Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Q & A: Receiving Lines

Reader Question: So, since we are having an outdoor ceremony I am a little unsure as to what we do after the ceremony. I have kind of played in my head how the ceremony will go. After we are married, do we walk back down an aisle kind of thing? I really wanted to have our ceremony in a round, so that everyone could see and hear, but I couldn't figure out how to walk down the aisle. I don't really want a receiving line, just because of time and the fact that everyone should know each other. I'd rather spend more time visiting than wasting time on lines. We are limited with our ceremony at 5 and our reception at 7. We still have to eat and have family pictures in between. So if we don't have a line what is an alternative? How do I let my guest know without it being rude?

Yeah, I hear you. Having an outdoor wedding can throw anyone for a loop. It certainly had that effect on Matt and me. (At one point, Matt was suggesting that we stand on top of a picnic table so everyone could see us. When I pointed out that standing on the picnic table would mean that we had one less table for our guests to sit at, Matt decided that our guests could still sit the table we were standing on. Really? Do I really want people looking up my dress as I profess my undying devotion?)

Initially, I found myself trying to fit our outdoor wedding into the indoor wedding formula: audience facing forward, bride walks down the aisle, ceremony happens, bride and groom walk back down the aisle....

Then I realized it wasn't going to work. There literally wasn't an aisle. I worried about this fact for a millisecond and then realized, "Wait. I don't even want to walk down an aisle. That will make me way more nervous."

From that point on, we just made it up. Instead of thinking about what's normally done, we started thinking about what we wanted to accomplish and what made sense for us. We decided that we would park our car, get out like normal guests, and actually mingle with our friends and family before the ceremony started. We decided that this approach made sense for us because a) We wanted to fit in as much conversation and hanging out time as possible with all of our guests, b) Chillin' with our friends/family before the wedding would relax us and make it feel like less of a performance and c) It solved the no-aisle dilemma. When it was time for the ceremony to start, we had someone switch on our signature song, and the entire wedding party knew it was time to move to the front.

Since we had a very unconventional wedding, we put a lot of specific directions in the ceremony program to help keep people informed about what was happening. Also, at the end of the ceremony, we had our officiant reiterate the directions:


  • Thank you so much for joining us today.
  • Please stay seated where you are so we can take a few photos of the entire group.
  • Those of you who have been asked by Katy to stay for pictures, please gather in your groups over in this area after the whole-group photo.
  • If you would like to recycle your programs, there’s a box over there.
  • After we take the photos, the celebration will continue six miles down the road at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
  • See you there!

After the group photos, people started clearing out and a spontaneous line formed of people who wanted to hug me. I hugged a few people and then declared to the rest of the line, "This isn't a receiving line! You don't need to wait in line to hug me!" A few people chimed in, "But we want to!" It was perfect.

I don't mean to be self-centered by focusing several paragraphs on our story. My hope is that our process is potentially helpful for you. In short, here are the enduring understandings:
  1. A wedding doesn't have to follow a formula (although it can if you want it to!). Decide what makes sense to you as a couple and go for it.
  2. In order to decide what makes sense, think about what your values, goals, and preferences are. Then work backwards from there to plan the smaller steps that align with your end vision.
  3. Communicate clearly with guests about the ways in which your wedding won't follow the standard formula. We did this on our wedsite, on a piece of chart paper that we hung up at the Welcome Picnic, in our ceremony program, and in our officiant's closure.

So, if you want people to stand in a circle, figure out how to make it work (with or without an aisle). If you want to replace the receiving line with something else, figure out what original purpose the receiving line was going to serve and think of something else that accomplishes that purpose.

Just the other day, Liz from cosa verde mentioned in the comments section that she and her partner are thinking about giving guests a piece of ribbon and asking them to tie it onto the couples' wrists as some point during the evening. That way, they are sure to have intimate contact with every guest and yet no one has to stand in line.

Sometimes we trap ourselves in the details of what we think a wedding is, and we forget that a wedding is plainly and simply about two people and their commitment. It can take whatever form you want it to (and I mean that across the board: If you want to have a super-traditional wedding because it aligns with your vision and values, then go for it!). Each couple can decide for itself what makes the most sense.

So, 2000dollarwedding kindred spirits, what makes sense for you? Are you doing a receiving line?

