Celebrant Feature: Who walks the bride down the aisle?

Walking down the aisle

“Of all the walks we have taken together, today is my favourite.” 

That is one of many lovely sentiments that a bride can offer her escort when they have been given the honour of walking a bride up the aisle on her wedding day.

The beauty of getting married in this era of ‘anything goes’, means that brides, grooms, and couples can choose exactly how they wish to honour that moment when all eyes are on them walking up the aisle. With wedding ceremonies being influenced less by tradition these days, and with much more of a blank canvas than they were years ago, there are so many other options for a bride or a couple to walk up the aisle.

In my experience as a Celebrant, I have witnessed a host of lovely options chosen by my clients. Some of my brides have chosen to simply walk themselves up the aisle.

As one bride so eloquently said to me, “I want to walk alone as a statement of the strength and self confidence that my mum instilled in me as a single mother bringing up four daughters. I want to feel empowered on the day and walking alone is very meaningful and important to me”.

And that was a beautiful moment, indeed. She was an independent, successful woman and she was a stunning, empowered bride walking up the aisle under her own steam, in her own power, making the statement she wished most to make.

Escorted walking down aisle8

Many brides I work with choose a more traditional option of having their father or another significant person walk them up the aisle. In some situations, there is the sadness of an absent father, so a bride might choose her mother, a grandfather or grandmother, an uncle or aunt, a brother or sister, her own son or daughter, or any combination of people to walk her up the aisle.

I have attended many weddings as a guest, and it always feels quite sad to me that the person escorting a bride is often not even acknowledged and they seem unsure as to what to do after they reach the front with the bride. This is an awkward moment that can be entirely avoided.

Many fathers have found themselves in Steve Martin’s position when he played the lead role in the film “Father of the Bride”. Martin’s character, George Banks, walks his daughter up the aisle and when they reach the front the priest asks: ‘Who presents this bride’? Rather sheepishly, and after a few awkward moments, it becomes obvious that George couldn’t remember what he was supposed to say in the moment. It’s not one of those sentiments in a ceremony that is often rehearsed. Fortunately, he does respond with ‘I do’, but the experience left him feeling stressed on top of already feeling emotional about his little girl getting married.

This scene in the movie is riddled with the comic genius of Steve Martin, but this experience is all too often a reality for many bride escorts. In that scene, the father of the bride is also left standing, on his own. And that happens all too often, which is a shame because this moment at the beginning of a wedding ceremony can be one of the most meaningful. It should be treated with the respect and the joy it deserves.

And that is why I love to make a little fuss about the escort, with their permission, of course.

This is a lovely time for the bride to share any particular heartfelt thanks or gratitude, which I write into my script. This is certainly optional, but if a bride wishes to acknowledge the person escorting her, then this is a lovely moment in which to do that. It is a very brief segment of the wedding ceremony, but the sentiment can have lasting value for a lifetime.

The Celebrant might consider words to this effect:

“Thank you Fred, for being part of this very special moment with your daughter. Fred represents all his family today, and in doing so, he symbolises his love for Emma, while also offering his blessing for this marriage. This act at the beginning of a wedding ceremony is one of the most meaningful and memorable.  Fred, Emma wants to thank you for being such a loving and supportive father. She is so grateful to you and this moment you are sharing is particularly significant. So, mindful of this, Fred, I now ask you: Do you give Emma and Jeff your love and your blessing for their future happiness as husband and wife?”

To which the escort can respond ‘I do,’ or ‘I will’. I always tell them that anything affirmative will do nicely, and to remember that they will have to answer to the bride if they decide to go too far off script!

There are other, more traditional ways to phrase this moment, though traditional segments can be modernised and brought more current.

Many brides do not wish to use the more traditional language of ‘Who gives this woman?’ or ‘Do you give Emma to Jeff …’ favouring a more equitable statement of ‘Do you give Emma and Jeff your love and blessing …’.

For one of my brides, it was important that her father and her stepfather walked her up the aisle. Her father had been largely absent from her life but was currently involved. Her stepfather literally brought her up from a young child and she was indebted to him for his devotion and love all those years. Not wanting to have to choose between them, we agreed that it was okay for both to escort her, one on either side.

When they reached the front, I acknowledged and thanked both men, but the bride wanted me to make a personal acknowledgement to her stepfather. So, I added that his stepdaughter wanted to thank him for all his love, devotion and support he gave her for all those years. In this way, both men experienced the traditional role, and the bride was able to honour her stepfather in a way that he deserved.

