A white wedding is a traditional British wedding. This term refers to white used in the wedding dress, which symbolises virginity and innocence. The tradition of wearing white at weddings was due to the colour of the wedding dress of Queen Victoria at her wedding to Prince Albert. (Prevous royal brides wore gold-coloured dresses.) A similar wedding in the United States is simply called a "traditional wedding". Until the mid twentieth century, many brides in the United Kingdom did not wear a traditional wedding dress, merely a specially bought ordinary dress.
A whole industry surrounds the provision of such weddings.
White weddings always take place in churches and people generally seek to be married in the most picturesque church they can find. This often leads to such churches attracting the (uninvited) attendance of unmarried couples, who are in the early stages of planning their wedding and wish to be married there.
For a wedding to take place preparations have to be undertaken dependent on the denomination of the Church involved and in the jurisdiction. In the United Kingdom Anglican and Roman Catholic churches needs only read the banns of marriage three times. Most other recognised denominations need to acquire a marriage licence. In the United States, a marriage license must be obtained prior to the ceremony.
In the United Kingdom, weddings celebrated in churches have no legal status or validity unless a civil wedding ceremony (ie the signing of the Register) is incorporated with the priest, vicar or minister acting during those moments as an agent of the state, not a minister of the cloth. A person who is legally married to one person and who in a church signs the Register during a church wedding to another person is guilty of the legal crime of bigamy. In the United States, states have laws which authorize a religious figure to grant a marriage, and the signing of a register has no legal effect.
Additionally people wanting to married sometimes also need to be confirmed in or converted to the religion or denomination of the church. At the very least the vicar, minister or priest will want to interview the couple and possibly have them attend marriage classes of some sort.
- Best man - a close male friend of the groom, given a place of honour.
- Maid of honour - a close female friend of the bride, given a place of honour. If she is married, she is instead called the "matron of honour."
- Groomsmen - one or more male attendants who support the groom.
- Bridesmaids - one or more unmarried female attendants who support the bride.
- Flower girl - a young girl who scatters flowers in front of the bridal party.
- Ringbearer - an attendant, often a young boy, who carries the wedding rings.
- Ushers - helpers, usually men, who assist with the organisation.
Wedding guests are generally sent invitations to which they are expected to reply. The guests are generally invited to both the wedding and the Wedding reception afterwards, although sometimes reception places are limited. Often certain people are invited due to perceived family obligations, as to not receive an "invite" can be considered an insult.
The full white wedding experience means that an organist, a choir, flower arrangements, flowers for lapels and comemorative wedding leaflets with the Order of Service need to be arranged and purchased. Also the hymns need to be selected and a reading from the Bible chosen.
When the guests arrive for a wedding the Ushers' duty is to hand out the correct mix of books, flowers and leaflets and ensure the guests are seated in the correct places. Traditionally which side people sit on depends on whether they are friends or family of the bride or of the groom. The front rows are generally reserved for close family or friends, with the very first seats reserved for the bridal party.
The groom and his best man wait inside the church for the arrival of the bride and her entourage.
This entourage generally arrives in elegant cars or in horse-drawn coaches, specially hired for the occasion. The bride's entourage normally consists of the bride, the bride's father and all the various bridesmaids, maids of honour, flower girls and page boys that are intended to attend her.
The bride then proceeds down the aisle with her entourage to the accompaniment of music, and the ceremony starts.
After the wedding ceremony itself ends, the bride, groom, vicar and two witnesses generally go off to a side room to sign the wedding register, which is the civil ceremony aspect of the ritual. Without the signing of the register, no legally valid marriage existed.
When the church service has finished, people file out to the throw confetti or rice over the newly-married couple for good luck, and the photographic session ensues. There have been warnings that using rice is a poor idea since birds could eat it and experience at least extreme discomfort when it expands in their gizzards and there have been suggestions of using birdseed instead. While this has been disproved, birdseed is regularly as this kind of substitute.
After this the events shift to a reception at which the married couple, the couple's parents, the best man and the wedding entourage greet each of the guests. At such events it is tradional to eat and drink.
During the reception a number of Wedding speeches are made and numerous toasts are drunk.
Any dancing is commonly started by the bride and groom, usually termed the "Bridal Waltz", but dancing an actual waltz is comparatively rare - often the couple chooses their favourite love ballad.
The final tradition is the newly married couple to set off for their honeymoon.