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Participants in wedding ceremonies

Participants in wedding ceremonies

In a traditional wedding, the wedding party refers to the group of people participating in the ceremony with the bride and groom (formally, bridegroom). The bridal party consists of the maid of honor (matron of honor if she is married) and the bridesmaids. The groom is accompanied by the best man and the groomsmen. Finally, any flower girls and page boys (including the ringbearer) are traditionally included in the wedding party.


  • 1 Bride
    • 1.1 Attire
    • 1.2 History
  • 2 Groom
    • 2.1 Etymology
    • 2.2 Customs
  • 3 Bridesmaid / Maid (Matron) of Honor
    • 3.1 North America
    • 3.2 United Kingdom
  • 4 Best man
    • 4.1 Duties
    • 4.2 Best man in various cultures
  • 5 Bridesmaids
    • 5.1 "Bridesmaid" as an idiomatic term
  • 6 Groomsmen
    • 6.1 Gifts
  • 7 Flower Girls
  • 8 Page Boys
    • 8.1 Ringbearer
  • 9 Officiant/Celebrant
  • 10 Gallery
  • 11 External links
  • 12 References




A bride is a female participant in a wedding ceremony: a woman about to be married, currently being married, or, in some uses, very recently married (applicable during the first year of wifehood). The term used to mean 'daughter-in-law', as newly married women at one time moved into the husband's family home. Further back, the word possibly comes from the Teutonic word for 'cook'.[1] A bride is typically attended by one or more bridesmaids or maids of honor. Her partner, if male, is the bridegroom or "groom", after the wedding, in marriage, her husband. In same-gender weddings, two feminine participants may both be termed brides. In some cultures, successful sexual intercourse between the bride and bridegroom is a required step to complete ("consummate") the wedding ceremony.


In Europe and North America, the typical attire for a bride is a formal dress and sometimes a tiara. Usually, the dress is bought only for the wedding, and never worn again. For first marriages, a white wedding dress is usually worn, a tradition started by Queen Victoria's wedding. Etiquette once prescribed that a white dress should not be worn for subsequent marriages, since the wearing of white was mistakenly regarded by some as an ancient symbol of virginity, despite the fact that wearing white is a fairly recent development in wedding traditions. Today, brides may wear white, cream, or ivory dresses for any number of marriages; the color of the dress is not a comment on the bride's sexual history. In fact, up until the 19th century, the bride generally wore her best dress, whatever color it was, or ordered a new dress in her favorite color and expected to wear it again.

In addition to the gown, the bride often wears a veil and carries a bouquet of flowers. A garter may also be worn by the bride, and later removed by the groom during the reception (US).


A photograph of a wedding party probably from the late 1870s to 1880s.(Note the black or dark colored wedding dress which was common during the early to mid 19th century.)
A photograph of a wedding party probably from the late 1870s to 1880s.(Note the black or dark colored wedding dress which was common during the early to mid 19th century.)

The term appears in combination with many words, some of them obsolete. Thus "bridegroom" is the newly married man, and "bride-bell," "bride-banquet" are old equivalents of wedding-bells, wedding-breakfast. "Bridal" (from Bride-ale), originally the wedding-feast itself, has grown into a general descriptive adjective, e.g. the bridal party, the bridal ceremony. The bride-cake had its origin in the Roman confarreatio, a form of marriage, the essential features of which were the eating by the couple of a cake made of salt, water and spelt flour, and the holding by the bride of three wheat-ears, a symbol of plenty.

Under Tiberius the cake-eating fell into disuse, but the wheat ears survived. In the middle ages they were either worn or carried by the bride. Eventually it became the custom for the young girls to assemble outside the church porch and throw grains of wheat over the bride, and afterwards a scramble for the grains took place. In time the wheat-grains came to be cooked into thin dry biscuits, which were broken over the bride's head, as is the custom in Scotland to-day, an oatmeal cake being used. In Elizabeth's reign these biscuits began to take the form of small rectangular cakes made of eggs, milk, sugar, currants and spices. Every wedding guest had one at least, and the whole collection were thrown at the bride the instant she crossed the threshold. Those which lighted on her head or shoulders were most prized by the scramblers. At last these cakes became amalgamated into a large one which took on its full glories of almond paste and ornaments during Charles II's time. But even to-day in rural parishes, e.g. north Notts, wheat is thrown over the bridal couple with the cry "Bread for life and pudding for ever," expressive of a wish that the newly wed may be always affluent. The throwing of rice, a very ancient custom but one later than the wheat, is symbolical of the wish that the bridal may be fruitful.

