One of the most important details on your wedding day is timing. Knowing when things will start and finish will help the details come together more smoothly, and also give you more control over your guests' experience as they move from one space to another. While you can determine exactly how long everyone gets for cocktails, or pick what time you'll have your first dance, determining how long your ceremony will be is the biggest challenge. With so many details coming together, from meaningful readings and songs to your vows and the ring exchange, there are a lot of factors to consider. So how long should your wedding ceremony be? Here's what our experts have to say.
Wedding ceremonies usually last between 20 and 30 minutes, which is ample time to cover the basics (words of welcome, a few readings, your vows, the ring exchange, and the final pronouncement). The exact length of your wedding ceremony will depend first and foremost on how many different elements you choose to include, as well as if you are having a religious or secular ceremony.
Most religious ceremonies follow the same pattern every time so, for example, you'll see the same elements in most of the Jewish weddings you attend. However, you do have a little control over whether your ceremony is longer or shorter. You might opt to include an additional reading from a religious text, invite a friend or family member to perform a blessing, or include one more song, which will make your ceremony longer. To that end, more orthodox ceremonies tend to be longer than those that are a little more relaxed. Looking to shorten your religious ceremony? Work with your officiant to see which readings might be more to-the-point, as well as if there are elements you may want to skip. An experienced religious wedding officiant should be able to estimate how long your ceremony will last, based on the elements you choose to include.
For a secular ceremony, you have much more control over how long your ceremony is. The only real requirement is that each of you agrees to marry the other, and that your officiant pronounces you married, so the rest can be as drawn-out or concise as you wish. Using fewer readings will have the proceedings go along more quickly, while an in-depth story of your relationship or your officiant's musings on marriage might add a few extra minutes to the timeline.
No matter how long your ceremony is, if you're writing your own, make sure you time it as read through it out loud (because you read more slowly out loud than you do in your head) from start to finish, then add on a few minutes in case happy tears leave words caught in anyone's throat. You should also work with your planner to estimate how long the processional will take, given how many people will be walking down the aisle and approximately how long the aisle is. This will help you come up with an estimate for your total ceremony time, so you can both pick a good start time and let your venue and caterers know when cocktail hour will begin.