Although each member of the wedding party will have a different duty on the wedding day, the closest family members and friends should serve as a source of advice and support for the bride and groom. In earlier periods bridesmaids were responsible for protecting the bride from evil and serving as witnesses that she was not being married against her will. Today the bridesmaids are the sisters, cousins, and/or friends of the bride who take part in the wedding service and encourage the bride in the undertaking of marriage. After the grandparents and the parents have been seated, and the groomsmen have taken their positions at the front of the church, the bridesmaids enter one at a time to join the men in the formation.
Bridesmaids have a financial commitment to pay for their wedding day attire plus all of their clothes for the various pre-wedding parties. The maids will collectively entertain the bride with a luncheon or shower, and each bridesmaid will share in the cost. The bridesmaids are usually invited to all the pre-wedding parties and showers, where they must purchase a present for each occasion they attend as well as handle their own transportation and accommodations. Each bridesmaid will choose a wedding present for the newlyweds, or may join the other maids to pool their funds for a more valuable gift.
The bride's honor attendant acts as her chief assistant by helping in any way that she is requested. She will likely accompany the bride to shop for the bridal fashions and will orchestrate the ordering and fitting of the maids' gowns. She will contribute to hosting a bridal shower. On the wedding day, the bride's honor attendant helps the bride dress for the ceremony, carries the groom's wedding band, arranges the bride's train at the altar, and holds her flowers during the vows. She participates in the receiving line and sits next to the groom at the reception. The bride's honor attendant is distinguished by her own marital status: a maid of honor is an unmarried attendant and a matron of honor is a married attendant. In cases where the bride has two sisters or two equally close friends, she may opt to have two honor attendants. These maids or matrons of honor share the traditional duties.
In a bygone era, the best man's responsibilities were to help shield the bride from abductor's and harmful spirits. Today, in addition to offering his support to the groom, the best man assists the groom in selecting the formal wear for the men of the wedding party and organizes the ordering of each groomsman's attire. He helps the groom dress for the ceremony, carries the bride's wedding band, and offers the first toast at the reception. After the wedding, he collects all of the formal wear from the ushers for the return to the rental shop and delivers the newlywed's thank-you note and/or gift that expresses their warm appreciation to the bride's parents for hosting such a wonderful celebration. The groom's brother, cousin, or best friend are good candidates for the role of best man. However, a trend of the groom's father taking this role is growing in popularity.
The ushers are appointed with welcoming the guests to the wedding and directing them to their seats in an orderly fashion. A good rule of thumb is to have on hand one usher for every fifty guests. In addition, the ushers distribute the wedding program, direct placement of the gifts, and sometimes escort the bridesmaids during the recessional and at the reception. An equal number of male and female attendants usually assures the easiest configuration for the processional and recessional. However, it is not unusual to have extra groomsmen, who may walk in single or double file as preferred by the bride.
Groomsmen and ushers usually have a financial responsibility for the rental fee of their wedding day formal wear. The groomsmen also attend all of the rewedding parties where they handle their own transportation and accommodations, plus select gifts for the events they attend. Each groomsman will choose a wedding gift for the bride and groom, or contribute to a large gift from all of the groomsmen.
In a previous era, young girls and boys sprinkled herbs and grains in the bride's path as a wish for her fertility. Today the flower girl precedes the bride in the processional and scatters flower petals in her path. Or she may simply carry a small bouquet, basket, or wreath of flowers. The ring bearer is traditionally a young boy who either precedes or escorts the flower girl down the aisle. He carries an embellished pillow on which the wedding rings are tied. Nowadays the rings attached to this pillow are symbolic and the honor attendants are charged with carrying the real rings.
The father of the bride escorts his daughter to the front of the church and then "gives" her hand in marriage in the Christian service. In the Jewish tradition, both parents escort their son first and then their daughter to the rabbi. In place of the actual father, a bride may ask her brother, uncle, or close family friend to "give" her hand in marriage.
The mother of the groom is the first to be seated during the processional, after the grandparents. She also is the hostess of the rehearsal dinner party.
The mother of the bride is the last guest to be seated for the wedding, a few moments before the marriage ceremony begins, and is the official hostess of the wedding reception.
Grandparents of the bride and groom are deemed very special guests of the wedding who often don new attire to the wedding party. The grandparents of the groom are seated before the grandparents of the bride. The bride and groom often include their grandparents when ordering corsages or nosegays and boutonnieres.
The wedding director is an unofficial member of the wedding party who makes sure that everyone is in his or her proper place throughout the wedding and reception. The wedding director is often honored with a corsage.
The tokens of gratitude given to the bridesmaids and groomsmen should be memorable treasures. Some couples choose a gift that can be worn with the bridal attire on the wedding day. The bride and groom should be sure to take enough time to prepare a personal, heartfelt note of appreciation to accompany the gift.
For the bride's wedding party, pearl earrings, necklaces, or bracelets can complement almost any maid's attire. Other noteworthy choices include gold jewelry, perfume holders, silk scarves, fine leather gloves, a crystal ring holder or paperweight, or an engraved sterling silver picture frame.
For the groom's wedding party, monogrammed cuff links make an ideal gift for the groomsmen. Engraved silver items are always a popular choice, including key chains, business card cases, or tankards. Elegant writing instruments are another possibility.
The rehearsal dinner is a good time for the bride and groom to turn the spotlight on their closest family members and friends in the wedding party. Other suitable occasions might be the bridesmaids' luncheon or the bachelor's party.
Historically, tin cans tied to the back of a carriage were noisemakers to ward off evil spirits, and old shoes attached in a bundle represented the couple starting a new life together while leaving their old life behind. Today, although a few couples have trailing shoes and tin cans attached to their cars, balloons and streamers are the preferred decoration.