The bride-cup was the bowl or loving-cup in which the bridegroom pledged the bride, and she him. The custom of breaking this wine-cup, after the bridal couple had drained its contents, is common to both the Jews and the members of the Greek Church. The former dash it against the wall or on the ground, the latter tread it under foot. The phrase "bride-cup" was also sometimes used of the bowl of spiced wine prepared at night for the bridal couple. Bride-favours, anciently called bride-lace, were at first pieces of gold, silk or other lace, used to bind up the sprigs of rosemary formerly worn at weddings. These took later the form of bunches of ribbons, which were at last metamorphosed into rosettes.

Bridegroom-men and bridesmaids had formerly important duties. The men were called bride-knights, and represented a survival of the primitive days of marriage by capture, when a man called his friends in to assist to "lift" the bride. Bridesmaids were usual in Saxon England. The senior of them had personally to attend the bride for some days before the wedding. The making of the bridal wreath, the decoration of the tables for the wedding feast, the dressing of the bride, were among her special tasks. In the same way the senior groomsman (the best man) was the personal attendant of the husband.

The bride-wain, the wagon in which the bride was driven to her new home, gave its name to the weddings of any poor deserving couple, who drove a "wain" round the village, collecting small sums of money or articles of furniture towards their housekeeping. These were called bidding-weddings, or bid-ales, which were in the nature of "benefit" feasts. So general is still the custom of "bidding-weddings" in Wales, that printers usually keep the form of invitation in type. Sometimes as many as six hundred couples will walk in the bridal procession.

The bride's wreath is a Christian substitute for the gilt coronet all Jewish brides wore. The crowning of the bride is still observed by the Russians, and the Calvinists of Holland and Switzerland. The wearing of orange blossoms is said to have started with the Saracens, who regarded them as emblems of fecundity. It was introduced into Europe by the Crusaders. The bride's veil is the modern form of the flammeum or large yellow veil which completely enveloped the Greek and Roman brides during the ceremony. Such a covering is still in use among the Jews and the Persians.[2][3]



A bridegroom (often shortened to groom) is a man who is about to be married, or who has just been married. His partner, if female, is known as the bride, who is typically attended by one or more bridesmaids and a maid or matron of honor. In same-gender weddings, two masculine participants may both be termed grooms. The groom will after that ceremony be called a husband of his new spouse.


The word "bridegroom" is derived from bride and the archaic guma, "man", from the Indogermanic root of "earth" (for "ghmĂșn"), which evolved into Latin humanus and Germanic and English "man" and "groom". Through folk etymology the word became assimilated to groom, meaning a servant.


A bridegroom is typically attended by a best man and groomsmen.

In western cultures, the groom usually wears a dark coloured suit or tuxedo during the wedding ceremony. In US tradition, at the end of the wedding, it is the groom's privilege to remove the bride's garter and toss it over his shoulder to the group of male guests, much like the "tossing of the bouquet" performed by the bride. It is traditional belief that whomever catches the garter will be the next to be married.

Bridesmaid / Maid (Matron) of Honor

The bridesmaids, possibly including a maid of honor (US) or chief bridesmaid, are members of the bride's wedding party in a wedding. Specifically, a maid of honor (or matron of honor, if the woman is married) is the primary attendant with the most honors and duties of the bridal party, and is considered the equivalent of the groom's best man or (if there are several bridesmaids) ushers.

North America

In North America, a wedding party might include several bridesmaids, but the maid of honor is the title and position held by the bride's chief attendant, typically her closest friend or sister. If she is married, the title matron of honor is used. In modern day weddings some brides opt to choose a long-time male friend or brother as their head attendant, using the title "Man of Honor".

A bridesmaid's activities may be as many or as varied as she allows the bride to impose upon her. Her only required duty is to participate in the wedding ceremony. Typically, however, she is asked for help with the logistics of the wedding as an event, such as addressing invitations, and for her help as a friend, such as attending the bride as she shops for her wedding dress. Many brides expect a chief bridesmaid to arrange and pay for a bridal shower as well as the bachelorette party (US) or hen's night (Australia and UK).