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And then there is one of my all time favourite wedding scenes in that fabulous 1994 film, Muriel’s Wedding! Her father is less than happy about the wedding, and even less enthusiastic about his own daughter. When he hands Muriel over to her groom, he does so quite gruffly, without so much as a smile, and with the comment, ‘She’s all yours, mate’. It was not a lovely moment!

Watching moments like that inspire me to always ensure that whoever the Bride chooses to escort her, they are aware of that special role and that they know what to say, and how to say it. Further, because it is my personal recommendation (though entirely optional) to acknowledge the escort in some way, it is important that the escort is comfortable with my acknowledgement at the start of the ceremony.

Humour, of course, is always welcomed!

Especially if it is part of the family culture and it is in good taste. But it is something that needs to be comfortable for the bride and groom; after all, it is their day of celebration and not a platform for amateur comedians with inappropriate jokes.

There may be family customs or traditions that can be included at this early moment in the ceremony. Remember in the film ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ when the groom kissed the hand of his father-in-law-to-be before the older man sat down? This is a perfect example for why it is important to orchestrate the ‘hand-over’, as I call it. That can be such a beautiful moment, but it can also become awkward if neither the bride, the groom, nor the escort know exactly what they are meant to do.

Should the groom and the bride’s escort shake hands? Offer a hug? Share any words of appreciation, even as simple as ‘thank you’?

I tell my couples that it is entirely up to them what happens, but something should be decided beforehand. It depends solely on the relationship and comfort level of both parties involved. If the relationship is a warm and loving one, perhaps a handshake and a quick hug or pat on the back will be a suitable gesture. If the relationship is not yet as developed or not close, then a handshake could be sufficient. If neither are comfortable with any physical gesture, then a subtle nod from the escort to the groom should be enough.

The important point here is that something should be decided beforehand so that there isn’t an awkward moment when no one seems to know what to do with the bride!

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If a couple wish to include an escort up the aisle, there are so many considerations:

  • If it’s a themed wedding, perhaps the bride and groom wish to be escorted by a costumed character!
  • Maybe both the bride and groom wish to walk each other up the aisle.
  • Perhaps the groom wants to walk up the aisle ahead of the bride.
  • Sometimes a bride wants to be unaccompanied, and sometimes a bride wants to be escorted by both parents, one parent, a relative, a friend.
  • It isn’t unusual in my experience for a bride to be escorted up the aisle by their family dog! After all, it is Bride’s Best Friend!
  • Brides have walked up the aisle with their young child/children, sometimes clinging to them, sometimes having to carry them!
  • I have orchestrated sons and daughters who are older children or grown adults escorting their mother.
  • And as I mentioned earlier, two fathers (or two mothers) can escort a Bride quite beautifully.

It’s all down to a simple choreography and everyone knowing what they are meant to do in the moment.

I am often asked “Which side does the escort and the bride walk on – right or left?”

Traditionally, the left side of the venue (facing the front) is for the bride and the right side is for the groom. However, most couples today forego that tradition and encourage guests to mingle on both sides, choosing only to reserve seats on traditional sides for immediate family and/or the wedding party.

When walking up the aisle, if the bride will be standing on the traditional side during the ceremony (left), then her escort is best positioned on the left side of the bride. If she chooses to stand on the right, then her escort is positioned on her right. This allows for a seamless transition for the escort to find their seat on the aisle of the row reserved for parents and special guests.

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If the bride and groom are choosing to stand off to one side, together, then it’s best to determine beforehand how the escort(s) will walk up the aisle so that they can comfortably get to their seats. There are no hard and fast rules for this – just be sure that it is all understood before the ceremony.

Whether or how an escort walks up the aisle isn’t a science.

I always recommend that everyone does what feels most comfortable for them, and this often means abandoning protocol. An escort for a bride is entirely a personal choice and is not at all essential. Some couples simply wish to be mingling with guests and completely abandon the notion of walking up an aisle. Absolutely anything and everything is the right choice – if that is what the couple prefer.

After all, the day can be riddled enough with stressful triggers – one more isn’t needed.

Though, I remember the scene in the film, Runaway Bride when Julia Roberts’ character, Maggie Carpenter, walks up the aisle. She’s a spirited young woman with a trail of fiancés she has left at the altar. Even marrying someone as handsome as Richard Gere’s character, Homer, couldn’t inspire her to make it all the way. She flees and escapes on horseback!

Perhaps that was a time when an escort was truly needed!

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