Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: The Wedding Rehearsal and the Rehearsal Dinner

A mock battle or simulated skirmish introduces the soldiers to battle-like conditions so that they can troubleshoot before the actual, high-stakes occurrence.

Like any theatrical event, rehearsals are crucial for a successful show. We all know a wedding is one big Broadway extravaganza: boy lead, girl lead, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they kiss, they're married. There's music playing, people singing, and assigned seating. There's even a big dance number; it's called The Processional. (Right together, left together, right together, left together, stop, and turn...) Well, the wedding rehearsal is just a dress rehearsal without the fancy costumes. This is your opportunity to iron out all of the kinks in the program before the big show. You'll be performing live and you'll be subject to intense scrutiny. Perform beautifully, and you'll receive raves, maybe even applause; stumble, and the reviews will haunt you until the day you die. Without a rehearsal, who knows what kind of mayhem might break out at the wedding: bridesmaids wandering aimlessly around the altar or chuvah, like lost souls, wondering where they're supposed to stand; ushers racing down the aisle after the ceremony, leaving their designated bridesmaids behind. The rehearsal gives everyone in the wedding party an opportunity to go through the motions so that on the big day, when the director (a.k.a. the officiant) says "Places!", all the actors know where their places are. Traditionally done the night before the wedding, the point of the rehearsal is to give the whole bridal party a chance to "rehearse" the ceremony. A day or two before W-Day, the wedding party, the officiant, the musicians for the ceremony, and any other people participating in the ceremony (such as honored guests who might be reading a passage during the ceremony, flower children and so on) meet at the ceremony site to go through the motions. It is possible, particularly if the ceremony will not be in a church or synagogue, that the rehearsal will be just for the wedding party. It is also possible that the bride may choose not to rehearse, which may be all fine and dandy if the wedding will take place on a farm and the bridal party will be dressed in overalls. However, if the wedding is expected to be relatively traditional (for example, if guests will eat their meal with utensils and are expected to wear footwear), try to persuade the bride to have some form of rehearsal, even if it is extremely brief.

Weddings consist of three acts: the processional, the ceremony, and the recessional. It's important to know your place in each so that you can concentrate on trying to not to trip on the runner instead of wondering what you're supposed to do once you get to the end of the aisle. During the rehearsal, the wedding party practices the processional and the recessional and takes note of their positions for the ceremony. This is your only opportunity to practice your part, so be a good bridesmaid and try to pay attention.

The Processional
The processional as we know it today is actually a drastically abbreviated version of the first wedding processionals. While in our society the processional refers to the bridal party's walk down the aisle and up to the chupah or altar, it is a mere vestige of the original processional. In past centuries, whole villages marched through town from the bride's home to either the new home or the church. Some villages in countries around the world still per-form this processional ritual. But, chances are the whole town isn't invited to your wedding, and the people who are invited most likely won't be participating in a march through town, so it is safe to say that you can probably find your place in one of the standard processional formations listed in this section.
There are as many different styles of processionals as there are religions (including atheism) and it's important to know where you stand in each. Following are the most common processionals; please note your position in each.

In a Protestant procession, the officiant, the groom, and his best man are not a part of the procession. They are already positioned at the end of the aisle by the altar.

First—Ushers. Ushers enter from the back of the church in pairs, by height from shortest first to tallest last. If there is an odd number of ushers, the shortest usher should go down the aisle first. Spacing between each pair should be three to four pews.

Second—Bridesmaids. The bridesmaids follow right behind the ushers. If there are fewer than four bridesmaids, they should walk single file. While technically bridesmaids are not placed in order of importance during the processional, it is traditional that in the case where there are fewer than four bridesmaids, the bridesmaid who had the most responsibilities is at the back of this line, closest to the maid of honor. If the responsibilities were shared equally, the bridesmaids form a line according to height, with the most petite in front. Again, if there is an odd number of bridesmaids, the shortest goes first, by herself. More than four should pair off according to height. If there are junior bridesmaids, they follow the bridesmaids down the aisle, solo, in order of height.

