As a wedding officiant, one of my jobs is helping you get ready for your ceremony, so often I’ll ask, “Are you planning to have a rehearsal?” So, so often what I hear back is, “The dinner is at 7.” So let me clear something up: the rehearsal dinner is called that because it’s the dinner you have after your rehearsal, usually for the folks who rehearsed – not a dinner at which you rehearse dinner.
So what is a wedding rehearsal?
The wedding rehearsal is an opportunity for everyone involved in the ceremony to practice what will happen there. We walk through the choreography: who will stand where, how they’ll get there, and when. We’ll pin down anything that hadn’t been decided up to this point: In what order are people coming in? Who will have possession of the rings? If someone’s dress has a train, where are you going to put it so no one steps on it?
Some officiants will walk you through the whole service; I usually do just a brief outline so the text seems fresh the day of. I may ask your readers to read through their whole piece so they can get a feel for it, or maybe just a few sentences if they seem confident (and loud enough). I’ll also give you some experienced advice like, “If someone drops one of the rings, I will be the one to pick it up. We don’t all need to knock heads.”
We’ll spend the most time practicing your processional, especially if you have attendants (a.k.a. bridesmaids and groomsmen or some gender-remixed version thereof). We’ll figure out where everyone will stand and practice walking in and walking out a few times until everyone feels comfortable.
Who needs to be at a wedding rehearsal?
Ideally, anyone who has some particular role in your ceremony should be at the rehearsal. You, your fiancé(s), and your attendants should definitely be there. Whoever is walking y’all down the aisle should be there if possible. Anyone who is doing a reading should be there with their reading.
If your venue has a coordinator, or if you’ve hired a day-of coordinator, that person can almost always comfortably run your ceremony. (Note: you probably didn’t vet your venue by whether the coordinator was feminist/queer-friendly, so you may have to push back if they tell you some nonsense like grooms don’t process, but you want something different than they think is “correct.”)
Your officiant can also run your ceremony if they’re available. I do this most of the time, by myself at a DIY venue or in concert with the venue coordinator if there is one.
When and where should a wedding rehearsal be?
Ideally, your rehearsal is 24 hours before your ceremony, in the same location. That way you can figure out what the light will look like, pacing, and who will stand exactly where. Usually an hour is plenty of time, but if you have lots of attendants (more than eight total) or they’re rowdy, it may take your officiant or coordinator more time to wrangle everyone. Lots of wedding venues expect this and will give you the space ahead of time.
But some don’t – art museums, breweries, and high-volume venues may have regular business hours or other bookings the day prior. Or maybe your ceremony is at 4 but you booked your rehearsal dinner at 7, so you want to rehearse at 5:30 or 6. That’s fine. I once conducted a rehearsal for a particularly choreography-intensive wedding – involving a three-year-old flower girl, chuppah-bearers, and a unity-science-experiment – on the lawn of the Ramada Inn & Suites where everyone was staying.
In the end, the main point of a rehearsal is to calm everybody’s nerves. If you can’t have one, if one of your key players is missing because their flight was delayed, if you forgot your practice bouquet and the readers forgot their readings and the Best Person forgot the rings, it will be fine. You’ll practice what you can and wing the rest. It will be lovely.