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megan said...

i thought about it, and i don't care either way. if my FH wants to, then ok. if not, then i'll see them all at the reception. since i know who all will be there, i'll remember who i talked to and didn't talk to. we had our reception time lenghtened to 5 hous so we could actually talk to everyone.

Arden said...

Since, in the Quaker tradition, we are asking everyone to sign the marriage certificate, I think it makes sense for us to have a line. First they can sign the certificate and then we can greet them. I was thinking of hanging our childhood photos up though so that people have something to look at/talk about.

jocelyn said...

I'm struggling with a similar problem. Our whole wedding is taking place at my family's cottage, with the ceremony close to the beach and the reception across the yard under a tent. We plan to have an aisle formed by the chairs for the 70 guests but I have no idea how to handle walking down the aisle without going straight into the reception (because we want a chance to take photos of just myself and the groom in between).

As for the receiving line, we don't plan on having one because I find them painfully awkward so we're just planning to visit each table at some point during the reception to get some face time with all of our guests.

Married In Chicago said...

It seems like receiving lines can make sense for very big weddings, but for smaller affairs a cross between a receiving line and a big group hugs probably happen more naturally. As you pointed out, guest do legitimately want to congratulate the bride and group so it is important to give them that opportunity.

I absolutely love the ribbon idea! I wonder if there is a way to do something similar without ending up with tons of ribbon tied around your wrist by the end of the night . . .

We are having a more traditional jewish wedding with a ketubah signing (before the actual ceremony) and then the ceremony. Since our closest friends and family will be with us when we sign the marriage contract, there will be plenty of time for congrats there. Then, for the ceremony, I think we are planning to walk each other to the huppah (a bit more precise than down the aisle, since I'm not sure we will have one). After the ceremony, I suspect we will beeline it to our parents for hugs :) Walking back down the aisle doesn't really strike me as something that is super important to do. Other than exiting, is there a meaningful symbolism to it?

tatgeer said...

Re: sitting in a circle and walking down the aisle.

We're having a circle (2 rows of chairs deep) with gaps about 3-4 chairs wide at 12:00, 3:00, and 9:00. Haven't figured out where we'll come from yet, but the officiant will stand in the middle with her back to 12:00, I'll walk in from 3:00 to the middle, he'll walk in from 9:00 to the middle. We're putting my family on the 9:00 side so they can see my face better, and his on the 3:00 side. So, the aisle will be short, but we each get to walk in.

Re: receiving line - inspired by this site, we'll be hanging out in street clothes for a while before the ceremony, then go away to get dressed up (my dress is simple, shouldn't take long). We've also asked guests if they want to help us set up before hand (probably a huge etiquette no-no, but several have said yes, so I'm not worried) as a way to spend more time with them. We're also going to serve them their cake, so that's a sure way to see each of them!

Brite Lines said...

We're doing things pretty different. Our ceremony is really designed to be part of the reception, so there's definitely no asile or 'here comes the bride' moment. The first hour of the wedding will be a cocktail hour on an outdoor patio where Dave and I will get a chance to greet and welcome our guests. At some point our friend and officiant will ask people to gather around us and we'll exchange vows, rings etc. At the end we'll do the kiss, start the music and just walk into the group and continue mingling and talking. Its designed to be very intimate, and based on the setup I doubt a line will form, but we're just going to let it be organic. Given that we're only having about 70 guests, we expect to be able to spend a litttle time with each of them.

Anonymous said...

We were married in a church -- complete with a big ol' center-aisle and stairs to walk down. This gave the *perfect* location for a receiving line.

However, we both thought it was a big waste of time (not to mention hot and tiring and unsatifyingly-truncated) to shake everyone's hands and talk to them for a mere 30 seconds while everyone else shifted on their feet and looked away politely... when we were all headed off to an afternoon of socializing together in an intimate group (well, and intimate group of 85...)!

So, in favor of mingling over lunch and getting to have "real" conversations all afternoon... we, er, uh, just left! That's right -- we walked out the door, hopped into our car, and drove the the lunch site. It never even occured to me that people might be confused by this. They saw us drive off... and I guess once the Bride and Groom were gone it became clear there would be no receiving line, lol!

I didn't get ANY comments about this and no one seemed seemed to mind. We all more-than-made-up-for-it by having a relaxed lunch complete with REAL conversation with each person at each table. Guests who were used to a more "Bride'n'Groom" focused wedding still tell us how touched they were at the quality time we all spent together & how genuinely interested we seemed in their company. (Kinda sad they were expecting something different...)

