Wedding programs: are they really needed?

Sure these Bohemian wedding programs are super cute, but do you really NEED them?
Sure these Bohemian wedding programs are super cute, but do you really NEED them?
Are wedding programs really needed?…Seriously! Are they? Our ceremony will be 20-30 minutes long max. And if my partner could get his way, it'd be done in 5. There will be some talking, some vows, the wine box ceremony, kiss, done.

I'm just wondering if I need a program with the wedding party info and all that. Will I miss it during and after the wedding or years down the road?
-vjmendi

[related-post your-programs-paper-airplanes]There's no right answer to this question. For some folks, your programs = paper airplanes doomed for the recycle bin. For others, they're an amazing opportunity to crack your guests up.

While there's absolutely no reason you have to do them, there are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to give guests something to look at while waiting for the ceremony to begin?
  • Is it going to be hot, and do you want to give your guests something that doubles as a fan?
  • Do you want to explain some back-story on ceremony components your guests might not be familiar with, like the wine-box ceremony?
  • Are you making a point to do a big thank-you for your wedding party in other ways?

If you decide you DO want to do programs, man have we got some inspiration for you.

What do you guys think? Are wedding programs worth the effort? What are you doing for yours? Show 'n' tell, please!

Wanderlust Wedding Program Minibooks
These really are cute programs though, aren't they?

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  1. We did programs because we're having a Quaker ceremony and wanted to explain it to our guests. They're very simple: I designed them myself with text only, two on an 8.5×11 page, and printed them at Kinko's and finally cut them in half.

    2 agree
    • I would love to see your program! We are planning a Quaker ceremony and would love to see what you put in the program.

  2. We didn't have a wedding program. Instead, we bought a cheap chalkboard, set it up on a chair at the entrance to our ceremony site and wrote out who was in the ceremony (officiant, musician, readers, bridesmaids, groomsmen). I figured that's all people would look at the program for anyways.

    My thing is…if you are seriously questioning or doubting if you need a program…then you probably don't need one.

    16 agree
  3. We had one, but only because we had a significant amount of audience participation (we only had 10 guests, and they each picked their own reading to share–all of which were printed in the program). The only other reason I think you'd "need" a program is if you were concerned about people not being able to hear what was going on.

    That said, I totally agree with Lauren, if you're questioning it, I really don't think you need a program.

    3 agree
  4. We did not have programs, and everyone was still able to figure out what was going on. 🙂
    I actually designed the program, twice. I didn't print any, though, because we didn't know if my husband's brother was actually going to come and be the best man or not. If we'd had programs, I would have had to print two sets and then figure out which one to use the night before.

    I didn't feel that anything was missing, and no one has commented on the lack of programs. Chose what's important and focus your energies there. If the program isn't important, skip it.

    2 agree
  5. We are doing a program because we are having a Catholic mass with some Filipino cultural elements and many of our guests may not be familiar with the mass and/or the Filipino elements.

    I think if you're doing a fairly basic ceremony that doesn't require much audience participation, you're probably in the clear not to do them!

    6 agree
  6. We will probably do one–we are having a fairly offbeat ceremony with a very traditional family. Some things will need explaining so that it won't just seem like weird for weird's sake (as I've been accused of in the past 😀 )

    5 agree
    • This is pretty much exactly why I'm planning to do programs. I've started work on them, though as another poster mentioned, the last of FH's groomsmen is still a bit up in the air, so we have to hold off on printing them (no big, wedding is still better than 2 months out), but we, too, come from traditional roots and have pretty much chucked them all out the window. I do not want the larger part of my family writing off the wedding as being "weird for weird's sake," as I have ALSO been accused of in the past, so I will be detailing the significance of the parts of the ceremony and the colours the honour party are wearing/carrying, as well as who's who.

