The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony Rehearsal Breakdown

Why They Are Important & Who Should Attend

As a community of wedding pros here at The Aisle Guide who are acutely aware of all that can go wrong on the day-of, having a wedding rehearsal is an absolute no-brainer. But, for couples who haven’t had the privilege of seeing behind the curtain, a rehearsal may seem like an unnecessary added expense. But, don't be fooled, it an absolutely necessary step to ensure your actual wedding runs smooth. Today we’re breaking down the why behind wedding rehearsals as well the wheres, whats, hows and whos of this proactive party. Read on—and be sure you and your partner don't skip this all-important step!

Why is it important to have a rehearsal?

A rehearsal for a wedding is like a dress rehearsal for a play—it’s an absolute must for ensuring a smooth day-of. Rehearsals help you work out the kinks, practice walking on that uneven surface, and help to give the wedding party a solid idea of what’s expected of them on the day of. They need to know where to walk, where to stand, what to do after the ceremony is over, etc. You don’t want to be stuck ironing out these details minutes before the ceremony is slated to begin—trust us. We’ve never once hosted a rehearsal that didn’t result in a couple making at least one change to their day-of plans (moving the altar to avoid bad lighting, changing up the processional order based on height, etc.)—the key is discovering these changes that need to be made ahead of time, rather than minutes before the ceremony begins as you're getting ready to walk down the aisle.

Who should attend?

Anyone and everyone who plays a role in the processional/recessional and ceremony should attend the rehearsal—this includes the wedding party, ring bearers and flowergirls, parents, any ceremony readers, as well as your wedding planner. This includes your ceremony officiant, but it's common for officiants to charge additional rehearsal fees—so, unless your ceremony is extra detailed with a lot of moving pieces, you can probably get away without having your officiant in attendance. On the other hand, if your officiant is a friend who doesn't officiate ceremonies on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to have her or him there to run through the ceremony outline. As far as running the rehearsal goes, your wedding planner or venue coordinator should take the lead—they'll be able to facilitate the rehearsal in place of your officiant.

When should I have my ceremony rehearsal?

Typically, rehearsals take place the day before the wedding when everyone in the wedding party is in town. Ceremony rehearsals also serve as the perfect segue for the rehearsal dinner, which is typically held the night before the wedding. Especially for outdoor weddings, it's best to schedule your ceremony rehearsal for the same time the actual ceremony will be in order to get a better idea of lighting as well as any other environmental issues. You may find that you need to move your archway over two feet to avoid shadows falling on your faces, or that there’s no way you can face the direct sun at 2 p.m. and need to rethink the altar setup, for example.

"Rehearsals are a great opportunity to run through all the details. It's okay if there are changes to your day-of plans—the key is making the changes ahead of time."

Where should the rehearsal be?

It's always best to host your ceremony rehearsal at your actual ceremony location (again, so you can work out any kinks and take into account any environmental issues), but sometimes this just isn’t possible due to venue restrictions or other events that may be taking place at your venue during that time. Most venues will invite you to host a rehearsal, but likely won’t be able to confirm the rehearsal time until closer to your wedding date. The best plan, then, is to remain flexible. If you must have the ceremony rehearsal on a specific date at a specific time (for example, if the rehearsal kicks off the rehearsal dinner), pinpoint an alternate location nearby in case you get word that you're not able to rehearse at the actual ceremony location.

What do I need to prepare for the rehearsal?

Be sure to have the following prepared for a smooth rehearsal:

  • The standing order for the ceremony
  • Determine who will be involved in the ceremony processional (i.e. grandparents, parents, etc.) and decide on the processional order (though you can always make changes to this based on the rehearsal if need be)
  • Determine reserved seating for the first row
  • Finalize and print out the wedding day timeline (one copy per person), or have your wedding planner do this

What should we review at the rehearsal?

This may be the first time everyone is together, so introductions are in order. If you know this is the case, ask everyone to join you a few minutes prior to the scheduled rehearsal at the rehearsal location for a quick meet and greet—this will ensure you're ready to roll when it's time for the actual rehearsal.

You’ll also want to tour the ceremony area, including the areas where the wedding party will walk from and to, and pinpoint the actual ceremony location, as it can sometimes be hard to visualize without ceremony chairs and an altar in place. Be sure to pinpoint where each wedding party member will be standing and place them, so you can visually make any adjustments based on height as needed. If they aren't standing for the ceremony, decide where each family member will be seated for the ceremony (reserved seats) and let them know about this in advance. Once all of that is sorted, line everyone up according to the order they'll be walking down the aisle and practice a mock ceremony, including the processional and recessional.

Pro Tips

  • We recommend practicing walking down the aisle in your actual wedding shoes, especially if the ground is uneven (grass), slippery (marble or tile), or there are steps involved. This doesn’t just apply for those wearing heels—men wearing brand-new leather-soled shoes may find that they’re just as prone to slips on smooth surfaces as high-heeled brides. (If this is the case, scuff up the bottom of brand-new shoes on concrete or asphalt to create some traction before the big walk down the aisle.)
  • For outdoor summertime rehearsals, be sure to wear sunscreen and bring along a parasol or umbrella! There’s nothing worse than having funky tan lines on your wedding day.
  • If getting the perfect photos is a major concern of yours, you may want to offer your photographer an additional payment—if you have room in your budget—to attend the rehearsal so they can assess the lighting ahead of time. This is especially true if it’s a venue the photographer has never shot before, or if your ceremony is taking place outside in bright sunlight or during the dark of night.
  • Rehearsals can also be a great place to pass out groomsmen and bridesmaid gifts if you don’t think you’ll have time for this on the day-of or at the rehearsal dinner—so schedule in some time after the rehearsal but before the rehearsal dinner to get your wedding party together and thank them as a couple.

Overall, we can’t stress the importance of a ceremony rehearsal enough. All of the remote planning in the world can’t prepare you for the snags you’ll be able to catch (and iron out) by running through things in person. From slips and falls, to terrible shadows on the bride’s face, to a processional order that’s all out of whack, rehearsals allow for minimization of mishaps—which, as people who plan for a living, we are all for!

Photo courtesy Jen Wojcik Photography

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