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Wedding Traditions: Which Ones to Keep and Which Ones to Toss

Everyone loves weddings, and we all look forward to the time-honored traditions of the ceremony and reception. But are there some traditions that are better left behind in the past?

I turned to my family and friends to ask their opinions on the most common wedding traditions, and used my favorite social media platform–Instagram–to collect the data! Over 200 people jumped in with their opinions, and I discovered that men and women of all ages have very strong views on wedding traditions–and in general, they’re much more traditional than I anticipated!

You won’t find them in an etiquette book, and they aren’t hard and fast rules, but here are a few wedding traditions our brides, grooms, and guests think you should keep and a few you can safely toss.

 

Bride walking down the aisle

Yes, I used this blog post as an excuse to scroll through and share my wedding pictures from eight and a half years ago! All photos by Kallima Photography; I’m forever grateful for the way they captured our day!

 

Do we love the superstition, the drama, the emotion, or a little bit of all three? Almost three-quarters of our respondents loved the moment of the bride and groom laying eyes on each other for the first time at the altar.

 

“My fiance really just wants to see me for the first time walking down the aisle and be surprised! My mom is very much against a first look too! “-Gaby L.

 

But a vocal minority shared that they enjoyed the intimacy of a “first look.” If you’re concerned about being rushed for photography between the ceremony and reception, a “first look” is the way to go!

 

“We did our first look ahead of time- it was such a special moment just the two of us! Plus it took off the pressure of getting all the pictures done during cocktail hour!” -Nikki M.

 

Wedding reception table | white roses and hydrangea wedding centerpiece

 

Yes, it’s a logistical nightmare to make table arrangements for your guests, but it’s a tradition most people think you should keep. A free-for-all seating situation can be confusing and chaotic, and your guests will appreciate not having to scramble for a chair.

 

“I feel like as a guest I want to know where to be seated, not try to come up with it on my own. I feel like it’s not as intentional/thoughtful to have guests figure out where to sit.”  -Grace T.

 

However, a more casual setting and smaller crowd may lend itself to a less structured seating arrangement.

 

“We reserved a few tables for our most important guests (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents) but didn’t have assigned seating for anyone else and it worked with the venue and style of food stations. I set a few extra seats so people could move and mingle.” -Rachel P.

 

bridal party introduction at wedding reception

 

Traditionally, the DJ or emcee announces the bridal party as a way to honor and recognize their special role in the wedding. But a mispronounced name or an attempt at choreography can make this a cringe-worthy moment. The most votes for “toss” came from people in their 20’s and 30’s, which tells me that we may see less and less introductions in years to come. A few wedding planners messaged me to share that they advise cutting this tradition for couples eager to get the party started. Ask your bridesmaids how they feel about this one, and follow their lead!

 

bride and groom sitting at head table gold chiavari chairs white satin bows

 

This one surprised me: a strong majority favor keeping the head table! Couples liked having a few minutes to sit and talk with one another, and guests like knowing where to find the newlyweds during dinner.

 

father of the bride speech wedding reception

 

Another landslide: guests love hearing heartwarming and funny stories!

 

“…but keep them short!!” -Kristine G.

 

If you want to hit the dance floor, you can always do the speeches the night before. The rehearsal dinner provides a more intimate setting and may be easier for those who are nervous to speak in public.

 

“We did our speeches at the rehearsal dinner and that worked so well for our family! We wanted to get right to partying after the ceremony!” -Jean M.

 

receiving line wedding reception

 

It seems like an easy way to greet each guest, but the receiving line set-up can feel more like a hostage situation for your guests: there’s no way to escape! Most respondents agree that they want to start celebrating, not stand in line to congratulate the couple. This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for greeting your guests: circulate the room!

 

“I like when the bride and groom visit each table and say hi/thanks/etc. It’s a lot better than the receiving line.” -Grace T.

 

You probably won’t get to eat as much as you’d like, but your guests are dying to congratulate you personally and see your dress up close (and get a picture with you, of course). Be sure to greet each of your guests and express your gratitude for them being there. My suggestion: grab your groom and a glass of champagne and visit each table during dinner! It’s also a good idea to ask both sets of parents to “work the room”—that way, every guest will feel personally welcomed.

