This is not intended to be a complete list of ways people can help at your wedding, just a few suggestions.
Tradition often plays a significant role at weddings. If this list appears sexist to you, I apologize. Please forgive me as you read on.
When most couples think about asking family and friends to help at their weddings, they often think first about bridesmaids and maid of honor, groomsmen and best man, flower girls, and ring bearers. It is important to note that a 21st century wedding may have a “man of honor”, “best woman”, “bridesmen”, “groomswomen”, and “flower boy”. In fact, some couples have had their grandmothers as “flower girls”! (The guests loved it!)
These days, it is becoming more popular to call all maids of honor, matrons of honor, bridesmaids, best men, and groomsmen simply “honor attendants”. Problems solved.
Other possible wedding roles for your friends and family
Bridesmaids and maids of honor
You’ll read some etiquette “experts” telling you, “The maid of honor is the unmarried best friend or a sister of the bride. The matron of honor is a close friend or relative of the bride who is married. Most brides have one maid or matron of honor in their wedding party.” Here I’m using “maid of honor” as shorthand for both “maid of honor” and “matron of honor”. Your best bet: If you don’t have a strong opinion, ask her (or them) what she prefers to be called.
If a bride has two sisters, does she have to choose between them to be the maid of honor? Absolutely not!
Several couples at weddings I have had the honor of officiating have had more than one maid of honor. Some couples chose to have co-maids of honor; some chose to have all bridesmaids and no maid of honor.
If your best friend happens to be a man, why not have a man of honor?r There’s no reason not to! You may honor any person you want to.
An important factor to keep in mind is it’s your wedding. You are in charge. Don’t let anyone tell you “You can’t have two maids of honor!” or “You can’t have a man of honor!”
Young ladies who consider themselves too old to be flower girls could be junior bridesmaids. There is no clear distinction between a bridesmaid and a junior bridesmaid, and no set age at which a girl may be a junior bridesmaid instead of a flower girl. It’s up to you to decide whether a friend or relative is mature enough to be treated as a young adult and no longer a child. Will she take her role seriously?r Can she stand quietly and not fidget?r Will she pay attention (or at least appear to)?r
You could discuss with the young lady that this is a rite of passage, from girl to young woman. You would be strengthening the bond between the two of you, and contributing to her sense of self-worth.
If you think that a girl is too young to be a junior bridesmaid, then maybe you’d like her to be a flower girl.
Groomsmen and best men
The same guidelines that apply for the bride and bridesmaids apply for the groom and groomsmen. If you want to have two best men, or no best man and all groomsmen, then that’s your decision. It’s your wedding, so it’s your choice! It’s an honor to be asked to be a groomsman, and a bigger honor to be asked to be a best man.
Just as the bride may have a man of honor, a groom may decide to have a best woman. If your second-best friend is a woman (hopefully your best friend is your bride-to-be), you can honor her by asking her to be stand up for you.
Do you have a young brother, nephew, or close friend that you’d like to honor by including in your wedding party? You can honor him by asking him to be a junior groomsman.
There is no recommended age for a young man to be a junior groomsman instead of a ring bearer, just the suggestion that the child’s maturity be an important consideration.
Discussing with the young man that you’re trusting him to take his role seriously, to stand calmly, and pay attention will help him act maturely. Empathize that he is making the transition from boy to young man.
Ring bearer is another role that you may consider for a male child, especially one too young to be a junior groomsman.
Traditionally, flower girls strew flower petals in the bride’s path, portending an easy, happy path in her future. Scattering flowers is usually an easy task for children, and they don’t have to be neat about it! Guests and wedding parties almost always smile as flower girls come down the aisle. And the flower girls almost always have been happy in their role, too.
Not all flower girls throw flowers. Some wedding venues prohibit the tossing of flower petals, rice, or anything else at weddings. In those cases, or if you prefer not to have flowers tossed, your flower girl(s) can simply carry flowers. Pomander balls are becoming popular for flower girls to carry. You may have heard flower pomanders called “kissing balls”. Often made of one kind of flower, repeating one bloom from the bride’s bouquet, pomander balls can be carried on a ribbon of similar or contrasting color. For example, a kissing ball of sunflowers might have a brown ribbon, and a ball of white carnations have a red ribbon. If you’re thinking of a color theme, you might have similar topiary kissing balls as centerpieces at your reception. Your florist and wedding planner will have suggestions.
Very young girls can be flower girls. Lasses too young to walk can ride in a decorated wagon that is pulled by a ring bearer or an older sibling.
The ring bearer’s job is to carry your (symbolic) wedding rings. Frequently there’s a fancy pillow holding the rings, making it easier to carry them and making them more visible. The symbolic, imitation rings are sewn to the ring pillow so that they won’t fall off.
Your real wedding rings will be carried by your best man and maid of honor, for safety reasons. That way if your ring bearer decides not to carry through, your wedding rings won’t disappear. (When we meet, and when have your rehearsal, I’ll explain and show you how your guests won’t know that the rings that your ring bearer carries aren’t your real wedding bands.)
Ring bearers are traditionally boys, and there’s no reason why your ring bearer shouldn’t be a girl.
Your ushers are traditionally the people who stand at the entry to your ceremony space and escort your guests to be seated and / or hand programs to them. If you are having a small number of guests, you may decide not to have ushers. Ushers are important at large weddings because available seats may not be immediately obvious. Also, an usher would very politely tell a guest that they were sitting in a place reserved for family members.
Ushers need to be prepared to answer questions such as “Where is the ladies’ room?”, “Where can I get a drink [of water]?”, “What time does the ceremony start?”, and the ever-popular “Where should I sit?”. Ushers would escort (or direct) guests to sit in seats toward the front, and not in the seats reserved for the couple’s family.
Older guests may prefer to sit “on the bride’s side” or “on the groom’s side”. Traditionally, the bride’s side is on the left as the people arriving are facing, and the groom’s side is on the right. In the 21st century, guests tend to be less concerned, and many couples even place a sign near the entrance saying the equivalent of “Please choose a seat, not a side. We’re all family here.”
One of the most important duties of ushers is to keep late-arriving guests from disrupting your ceremony. When your procession is about to begin, your ushers will keep any arriving guests from entering your ceremony space until all the wedding party is standing in place. People who come late should be seated quietly in the back, without discussion or negotiation.
After your ceremony is over, your ushers should stand at the exit from your ceremony space, prepared to direct your guests to your reception. Again, they must be prepared for guests’ typical questions.
“Are my wedding ushers my groomsmen?”
Not necessarily. Wedding ushers may be men or women whom you recruit specifically for that role. Typically, ushers are friends or family, and often young. Friendliness and tact are important for the comfort of all your guests.
Miscellaneous other duties
Are you planning on having printed programs for your wedding ceremony? Young people, especially, could be trusted with giving each guest a program.
Bubbles are a more popular item to be used at weddings than rice or confetti. These days many guests blow bubbles toward the just-married couple as they walk up the aisle toward their new life. A couple of friends and family would probably be happy to pass a bubble bottle and wand to entering guests, and explain the timing.
At a recent fall wedding, the women who attended the ceremony were given silk flowers as mementoes when they entered. When the ladies arrived at the reception, they found wooden mini-vases to hold their silk flowers.
If you are having your reception in a different location from your ceremony, you may want to have a friend or relative supply each guest family or couple (not each individual guest) with a map and directions to your reception.