      1 agrees
  7. I WANTED to…but of all the projects I was working on, it got left until the end. It wasn't necessary, and if I am honest, I know it was probably just another thing I intended to use to wow people with my creativity, as I had a kick-arse, so ME idea. I don't think any guests noticed. Prior to the wedding, we put up information about our wedding party on a wedding website (they had access to this the moment we gave them the address on our save the date). I figure most people who know me and US will know that my mom walked me down the aisle, that my long-lost sister was my officiant, and that the ring bearers and flower girls were kids of my bridesmaids. If not, it was an opportunity for communication. They can ask us or ask around. The same is true of the music we chose or vows. I'd be glad to tell people about those if needed. Overall, I mourn not getting to execute my awesome idea, but I couldn't have squeezed any more energy out of myself in those last days. And I had family and friends to visit with, so there's no way I'd let that take priority.

    2 agree
  8. We skipped programs, and everyone was able to follow along with our very offbeat 30-minute ceremony just fine. We did make sure that our officiant explained all of the things that happened that people might not know about, like our Japanese tea ceremony and the ring warming. Nobody got confused 🙂 We also only had two people in our wedding party who were outgoing about introducing themselves during the reception and also had bios on our wedding website, so I didn't feel like we needed to put names in a program.

    1 agrees
  9. I play in a string quartet and we play lots of weddings (17 for this year).

    Most weddings we play have a program, and it's really helpful for people like me. Even if there wasn't one for the guests, if you have vendors (photographer, musicians, etc…) then they KNOW what is happening in what order. Super helpful if you need a cue telling you when the next thing is going to happen.

    11 agree
  10. No programs at all for us–our ceremony was about 10 minutes long (most guests stood for it) and I had no interest in making programs. I decided, our friends and relatives are smart…they can figure out what's going on. It helped that we had a fabulous, experienced celebrant who explained the ring warming during the ceremony so people didn't get confused over that.

    1 agrees
  11. In most of the ceremonies I've attend, people just look at the attendant list and comment that they don't know anyone. Most programs end up as litter, airplanes, or origami cranes.
    That being said, it would be awesome to print origami direction on your program that make your recessional with dozens of paper cranes taking flight :D.

    12 agree
  12. I am so uncomfortable as a guest when there's no program. An eco-friendly one-big-sign-at-the-front style program works just fine, no need to print individual ones if you don't want to, but I am so, so, so thankful when there's some sort of public order to the day. No matter how straight-forward your ceremony, some part of it is unfamiliar to someone, and the joy of a ceremony is that it's, well, a ceremonious occasion. It helps guests to get in the mood if they know what's going on, especially ESPECIALLY if there's participatory elements. You also know what's happening next, and also approximately how long it will take (I have a friend with bladder conditions who ducked out quickly of what she thought was a lengthy officiant's reading and come back having missed the vows, and cried later because she totally could have been there if she knew it would be that short.) I don't know, the ceremony is the single most important part of a wedding to me, and I just hate not being prepared to participate in it and appreciate it fully. 🙁 That being said, apparently most of the internet, wedding and non-wedding forums alike, feels like they're a waste and no one looks at them and no one else finds them significant. So I seem to be the ridiculous dissenting voice in this situation.

    11 agree
    • I don't think you're ridiculous! But I still don't think a program is always needed. I can understand if there is audience participation or to explain certain parts people may not understand, or if it will be long, with readings, and songs and on (and on), but for a simple 15 minute deal, it's kind of a waste.

      I do like the idea of a large sign with the details, so everyone knows the flow of things.

      2 agree
    • So what if most of the internet feels they are unnecessary – most of the internet is busy staring at cats or porn most of the time – do you really care what they think?

      I would want to have programs just because it gives me another chance to be artsy…and anything weird I do would need to be explained to my family (and some of our friends) – i.e. we aren't going to react to clinking glasses, etc.

      3 agree
  13. My husband and I wrote a statement in our program, acknowledging all of our guests who were there for us even though they are not yet able to legally marry. We thanked them for celebrating with and supporting us, and stated that we support and love all of them too.

