Whether you're planning a professionally printed keepsake book or a simple one-sheet rundown created on your home computer, a wedding program is a simple and gracious way to guide guests through the ceremony and acknowledge those who helped bring the day to fruition.
"A wedding program is like the credits to a movie and more, because it announces not only the cast of characters but also what the congregation can expect -- and a good wedding program functions as a memento of the great day for guests to keep and cherish," says Michael P. Foley, author of "Wedding Rites: A Complete Guide to Traditional Vows, Music, Ceremonies, Blessings, and Interfaith Services." "It shows that the bride and groom care about their guests; they want them to be informed of the participants, the music and what is going to happen."
Though not mandatory, a program is a thoughtful gesture. It need not be expensive or lavish, but it should be useful.
"The principal purpose of the program is twofold -- to introduce the entire wedding party to all the guests and to inform the guests of the order of the ceremony," explains Barbara Wallace, a former wedding planner and co-author of "Beautiful Bride from Every Angle." "It's not really necessary, but this is one of the fun things that can help the guests and personalize the wedding ceremony at the same time. It also gives the guests something to do, especially the early arrivals, as they wait for the ceremony to begin."
The program should include all members of the wedding party, as well as peripheral participants, such as ushers, musicians, those reading during the ceremony and those who assisted behind the scenes. Wallace also recommends including a brief note on the relationship between each participant and the couple. The notes need not be lengthy; something short and simple -- for example, "Jane Smith, bridesmaid, bride's sorority sister" -- will suffice.
The program also should include an overview of the ceremony that designates the order of events and draws attention to noteworthy aspects, such as the reading of the vows and the exchanging of the rings. If an element of the ceremony isn't 100 percent set in stone, don't include it.
Wedding programs are as diverse as the ceremonies they celebrate, and many couples choose to include additional items that reflect their personal vision for the day, for example, religious passages, a copy of the readings, song lyrics, a short poem or a brief note on how they met.
"Wedding programs can vary tremendously, from a single half-sheet to a multiple-page stapled booklet containing every word of the service -- which is necessary, for instance, if the service is in a language the majority of the congregation does not understand," Foley says. "It all depends on the kind of service and the kind of people attending it. The more your guests will be unaccustomed to your service the more information you should provide."
For dual-faith ceremonies or ceremonies that include unfamiliar cultural customs, for instance, the bride and groom may wish to explain the historical significance and offer insight on the deeper meaning behind the rites and rituals.
Resist the urge to include purely frivolous information, though. Instead, focus on providing guests with pertinent details and a classic keepsake.
"Aim for beautiful rather than fun," Foley says. "Save the fun for the reception. Don't include anything too cute about the couple or the participants. The focus should be on the service, not the idiosyncrasies of the people. The wedding service and all that pertains to it should evoke awe, not guffaws."
Plan to have enough programs on hand to cover 80 percent of the guest list. "It is not necessary to order one program per guest. Most of the men do not take one for themselves," Wallace says. "Of course, if there are special people who will not be able to attend, it's a lovely gesture to send them a program after the wedding day. Also make sure to set aside one for each of the wedding party members, or they might not get one at all."
With programs, smaller is better. "I generally recommend a small program that will fit into a man's pocket or a woman's purse. I find that far fewer small programs are left behind after the ceremony than larger ones," Wallace says.