On the day of the wedding, her principal duty is to provide practical and emotional support. She might assist the bride with dressing and, if needed, help the bride manage her veil, a bouquet of flower, a prayer book, or the train of her wedding dress during the day. In a double-ring wedding, the chief bridesmaid is often entrusted with the groom's wedding ring until it is needed during the ceremony. Many brides ask bridesmaids, if they are adults, to be legal witnesses who sign the marriage license after the ceremony.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the term "maid of honour" originally referred to the female attendant of a queen. The term "bridesmaid" is normally used for a bridal attendant. However, when the attendant is married, or is a mature woman, the term "matron of honour" is more commonly used. The influence of American English has led to the Chief Bridesmaid sometimes being called the Maid of Honour.

In the UK, a "maid of honour" is also a type of small cake.

Best man

The best man is the chief male assistant to the bridegroom at a wedding. Usually the groom extends this honour to someone who is close to him, generally either a brother or his closest male friend. Alternatively, should one of the groom's male friends have been directly responsible for introducing the groom to his bride (or otherwise responsible for bringing them together), the honor of best man might be extended to him in gratitude. In a remarriage, a son of the groom may sometimes act as best man.


In the context of a traditional American/British white wedding, the best man's duties typically include:

  • Organizing a bachelor party (U.S.) / stag night (U.K.) / buck's night (Aus.) for the groom
  • Possibly helping plan or organize some details of the wedding
  • Assisting with wedding-day logistics and unforeseen circumstances that arise
  • Assisting the groom on the morning of wedding day
  • Getting the groom to the wedding on time
  • Supervising the groomsmen or ushers
  • Ensuring the rings are brought to the ceremony (usually they will have been given to the best man either earlier in the day or previously) and then passing these to the bride and groom at the appropriate point in the ceremony
  • Acting as a legal witness to the marriage
  • Giving a speech at the wedding and thanking the bride's parents
  • Making a toast to the bride and groom at the reception
  • Dance with the Maid of honor and helping to ensure that other guests make it to the dance floor and dance
  • Decorating the car of the married couple
  • Returning the Groomsmen's tuxedos / morning suits (U.K.), if they are rented

In the US, the groomsmen assist the best man with these functions.

When the groom wishes to give this honor to a woman, she may be termed the "best woman" or "best person", or may still be referred to as the 'best man'. The bride's equivalent of the best man is the maid or matron of honour. A neutral term is "honor attendant".

Best man in various cultures

In Uganda a best man does what is described above but he is also challenged to guide the newlyweds in ways of marriage. This means that ideally a best man must be married, preferably to one wife and should be in position to give sound, tried and tested advice. A best man must be a confidant and be discreet about the details he shares with the new couple.[citation needed]

In Ukraine a best man is responsible for guarding a bride during the wedding. When he steps away traditionally a shoe gets stolen from the bride. Then the best man has to pay a ransom in exchange for returning the shoe -- usually by either drinking vodka or paying money.[citation needed]

In Bhutan the best man presents himself at the wedding as a ceremonial guardian to both bride and groom. Thereafter he performs for the guests before commencement of marriage. These performances can last for 5 hours with the exhausted best man returning to his wooden carriage very similar to a dog kennel. He remains there to watch on before joining the other guests to celebrate the special occasion - usually in a drunken stupor.[citation needed]


Portrait of two bridemaids.
Portrait of two bridemaids.
Bridesmaid and junior bridesmaid. North Carolina, U.S.A.
Bridesmaid and junior bridesmaid. North Carolina, U.S.A.
A young bridesmaid at a wedding in Thornbury Castle, South Gloucestershire, England
A young bridesmaid at a wedding in Thornbury Castle, South Gloucestershire, England

A bridesmaid is a girl or young woman who attends to the bride during or after a wedding or marriage ceremony. Traditionally, bridesmaids were chosen from unwed young women of marriageable age.

In early Roman times, bridesmaids formed a kind of bridal infantry as they accompanied the bride to the groom's village. This "protective shield" of similarly outfitted bridesmaids was supposed to intervene if any wayward thugs or vengeful suitors tried to hurt the bride or steal her dowry.

However, the Western bridesmaid tradition seems to have originated from later Roman law, which required ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits believed to attend marriage ceremonies. The bridesmaids and ushers dressed in identical clothing to the bride and groom, so that the evil spirits would not know who was getting married. Even as late as 19th century England, there was a belief that ill-wishers could administer curses and taint the wedding. In Victorian wedding photographs, for example, the bride and groom can look very similar to other members of the bridal party.

