How Long Does a Wedding Ceremony Usually Take?

Christine Steuber
Apr 1, 2022
How long does a wedding ceremony usually take? If you have your special day coming soon, this article will answer all your questions. Read on!

I always like to compare a wedding to a choreographed dance because it demands cues and organization to ensure everything sails smoothly. You also can’t disregard the timing, considering loads of responsibilities involved in a traditional wedding ceremony. So, naturally, the question is, “How long should a marriage ceremony last?” 

You can’t answer this question without taking into account different traditions and customs. To save you time on research, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to plan the timeline of a wedding ceremony. 

Let’s get started!

Average Wedding Ceremony Duration

An average wedding length typically ranges from 20 to 30 minutes. But the duration of a ceremony primarily relies on the planned activities, religious denomination, and traditions. 

All of these components add extra time to the whole event. Within the average time, the following events take place:

  • The entrance.
  • A few readings.
  • Vows.
  • The first kiss.
  • The exit.

Moreover, if you are a religious person, specific details can be added, such as recitation of particular texts, blessings, and rituals. How much time it will take depends on the wedding couple and the number of activities they want to include.

If you want more insight, ideas, and creative tips, I recommend watching this helpful video below. 

Credit: Bluebird Bride Academy

Lauren Goodman, professional wedding planner and creative director of Bluebird Creative, points out many important things through her blogs and YouTube channel that can be helpful to you. But what I liked the most about this video above is that she emphasized that guests usually come 30 minutes earlier, so it’s good to organize some welcome music to make them feel more comfortable.

What Time Do Weddings Usually Start?

Usually, wedding ceremonies start somewhere between 12 pm to 6 pm. All weddings that I’ve been part of started in that period, so I would like to say it’s sort of an ideal time. 

When planning the timeline, you should also consider the working hours of your venue. According to Wedding Officiant Maria Northcott, if it closes at 10 pm, the latest your ceremony can start is 4 pm. Here is her schedule example:

  • 4:00–4:30 pm Ceremony
  • 4:45–5:45 pm Cocktail Hour
  • 6:00-10:00 p.m. Reception

You should also think about wedding photos and make sure they don’t turn out to be too bright or dark. I am sure that you want to catch the perfect golden hour or wonderful sunset to make your memories impressive. So, according to professional wedding photographers Asanie and Lesa McKenzie, this is what your wedding day should look like:

  • 12:00 pm – Photographers and videographers arrive to take the first photos of details (dress, flowers, bride, groom, whole dressing process)
  • 2:00 pm – Couple portraits
  • 2:40 pm – Wedding Party Photos
  • 3:20 pm – Family Photos
  • 4:45 pm – Ceremony 
  • 5:25 pm – Cocktail hour
  • 5:30 pm – Bride & Groom Photo Session
  • 6:35 pm – Grand Entrance
  • 6:50 pm – Cake Cutting, Champagne, and First Dance
  • 8:15 pm – Bouquet toss

They also emphasize that once you’ve created your wedding day timeline, you should share it with your guests, photographer, florist, and other people so everyone can be on the same page.

How early should guests arrive at a wedding ceremony?

A general rule of thumb is to get to the venue 15 to 30 minutes before the wedding starts, as written on the invitation. If you are invited to a bigger wedding with a lot of guests, arrive 30 minutes before. Of course, guests need to consider the traffic and other factors that can delay their arrival. It’s a bit impolite to be late for such an important event.

However, make sure that you don’t arrive too early as well. You might end up disturbing the couple who might be having a pre-wedding photoshoot or sorting out the final things. 

Are short wedding ceremonies acceptable?

My simple answer to this question is: yes. Many couples who don’t want a lengthy ceremony can opt for a short one. The minimal duration can be 12 minutes. Short weddings only include vows, processional, and recessional songs. 

In some situations, it is even more appropriate to conduct a short wedding. For instance, if a family member recently passed away, the weather unexpectedly turns terrible, or if someone gets sick, etc. 

Therefore, do not feel pressured to elongate your wedding day because it is the norm. Remember, it’s your day, and if you don’t feel like partying the whole night, you shouldn’t. 

Wedding Ceremony Traditions in Different Religions

As I mentioned in the intro, weddings are an integral part of all global religions, so it is crucial for couples to learn about their religious wedding traditions to plan the ceremony timeline properly. In this section, I will be discussing the different details of religious ceremonies. If you belong to any major religion, you can read on to gain insight.

Catholic church

Catholic wedding Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

So, let’s start our list with Catholic weddings. From the music and prayers to the readings and homily — all of these elements are part of the Catholic wedding for centuries. The ceremony is powerful, spiritual, and deeply meaningful. This is what the ceremony in the Catholic Church looks like:

  • Processional

Firstly, the groom and the best man make their entry. Then the groomsmen and bridesmaids escort each other on the aisle, followed by the maid of honor. Lastly, the bride in white and her father execute their entrance. Catholic brides usually wear white gowns at their weddings, so my article about wedding dresses with bows can help you if you don’t have the perfect dress yet. There are a lot of wonderful white pieces for your big day!

