How to Make Your Wedding Ceremony the Main Event

If you find yourself slashing traditions left and right, you are not alone. Many couples are choosing to pare down to a much simpler wedding day devoid of traditions that are inextricably bound to outdated or straight-up sexist norms. Whether you want to have a smaller, more affordable or more casual wedding, or you’re just not that interested in having a huge dance party, here are some ways you can make your ceremony the focus of your wedding day.

Have people show up ahead of the ceremony

Rather than treat your ceremony as a formality before the party gets started, create some anticipation and give your guests a chance to participate. Instead of your guests arriving just in time to find a seat for the ceremony, gather them elsewhere to mingle. It doesn’t have to be a whole separate space, but just establish an area that visually tells people, “hang out here for a bit.” It can be as simple as a table near some shade with pre-poured drinks, or you could incorporate some standing tables and a bar or drink station—just something so people don’t start sitting down, which they will because traditions, y’all! If your wedding is in the woods, for example, gather everyone up near the parking lot, and walk to the ceremony as a group—it’s like a wedding parade!

Find ways for your guests to participate in the ceremony

If you want your ceremony to be the focus of your day, spend a little more time on it. You could have your guests read along to a chosen passage, invite a few guests to the altar to read passages or poems, or incorporate something symbolic like planting a tree or sand blending to break up the otherwise verbal ceremony. You could also arrange the guest seating in a circle surrounding the altar so there are more people close to you and really engaged with your ceremony.

Casual Reception & Small Bites

People tend to show up to weddings hungry. There is a general expectation that there will be a meal, but it’s definitely not a requirement—that is, if you are not entertaining your guests during a meal time. If your ceremony is an hour before dinner time, guests will expect to eat dinner, and rightly so.

Tip: If you are not planning on serving a meal, don’t set traditional tables—it’s all about setting expectations.

Instead, start earlier or later in the day. If you have your ceremony in the morning, you could serve coffee as your guests arrive and mingle. Then you could have some simple brunch foods like croissants, fruit, yogurt parfaits, and mimosas following your ceremony. If you prefer the evening, the invitations might say the ceremony will be followed by a cocktail party, which will imply it’s not a dinner. It would still be wise to provide some small bites, especially since not all guests will partake in cocktails.

Tip: Adding an end time on your invite will further set your guests’ expectations. This would be especially helpful for an earlier event. Guests generally wait for traditional cues like cake cutting and dancing to know when it’s “acceptable” to leave. This will also give your guests an opportunity to coordinate plans with each other following your reception should they want to get a meal or spend more time together.

If you want to have a reception but not a dance party, give your guests things to do!

If dancing is not your thing, that’s okay! Lawn games, board games, trivia—really any group activity will work. You will be surrounded by people who are showing up for you, and it’s a perfect time to introduce them to something you love. Maybe that’s an activity, or maybe it’s the location you’ve chosen itself. Think of ways they can enjoy it. Roasting marshmallows over a fire in the evening is popular at outdoor weddings and is always a hit. I’ve also seen piñatas, cornhole, oversized Jenga, sing-a-longs, and themed trivia.

Nicole Cross.jpeg


I'm Nicole Cross, owner and photo taker of 43rd Ave Photography in San Francisco. My focus is taking candid pictures that will remind you of what your wedding day was like—because they actually show what your wedding day was like. It's my goal to photograph all the little moments as they happen. Because those moments—the smiles, laughs, reactions and relationships—are what will remind you of how that day felt. And that's what I'm after.