Why Are Wedding Programs Important at Your Wedding?

Tea length wedding program leaning against sprig surrounded by silk ribbon

There were nearly 2 million weddings in the United States in 2021, and chances are that most people attended at least one of them. Multiply that by years or even decades of experience, and everyone knows what happens at a wedding at this point… right?

There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to have a wedding. From religious ceremonies dictated by faith and tradition to modern ceremonies constructed from scratch by the happy couple, a wedding is a reflection of the two people at its center. And just like people, no two weddings are exactly alike. That’s why you need a Wedding Program.

Here’s an insider’s look at Wedding Programs, including why they’re important and what you should include to make sure you’ve covered your bases on your big day.

What is a Wedding Program?

Three different types of wedding programs laying next to succulents

A Wedding Program is a type of wedding stationery that helps guests understand the order of events for your ceremony. Programs are either given to guests as they enter, usually handed out by an usher or left in a pile for guests to pick up as they walk in, or placed directly on the seats where guests can find them as they get settled.

  • Tea-length Wedding Programs are elongated for an elegant look that wouldn’t be amiss at afternoon tea in a five-store hotel or a 500-year-old castle — hence the name. These are single sheets of paper, though you can usually print on both the front and back. This style of program lends itself to more formal weddings.

  • Half-fold Wedding Programs are probably the style most people think of when they think of a Wedding Program. These are one sheet of paper folded in half. This style offers the most space, so you can include more text. You may want to go with a half-fold program if you have a large wedding party or a particularly lengthy ceremony that requires more space to detail and describe.

  • Wedding Program fans are a relatively new invention, but anyone who has struggled through an outdoor ceremony in the middle of summer will appreciate the innovation. Just as the name suggests, Wedding Program fans are an actual fan, with the program acting as the broad paper end that helps generate a light breeze. These programs are whimsical and functional, helping guests cool off as they keep up with the order of events. There are even some newly released fan shapes, like shells and hearts, which are tailored to amp up the fun factor.

They’re like a wedding-day road map

Two tea length wedding programs next to sprig of eucalyptus

Think of Wedding Programs as a road map. They indicate how many parts your ceremony will have, the order those parts will be in, and when guests are expected to participate. Modern-day weddings are all about personalization, and that means your ceremony is likely to be anything but cookie cutter. Including an order of events so guests know what’s up next — as well as descriptions of some of the lesser-known rituals — allows guests to take part more fully.

For example, explaining handfasting in the program could help guests understand the significance, which brings infinitely more meaning to the moment when the officiant wraps a cord or ribbon around the hands of the happy couple, creating an infinity symbol. Knowing what ceremony elements are up next also gives guests time to honor their own religious or cultural views, which might mean respectfully excusing themselves for some religious elements.

They help introduce your theme

Woman in navy blue dress holding a wedding program fan

It’s not uncommon to dress up your ceremony space with some custom wedding decorations, but that’s not always possible. Some venues will let you go to town, draping the area in floor-to-ceiling swaths of gauzy fabric and setting up flower-filled vases every few feet. Other places, such as churches, may have stricter rules. You may be allowed to include a few basic decorations, like flowers on the end of each pew, or they may ask you to abstain entirely in deference to their congregation or other events happening nearby.

Wedding Programs are a wonderful and totally above-board way to skirt those restrictions. Very few venues will have anything to say about you handing out Wedding Programs to your guests, and those Wedding Programs can be in whatever style or theme you choose. 

Beyond the basic style of your Wedding Program, you can also choose a design that matches your overall theme. Beachy, floral, monogram, greenery, Art Deco, watercolor — there are designs that fit all those categories plus quite a few more. It may not be as bold and eye-catching as decorations hanging on the wall, but it will still do a wonderful job of introducing your guests to your theme and readying them for the party that lies ahead.

They introduce your guests to your wedding party

Tea length wedding program next to eucalyptus

Your Wedding Program also acts as an introduction of sorts. You’ll likely list the people in your wedding party and maybe even state how you know them (e.g., Johnny Walsh, Brother of the Bride). For coworkers who might not know your whole family or college friends who come from a different circle, this small introduction goes a long way toward making the ceremony feel more personal and eliminates lots of confusion.

This is also an opportunity to be silly. Introduce your frat buddy using his college nickname. Make up yearbook-inspired “most likely to” designations, such as saying that your dad is “Most likely to sob his way through the wedding speech.” Only go this route if it feels authentic and you think your guests would appreciate the humor. It's also a good idea to keep the jokes clean.

They give you an opportunity to send an extra special message

Tea length wedding program next to white ribbon

One of the sweetest aspects of a Wedding Program is that little space on the back of a half fold design or the bottom of a tea-length program or fan that allows you to include a special message. You might thank your grandparents for their love and guidance. Use the space to recognize loved ones who have passed away. Share a quote or a few lyrics from your wedding song. Or you can just thank your guests for coming.

While you could always share those thoughts verbally during your wedding, speaking them out loud just doesn’t have the same impact or staying power.

Other ideas for “extras” to include on your Wedding Program:

  • Your married names and new address if you’re changing your names and moving after you get married

  • Directions to the reception venue — this is nice to include even if you already printed it on the Wedding Invitation just in case someone forgot to bring their invite

  • If you have a large gap between your ceremony and reception, share some ideas for local attractions, restaurants, coffee shops, and kid-friendly spots so guests can amuse themselves until it’s time for dinner and dancing

  • The address of your wedding website so guests can look up photos after the reception

  • Your wedding hashtag in case guests want to share their own photos and updates on social media

They’re an instant (and affordable) souvenir

Two tea length wedding programs next to ribbon spool and sprig

Wedding Programs are both a memento and a tool. They’re useful on the actual day because they’re a silent source of direction and information, but many people also keep them as a souvenir. That alone makes them an essential part of your wedding.

Search the internet and you’ll find handmade frames designed to hold Wedding Programs. Many couples add a copy of their program to their wedding album or scrapbook, or you could include one in a shadowbox along with other mementos from your wedding day like a garter, a dried boutonniere, and some photographs.

Wedding guests and members of your bridal party are likely to do the same thing. Some might stick the program on the fridge, enjoying the memories it evokes when they spot it while making dinner. Others will choose to frame it, especially your BFFs and siblings who care about your happiness just as much as you do.

You can up the ante by attaching an actual souvenir to the program, too. Clip some sunglasses to your Wedding Program fan, tuck a tea-length program into a little book of poems that includes one used in the ceremony, or sit a little bag of birdseed on each program-adorned seat so guests can toss the seeds at you as you and your new spouse make your way down the venue’s front steps.

While you can technically go without a Wedding Program, you may find that you encounter a few speed bumps as a result. Guests may not know when to sit or stand. They may miss out on important messages like what’s happening between the ceremony and the reception (something you can include on the back of the program) and fail to show up on time for cocktail hour.

To start exploring your options, check out our full catalog of Wedding Programs. Then read through our tips for making your Wedding Program wording more sentimental.