  • Priest’s Greeting

The priest greets the guests and encourages everyone to sing the opening hymn. Then, the officiant starts with prayers. The audience keeps standing during prayers to show respect.

  • Liturgy of the word

Liturgy is a special recitation of readings done by the minister or family. It starts with the reading of the Old Testament. Next, the congregation and cantor choose the Book of Psalms.

  • Rite of Marriage

These are vows, and they serve as an announcement of consent and intent by the partners taking the marriage rites. Both partners say the magical “I do” words. 

  • Ring Ceremony

At this moment, the couple gives a ring to each other.

  • Lord’s Prayer

The congregation stands for the Lord’s Prayer in harmony. Then, the newlyweds kneel at the altar to gain their nuptial blessings. The wedding party and guests exchange peace signs.

  • Holy Communion

The Holy Communion represents the Last Supper. Guests line up in front of the priest and eat sacramental bread.

Duration of the ceremony: 1 hour.

Orthodox church

Greek Orthodox Wedding Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

An orthodox wedding is loud and includes dances at the reception. A few of the dances are Zeibekiko, Tamiko, and Sirtaki. Below I’ll introduce you to typical Greek orthodox ceremonies:

  • The Blessings of the Rings

At the onset of the ceremony, the couple place rings at the tips of their fingers. The priest blesses the rings thrice.

  • The Candles

The couple holds candles throughout the wedding. Candles represent the light of Jesus.

  • The Common Cup

The couple shares the common cup. Both take three sips from the cup. The cup represents a happy marriage.

  • The Readings

Traditionally, there are two readings – the Epistle of St. Paul and the Gospel. Both readings have their own religious importance.

  • Wedding Crowns

The marital crown is swapped thrice by Koumbaro, and the couple walks thrice around the altar wearing the crowns. Before removing the crown, the priest blesses the couple. 

  • The Martyrika

After the end of the ceremony, the Koumbaros distribute small lapel pins with a tiny ribbon to all the guests. The pins symbolize the wedding sacrament. 

Duration of the ceremony: 30-60 minutes.

Judaism wedding

Jewish wedding Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

A Jewish wedding is a beautiful occasion, and there are many ways to celebrate it. But the most important part of the wedding is the significance of a new life as a couple. So, below you can read the steps of marriage in Judaism:

  • Chuppah (Canopy)

A Judaism wedding occurs underneath the Chuppah. The canopy represents God’s shelter and the couple’s new home. 

  • Circling

For Ashkenazi Jews, one partner must walk in circles around the partner seven times. This must be done before entering Chuppah, and the circles symbolize the seven days of creation.

  • Betrothal (Kiddushin or Erusin)

Betrothal begins with the traditional blessing over a wine cup, which is shared between the couple and their parents. At the second blessing, the couple is sanctified together in Kiddushin. Then, the couple exchanges rings after saying a specific statement.

  • Nuptials (Nissuin)

In the second component of the Judaism wedding, the seven benedictions are recited over another wine cup.

  • Reading of Ketubah (Marriage Contract)

It’s mandatory to read aloud the marriage contract so that everyone can witness the commitment the partners have made to one another. The Sephardic Jews only read some lines.

  • Breaking the glass

After the ceremony, one or both partners must break a glass. Jews have diverse interpretations of this tradition. The fragility of glass actually shows the frailty of human relationships, while the loud noise is a traditional method for frightening and eliminating demons.

Duration of the ceremony: 25-45 minutes.

Muslim wedding

Muslim wedding Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

The truth is that Muslims are so rich in important cultural traditions that I can’t even cover all of them here! But keep reading to get a glimpse of what it’s like to witness or attend a Muslim wedding.

  • Salatul Istikhara 

It all starts with a prayer performed by the Imam to seek God’s blessings for the wedding. The pre-wedding ritual is an official announcement of the wedding.

  • Imam Zamin

After the prayer, the groom’s mother visits the bride’s home. The bride’s mother-in-law presents sweets and gifts along with precious gold. These gifts are a formal welcome of the bride to the new family.

  • Mangni (Engagement)

Close family members and friends come close to execute the ring exchanging ceremony. Both families gift each other. This is the public announcement of the betrothal of the couple.

  • Nikkah 

Nikkah is the main ritual performed by a molvi (a teacher or doctor of Islamic law). The women sit around the bride, and the men sit around the groom. Groom offers Mehr (eng. dowry, the sum of money or property which a wife is entitled to get from her husband on marriage) to a bride. The molvi recites the Quran.

