(Serving the Amicalola Falls area in the North Georgia Mountains)
Here is the wedding etiquette that tells you how a wedding is set up, how the bridal party enters, where grandmothers are seated and where mothers of the bride and groom should sit, among others. All information is looking down towards the alter or gazebo where the minister will stand, or looking as guests would as they enter.
As they come down the aisle, the groom is always on the right and the bride is always on HIS left. Wedding etiquette says those are the respective sides for guests of the groom (right hand side) and bride (left hand side) as well. This would be if it is a small wedding and the couple is entering by themselves.
From the perspective of the wedding officiant, the bride will be to the officiant’s right because she/he is facing them.
Wedding Etiquette for Bridal Party
The rule for a larger wedding is that the groom and the best man follow the officiant in first, and turn to face the audience, standing on the right side (officiant's left.) Then the maid or matron of honor comes out to stand opposite the best man on the left side (officiant’s right).
After that, the bridesmaids and groomsmen come out either singly or being escorted (depending on the bride's preference) by the groomsmen and go to their respective places. If there are ring bearers and/or flower girls, they come in last so that they don't have to stand up in front too long.
If the ladies are to be escorted, wedding etiquette says that the gentleman crooks his left arm and extends it to the lady. She then puts her arm through his.
Wedding Etiquette for Seating of Grandmothers and Mothers
They may choose to have grandmothers be seated by the groomsmen before the ceremony starts too. The rule says that grandmothers are brought down right before the ceremony starts and seated on the front row on either the right or left, depending on if they are part of the groom's family or the bride's family. Their husbands follow them down. The ladies are usually seated in the third chair in with the grandfathers seated in the fourth chair in.
Then the mother of the groom is escorted down with her husband following her and she is seated on the end of the aisle of the first row on the right side with her husband seated next to her on the second chair in from the aisle, according to wedding etiquette. After that, the mother of the bride is escorted down and seated in the first chair of the aisle on the left-hand side, with the chair next to her empty for her husband who is escorting the bride down.
After the mothers are seated, that is when the officiant and the groom and best man go down the aisle. Wedding etiquette says that this is the beginning of the actual bridal party entrance.
Other Bridal Party Customs
If it is a big affair, it is recommended to have a rehearsal first and a wedding coordinator. Usually it is not necessary for the officiant to be there for the rehearsal as her/his place is always the same. If it is a small affair, the officiant can usually tell everyone the proper wedding etiquette.
If the bride is going to be "given away" or (as I prefer) "presented for marriage", the father or whoever has the bride on HIS left so that he is standing between the couple, signifying a barrier until he steps back and "gives" the bride to the groom. Then he goes to be seated, usually beside the mother of the bride in the second chair of the first row, on the bride's side of the aisle.
Often times, the mother of the bride will stand as the bride appears and this is the clue for the rest of the attendees to rise also. The officiant then tells the audience that they may be seated after the father moves away. It's just common courtesy to have them all be seated and that way, short folks in the back can still see the ceremony.
During the ceremony, the best man has the bride's ring and gives it to the officiant at the appropriate time. He may have to take it off of the ring bearer's pillow. If the ring bearer is very young, they usually put a fake one on the pillow just in case, and the best man carries the "good" one in his pocket. If there is no ring bearer, the best man carries it.
The flower girl may throw petals out as she comes down the aisle or not. The maid or matron of honor carries the groom's ring, usually on her thumb as it is too big to go on any other finger. She takes the bride's flowers as she hands the bride the ring. The officiant will say the vows part of the ceremony first and then have the exchange of rings.
After the officiant announces the couple at the end of the ceremony, the couple goes down the aisle together with her on his RIGHT side now (which seems natural as that is how they are standing.) Then the ring bearer and flower girl, the bridesmaids being escorted by the groomsmen, and finally the maid or matron of honor being escorted by the best man go down the aisle.
If they choose, the groomsmen may come back down the aisle and escort the grandmothers out first, with their husbands following them, then the mother of the groom and finally the mother of the bride, again with the spouses following them. When the bride's mother goes out, that is the signal for everyone else to leave.
Then the officiant says "You may be dismissed" or sometimes something like "Please go to the reception at such and such a place". Then the officiant goes down the aisle after all the folks file out.
After that, there are usually the pictures to be taken and then the reception.
Other Wedding Etiquette Items
If the couple plans to use a Unity Candle, two tapers are mounted in candle holders on either side of a pillar candle in the center. The tapers are lit usually by the mothers of the bride and groom or someone else that they designate prior to the ceremony beginning. Then the couple each picks up one of the tapers and together they light the center one when the officiant gets to that part in the ceremony. The officiant then tells them to put out the ones in their hands.
The Sand ceremony works the same way in that two containers of different colored sand are placed beside an empty container in the middle. At the appropriate time, the couple each picks up their individual containers and pour them into the central one.
This works nicely for blended families where there are children from each or one side. This allows the child or children to be involved by having their own containers too. Plus it is a nice keepsake to have afterward as well.