The Anatomy of Ceremony Décor

Read on to deconstruct the building blocks of an amazing wedding ceremony.

Once upon a time, a wedding ceremony wasn't a time for creativity. Since they usually took place in a house of worship, with Here Comes the Bride as processional music and a long straight aisle that ended at an altar, cookie-cutter was de rigueur.

Today, couples may (and usually do) take many more liberties with their ceremony. (Think of the 63 million viewers of this 2009 sensation). Nevertheless, there are some features all ceremonies share.

Here's how to make the most of this emotional, memorable event.

What's your aisle style?

Tradition holds that a bride enters last and walks toward her groom, who is standing at the far end of the locale. Who wants to change that opportunity for a grand entrance? Nevertheless, details from how you decorate the aisle (maybe with mounds of rose petals or a path lined with votive candles) to where you place your guests (possibly lined up neatly in rows or seated in concentric circles surrounding you and the groom) are open to interpretation.

Walk this way

Decide how you'd prefer for everyone to walk down the aisle, especially the bride. As the bride, you may decide to be escorted on the arm of your father, or have him meet you half way down the aisle. You may want to be flanked by both parents or you might choose to walk alone, illuminated only by a pool of light.

Run with it

Use an aisle runner, a long piece of fabric or carpet that runs the length of the aisle, to create a special walkway for the bridal procession. In the old days when every bride wore a long train, the aisle runner kept it from getting soiled. Now, the runner is used to heighten the drama of the bride's entrance

You can use fabric runners (rented through your florist), such as white linen or white satin acetate. Placing a pair of floral arrangements on each side of the runner where it meets the steps leading to the altar gives the effect of flowers bursting out of the pathway.

One way to add drama to the bridal procession is to keep the aisle runner rolled up at the altar until just before the bride makes her entrance, then have two ushers roll it out slowly down the aisle.

Are you having a wedding outdoors without a demarcated aisle? Define the space any way you wish, such as an S-curve created by rose petals. Or the bride might circle around all the guests and walk to the center of the circle to be married in the round.

Awe-inspiring altar

Play up where the groom stands. The spot where you exchange your vows is your big moment. It is the focal point of the entire ceremony. It should be pleasing to look at and free of obstructions so all of your guests can see you both.

Frame this area with a magnificently decorated arbor, a pair of pedestals, swags of greenery or flowers, a backdrop, an altar, a chuppah or an arch - there is no limit. Look creatively at your venue to determine the best place to hold your ceremony.

If you are in a hotel space, don't automatically choose the spot where ceremonies are usually held; there may be another configuration that will work better for you.

Just pay attention to scale: if you'll be building a structure, it shouldn't be so tall as to distract or so wide that you'll look more like miniscule cake toppers from afar. Nor should it be so compact that guests' have to squint or crane their necks to see you.

Let there be light

Make sure there's enough natural light so you're well-illuminated and can be seen by all of your guests. Hire a lighting company if need be to deter any blurry, poorly lit photos.

Gather guests closely

In any ceremony, it is important to create a sense of intimacy. For example, if you are in a temple that seats 300 and you have 125 guests, you should encourage all the guests to sit at the front.

Illuminating and decorating only the area where you want people to sit can do this, as can roping off the pews you want to keep off-limits. If you have ushers, they can direct guests to seats in the front.

Flower power

Almost every ceremony includes flowers as part of its design. Weave a thread of similarity between the blooms in the ceremony and the ones in the celebration. You don't necessarily have to match all the blooms used that day, but staying within a color scheme brings a sense of uniformity to the look and feel of your wedding.

Or, skip the posies

Your décor needn't entirely revolve around expensive cut flowers. Depending on the venue and your vision, you may decide to cover your arbor or chuppah with materials such as shells, moss, vines, or even white gauzy fabric or crystals that will sway gently in the wind.

Create drama

You can heighten the impact of your ceremony by having events unfold in a dramatic manner. A choir walking down the aisle of a church, one by one, singing a glorious hymn, is a moving way to open a wedding service. Flower girls strewing a thick carpet of rose petals in the aisle add beauty to the procession and build anticipation for the bride's entrance.

Or, skip the processional of attendants, and have the bride and groom walked down the aisle together, sit down with his or her respective families and then have a soprano step onto the dais to sing Caccini's Ave Maria. When the aria ends, the minister can step forward and ask the bride and groom to join him at the altar. Nothing compares to opening a ceremony with this kind of solemnity and grace.

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