Standing with your back to your guests

Photo by David Toms

Do you know that in this day and age it is still unacceptable to turn your back on the Queen (our beautiful Queen Elizabeth II)? It is seen as rude and a sign of disrespect. Did you also know that many other royals and dignitaries believe the same? And us mere mortals aren’t exempt either, we also believe it is rude to have our backs to people at parties and other social occasions? Yet, on our weddings days, many people still get married with their backs to the guests. Mmmh, go figure that one out! Okay, let’s! So without further ado, I’m going to get stuck in and give this tradition a good trashing!

The tradition

Because once upon a time, couples were only ever married in churches the tradition of couples having their backs to their guests is a long and very entrenched one. So let’s have a look at why this happens at all. All churches have altars and all altars are found at the back of the church and are focal and central point of the church. An altar is a large table type structure, usually on a raised area, where worship and in the olden days, sacrifices were made. Those involved in the worship and er, sacrifices, would face the altar and therefore face God. Depending on the church or the religion couples stand or are asked to kneel before the altar, as they are in the presence of god, who is THE most important witness and guest at their wedding. Also, in terms of standing, the bride always stood on the groom’s left at the altar, so that his right hand, his sword hand (!) remained free to fight off any last minute suitors who thought they were hotter stuff than her intended husband! I kind of love that. Pointless for today’s purposes, but I like what it stands for.

The trashing

Do you really need me to spell out the negative side to standing with your backs to your guests? Well, in case you do, here’s a little rundown;

It’s cold.

It’s unfriendly.

It’s impersonal.

It’s antisocial.

It’s non-inclusive.

It’s boring!

Your loved ones can’t see your faces and you can’t see theirs. Having your back to them can create a barrier, not just a physical one but a metaphysical one. How can you feel all of the love and good wishes from your family and friends when you can’t see them? And last but certainly not least, your face is way more expressive than the back of your head, duh!

These are just a few of my thoughts. But of course you know I’m always up to the eyeballs with many more!

Modern alternatives

Garden wedding ceremony

Standing side on to your guests and facing each other is more open and less harsh than having your back to them. Photo by David Toms.

I have had some couples in the past ask to stand with the backs to their guests. The top reasons stated for this decision were fear and nervousness, followed by those who didn’t realise you could stand any other way, followed by one or two brides who simply wanted to show off the back of their amazing dresses! In nearly all of the cases, I was able to show couples that there are much nicer ways of standing, which make your ceremony more personal and more of a unified experience for you and your wedding guests, and which can help to calm even the most nervous of nerves. You can check out this blog post that I’ve written about the different ways that you can stand for your ceremony.

At our good friends’ Catholic ceremony we never saw their faces until the ceremony was over and they were walking back up the aisle and we did not feel like we were a part of their ceremony at all. But we had to remember that a) it’s what they wanted (we hope!) b) it’s what the clergyman wanted and c) in this particular ceremony, our inclusion was not a priority. The ceremony was between them, God and the priest and we were witnesses in the purest form of the word.

So unless standing with your backs to your guests is what you 100% visualise for your ceremony, if you aren’t even getting married in a church, or not even having a religious wedding ceremony then there really are very few (good) reasons why you would want to stand with your backs to your guests. Even now in many church wedding ceremonies couples face each other and side on to the altar and their guests, with the clergy person asking them to face the altar when needs be, if at all. This creates a much nicer way of standing and is more inclusive of their guests (the actual, physically present ones!).

Now that more and more people are seeing the virtues in having a more personalised ceremony and have a sense that although their guests are witnesses, they want them to feel like they are an inclusive part of their ceremony too, it almost feels slightly wrong and inappropriate to choose a standing position that would deny this. Hand on heart and religious necessity aside, I cannot see any benefits in standing with your back to your guests. If you can, give me a holler, because I’d love to know.

This is definitely one tradition that in my mind can be done away with like, now. So if you hear a loud clang, that is me slamming shut the lid to the metallic trash can, because this tradition should be well and truly binned!



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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