How long should my wedding ceremony be?

Couple getting married

Knowing how long your wedding ceremony will be is one of those things that couples often want to know from the outset, and it makes total sense. The wedding ceremony is the most important part of the day that everything else is hinged on, so knowing not just what time the wedding ceremony is but how long it’s likely to go on for is pretty important.

However, the thing about this question is, there is not just one answer! And it really does depend on who you speak to, as to how long they say a ceremony should be. If you’re already working with a wedding celebrant or officiant, they will most definitely be your first port of call in this respect, as they’ll be able to tell you EXACTLY how long your particular ceremony will be. But this post will give you a good starting point as to how long you can expect your ceremony to be.

What time is your ceremony?

But before I jump into duration estimations, let’s look at what time your ceremony is going to be at, because sometimes the time of your ceremony can have an affect or influence the length of your ceremony. For example, if you’re having an outdoor ceremony on a beach in the middle of the day, it’s unlikely that you’ll want a ceremony that is more than an hour! Or half an hour even! Depending on the beach and the country!

Likewise, if you really want a romantic sunset ceremony, you’ll need to make sure that your ceremony time duration allows the ceremony to be delivered when there is enough light, otherwise the person leading the ceremony won’t be able to see much of their wording, unless you’re planning on them wearing a head torch!

I personally don’t think there is a wrong or right time for a wedding ceremony, it’s about finding the time that works well for you, and how your planning your day to take shape. Some people getting married in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening! It’s whatever works for you.

If you’re planning your wedding by yourself a good way of working out your ceremony time is by working backwards from the end of your wedding day, you know when the party is over and it’s time to go home! Sniff! Then work backwards, figuring out when your different elements are going to be, your party times, eating times, canapé times, photo session times, whatever wedding day elements you plan on having, and eventually you will work back to when it might be a good time for your ceremony to start.

However, there are some other things that can influence your ceremony start time, and may affect you having it at the time that you want it to be:

The weather

Venue or location restrictions

Whether you’re just using one venue for everything or you have more than one venue

Costs – some ceremony locations/venues may have different price ranges depending on the time of the ceremony

So how long should my wedding ceremony be?

I should have mentioned earlier that I’m writing this in relation to non-religious ceremonies which aren’t taking place in a place of worship. Religious ceremonies have their own rules, customs and details which influence how long their ceremonies will be, none of which I know anything about. All I will say is that my Italian friend’s Catholic wedding ceremony in Sicily was four hours long. Yup.

Nor am I talking about any type of specialist ceremony like a Pagan or Wiccan ceremony, or any type of spiritual ceremonies which have certain rites, and rituals and a certain type of organisation for how the ceremony has to be.

I am therefore talking about celebrant/officiant-led ceremonies of a non-religious or religious nature which are shaped and determined by the couples together with their celebrant/officiant.

As with any ceremony there needs to be a start (a welcome), a middle section (the ceremony bits including vows) and an end (the Team Married announcement, yay!), and so what your ceremony contains is down to you as a couple and how it all fits in, is down to your celebrant.

From my own experiences working as a BBC journalist, and learning to write news bulletins and reports and stories for audiences, we were very mindful of people’s attention span. In fact, lots of research has been done on it, which we were always reminded of and if you think of a news bulletin there is a reason why the important stuff happens at the start or close to the start as possible.

And I kind of apply this same principle to my own ceremonies. So my own rule of thumb is that a ceremony is not more than 30 minutes (from ceremony entrance to exit) and maybe 45 minutes at a push. But I would say my average is 30 minutes.

I personally think that it doesn’t matter how incredible your ceremony is, most people can only properly be engaged for thirty minutes at a time, before their concentration starts to waver. There are of course exceptions.

And even if you want your ceremony to be loaded with elements and things that you want to do and say, a good celebrant can still create a ceremony that allows for all of this, without letting it get too long. Read this post on the typical ceremony elements you can have in your ceremony and how to go about planning it.

On the flip side, I have and have had awesome ceremonies around the 15 to 20 minute mark too.

So do you see what I was trying to say initially? There is no right or wrong ceremony time, and no right or wrong ceremony duration. But it is about working with your wedding celebrant and officiant to get the kind of timing that feels good to you. You may want to bear in mind about my 30 minute attention span idea, especially if you’re creating the ceremony for yourselves or you want an idea of what you’ll be looking at when it comes to planning your ceremony.

But ultimately, there is no right or wrong time or duration.

Main photo image by Antonio Ordonez

About the author

Natasha Johnson

Natasha Johnson is an experienced Wedding Celebrant, blogger and writer on all things related to weddings, in particular wedding ceremonies. Her mission is life is to encourage couples to see the importance of their wedding ceremony and to get married in just the way they want to. Make sure you catch her on the Engaged and Ready Wedding Podcast, here or on iTunes and Stitcher.

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