Double Wedding Etiquette

by admin on January 7, 2008

I was a junior bridesmaid in a double wedding when I was 12 years old.  In the intervening 34 years, I had not heard of anyone having a double wedding.  That is, until two sisters became engaged within a month of each other.   It seemed natural to suggest a double wedding and the father of the bride thought it was a spendid idea.  Convincing everyone else would be more challenging.   The younger sister and her mother were against it and the other couple had doubts as to how a double wedding could be executed in such a way as to meet everyone’s expectations and dreams.   It would be my job to help them catch the vision of a double wedding and after laying out the plans and answering questions for nearly 2 hours, they were all on board and visibly excited.  What follows in this post are the details of how we tackled various etiquette and planning issues to end up with a very memorable wedding.

Because double weddings are so rare, there isn’t much published on the etiquette.  What is published dates back to the Victorian Era when double weddings between sisters were more common but the problem with much of that information was that it focused on the elder bride having first choices in nearly every area.  That simply would not do in this day and age!  Every issue that came up we approached from the perspective of trying to equalize as much as possible between the two couples.  It was lovely to see the two sisters defer to each other on the few occasions when “equality” would not work well and the end result was a really lovely ceremony.

The Guest List

One of the first hurdles was the guest list.  Because a double wedding is less expensive than two seperate weddings, they were able to actually expand the guest list to include everyone both couples wanted due to the overlap of relatives and mutual friends.  The total guest list was about 400 people.

The Invitations

Both brides are very different in personality and while one had her heart set on very traditional wedding invitation, the younger sister wanted a more personalized invitation that she had designed.  In fact, this meant so much to her that not having them would have been a deal breaker for the double wedding.  No problem!   The younger sister mailed her invitations to hers and her fiance’s  friends and the older bride mailed hers to her fiance’s friends.  While it would have been good etiquette to create a third invitation to send to mutual friends and family, we decided to send these mutual relationships 2 invitations, one from each couple, but only one invitation had the rsvp return card in it.  This created no confusion because close friends and family already knew there was a double wedding in the plans.

Attendants

For balance, they both agreed to an equal numer of attendants, four bridesmaids, four groomsmen, a best man each.  One bride had a flower girl and ring bearer whereas the older bride had just a flower girl.   Both brides shared a single Matron of Honor, their older sister.   Not wanting to leave their younger brother out of the action, he was designated the Best Brother and stood near the MOH during the ceremony.     The bridesmaids of each bridal couple wore different dresses in complimentary colors.  The groomsmen wore the same tux but with different colored cummerbunds.

Rehearsal Dinner(s)

Because the rehearsal dinner is traditionally hosted by the groom’s parents and there were two different grooms, it was deemed appropriate that two groom’s families  each hosted a different rehearsal dinner on seperate nights since this is what they wanted.  The younger couple’s rehearsal dinner was Thursday evening and the older couple’s on Friday after the actual rehearsal.   Essentially the bridal parties went to dinner two nights in a row thus continuing the fun for several days.

The Ceremony

Both brides wanted their father to escort them down the aisle separately, each had a different song she wanted to process to and both couples had a pastor they wished to marry them.   The church had no center aisle but rather two side aisles with a connecting aisle mid-way.

The photo below is the whiteboard drawing we came up with during a joint meeting with both officiating pastors, the brides and grooms, and myself to visualize where people would be standing and how they would move into what positions.  Every aspect of this ceremony was choreographed.

The ceremony started with both officiating pastors, the two best men and the father of the bride traditionally entering the altar area at the start of the ceremony.   At one side aisle door was me and the other my assistant with a double line of groomsmen and bridesmaids and flower girls/ring bearer ready to process.   I had the right side door with the younger bride’s attendants and my assistant had the left side door with the older bride’s attendants.  At the proper music cue, we sent one pair of bridesmaid and groomsman down the side aisle, then alternating between the two bridal parties.  Just as the pair before them reached the connecting midway aisle, we started another couple down.  The flower girls and ringbearer of both bridal parties processed together down both aisles.  The MOH and the Best Brother also processed simultaneously down the two side aisles.

It was agreed upon ahead of time that the older sister would process first but the younger bride wanted to be able to watch it all unfold.  So, when it came time for the dramatic opening of the double doors to reveal the bride,  both brides came out at the same time and then stood about 12 feet into the church.  It was very dramatic!  The father of the bride then processed from the altar to the back of the church, took his eldest daughter on his arm and processed her down the aisle to her choice of processional music.  He then left her at the altar and then processed back up the aisle while the musicians sequed into the second bride’s processional music.  He took his youngest duaghter  on his arm and grandly processed her down the aisle.  The photo below shows the actual moment when the second bride and the FOB has finished processing, the FOB has taken the arms of both girls and the “Who gives these women to be married?” is being asked by one of the officiating pastors.   You can see the MOH and Best Brother standing slightly to the left and right rear of the couples.

For the actual marriage vows, both couples, the two best men, the MOH and the Best Brother stepped on stage.  While one group watched, the other bridal couple said their vows with their pastor as seen below.  The line-up below is MOH, best man, couple, their pastor, the second pastor is hidden behind the other couple, a best man and best brother.   It was agreed upon ahead of time that only one pastor would give the homily/exhortation/sermon.

After the pronouncements of marriage, I cannot remember if the newlyweds recessed together but down separate aisles or recessed separately, one after the other.   They both rode together to the reception in an antique Rolls Royce!

Reception

The give and take deference to each other was displayed in such ways as the older bride yielding the first dance with the FOBs to her younger sister since she had processed first.  Dad danced with younger daughter first to her song and then smoothly sequed to dancing with oldest daughter to her song.

There were two different wedding cakes, each on a separate table at opposite ends of a stage.


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