USA Wedding ceremony and traditions...
Weddings in North America don’t follow a single set of rules, particularly because the population is so mixed and diverse. In the entire continent, it is easy to find wedding celebrations with European, Asian, or African roots.
Despite this, it is fair to say that most weddings in North America follow the white wedding routine, which is the one we are most acquainted with here at Country House Weddings, since most of our brides and grooms also favour this kind of fairytale wedding.
This kind of wedding takes its name from the colour of the bride’s dress, but it has come to mean an entire set of traditions and rules. These traditions may vary ever so slightly from the UK to North America, and may be peppered here and there with elements borrowed from other traditions. In North America, this would typically have to do with the particular heritage and/or ethnicity of either the bride and groom, which may be mixed; or simply with their taste.
It is fair to say, however, that the most widespread of wedding traditions in North America find their origins in UK. For example, the saying “Something old, something new, something borrowed, and a silver sixpence inside your shoe”, dates back to the Victorian era.
Some wedding traditions might never have heard of it – elsewhere in this blog we have explored Indian and Chinesewedding traditions – and indeed might not pay attention to it. Not so in North America, where couples usually follow the saying, more for fun that for superstitious reasons. With one exception – the last part never really caught in America!
In fact, the very tradition of the white wedding gown has its roots in British Monarch Queen Victoria’s wedding to Albert Saxe-Coburg. Ever since then, the white wedding dress came to symbolize wealth, as well as the purity of the bride, and it was quickly popularised in North America.
There are differences, though, between UK and North American weddings. These differences wax and wane with time, depending on fashion or the amount of cultural exchange between the two countries at any point in time.
For example, in North America it is customary that the groom faces the aisle to watch his bride walk towards him upon entering the ceremony. In the UK, the groom usually doesn’t look, and only sees the bride when she has arrived at the altar. One famous instance of this was when Prince William was waiting for his wife-to-be Kate Middleton, to arrive at the altar. Following the tradition, Prince William didn’t turn around. His brother Harry did, and told William: “Wait till you see her”. We must admit, we really cherish this tradition, for all that momentum buildup!
Another difference is that in American weddings, the main part of the celebration (after the ceremony itself, of course!) is the dance, whereas in the UK, the main part of the celebration is considered to be the reception and the meal.
The 13 Biggest Differences Between English And American Weddings...
...When it comes to the royal wedding, the contingent of guests making their way across the pond to London may be in for a few surprises beyond just who walks Meghan down the aisle.
English weddings, royal and otherwise, have traditions which are a bit of a “through-the-looking glass” experience for Americans. They deviate from American traditions in just subtle enough ways that no one thinks to mention them to the non-British guests or even the bride herself in some cases. As an American bride who married in London, I experienced it firsthand when my newly betrothed and I went to cut the cake in front of all the family and friends. My English husband sliced into the cake and put the knife down. “Wait, we have to cut a slice each and feed it to each other,” I said, all eyes fixed on us. “No, this is cutting the cake, that’s it. We're done.” It was truly a symbolic moment of what life is like in an English-American union. (Good luck to you, Markle!)
After speaking with some fellow American expats in the UK, here are a few of the biggest differences between American and English weddings:
- Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinners Are Not a Thing in the UK
- “Explaining the concept of the rehearsal dinner to my future in-laws was interesting. ‘You mean you have a wedding reception...the night before you have a wedding reception?’ When you put it like that, it does seem a bit nuts!’ - American expat Kiley Leong
- Guests Aren’t Necessarily Invited to Both the Ceremony And Reception -- And They Don’t Mind!
- “I do find it pretty amusing that in the UK, guests are often classed in two tiers; those who come to the ceremony and reception and then those who just come to the reception. I know it's a space thing, but with churches and temples being so much bigger in the US, we don't have this dichotomy. My partner and I have been second-tier guests at a few weddings here." - American expat Anna Scanlon
- The Meal Served at the Reception Is Called the "Wedding Breakfast"
- "When I first started planning weddings in London, I thought, 'Wow, so many clients were requesting to have their reception during breakfast.' A brunch reception, I thought that was the coolest idea to be so common. No. That was a new one for me. The term 'wedding breakfast' can be used even if the meal is in the evening. The term actually comes from the meaning that the couple would be fasting before the wedding ceremony and the meal after was the first meal together and the first meal of their day, the Wedding Breakfast. -American expat and wedding planner Rebecca Kobus
- Wear a Hat and Don't Take it off Until the MOB Does
- "I love that it is common in the UK for women to wear fascinators or hats to a wedding and the tradition that until the brides mother takes her hat off, the guests should keep theirs on." - Rebecca Kobus
- Men Wear Morning Suits, Not Tuxedos
- "Morning suits. I knew of them, but didn't realise their function at a wedding. For formal weddings, they're ubiquitous. Expect to see Prince Harry in one at his wedding on 19 May. Mine is hanging in my closet and coming out in June for another wedding. This level of specific dress choice for men is a bit different than the tuxedo in the US." - American expat Philip Allega
- Cheese Always Comes After a Meal
- “We actually got into a fight about cheese! I ordered one of those fruit and cheese stand things with skewers of cheese cubes for an appetizer. He basically suggested I was an uncultured peasant for having cheese first and all of the Brits at the wedding would be mortally offended.” - American expat Brooke Fox. Brooke Fox “Haha I learned the hard way they don’t do cheese as an appetizer! I bought a ton of expensive cheeses for a dinner party and put them out with salami and fruit and dips (as we do in the States) and our guests wouldn’t touch them. I finally asked and they gently explained that cheese comes after the meal. Ooops.” - American expat Lindsay Devlin
- A Traditional Wedding Cake is Fruitcake
- "There will have to be some mention of fruitcake! Fortunately neither me nor my husband like it, so it wasn't an issue for us. And in the end we had our favourite iced cream buns from a local bakery, which was completely 'foreign' to all of our guests!" - American expat Stacy Block Perry
- It’s Not Considered Rude to Have a Cash Bar
- "My English husband was quite surprised about the ‘open bar’ custom at most American weddings. There was no way I could make our guests pay for drinks!" - American expat Jodi Bayliss
- The Bride Enters the Church Ahead of the Bridesmaids
- "I had never been to an English wedding before mine, so I didn't know that bridesmaids typically go after the bride over here. I tried to get my husband's niece to go and she wouldn't, insisting that I had to go first. And then when the door opened we both set off, so we walked down the aisle together." - American expat Julie Watson
- Clink Your Glass Only to Make a Speech
- "Not sure if it’s a well known American thing but where I live, if you clink your glass with your cutlery the bride and groom need to kiss. Where here that means you want to make a speech. So my poor aunt was very taken aback.' - American expat Laura DiMichele-Ross
- The Bridal Party
- Overall the bridal party is smaller and they sit during the ceremony instead of standing up front by the bride and groom. Groomsmen are called ushers in the UK and they also hand out the programs. Brides are expected to pay for the bridesmaids dresses.“The things that have stood out to me: bridesmaid and groomsmen don't seem to play as big a part in the wedding and don't typically walk down the aisle together.” - American expat Charlotte Ciufo
- The Speeches Are Roasts, Not Sentimental Toasts
- “It’s traditional for the groom and the best man to give a speech (not a toast) and it's ok if they go on and on and on... “ - American expat Megan Miller
- The Groom Doesn't Face The Bride
- "I was not aware that traditionally at a church service in the UK the groom does not face the bride walking down the aisle. I thought he was just being mean. Well, come to find out that is a tradition here that the groom does not face the bride until at the altar. No, he was not being rude or scared. " - Rebecca Kobus