    3 agree
  14. we had a church service so the programme included the texts of the hymns as well as the running order. I think that a lot of people do appreciate being able to follow along, we had a number of guests who weren't familiar with the Anglican service or for whom English is a second language or who barely speak it at all and we felt that the programme would be very helpful for them. They would be able to follow along with the most important bits (the vows) and understand them – which for me was the most important part of the day. It also was useful for the choir & the photographer to know the structure of the ceremony.

    If you had a more offbeat ceremony it might not be as important. But I know that we've kept one as a memento (or as my Italian grandma insists, a memory – for her a memory is always a physical object) and so have quite a few of our close family & friends. In fact my friend who spilled red wine on hers later actually came and asked if we had a spare because she wanted to keep it!

    3 agree
  15. I ended up designing ours in Photoshop, using the same fonts as the invites and printing them via an online printer (smartpress.com) The total cost was $40 for 50 programs, which puts it in the "little extra something but not a huge splurge" category. I had fun designing them so that's nice.

  16. I also think of it as a way to formally acknowledge friends and family that helped out. I'm planning to list our parents, family and friends who helped and the wedding party. Of course we'll also list the major points of the ceremony, the officiant and the music. Yeah they may go in the trash but we're trying to make them short and sweet so that we waste as little paper as possible and also give people something to look at and fan themselves with before the ceremony.

    2 agree
  17. I as a guest always like knowing what to expect at any event. With that in mind I am planning our DIY programs to be multipurpose. First of all, they will be fans- helpful in the Alabama heat. Being fans they will have two sides. Side one will be ceremony specific- normal names of the bridal party and titles of the readings type stuff. Side two will be a schedule of events! That way no one is standing around wondering when the cake cutting is. As much as I would like everyone to stick around and party the night away with us, I totally understand that some folks are going to want to come for the ceremony, eat some delicious foods, see the important stuff and then GTFO. And that's fine! But, if they know that my super awesome Bridesman will be doing a live Banjo performance at 7pm…maybe they'll make sure to hang out a little longer.

    1 agrees
  18. I do prefer a program because I tend to keep them as a souvenir – it's especially nice if there is no favor or the favor is edible. Ours was actually more like a little booklet, which included:

    – Order of events including a list of ceremony music, readers and titles of readings, and a note re: the on-site tour guests could take during cocktail hour
    -Request to keep the ceremony unplugged and camera-free
    -Roster of special guests including the wedding party, special helpers, parents, siblings, and living grandparents
    -Dinner menu noting which buffet dishes would be vegetarian or gluten-free (I actually had several people thank me for putting the menu in the program and say it was a great idea!)
    -General thanks-for-coming page

    3 agree
  19. We did programs mostly because we had our guests sing and we needed to give them words and music! If we hadn't done that, we may have skipped them, as our ceremony was outside in January in Canada and I was worried about people's fingers trying to hold them!

    That being said, our officiant did all the work of printing up ceremony order on one side and music on the other, so we didn't have to worry about doing that one more thing in time.

    1 agrees
  20. We did guide-book type programs that not only went over the ceremony, but covered the entire day. There were some elements that I knew certain people wouldn't get, and I wanted to design something fun. Our guests loved them, and because I designed them and assembled them myself (with printing at Staples), it didn't cost a fortune.

    1 agrees
    • Hi, just noticed you did guide books for your wedding, I am doing the same, would you mind telling me what sort of information you included? I want to make sure I don't miss anything

  21. I didn't do programs for a couple reasons.
    1. We had a fairly traditional ten-minute ceremony and if my guests couldn't follow that, there was no hope for them.
    2. It never occurred to me to have them.
    3. I balk against how much a wedding resembles theatre in general. Adding yet another theatre element would have annoyed me.
    4. Counting Husband and me, ten people attended my wedding and were together for two whole days. They had plenty of time to find out each other's names.

