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In some ways, all weddings are the same. In other ways, they may be profoundly different. Below are some examples of different sorts of weddings and some ideas about what to expect.
Civil ceremonies are usually small, although frequently a civil authority officiates at a large wedding in a public hall. In this case, follow the guidelines for a formal wedding, creating the stage by setting up rows of chairs on both sides of a central aisle.
When a civil ceremony takes place in a private home or judge's chambers, follow the guidelines for an informal wedding. If you go to a justice of the peace, dress in keeping with the dignity of the occasion, even though the ceremony might be short and rather impersonal.
The only people who absolutely must be present for a civil ceremony are the bride and groom, the civil official, and the legal witnesses, who need not even know the couple.
Beyond that, the couple may be attended by a bridesmaid or bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen, maid or matron of honor, someone to give the bride away, ushers, possibly child attendants (flower girls or ring bearers), friends, and relatives.
Roman Catholic Weddings
Roman Catholics are married in the presence of a priest. They may or may not have a nuptial Mass. The bride's father walks the bride down the aisle and “gives” her to the groom, who walks out a few steps to meet her. The father then assumes his seat in the front pew on the left.
If a nuptial Mass takes place, the bride and groom and the wedding party receive Communion, and the guests frequently do as well. Of course, guests who are not of the faith will remain in their pews during Communion. That little bench at your feet is a kneeler, used during prayer; it's not a footrest.
Family members or close friends often give scriptural readings.
Jewish wedding ceremonies vary from Orthodox to Reform. However, some components of the wedding service are found in all Jewish services.
The huppah, or wedding canopy, covers the bride, groom, and rabbi during the ceremony. Originally, the huppah was the bridal chamber itself. In our times, the word symbolizes the couple's entering into the chamber.
The wedding ring must be plain gold without any stones. The groom places it on the bride's finger as he says, “You are sanctified to me with this ring according to the religion of Moses and Israel.”
He and the bride sip wine from the same glass over which blessings have been said. The groom steps on the wine glass, crushing it, to symbolize Jewish mourning for the destruction of the Temple in ancient Jerusalem. The wine glass is covered with cloth before it is crushed to prevent splinters and cuts.
Jewish weddings are forbidden on holy days, such as the Sabbath. However, the holy days end at sundown, and many Jewish couples have Saturday-night weddings.
Men cover their heads in the synagogue as a sign of respect for God. Guests are given skullcaps, called yarmulkes, for this purpose.
Generally, Islamic weddings are not elaborate. The bride and groom exchange their vows in the mosque in the presence of family, friends, and the Imam, or religious leader. There are no restrictions as to color of clothing, but modest clothing is expected. Everyone removes shoes before entering and places them on racks. Shoe removal is not a religious custom, but a sanitary one, since worshippers often pray touching the floor. At the end of the ceremony, those present often say “salaam aleikum” (peace be with you) to one another.
After the ceremony, a reception is generally held in a hotel or hall. These receptions are very much like wedding receptions anywhere except that no alcohol is served and the food conforms to Islamic dietary laws.