By the time you’ve gotten your save-the-date and invitation, have gotten off the plane and are checked into your hotel, the only thing you have to do for your friend’s wedding is show up on time and have fun, right? Well, sort of. There is one thing you’ll have to figure out when you arrive: where to sit at the ceremony! If you only know one half of the happy couple, figuring out which side of the aisle to sit on is easy. But what if you know both? Our experts are here to help you figure it out.
First, let’s figure out who goes where: at a Christian wedding, the bride stands on the left side of the altar, meaning her family and friends should sit to the left of the aisle and the groom’s relatives and guests should sit to the right. This tradition goes back to ancient times (or at least medieval ones), when a groom needed to be able to access his sword—held with his right hand, and hung on his left hip—in the event that kidnappers try to capture the bride and hold her for ransom.
Thankfully, this isn’t a concern most modern couples face! In a Jewish wedding, the arrangement of the bride and groom is the opposite—the bride stands on the right side of the chuppah, so her guests should sit on the right and the groom’s should sit on the left. Having a secular ceremony? It varies, though the Christian version is more common.
Not sure where to go? Look for an usher. An extended part of the wedding party, an usher’s main job is to help guests find seats for the ceremony—and to escort single women to a seat if they arrive alone. No ushers in sight? If someone is handing out programs, he or she may know where you should go. And of course, there’s always signage! The “Choose a seat, not a side” rhyme is going strong and is a clear indicator that you can sit wherever you please. Of course, keep an eye out for “reserved” signs, and steer clear of the first and second rows, which are most often reserved for family members.
Now to the question at hand: where do you sit if you’re friends with the bride and the groom? Before you sit down, take a look around. Does one row of chairs seem a little less full than the other? That’s where you should sit. You’re showing support for both halves of the couple no matter where you sit, and opting for the emptier side will help even things out, making for better wide shots of the ceremony.
If both sides are filling up evenly, take a peek at the empty seats, and opt for a spot that gives you an optimal view (with fewer tall people in front of you!). Remember, though, that proper etiquette states that you should slide all the way into the pew or row of chairs. If the aisle is roped off and you’re entering from the outside, that means sliding all the way to the middle. But if guests are walking down the aisle and being seated from there, you should slide all the way out to the edge. This will make it easier for guests who arrive after you to easily find a seat. And of course, you’ll want to head to the open seats as close to the front as possible. That will leave any remaining empty seats in the very back, perfect for guests who might be a few minutes late.