    There are great reasons to use a program, and people above have commented about them. If you don't think you need them, don't use them. If people are confused, they can ask questions.

    I will add that for my "wedding weekend" I handed everybody pages of information when we got on location. Giving your guests data is good. I'd say assume they can enjoy the ceremony without a program, but if you have data they need to have (like don't hug the groom because he has PTSD or leave your cameras off) then provide that information through a chalkboard or a program or something.

  22. We didn't do programs, and honestly I had forgotten all about them until I saw this post asking if they are needed. So in the case of my wedding – no not necessary at all!

  23. Lots of people have suggested just having your officiant explain unfamiliar rituals, and if it worked for you, it worked for you 🙂 But AS an officiant, I personally feel very awkward explaining the origin stories of ceremony elements…I think it disrupts the flow of the ceremony. Imagine stopping a play every thirty seconds to explain that such-and-so is an understudy for the "regular" actor; that's what it'd feel like.

    For my own wedding, which is a single faith but multiethnic ceremony, I will definitely have programs to explain what a san-san-kudo is, and why we're drinking sharbat out of a quaich instead of sake out of cups. Or if we nix them as being too expensive, a nice, large, framed piece of paper up on an easel–that we could later hang in our home rather than or alongside a framed invitation–should do the trick.

    But as everyone has said: if your guests are going to be familiar with the "text" of your wedding, then a program most likely is not needed, unless you'd like people to have them as a keepsake.

    1 agrees
  24. We did one of those 8 page extensive detailed programs. And I'm really glad we did. First, we had a traditional/egalitarian Jewish ceremony that we spent a TON of time on and wanted everyone to understand what was going on. The non-jews were able to follow the ceremony this way, and the Jews were able to know why we'd made the precise decisions we had.

    Also, we put the full menu in the program, with a list of dietary notes, what was gluten free, what was low sugar, etc that helped people choose what to eat at the buffet. This also meant we got to describe all the super cool (kosher) Indian food we served to people who weren't familiar with Indian dishes.

    Finally, we put the table assignments in the program. I love that this means we have a record of everyone who was there (since we didn't do a group photo). It is great to look at for refference.

    We also did the typical thank-yous and lists of names, and were able to honor folks that way. I know our Rabbi kept a copy of our program and uses it as an example for other couples. We've even seen our unique language about a few things show up in other couples' programs!

    3 agree
    • I was also thinking a program, with Hebrew text and full translation, would be great for a Jewish ceremony. I am planning (ish… date to be determined) a semi-traditional egalitarian same-sex Conservative Jewish wedding. Most of the guests will likely be either Conservative or Orthodox Jews who have never seen same-sex weddings before, so they'll want to know how we modified the liturgy — and what we chose not to change, and why.

  25. We did a program that was made by the groom's stepdad. It was the size of a folded piece of paper booklet, with 8 pages (imagine two sheets folded, double sides). They were:
    1. Cover
    2. Order of the ceremony
    3. Wedding Party
    4. Info about the TARDIS photo booth and how to upload photos to smugmug
    5. Thank you, Directions to the after-ceremony hang out at the hotel
    6. Outtakes (joke versions of parts of the wedding ceremony we didn't use)
    7. More Outtakes like this one: "When frustration, difficulty and fear assail your relationship – as they threaten all relationships at one time or another – remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part which seems wrong. That's called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy."
    8. Map of the venue in the style of the Marauder's Map in Harry Potter

    It was about $120 for 100 programs.

    1 agrees
  26. I went to a wedding this past weekend, and it was the first ever one that I had attended that had programs. I loved them!
    The ceremony was in a catholic chapel, conducted by a priest, but wasn't a full mass. All the readings done by the priest and friends of the bride and groom were in there, as well as a bolded line for when the audience was supposed to say something. The ceremony place also wasn't air conditioned and was on the third floor when it was 100+ outside, so it was nice having something to use as a fan. Besides being useful, I just loved how pretty the program was. It was fairly simple, but printed on the same paper and tied with the same ribbon as the invitations and favor packets of seeds, and it was just another element that tied everything together.