Ijab-e-Qubool is a pivotal ritual in which the couple is asked for consent. It is similar to the “I do” in Christian weddings. 

Then, the Nikkah Nama, aka marriage contract, has to be signed by both parties. A recitation is carried out, and the elders bless the new couple. 

Duration of the ceremony: 20-30 minutes.

Hindu wedding

Hindu wedding Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

A traditional Hindu wedding is a beautiful, vibrant ceremony that celebrates the union of two lives, and it lasts for several days. From the initial planning to the formal reception, a Hindu wedding is filled with traditions and culture. This is what the Hindu wedding timeline looks like:

  • Groom’s Arrival

Groom’s Arrival is known as Baraat and is celebrated with joy. With music and dance going on, guests wholeheartedly welcome the groom and groom’s side with a unique rice toss. 

  • The Bride’s Father Gives Her Hand

This moment is called Kanyadaan. The bride’s father places her hands into the groom’s hands. This gesture is present at all Hindu weddings.

  • Mandap (Altar)

A “Mandap” is a traditional Hindu structure full of colorful pillars and wonderful decorations. Traditionally, couples meet there to start wedding rituals. 

  • Fire

Officiants light a fire in the heart of Mandap. A fire is a witness in Hindu culture, so its flame remains during the whole ceremony. The bride’s brother offers fistfuls of rice to the bride. In turn, she throws the rice in the fire, called homam.

  • Praying to Ganesha (a God)

All Hindu weddings begin with offering a prayer to Ganesha, and everyone salutes the couple. According to Hindu law, weddings shouldn’t occur in the same clan. 

  • Exchange of the Floral Garlands

Floral garland is known as Jai mala and is made of strung flowers. Both partners exchange this item. Basically, this ritual is a welcome gesture of both partners into their families. 

Duration of the ceremony: 1 hour.

Non-religions or civil ceremonies

Non-religious or civil ceremony Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

Non-religious weddings typically last for only 10 to 15 minutes. A ceremony in a registry office or any authorized place is common for a civil wedding. The couple needs to contact the registrar of the council district to learn the fee and application process.

Usually, the cost of a civil ceremony depends on three factors – giving notice, solemnization, and using the council office or other approved place.

I know it all sounds very official and serious when people mention “civil marriage ceremonies”, but that doesn’t mean that the registrar won’t approve music, rings, poetry, and other sentimental elements. So, feel free to talk to the registrar to add such details.

After the couple signs the marriage certificate, they become officially married. 

Ideas to Make Wedding Ceremony Longer

There are different creative and interesting ways to make your ceremony longer, and I decided to highlight my two favorite ideas. Check them out!

  • Profess your love story

I love whenever couples share their story with the crowd. You can talk about your first date, how you both met, the obstacles you both have overcome, or how you fell in love. 

Wedding speech Pinterest
Credit: Pinterest

I’d recommend thinking this step through when planning your ceremony. It gives you time to prepare a slideshow, a song, or any other special moment to celebrate your love.

  • Musical interlude

Musical performances always have a place in the wedding prelude or even during the ceremony. Anyone who is musically talented can play the piano or sing. You can even have the performance as a background to an already emotional ritual. And if you want more fun for your guests, organize a karaoke show!

Both ideas are great if you want to make the ceremony last longer, but what I like the most is the love story. It’s a fun and romantic part that can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Tips to Make Your Wedding Ceremony Shorter

If you’re someone who wants to get married quickly without a long wedding process, here are tips for shortening your ceremony:

  • Ditch the party. No one has to follow the rulebook. It’s up to you to have flower girls, bridesmaids, ushers, musical performances, and it’s totally fine if you have none. 
  • Only invite the important people. A short guest list saves your time (and money). Reduce the list as much as you can. Invite only family and close friends. This step will make the ceremony shorter and more intimate. 
  • Cut the fluff. To make the wedding easy-breezy, plan a wedding ceremony by only focusing on the most important things. So, first, decide if you want a religious wedding or a civil ceremony wedding. After that, you can organize a lunch or dinner for the godparents and the closest family. You can dance the first dance in the restaurant or in your garden. Take some photos for memories, and that’s it. Without too many guests, worries, and fatigue.

I sincerely love intimate and modest weddings with a few guests, so that’s my personal favorite from the list above. Do you have some other ideas for making the wedding ceremony shorter? Feel free to share it in the comments below.

Over to You

I hope you’re now completely aware of an average wedding ceremony timeline, how to lengthen or shorten a ceremony, and the religious practices of different weddings. I also believe this guide helps you better organize your wedding day schedule and prepare for what’s coming.

Keep a strict eye on details, have fun and enjoy your big day! And if you still haven’t found a perfect wedding dress that will suit your figure, take a look at my blog for more helpful wedding tips and fashion advice.

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