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You should get to the ceremony on time — this is not a party to be “fashionably late” for. Also, do not consider ditching the ceremony and just going to the reception. You’ve been invited as an honored guest to watch this couple get married. Don’t just take advantage of the free food and drink.
Ideally, you should arrive at the ceremony site 30 minutes before the time printed on the invitation — even earlier for a large event (200 wedding guests or more). If you do get there after it’s begun, seat yourself quietly in the back. If the procession is going on, wait until the bride reaches the altar to enter the sanctuary and find a seat.
You’re not expected to participate in religious rituals (if you’re Jewish and attending a Catholic wedding, for example, you don’t do communion). But it’s polite to follow the lead of family members sitting in front as far as standing and sitting goes (you don’t have to kneel, though). After the recession, wedding guests remain in their seats until the families of the bride and groom have been escorted out. If the receiving line is scheduled post-ceremony, get yourself in line.
Usually the first thing you’ll see at the reception is the receiving line. Don’t blow it off — this is your chance to talk one-on-one with the couple, meet the bride or groom if you haven’t yet, thank the parents for inviting you, etc. Don’t spend too much time in line; just say congrats and shake a few hands.
When can you leave? Receptions usually last about four hours, and you’ll know when things start winding down. You should stay at least until after the cake has been cut. Many brides and grooms stay until the bitter end these days, so it’s hard to leave after them. When you decide to leave, find a member of the bride’s immediate family (like her mom) and thank them. Also attempt to give the couple a last hug before you depart.