A Complete Guide to Planning Your Wedding Recessional

Put together a flawless exit strategy with these expert tips.

jessica brian traditional wedding recessional

Abby Jiu Photography

The wedding recessional may seem like a forgettable part of the ceremony (the good part's over, after all!), but it's not a piece you should neglect. Ultimately, these are your first steps as a married couple! Choosing a song with personal meaning, deciding whether or not to have your guests toss petals, and giving your families and wedding party an easy-to-follow ceremony exit order will make the last moments of your nuptials just as memorable as the ones that came before.

Wedding Recessional Music

While you're more likely to choose a sentimental song that will get your tears flowing for the processional, your recessional song should be joyful, vibrant, and celebratory. "If you've selected the song right, it can be a great segue into the next portion of the day," says event planner Summer Newman of Summer Newman Events, who recommends a "jubilant" tune. Some of her favorites include Vivaldi's "Spring" from The Four Seasons for a classical option, "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys, "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green, or "Halo" from Bridgerton by Caleb Chan and Brian Chan. "I encourage couples to pick a song that reflects their unique love, personalities, and the overall feel of the day," she says.

Wedding Recessional Toss

The recessional toss has a long history, says Newman. "The tossing of rice, seeds, wheat, or nuts in the ceremony has its origin from many cultures in ancient times, [when it was] commonly done to appease spirits and wish the couple prosperity, fruitfulness, or fertility in marriage." The modern recessional toss isn't quite as symbolic, though. "Today, it is not done so much for tradition but for aesthetics—it looks great in photos," says Newman.

If you're planning a recessional toss, Newman recommends choosing flower petals over rice or small seeds, which are challenging for venues to clean up, and reminding your guests not to empty their packets until the newlyweds are in the aisle. "Don't toss while they are still standing at the altar—guests should toss as the couple walks near them," she says.

Traditional Wedding Recessional Orders

Religious ceremonies have their own established sets of rules that often end up informing the recessional, including which side the bride and groom stand on during the ceremony, which side of the aisle each newlywed walks out on, which family goes first, and which arm the groomsmen use to escort the bridesmaids.

Wedding Recessional Order at Christian Ceremonies

At a Christian ceremony, the newlyweds are traditionally followed, in order, by:

  1. The flower girl and the ring bearer, if they remained at the altar during the ceremony
  2. The maid of honor and the best man
  3. The bridesmaids and groomsmen
  4. Immediate family, usually led by the parents of the bride and groom
  5. Officiant
  6. Guests

If coupled, all should exit arm in arm; women should be on the men's right arms.

Wedding Recessional Order at Jewish Ceremonies

At the conclusion of a Jewish ceremony, the newlyweds exit first. They are followed by:

  1. The bride's parents
  2. The groom's parents
  3. The couple's grandparents
  4. The flower girl and the ring bearer
  5. The maid of honor and the best man
  6. The bridesmaids and groomsmen
  7. Officiant
  8. Guests

If coupled, all should exit arm in arm; women should be on the men's left arms. Immediately after the ceremony, the bride and groom often take 10 or 15 minutes to themselves—which is the symbolic consummation of the marriage.

grooms during wedding ceremony at city hall
Barb Simkova/Tara McMullen Photo

How to Make Your Own Wedding Recessional Order

The wedding recessional is entirely customizable—you aren't beholden to tradition, especially if it doesn't serve you or your wedding party. For many couples, rules designed to accommodate one bride, one groom, an all-female group of bridesmaids, and an all-male crew of groomsmen don't apply.

The simplest way to organize your recessional is to have the couple leave on their own and, once they have exited the ceremony space, have the families and then the wedding party depart in the opposite lineup of your processional, says event planner Jove Meyer.

  • The family: "Some couples have biological family in attendance and others have chosen family. Either way, they tend to go right after the couple, and you can reverse the order from which they walked in—meaning the family that went first down the aisle will go second on the way out," he says.
  • The kids: If your flower girl (or boy) and ring bearer is up for it, they can walk out with the family or before the wedding party. If they are too tired, says Newman, let them skip the recessional.
  • The wedding party: Meyer recommends having the wedding party exit in pairs ("It's faster and easier"), but it's up to the couple's preference. "When it comes to the wedding party, they can walk out as they came in—solo or in groups—or they can do the opposite," he says.
  • The officiant: Your officiant is usually the last member of the wedding party to leave the ceremony, and can direct guests toward the cocktail space or reception. "The officiant's exit formally concludes the ceremony," says Meyer. "Guests will have enjoyed watching the couples' nearest and dearest support them as they take their steps into life as a married couple, and then the guests follow in support."
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