How Long Should Your Wedding Ceremony Be?

There's no one standard length for a ceremony, but our experts say that the traditions you choose to include will have the biggest impact on the overall timing.

bride and groom walk down recessional aisle holding hands while smiling
Photo: Janine Licare Photography

Let's face it: The reception is usually the part of the wedding that the couple and guests most look forward to, but there's no denying that the ceremony is the heart of the big day. After all, witnessing a couple say "I do" is the whole point of the celebration. This all begs the question: How long is a wedding ceremony? Ultimately, the length of this vow exchange will depend on the pair getting married, their cultures, religions, and overall wishes for this part of the day. While every ceremony is unique, most will feature the "exchanging of vows and rings, as well as the officiant sharing their story," says Heather Balliet, a wedding specialist and the owner of Amorology. "It is a blending of family traditions on both sides." Depending on all that the soon-to-be newlyweds decide to include, the ceremony could either be shorter or longer than what guests are used to from previous weddings. Here, wedding planners shares their expert insight on how long your wedding ceremony should be and offer advice on landing on the perfect timing for you.

Figure out what type of ceremony you want to have.

Before deciding on what you feel is the ideal ceremony timing, do note that there are many different types of wedding ceremonies; each will range in tradition and length. Balliet says most wedding ceremonies last around 20 to 30 minutes, but religious celebrations generally require more time. Xanath Banuelos, the owner and lead planner of XB Destination Weddings & Events, says that non-denominational weddings tend to be around 30 to 40 minutes. "There are also symbolic ceremonies, which are custom made ceremonies compiled by unifying acts chosen by the bride and groom and their families," she says. These, she notes, can be inspired by a religion, poem, or culture, and often last for about 20 minutes.

"When it comes to more traditional ceremonies like Jewish and Christian ceremonies, they tend to be 45 minutes to one hour," shares Banuelos. "For Indian [weddings], the ceremonies are commonly between one hour to two hours; it varies depending on if both the bride and groom come from the same culture and region or if they will be blending in both their traditions into one ceremony."

Think through the pros and cons of a ceremony that's long or short.

How long or short a wedding feels could be subjective to the couple, but Balliet shares that anything over an hour can begin to drag. If the ceremony ends up being too long, guests might begin to lose interest and get impatient, especially with children in attendance. "Less than 10 minutes can tend to feel too rushed or may not offer the opportunity for guests to feel that connection to you as you are being married," she says. "Guests want to experience the love of a couple as they are attending their big day."

Plan out the ceremony details.

One of the biggest traditions featured across all wedding ceremonies is the exchanging of vows, and how long or short your vows are will have a definitive impact on the ceremony's overall length. "Between two to three minutes is a great time frame to aim for on each side, which is about 200 to 300 words and allows you to focus in on the most important promises you are making, while also taking your time to really say what is on your heart," says Balliet. "The vows are followed by the ring exchange and traditionally the groom goes first, but, of course, you can give your own spin on it these days." The processional, depending on the amount of people in the wedding party, the welcome from the officiant, and ceremony rituals, such as a sand ceremony, Balliet notes, could play a role in extending a ceremony's length for non-denominational weddings, as well. Factors that could specifically influence the length of a traditional wedding include a welcoming mantra and prayers, Banuelos says. For instance, in "Indian ceremonies, it is very common for the grooms to kick off the ceremony with a Ganesh Puja, (a prayer to dispel all evils), and about 20 minutes into the ceremony, the priest asks for the bride to come in," she adds.

Talk through what you want for the big day.

Some ceremony adjustments could be possible for couples who may want to avoid having a long, traditional event in a house of worship. "When it comes to intercultural weddings, it truly depends on how traditional the families and spiritual leaders are, very often we recommend having a close friend or family member perform the ceremony," Banuelos says. "In Indian ceremonies, we recommend having some parts of the ceremony done at home, or earlier during the early morning, this way we respect tradition, and we don't put guests through a two-hour-long ceremony." Banuelos adds that at times, it can be possible to custom make a ceremony in different traditions or curate two separate ceremonies. In the case of the latter, "we always recommend for the ceremonies to be done in two different days, otherwise we look at three to five hours of the two ceremonies combined when you take changes of the setup, photos between ceremonies, and changes of outfits in consideration."

For non-denominational weddings, Balliet suggests couples sit down together, along with the officiant, to discuss ceremony preferences. "If you don't want a full sermon or a ceremony filled with anecdotes, make sure to make a note with your officiant on the front end," she adds.

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