For the most part, wedding programs function the same way as programs for any big event. They serve as a road map for attendees eager to know what comes next, who's stepping into the spotlight, and how long this thing is going to last. But that's not all — wedding programs are also heartfelt keepsakes. Many couples have theirs framed or include them in a wedding scrapbook, making it all the more important that your prints include these five essential wedding program elements as well as your personal flair.
1. The perfect wedding program cover
Just like the cover of a book, the cover of your wedding program sets the stage for everything inside. You may choose to keep it simple with just your names, the date, and an inscription on the cover, or go all out with custom programs that feature a cover with a photograph and foil embossing.
For themed weddings, the program cover is a great way to introduce the day's motif. This is especially useful in church settings, where you may not be able to alter the existing decor much. In those cases, a themed program gives guests a hint as to what's in store at the reception.
2. The order of events
Think of the next section like a table of contents. You're going to list out all the elements of the ceremony so guests know what to expect, and they can follow along as the day progresses.
Some people choose to include this list on the inside cover, especially if the program is a simple bi-fold affair or space is otherwise limited. Others dedicate the first page to the running order and save the inside cover for a dedication or quote. Either option works — the final choice is up to you! Your order of events/ceremony parts may include:
- Processional music: Here's where you list the songs the attendants, groom, and bride will be walking up the aisle to. You can include the song names as well as the artists performing if you have recordings or the name of the live performer if you'll have an organist or quartet on site.
- Welcome and introduction: This is where your officiant will say hello to your guests, make his or her first references to the happy couple, and say a few words about why everyone has gathered together on such an auspicious day.
- Readings: If you're having someone (or several someones) do readings from a religious text or other sources, cite those sources so guests know the reference and can look them up later if they'd like.
- Prayers: For religious ceremonies, listing prayers or at least printing one that's particularly significant can be a nice touch.
- Exchange of vows: Though this one is largely self-explanatory, it can still be nice to see it in print.
- Ring ceremony: Similarly self-explanatory, but serves as a marker of where you are in the ceremony to make it easier for guests to keep track.
- Unity candle ceremony or other meaningful addition: If you're adding extra elements that are a bit outside the box or otherwise unexpected, give guests a heads up and perhaps an explanation.
- Pronouncement: It's the moment, so of course it should be included!
- Recessional music: Same as the processional, but in reverse. If your recessional music will be a surprise (think Love Actually, for instance), it's perfectly okay to omit this section.
3. Wedding party details
Not all of your guests will be well-acquainted with the people in your wedding party, and even those in the loop may not recognize everyone by sight. List out the members of your wedding party according to their placement in the family and/or their role in the ceremony. For example:
- Officiant: Father Declan O'Harrity
- Parents of the Bride: Louise Benegan and Harry Smithfield
- Parents of the Groom: Pamela and Sherrod Lewis
- Grandfather of the Bride: Thomas Benegan, Sr.
- Grandparents of the Groom: Ethel and Jim Ward, Tyson Lewis
- Maid of Honor: Stella Humbert
- Best Man: Will Montford
- Bridesmaids: Lena Whitley, Tamera Oxgood, Maritza Perez
- Groomsmen: Paul Schifowitz, Danny Miller, Hilliard Banks
If your wedding party is small enough (or your program large enough), you can add a line or two about your attendants. Perhaps you want to mention how met your maid of honor or best man, or you can share how long parents and grandparents have been married. It's those special asides that take an ordinary program and make it something memorable; not only for you, but for everyone lucky enough to be present for the beginning of your marriage.
4. Optional personal touches
Depending on the theme of your wedding, which elements you've decided to include, and personal preferences or affiliations such as religion or hobbies, you may decide to expand your wedding ceremony. Including these elements in the program alongside a brief explanation could help your guests understand what's going on and why the ritual or tradition is important to you.
Other optional program elements may include:
- Requests for audience participation
- A special dedication
- A mention of passed family members or other loved ones who are unable to be there in person
- Thank yous from the happy couple to those who helped get them together or plan the big day
- A story about the couple, how they met, or why the venue, theme, or even music is particularly meaningful to them
- Quotes from the couple about each other
- Other quotes or poems dealing with love and marriage in general
- Wedding hashtag plus instructions on how to tag the couple on social media
- Instructions or information about the reception or activities before the reception, such as directions to the second venue, where to go for photos, or what time the cocktail hour starts
5. Other considerations
Though the structure of your wedding program should be a major part of your focus, you also need to think about the overall look and feel.
- Tone: How do you want your program to come across? Think of your program as an opportunity to create a framework that will help get guests in the right mood for whatever lies in store. A playful program with a few jokes or that includes all the groomsmen's fraternity nicknames will feel a lot different than a more formal program that uses flowery quotes and fancy design elements that speaks firmly to tradition.
- Font: Choose your fonts wisely! Swirly cursive looks pretty and feels romantic, but it can be hard to read. Block lettering is easy to read, but it can feel fairly impersonal. Aim for somewhere in between and don't be afraid to ask a design professional for help.
- Shape: Surprise! Wedding programs aren't just two-page foldovers anymore. Choose from tea-length programs, program fans, and other fun bi-fold alternatives that will help you put a personal stamp on your big day.
- Paper: Depending on the shape and design you choose, you'll likely have the option of several types of paper and corresponding finishes. Smooth, satin pearl — whether you want a simple finish, a splash of metallic foil, or a subtle sheen that feels downright luxe, you can make your vision come to life.
Wedding programs are just one of the many ingredients that goes into make a wedding day, but it's a fairly important one if done correctly. As a guideline for guests and as a memento for all involved, programs often have a lifespan far beyond an hour-long ceremony. For those reasons and more, make sure your program wows.