You’ve planned out your bridal party, the processional, your music, but how should you set up the space where your wedding ceremony will take place? Look no further!
What goes under the wedding canopy or khuppah?
After trying to explain this with so many couples over the years, it occurred to me that a simple diagram (see below) would explain things much more clearly! So here is how to set up the space where all the action will take place:
The wedding canopy or khuppah
Most weddings, whether Jewish or not, nowadays include some form of a wedding canopy under which couples exchange their vows and rings. They can include flowers, be a permanent pagoda, or as in the case of a khuppah, would have some cloth or prayer shawl (called a “tallit” or “tallis”). This structure symbolizes the couple’s future home: It is open to family and friends to visit, but ultimately, it is the home base for the newly married couple. The couple stands underneath, either facing the officiant (also under the canopy), or holding hands and facing one another. If parents are present, they will often stand on the side of their child, but just outside the canopy. And, of course, if there is a challenging family situation, such as divorced parents that don’t get along, we can be creative as to where parents stand, or whether they stand at all.
The bridal party
If you’ve attended any wedding, you’re probably so focused on the couple that you might not have paid attention to where the attendants stand. It seems obvious that one partner’s attendants stand on that side of the couple (facing out towards the crowd), and the other partner’s attendants doing the same on the other side, but I’ve worked with countless bridal parties who are still confused by this. Show them the diagram below and it will be much clearer. This is standard practice, but by no means absolute. Some couples choose to have their attendants sit, rather than stand during the ceremony. Further, it is becoming more commonplace to select attendants that are not unilaterally one gender.
Whether your event is indoors or outside, being able to hear the officiant during the ceremony is extremely important. And if your event is being held outdoors, this is critical, as there is no place for sound to reflect off of. Usually, your DJ or band (or less often your venue) is used to helping officiants be amplified. If you intend to have a friend or relative also present during the ceremony, getting them a second microphone is very helpful. They should be on microphone stands and ideally turned on at the beginning of the processional.
An easel for the ketubah
A nice touch to the ambiance of your big day is to have your signed ketubah (wedding contract) on an easel set up just behind the officiant. Many venues have easels for this reason, but if you find out they don’t have one, you can easily pick up an inexpensive one from an art supply store like Michael’s. In order to display your ketubah without fear of damage, purchasing an inexpensive frame for the moment just after the ketubah signing will give you added security and allow you to display the ketubah on the easel easily.
fA table behind the officiant
You might have noticed in the first diagram that there’s a table behind the officiant. This is for all the supplies you’ll need for the ceremony (except for the rings. I usually ask for the rings ahead of the start of the ceremony so we avoid the shenanigans that some Best Men pull by saying, “Oh! I forgot the rings,” and they actually forget the rings!). So what goes on the table?
- Water bottles or glasses of ice water. Why? One is for the officiant, the second is for the couple. It’s “just in case” water, but it’s really good to have, especially during a summer outdoor wedding so no one gets faint.
- An uncorked or screw cap bottle of white wine or grape juice. Most ceremonies include the sharing of wine or grape juice as a symbol of joy. White wine or grape juice is best as it won’t stain the way red wine or grape juice might. Note: Grape juice is perfectly acceptable, especially for those who need to avoid drinking alcohol.
- Two wine cups or glasses. These can be ceremonial cups, gifts from your families, heirlooms, or simple glasses from the venue.
- A lightbulb wrapped in a cloth napkin like a tootsie roll. This is the glass you’ll step on at the end of the ceremony. Why a light bulb? It makes a nice “pop” sound, and its glass is very thin, so you won’t wind up in the emergency room with glass through your shoe! Please use a regular, incandescent bulb—not an LED, LCD, or other fancy energy saving bulb. Just the old fashioned kind!
- Optional: A prayer shawl (tallit). Some couples like to be wrapped in a prayer shawl/tallit at the end of the ceremony. If you elect to do this, make sure it is on the table!
Is all this required?
Of course, between the creativity of the couple and the officiant, there are a lot of options and ways to set up your ceremony space. At the very least, having the microphone and the table is the best place to start. In any case, you’re sure to enjoy the day with as much advanced planning as possible! Good luck!