A bridesmaid is often a close friend or sister. Often there is more than one bridesmaid: in modern times the bride chooses how many to ask. Historically, no person of status went out unattended, and the size of the retinue was closely calculated to be appropriate to the family's social status. Then, as now, a large group of bridesmaids provided an opportunity for showing off the family's social status and wealth. The principal bridesmaid, if one is so designated, is called the maid of honor if she is unmarried or the matron of honor if she is married. A junior bridesmaid is a girl who is clearly too young to be marriageable, but who is included as an honorary bridesmaid.

Bridesmaids in Europe and North America are often asked to assist the bride with planning the wedding and a wedding reception. A bridesmaid is also typically asked to play a role in planning wedding-related events, such as a bridal shower or bachelorette party, if there are any. However, according to etiquette expert Judith Martin, the required duties of a bridesmaid are very limited: "Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear dresses they cannot afford."[4] A junior bridesmaid has no responsibilities beyond attending the wedding.

Since modern bridesmaids, unlike their historical counterparts, can no longer rely on having their clothes and travel expenses paid for by the bride's family, and are sometimes even assessed fees to pay for parties that the bride wants to have before the wedding, it has become customary for the bride to present the bridesmaids with gifts as a sign of gratitude for the support and financial commitment that comes with their roles.

"Bridesmaid" as an idiomatic term

The term "bridesmaid" itself has also come to refer to one who comes close to attaining what is desired, only to fall just short, alluding to the fact that though a bridesmaid plays a large role in a wedding, she is not the one for whom the ceremony is given nor is she the center of attention. Commonly recited expressions about this member of the wedding party are "always a bridesmaid, but never a bride" and "thrice a bridesmaid, never a bride"-- an old charm that can be broken by being a bridesmaid seven times.

The term is used especially commonly to refer to a sports team or athlete that routinely comes close to winning an award or championship, only to come up just short. Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets had stated, for instance, that he was tired of being the "bridesmaid" after two consecutive losses in the NBA finals (to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002 and to the San Antonio Spurs in 2003). Other notable bridesmaid teams during the 1990's were the Buffalo Bills, Utah Jazz, the England Cricket Team (for reaching the finals of the Cricket World Cup thrice and not winning it even once) and the New York Knicks.

This idiomatic usage of the word bridesmaid most probably began in 1917 when Fred W. Leigh and Charles Collins composed "Always a Bridesmaid":

'Why am I always a bridesmaid,
Never the blushing bride?
Ding! Dong! Wedding bells
Always ring for other gals.
But one fine day –
Please let it be soon –
I shall wake up in the morning
On my own honeymoon.'

In 1925 the Listerine Company used it in their ad campaign, claiming that at the root of the 'always a bridemaid' syndrome was halitosis, or bad breath.[5][6]


In a North American/Australian or British wedding a groomsman or usher is one of the male attendants to the bridegroom in a wedding ceremony. Usually the groom selects his closest friends and/or relatives to serve as a groomsmen, and it is considered an honor to be selected. From his groomsmen, the groom chooses one to serve as best man. In a typical white wedding, the duties of a groomsman typically include some or all of the following:

  • helping the best man plan the bachelor party(U.S.)/Stag Night(U.K)/Buck's Night(Aus.) for the groom
  • ushering guests to their seats before the ceremony
  • escorting the bridesmaids down the aisle during the ceremony and reception
  • giving speeches and toasts (however, this duty is usually performed by the best man)
  • doing whatever is necessary to help make the groom's wedding experience a smooth & enjoyable one
  • and sometimes dancing with bridesmaids and other single female guests at the reception

The groom may also designate other male friends and relatives to act as ushers, whose main task is ushering guests to their seats before the ceremony.

In a military officers wedding, the role of groomsman is replaced by Swordsmen of the Sword Honor Guard. They are usually picked as close personal friends of the groom who have served with him. Their role includes forming the traditional saber arch for the married couple and guests to walk through.


To show appreciation and gratitude, the bridegroom will traditionally purchase gifts for his best man and groomsmen. These gifts are generally known as groomsmen gifts. Groomsmen gifts serve as both a thank you to all the groomsmen or ushers who take the time (and spend the money) to be a part of your wedding celebration. Groomsmen gifts are also a way to commemorate the special day for years to come.

Traditionally, the bridegroom will give a gift to both his father, the bride's father and the ringbearer.