    I don't think programs are necessary by any means, but I loved getting one, and will most likely have them at my wedding.

    1 agrees
    • Yes! We're having a Catholic ceremony sans Eucharist. However, less than 1/4 of the people there will be Catholic.

      I don't want my Baptist family, wondering why/what the purpose of the ceremony elements are. I want them to see the beauty of what we believe in, instead of getting distracted by the differences between our faiths.

      Plus we want an appropriate space to acknowledge A's father, who passed away in 2006, without making it an elaborate process.

  27. We will almost definitely be doing programs, but we will be printing the majority of what will be spoken during the ceremony. This will probably include the story of how we met and the readings, but probably not our vows (I want to keep those a bit more private). We will have a handful of guests who are hard of hearing, and I want to make sure they feel included.

    1 agrees
  28. A program doesn't have to be very involved. We had some super simple double sided postcard sized programs, for the following reasons:

    1. We were having an evening wedding that involved moving around to a few different locations in a museum and figured everyone would want to know when and were the food and major events would be.
    2. Philadelphia is really hot and muggy in July, so its always nice to have something to fan yourself with.
    3. Our families are from different states and not all of our guests had met before so we wanted to at least let them know who was who in the wedding party.
    4. Since the party was ending at midnight the programs gave the guests who were planning to leave early an idea of when to depart without missing anything they wanted to be there for.
    5. We wanted to give some kind of shout out to our vendors, so we included them on the who's who side.
    6. Once I started referring to the events of the night as "The Plan", we got really exited about making Battlestar Galactica themed programs with "The Plan" on one side and "The List" on the other.

    We had them printed through Vista Print, using the custom postcard options, so they were not very expensive. For us they were worth it because they let everyone know what was going on and were fun souvenirs for our guests.

    Were they necessary? Nope, things probably would have gone along just fine without them.

  29. I didn't because our wedding was quite straightforward (no location change, etc) and I couldn't think of anything clever enough to warrant a program. I also didn't want to create any because a.) I didn't want to create more waste and b.) I was short of time as it was and wanted to focus more on other projects.

    I really think it's all up to personal preference!

  30. We did a program. We had readings in our wedding in Romanian and Portuguese and guests who did not speak necessarily one of the two languages (or both languages), so we had our readings and their translations in the program. The program was rather minimal except for the readings and details about the organist and singer. Also, they were quite easy to make so why not? Another good point about the program was that we had an art deco vibe in the invitations and table decorations, but the church was not decorated (as it was a beautiful building by itself) and much older, so it was a nice touch (i thought) to have art deco fonts and graphics inspired by the invite to tie everything in.

  31. I was informed, by my mother and one friend, that I HAD to have programs. I saw absolutely no point in it, but I acceded to demands and made programs. So now I have a stack of them sitting around, destined for the recycling bin unless I can manage to cut up parts to repurpose. But it was not a massive amount of work and it made a couple people happy. But I still don't think I actually needed them.

  32. Depends on the situation I'm sure. I really had to have them because we were doing an interfaith ceremony and I needed to let people know what the Hindu traditions were.

    I downloaded a template in Word and got them printed at Kinkos the day before!

    Oh, also we had a memorial table with photos of his step-mother who had recently died and a friend of mine who was supposed to be a bridesmaid had she not died. So I had their names in the program so when people saw the pictures at the reception, they would know who they were. (I realize not everyone thinks a wedding is a good place for a memorial, but for our particular situation I couldn't imagine not doing something like this and it was well received).