 

Guest book wedding ideas

 

I found that most people who voted for “guest book” don’t mean a literal “book”–they just love the idea of wishing the couple well in some way! Drop the traditional guest book in favor of something a bit more creative—we’ve got some fun non-traditional guest book alternatives!

“We did a wooden ‘M’ that everyone signed and it is my FAVORITE piece that we have hanging in our house. Just a constant reminder of all who were there. Some have passed since and it means so much to have their words still able to view daily! -Jean M.

 

“I feel like as a bride I have never gone back and looked at it! But as a guest I like writing little notes in them.” -Grace T.

 

bride and groom cutting wedding cake

 

Most of our respondents agree that they like the cake-cutting, but the private messages I received communicated that some guests don’t want to stop dancing to watch! Keep in mind that this is the traditional signal that it’s acceptable for older guests (or any guest really) to leave. The happy medium seems to be an announcement from your DJ for those guests who would like to watch you cut the cake, with music continuing for those who would prefer to keep dancing!

 

“I am a traditionalist but so many of the wedding reception traditions feel unnecessary and ultimately keep people there for longer than they probably would like to stay, just twiddling their thumbs waiting for the next “thing.” So I vote “toss” on MANY of the items…I think a reception can be just as meaningful and run a little more efficiently without all the hoopla that really doesn’t matter (like, do people REALLY want to gather around and watch you cut the cake?!) Especially since weddings are just so different now with big dinners and dancing, where as they used to be more of a true “reception” of waiting to congratulate the couple and get their cake and mints and they left (unless they stayed for the birdseed toss!)” -Blaire R.

 

The bottom line, here: cut your cake, but don’t “cut into” the fun–you don’t have to have everyone gather around or stop the music.

 

wedding guests bouquet toss

 

The results are 50/50 on this one! I think it depends on your personality and the ages of your guests! While some find it embarrassing or an interruption, others find it fun!

 

“Get rid of throwing the garter and the bouquet!” -Souhila C.

 

“Traditions are wonderful, but maybe just find a different way to do them…like I wish I would have just tossed my bridal bouquet as we walked out to leave (like Annie on Father of the Bride!) rather than make it a “thing” at the wedding.” -Blaire R.

 

“I think it’s so archaic and probably sexist. I’m sure some would argue, but I love it!” -Lilly B.

 

“I’m a fan of the bouquet toss, I just think it’s so fun/silly and a good way to get new people on the dance floor. I’m not a fan of the garter thing though #awkward “-Grace T.

 

wedding guests throw rose petals at couple leaving wedding reception

 

This one’s another close call! I think you can toss the tradition of giving a small piece of memorabilia from the big day (i.e. a picture frame, miniature box, or other knick-knack). Most respondents in favor of favors said they liked something edible, practical, or handmade. Check out these eleven wedding favor ideas that fit all of the above criteria–plus, they’re budget-friendly!

 

“Favor as a late night treat!! We did mini donuts and people could put them Into little bags with our monogram and wedding date on them!!” -Meresa V.

 

“Can be something simple, but I think it’s a thoughtful gesture! One couple I know made their own bars of soap – I thought that was really sweet, like an activity they did together to give to everyone. Also practical. I also love a good sweet treat as a post-dance floor snack!” -Grace T.

 

If you’re not interested in a DIY or edible favor, you can safely toss this tradition and put the money toward another aspect of your big day. A lot of guests will mistakenly leave their wedding favor exactly where they found it: on the table.

 

“I think too much extra money for no reason!” -Lilly B.

 

The Bottom Line

In the end, there isn’t a rulebook for the perfect wedding: the goal of wedding planning is ultimately not about falling in line with tradition, but celebrating your love story and honoring your guests. Keep those two goals in mind, and your wedding is sure to be filled with love and happy memories for all who attend!

 

Christina Peterson

 

Written by Christina Peterson, who loved every minute of being a bride!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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