Flower Girls

A flower girl is a participant in a wedding procession. Like ring bearers and page boys, flower girls are usually members of the bride's or groom's extended family, but may also be friends.[7]

Typically, the flower girl walks in front of the bride during an entrance processional. She may spread flower petals on the floor before the bride or carry a bouquet of flowers or thornless roses. Once the processional is over, a young flower girl will sit down with her parents. If the ceremony will not be particularly long, an older child may prefer to quietly stand at the altar with the other honor attendants.

Because very young children are overwhelmed by the duties, and older girls may feel insulted by a "baby" role, the recommended age is between four and eight years of age,[8] or even older, if not offensive to the girl's feelings.

There may be more than one flower girl, particularly if the bride has several young relatives to honour. This practice is more common at British royal weddings, at elaborate weddings modeled after royal weddings, or at Victorian-themed weddings.

Historically, the clothing was provided by the families of the bride and groom, but most modern couples expect the parents of the flower girl pay for her dress.[7]

Her male equivalent is the ringbearer or page boy. Often the ringbearer and the flower girl are made to look like a couple, and they may be dressed in miniature versions of the bride's and groom's clothes.

Page Boys

A page boy is a young male attendant at a wedding or cotillion.

This type of wedding attendant is less common than it used to be, but is still a way of including young relatives or the children of relatives and friends in a wedding. A page is often seen at British royal weddings. There may be many pages for effect at cotillions.

In a formal wedding or a white wedding, the page may be involved with the following:

  • A ringbearer is a special page, who carries the wedding rings for the bridal party. This is a modern term, and it is perfectly correct to refer to the Ringbearer
  • Traditionally, page boys may carry the bride's train, especially if she is wearing a dress with a long train.

Ringbearers and page boys are usually nephews or young brothers and are generally no younger than about 5 nor older than 9 or 10.


In a formal wedding, a ring bearer or pageboy is a special page, who performs one of two functions.

  • A ring bearer carries the wedding rings for the bridal party. This is almost always symbolic, with the ring bearer carrying a large white satin pillow on which imitation rings are sewn, the real wedding bands being in the safekeeping of the best man. If the real rings are used, they are tacked on with thread.
  • A pageboy traditionally carries the bride's train if she is wearing a dress with a long train.

The ringbearer as a separate role is a relatively modern innovation; in a white wedding ceremony best man carried the rings.

Ring bearers and pageboys are usually nephews or young brothers (although they can also be nieces or sisters) and are generally no younger than about 5 nor older than 9 or 10.


In the United States, Canada and many other countries around the world, a celebrant is a person who performs religious or secular celebrancy services for weddings, funerals, child namings, coming of age ceremonies, and other rituals.

Some Celebrants are ordained clergy, while others are Officiants empowered by the Humanist Association of Canada (HAC), the American Humanist Association (AHA), or the Society for Humanistic Judaism. (SHJ). In Australia, where Celebrants are commonly hired, they may be certified by any one of a number of Celebrancy training programs, while in the UK, most belong to one of a number of Humanist organizations, including the British Humanist Association and the Humanist Society of Scotland.

Celebrants may perform alternative and nontraditional ceremonies in places, and under circumstances where mainstream religious clergy will not. Some Celebrants perform same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies. Celebrants, also called Officiants, often perform ceremonies in parks, on beaches, on mountains, on boats, on hiking trails, in hotels, in banquet halls, in private homes, and many other places.

Laws in each state of the United States vary about who has the right to perform wedding ceremonies, but Celebrants or Officiants are usually categorized as "clergy" and have the same rights and responsibilities as ordained clergy. In Canada and in the US State of Massachusetts, the only places in North America where same-sex marriages are legalized, Celebrants and Officiants perform many LGBT weddings.

In Scotland, since a June 2005 ruling by the Registrar General, humanist weddings are now legal, providing that they are conducted by an Authorized Celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland making Scotland one of only three countries in the world where this is the case. (The other two are the USA and Norway.)

Celebrants differ from Chaplains in that Celebrants serve the unaffiliated public at large, while Chaplains are usually employed by an institution such as a hospital or other health care facility, the military, etc.

In Australia, Celebrants have a slightly different role, as regulated by local and national laws. See Celebrant (Australia) for more information.

In the United States, Celebrants are professional ceremony officiants who believe in the power and effectiveness of ceremony and ritual to serve basic needs of society and the individual. They collaborate with their clients to create and perform personalized ceremonies that reflect the client’s beliefs, philosophy of life, and personality; not the Celebrant’s. See Celebrant (United States) for more information.


Modern participants in weddings.

Brides in history

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