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Keeping Time - Setting a schedule helps everything stay in order

Unless you are a veteran of several weddings - as a guest, of course, not the bride - you may not be familiar with the ebb and flow of the ceremony and reception. Tradition dictates almost everything, from how your attendants precede you down the...

Unless you are a veteran of several weddings - as a guest, of course, not the bride - you may not be familiar with the ebb and flow of the ceremony and reception. Tradition dictates almost everything, from how your attendants precede you down the aisle and where your families are seated, to toasts, cake cutting and bouquet tossing.

This sort of order both serves to keep everyone in step, from bridesmaids to wedding guests, and keep the party moving.

A wedding coordinator can do this organizational work, making sure everyone knows their part and is well rehearsed. But if you're going to direct this production on your own, there's plenty of help available - from bridal magazines to etiquette books.

Wedding-planning books and bridal guides offer seating arrangements and charts to the wedding processional. The "Bride's Book of Etiquette," by the editor of Bride's magazine, Millie Martini Bratten (Perigee Books, $16.95) offers a simple timeline based on a 3-hour reception, which is about the average length of festivities.

Wedding experts say you should give the timetable to an attendant or your master of ceremony. They should see that copies are given to the caterer, photographer, and bandleader or disc jockey, and any problems should be discussed with this person, not you.

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And at least one rehearsal is necessary so that everyone involved has a chance to look their best.

In a traditional, formal wedding, whether Christian or civil, the bride's parents, grandparents, siblings and special guests, such as those who will be doing a reading, are seated on the left, the groom's family and guests on the right. The groom and his best man stand at the altar with the officiant, and the ushers may either stand with them or start the procession. Bridesmaids enter first, followed by the honor attendant. The ring bearer and flower girl are the last ones down the aisle before the bride and her father, who escorts her on his left arm.

A traditional Jewish ceremony is slightly different, with the groom's family seated on the left and the bride's on the right, grandparents leading the procession and the groom's parents escorting him and the bride's parents escorting her to the huppah.

For the recession of a Christian or civil ceremony, the order is simply reversed, with the bride and groom leading the way. In a Jewish ceremony, the newlyweds are followed by the bride's parents, then the groom's parents, then the wedding party, rabbi and cantor.

If you don't have a receiving line immediately following the ceremony, the wedding party should arrive at the reception site to greet guests as they arrive.

The "Bride's Book of Etiquette" gives these tips for helping you welcome your guests:

- Review your guest list with your groom and parents so that names are fresh in your mind.

- Remind those in the receiving line to keep their comments brief, so the line can keep moving. This assures that all your guests will get to congratulate you promptly.

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- Place the line where it can be quickly and easily navigated, so guests don't get stuck in the church trying to get out.

- If you don't know a guest introduce yourself.

- Take off your gloves for handshaking and either hold your bouquet to the left or set it aside.

The "Bride's Book of Etiquette" outlines how a typical reception is organized. In the first half hour of the reception, guests should be greeted, the music should start and drinks and hors d'oeuvres should be served. During the second half hour as guests mingle and find their tables the newlyweds should start making their rounds of the room.

After one hour, dinner should be announced and the wedding party seated. A blessing is usually offered at this time by your officiant or parents. After the wedding party is served, the best man offers his toast. The newlyweds can then follow with their own toasts and words of thanks.

About half an hour later, the first course should be cleared and the bride and groom should take their first dance together, followed by the father-daughter dance, mother-groom dance and so on.

Afterward, tables are cleared and the cake-cutting ceremony should take place. Guests should be invited to dance while the rest of the cake is cut and served.

And just before you and your groom make your exit (or even if plan to stay on and dance the night away), your new husband should remove and toss your garter to the bachelors in the group, and you should toss your bouquet to the single women.

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Keeping these simple steps in mind can make for smooth sailing all day long on your wedding day.

Visit Copley News Service at http://www.copleynews.com

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