisle, depending on your guest count. You can also have your calligrapher make some reserved signs to attach to chairs, or, for those who want to add an extra personal touch, attach printed photos (or cute Polaroids) of each family member to their reserved seat. If you have family members who are coming up to the altar for readings or other ceremony participation, make sure they're toward the end of the aisle so they can easily get up when it's their time to approach the altar.
If you're having a military wedding, you should take into consideration rankings when planning your wedding ceremony seating. Out of respect, guests should always be seated according to rank (captains with captains, etc.). High-ranking officials like lieutenant and colonel should be seated in positions of honor (toward the front, either with or directly behind family).
How to Direct Guests
If ceremony seating is important to you, make sure you work with a professional wedding planner ahead of time to talk the ins-and-outs of how you'll seat your guests. You may want to opt for cute wedding signage that points guests to their side of the aisle and/or rope off (or used "reserved" signs to reserve) seats for important family members up front. Your wedding planner (or her assistant) should also be there directing guests as the ceremony starts. Keep in mind the rehearsal dinner can help with this. If you're having grandparents and parents as part of the recessional, have them practice walking down the aisle and allow them to get a rough idea of where they'll be seated during the rehearsal. (Psst...wondering where to start with your ceremony rehearsal? Check out our ultimate wedding ceremony rehearsal breakdown here.)
Wait...do we have to follow this?
Of course not! No two weddings (or couples) are the same. Some may be lucky enough to have all four parents in tow, while others may have parents or grandparents who've passed away...and others still may have step-parents to work into the mix. Some weddings may celebrate a heterosexual couple while other weddings celebrate a same-sex marriage. Other weddings may opt for modern "in the round" ceremony seating or even floor cushions or benches. If traditional wedding ceremony seating rules don't work for you, feel free to bend them (or scrap them all together!). Talk to your wedding planner about signage (We've all seen the wedding ceremony signs that read something like: We're all family now! Pick a seat, not a side.) and other options for ensuring your guests no there are no rules when it comes to ceremony seating.
Photo courtesy Kurt Boomer Photography and Orange County wedding planners LVL Weddings & Events