Third—The maid of honor. The maid of honor follows the bridesmaids, or the junior bridesmaids if there are any. If there is a matron of honor as well, or two maids of honor, or two matrons of honor (or whatever!), they can walk down the aisle side-by-side or single file. It's the bride's choice.

Fourth—The ring bearer and flower girl. These young attendants follow the maid of honor. They can walk together or separately. In the case of the latter, the ring bearer goes first, and the flower girl goes right before the bride. While these young cherubs add charm to any ceremony, you may want to warn the bride about including extremely young children (under the age of two-and-a-half). We heard of an eighteen-month-old flower girl on her way down the aisle who announced to the guests that she had just gone "doo-doo". While some people think this is cute and adds a personal flair to the ceremony, not all brides are keen on diaper talk during a beautiful ceremony.

Fifth—The bride and her father. "Here comes the bride ..." The bride is always on the left arm of her father.

A Catholic processional is the same as a Protestant processional, with the option that the ushers may also already be stationed at the end of the aisle with the officiant, the groom, and the best man.

At a Jewish wedding, everyone in the wedding party, including the officiant and both the bride's and groom's immediate families, is usually a part of the processional. Although there are variations on the positioning of the bridal party in the Jewish processional depending on whether the ceremony is Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, the common processional is as follows:

First—The rabbi. The rabbi is first to walk down the aisle. If there is a cantor, he walks alongside the rabbi, on his right side.

Second—The bride's grandparents. "Bubbe" and "Zayde," as the bride affectionately calls them, follow the rabbi.

Third—The groom's grandparents. This proud couple follows the bride's grandparents, a position from which Grandma Goldberg can check out Grandma Weinstein's gown and comment to her husband on the tackiness of wearing beading in the afternoon.

Fourth—Ushers and bridesmaids. Marching in pairs of twos made up of one usher and one bridesmaid, these couples proceed down the aisle together in order of height—shortest first, tallest last. Of course, if there are more bridesmaids than ush-ers, an usher may escort two bridesmaids down the aisle at once. This coed pairing can probably be traced back to a shrewd matchmaker in a long-ago shtetl. No self-respecting Yenta would ever pass up an opportunity to introduce a nice Jewish boy to a nice Jewish girl.

Fifth—The best man.

Sixth—The groom and his parents. In the Jewish procession, the groom is always escorted by his parents, with his father on his left and his mother on his right.

Seventh—The maid of honor. As in a Christian ceremony, if there are two honor attendants, they can walk either side-by-side or single file, with the honor attendant who has performed the most duties just before the bride.

Eighth—The ring bearer. The ring bearer follows the maid of honor and marches down the aisle solo.

Ninth—The flower girl. Like the ring bearer, the flower girl also marches down the aisle solo. See the outline of the Protestant processional for our caveat.

Tenth—The bride, her father, and her mother. Enter the main attraction. As with the groom, the bride is escorted by both parents; her father is on her left, her mother on her right.

An alternative processional for a Jewish wedding is that the ushers walk down the aisle separately from the bridesmaids. When this processional is used, the ushers walk after both sets of grandparents and before the best man. Still another kind of procession is found in Orthodox Jewish weddings, where the wedding procession does not include ushers.

This is where an on-site wedding coordinator comes in handy. Whether the wedding is at a large hotel or a small restaurant, there is a person in charge at the site who will know what type of procession best suits the site. Follow his or her lead.

The Ceremony
Rehearsing the ceremony is almost as critical as rehearsing the processional. Everyone has an assigned place and you need to know where that place is (see "He Does, She Does") Also, it is very important that anyone who has a special role in the ceremony has a chance to run through his or her part at least once. This will give everyone an opportunity to see how the ceremony is going to flow and to pick up their cues (such as when the maid of honor takes the bride's bouquet or the best man hands the groom the bride's ring). Whether you're reading a poem or playing an instrument, there are specifics you'll need to cover at the rehearsal—for instance, "How will my poem get to the lectern? Do I have to carry it?" or "How do I lower the microphone for my oboe solo?"

