It finally happened—you're engaged. While you bask in the afterglow of the dreamy proposal and the unfamiliar feeling of the shiny new ring on your hand, you're probably already thinking about the next step: the wedding. First things first, you'll need to choose which type of wedding you want to have. While that may seem obvious, it matters—the kind of wedding you pick determines many of your later decisions. Unless you are committed to a traditional religious ceremony, you have a range of options for how and where you will tie the knot.
Traditional Religious Wedding Ceremony
A traditional religious marriage ceremony takes place in a house of worship where at least one person of the couple getting married is typically a member of the congregation. The reception usually occurs immediately after the exchanging of vows, either in the church's banquet room or at a separate location.
Couples who choose the religious route must still obtain a civil marriage license from their local courthouse or county clerk’s office for the union to have legal standing.
Civil Ceremony Wedding
A civil ceremony wedding is typically held in a courthouse, city hall or judges' chambers and is officiated by a Justice of the Peace, a judge or a mayor. The secular ceremony is brief, with simple vows and just a handful of guests. A simple or elaborate reception can follow the ceremony; it's up to the couple's wishes.
Holding tightly to age-old traditions, a formal wedding typically includes an elaborately decorated ceremony and reception, numerous attendants and ushers, engraved stationery, an assigned seating chart, and dozens of etiquette rules. An expensive event, this type of wedding can have any number of guests.
Couples who choose to have an informal wedding have the freedom to customize every aspect of their marriage ceremony and wedding reception. They usually hold on to several important traditions, create a mash-up of both traditions, or come up with something completely new. They also often have a more intimate feel.
Usually held in an exotic location, destination weddings are growing in popularity. Since a destination event requires travel, the wedding festivities are intimate, with typically fewer than 20 people. Couples often aim for an all-inclusive package that enables them to combine the marriage ceremony with the honeymoon. Clever, right?
Cruise marriage ceremonies are destination weddings that take the all-inclusive idea to new levels. The ceremony is officiated by the ship's captain or a clergy member at port, and onboard wedding planners and event coordinators help customize every last detail of the intimate event. Many cruise ships provide ways to televise the big event to those at home who could not attend.
Although most couples fantasize about eloping at least once during the wedding planning process, very few actually choose the easier and less expensive route. In Las Vegas, the most famous U.S. destination for elopements, couples are married in quick, quirky ceremonies and often celebrate the night out on the town. But eloping doesn't have to be this way. Planned elopements to destinations special to the bride and groom can make the wedding a little less quirky and a little more authentic to who the couple is.
Also known as a mass marriage ceremony, the group wedding involves numerous couples who legally tie the knot at the same time. Typically hosted by wedding venues and cities, group weddings are an attractive option for couples on a budget who want to celebrate their love in a very public way. Often in group weddings, the venue also serves as the reception site where newlyweds receive an individual cake and champagne toast.
Formal and steeped in tradition, a military wedding involves full dress uniform for enlisted personnel. The couple has their choice of marrying in a chapel on base in addition to venue locations civilians seek out. Rituals between the U.S. Armed Forces branches vary, but some incorporate the stunning salute of the Saber Arch that newlyweds pass under.
While rare, a proxy wedding takes place when the bride or groom cannot actually attend the ceremony, usually due to serving overseas in the military. States that allow proxy marriages include California, Colorado, Texas, and Montana, although the laws vary. One party stands in for either the bride or groom, repeats vows, and witnesses the signing/notarizing of the marriage documents. This can be done as a ceremony with guests present, or at City Hall. Often, the couple will have another ceremony once the bride or groom is able to attend.