  33. I don't think programs are necessary, but they can be SO MUCH FUN. We are doing a Steampunk wedding and there is a lot going on, and also, I love the idea of having all information in one place, and also ensuring that my guests WILL NEVER BE BORED. So included in ours:
    1.Cover designed like a book
    2. "Dedication" page (aka thank yous) and table of contents (aka that day's schedule of events"
    3. Ceremony order of events including song selections and who is doing readings
    4. Center spread is a two page diagram of the wedding party (with the cool silhouttes for people and dogs).
    5. Readings and Info on photo booth and sharing photos via Instagram and the Wedding Party App and an "Eye Spy" List of things to take pictures of
    6. Our musical selections that have specific meanings, DJ info (Vourteque, the Steampunk DJ), Band (my wedding party donated money to a Kickstarter to get them to play at the wedding).
    7. MINGLO (http://offbeatbride.com/2013/04/minglo) and a crossword
    8. Info on the games available to play during the reception and where the after party is…

    THERE IS SO MUCH! I already added a second set of pages and want to add more, but won't. I think I overshare…

  34. We are doing an 'artwork' piece order of ceremony so we can display it in our new home. Other than that, I am making a few order of ceremonies but only for certain people – friends and family who I know will want to keep one, and have a 'order of the day' sheet for our vendors 🙂 saving me alot of money, and time. Plus I know that those who really appreciate 'the little details' will be getting a beautiful thing for their scrapbooks / crafty things and those that don't really care can take a photo of the art piece.

  35. My ceremony from the start of the entrance music to the end of the exit music was less than 15 minutes long. Programs not needed, lol

    2 agree
  36. I'm doing a big chalkboard with the necessary information on it for people to read before they sit. I'm not big into waste so anything that can be reused later (i.e. chalkboards that I bought used and will resell myself) is a plus for me. Unless you have really kick ass programs, they are destined for the trash. I agree that they're a great way for creative expression but to me (who does not have those kind of skills), programs seem like a waste of money and paper.

  37. I AM going to do wedding programs for two reasons:

    1. I always miss them when I am at weddings without them. I want to know who the people standing next to my friends and family are. Are they their cousins? College friends? Friends from elementary school? Maybe it's just me being weird but I always want to know.

    2. It gives you something to read during the boring parts. Even a twenty minute ceremony can leave you anxious for the food part. I actually think ours will wind up longer than we want, because my grandpa is the officiant and I know he won't resist talking for a while even if we ask him not to. So there will be stuff in there for people to read, as well as an activity for kids on the back to keep people's boredom at bay as I am sure my 15 minute ceremony will become 45 really quickly.

    So while most of me screams, HAVE ONE! I WOULD WANT TO READ IT! I do think that other commenters are right, if you think it's not necessary, it's not! I decided before planning my wedding that there was no question for me, and I've adapted the attitude that if I don't think I need it, I don't. And for us, money is important, so to cut costs where necessary we're getting rid of anything we were feeling wishy-washy about.

  38. I'm making programs because (1) our ceremony is a bit confusing (our mistress of ceremonies is not a legal officiant so we'll actually already be married when we have our wedding… legal ceremony in the morning, wedding in the evening), (2) I want to publicly and in detail thank everyone who deserves it, and (3) I like having a program myself as a guest (I get warm easily and like a fan; I like to know how much longer is left in a ceremony like graduations, plays, concerts, and yes, weddings, because I have anxieties about that sort of thing; and if it's a well-done program, it's fun to read!)

    BUT… it's one of the last things I'm doing, because it's one of those "if it doesn't get done, I won't be terribly upset" extra things. Technically, there's nothing about the wedding that, if it went wrong, would be the end of the world, but some things have higher priority.

    And that's me. It depends entirely on you and your partner and your wedding. Obviously.

  39. I written about this and discussed in over and over again with the couple's I'm working with (officiating their wedding)
    If you simply make a program that follows the outline of the service you are only encouraging your guests to follow along and check-off where you're at in the ceremony. Its much more beautiful to let the moments unfold. Also if you don't add something unique and valuable into the program, why do it at all?
    I'm not a fan of wedding programs, but they can be creative and wonderful when done right.

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