Also, everyone in the wedding party has a designated position once he or she reaches the end of the aisle. Depending on the denomination of the ceremony, the bride and groom and all of their attendants each have preassigned positions in the ceremony. Making neat little formations isn't easy (have you ever noticed on television how drill sergeants make enlisted men do all that marching?) and it will definitely take practice to get it just right. The following are the most common formations:


Protestant and Catolic wedding ceremony formation

An alternative to this formation is when the officiant has his or her back to the guests and the couple, the maid of honor, and the best man face out. The attendants then form a semicircle around them, also facing the guests.

The positioning for the Catholic ceremony is identical to that of the Protestant ceremony.

In a Jewish ceremony, the bride, the groom, their parents, and the honor attendants all stand under the chupah, or wedding canopy. The ushers and bridesmaids stand neatly around the fringes of the chupah (after all, there is only so much room under a little canopy), and the grandparents sit down in the first row and take a load off (oy vayl). The following is the standard formation around the chupah:

Jewish wedding ceremony formation

The Recessional
You know the old saying: What goes up, must come down: Well, once everyone has marched down the aisle and the couple has said their "I do's," you have to go back up the aisle in order to leave the ceremony site and get to the bash that follows. Consult the following to figure out your place in each:

First—The happy couple. The groom on the left, the bride on his right.

Second—The ring bearer and the flower girl. The flower girl should be on the ring bearer's right. Third—The maid of honor and the best man. The maid of honor is on the best man's right side. Fourth—The first of the bridesmaids and the ushers. The bridesmaid and usher closest to the center aisle are the first to leave. The bridesmaid will be on the usher's right. (If thereare more bridesmaids than ushers, the usher can escort two bridesmaids at once).

Fifth—The rest of the bridesmaids and ushers. After the recessional, the maid of honor joins the bride, the groom, the best man, and the officiant in the signing of the marriage certificate, and then finally you're off to the reception. (Party, party, party!)

Same as the Protestant recessional.

In a Jewish recessional, the order is as follows, always with the female on the left: First—The happy couple. Second—The bride's parents. Third—The groom's parents. Fourth—The ring bearer and the flower girl. Fifth—The maid of honor and the best man. Sixth—The bridesmaids and ushers. The bridesmaid and usher closest to the center aisle are the first to leave. The others pair up and filter out behind them in kind. Seventh—The rabbi and the cantor. The cantor is on the rabbi's left.

As you can see, everybody has his or her place in a wedding; rehearsing the ceremony gives the entire party a chance to familiarize themselves with the flow of the ceremony and to get comfortable with their parts. Remember, a confident bridesmaid is a happy (and smiling) bridesmaid.

The rehearsal dinner follows the rehearsal. The groom's parents usually throw this event, but it can be given by someone from the bride's side or even just a close friend. The dinner can be attended by just the bridal party, or it can be open to all the out-of-town guests who have come for the wedding the following day. In a Christian ceremony, the groom's'parents are not a part of the processional or recessional and as such, it is not necessary for them to participate in the wedding rehearsal itself; however, they are always included in the rehearsal dinner.
If no bridesmaid luncheon has been given, either by the bride or the bridesmaids, it is at the rehearsal dinner that the bride gives her attendants a gift, thanking them for throwing the bridal shower, for assisting her in putting together the wedding, and for accepting an active role in the occasion.

Most important, the rehearsal dinner not only represents a meal for those tired souls who are exhausted from rehearsing for the big event; it is also an opportunity for the bridal party and close family to toast the bride and groom in a more intimate setting.

The rehearsal dinner is a great opportunity to share personal memories of the bride and/or the groom (not too personal, of course; remember that the bride's parents are listening and they may not appreciate the story about how Laura accidentally left her diaphragm out on the kitchen counter that time you had the Tupperware party) and to make any presentations you may have planned. One bridesmaid we know prepared a slide show of pictures of both the bride and groom growing up. Another bridesmaid presented the bride with a handmade ivory silk bag for the bride to carry on her wedding day. The rehearsal dinner is a much more informal setting than the wedding and is a wonderful occasion for sharing memories of the bride and groom with a more intimate group of friends and family.

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