Anyway, if nothing else -- I hope my story goes to show that, if you don't know the "right way" to introduce your ideas or plans to do something "your way"... just DO them anyway. Everyone else will eventually catch on... and if you're cutting a receiving line because it'd have been awkward or a waste of time... your guests will probably even be grateful!!

Kate F. said...

We're having an outdoor wedding and the reception at my parents house, but in different parts of the garden. No receiving line as it's more informal and intimate and I'm hoping to have quality time with each guest throughout the day.

I think that we're just planning to do what others have mentioned - the officiant will give instructions that all guests should be welcome to head up the hill to get a cocktail and appetizer while family takes some group photographs.

futuremrsj said...

we're doing an outdoor ceremony and reception in the same location--but using the inside small ballroom of the bed and breakfast as our "cocktail hour" while the outside is reset. we are not doing a receiving line. after the ceremony we are going to the backyard for 15 mins of picture, the guests will go inside to watch our friends' duo play and then we'll come in to do our first dance to one of their songs and remain with our guests for the evening.

the receiving line, assigned seating, and DJ emcee are my least favorite parts of weddings--so we're not any of that.

Sarah said...

Most wedding I've been to haven't coordinated any sort of recieving line; rather, the couple go from table to table greeting the guests, hanging out for a few minutes.

Be sure you do talk to people though (the original intent of the recieving line, as Sara alluded to)-- the few weddings I've been to where the couple didn't somehow try to talk to their guests (spent the whole night on the dance floor which is okay but I'd like some sort of hi how are you thanks for coming), I left kind of annoyed. Yes, the wedding is about two people and committment, but don't forget about the people celebrating it! :)

MorganRae said...

Ha ha.. Thanks Sara for including my above question. Where to start?
Yes I really liked the idea of the circle seating. Found here. http://ceremonies.typepad.com/fresh_bride/2005/07/circleseating_w.html

Although I think instead of feeling like someone can't see anything maybe just more of a half circle. Then I thought what about the isle. Honestly I don't want to walk down the isle, I don't want a bridal shower, I don't want a line of people telling me the same thing. However, my father wants to give me away so I am told I have to have an isle. My sister is making me attend a bridal shower. So I am not having a line. I really love the ribbon idea, like someone said but with out all the ribbon at the end of the night. I guess the guest would be the one's approaching us that way and we wouldn't even really know if I missed someone. My intentions I have expressed, are that I don't want to run off to our honeymoon. We are leaving the next day for Seattle. I'd rather spend time visiting but also time dancing, that is if I can in my dress. I have people coming 700 miles to see our wedding. We are getting married in my father's small backyard. 75 people or so. Our ceremony and reception are in the same place. So I don't know if i don't have a line, we just walk back down the isle or around the circle and start hugging people and saying thank you in the order of the circle like a dismissal or walk back down the isle and start mingling. I just feel like i'm missing something. No matter how we plan it, I just don't know where to go from after finishing the ceremony to go right into taking family pictures. I mean what if some people don't stay for the reception?
Oh and also is it okay to wear no shoes? ( you won't see em anyway)?
thanks for all your suggestions

Julienne said...

I was at a wedding a few weeks ago and the bride and groom had a great idea. They asked everyone to stay in their seats after the ceremony, and ushered everyone out.

After they walked down the aisle and had a couple of pictures taken they came running back in and as each row of the pews emptied they hugged each person. This way everyone else was still seated and could chat amongst themselves and you got to see them RIGHT after they said their vows. I thought it was such a great idea!

MorganRae said...

So here is another question, maybe someone can help answer. My wedding is father's day weekend. I am looking for a great gift for my father as well as for my groom. Just a way to really say thanks. I have hand made hankies with stitching for the moms and grandmas. Just wanted a nice gift since they have helped with planning. Any ideas for dads? Or grooms? What has other people given?

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ MorganRae: What about hankies for the guys, too? I gave my grandfather a hankie with a birdie and the phrase "of a feather" stitched on it to commemorate our wedding. Just a thought...

MorganRae said...

Thanks Sara :) Your wonderful! I hand stitched daisy's on the other ones. I never thought of something for the guys.

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