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Wedding Reception vs Ceremony [What Is The Difference?]

For our engagement present, my sister bought us a Wedding Planner. Flicking through the sections, I noticed that there were separate sections for perspective venues for both Ceremony and Reception. This made me question what is the difference between the two? I did some research, and this is what I found.

So, what is the difference between a Wedding Reception and a Wedding Ceremony?  The main difference between a wedding reception and ceremony is the part of the wedding day they respectively celebrate. Typically, the wedding Ceremony will happen first. This is the actual legal, religious or spiritual celebration joining the happy couple in marriage. The wedding reception follows and is the formal celebration of the marriage usually attended by the family and friends of the couple.   

The two, however are mutually exclusive. In some cases, couples will choose to simply celebrate their marriage by having the just the Ceremony (maybe at the Registry Office or Town Hall) or even an elopement.

For some couples, celebrating the two elements may occur separately. For example, if a couple elopes, it is likely that their ceremony will be on an entirely different day to their Wedding reception.

Let us now take a closer look at the main differences between these two important, yet very distinct parts of the day.

We will also be looking at what you can expect to happen during each, including those formalities and traditions, where they take place and how long you can expect them to last for.

So, be sure to keep reading to get all the information you need!

What’s The Difference Between Wedding Reception And Ceremony?

The main difference between these two significant parts of a wedding day is that the Wedding Ceremony is the legal, religious or spiritual act of marriage and the Wedding Reception is the social event that follows; the bride and groom (or partners in marriage) are celebrated by their friends and family.

Where a Religious ceremony may be chosen by the couple to marry them, it is common that the wedding ceremony and wedding reception are at two different locations.

For a Civil Ceremony this can also be the case, however in recent years the wedding industry has seen an increasing trend of holding the Civil Ceremony of marriage and Wedding Reception at the same venue.

If you are looking to have both wedding Ceremony and Reception at the same venue, we recommend that couples reach out to their Venue to confirm specific licencing is in place or check with the provider of you Marriage licence that where you are holding your ceremony will be legally binding.

The Wedding Ceremony is (for most couples!) the most significant and important part of the Wedding day. It is the legal celebration of their love and commitment for one another.

The Wedding Ceremony Will Typically Consist Of

  • The procession, the entrance of the Groom, Bridal party and the Bride. Usually down the aisle where the wedding ceremony guests are seated either side,
  • The welcome, the Religious or Spiritual leader, Registrar, Minister, Celebrant or whoever has been ordained to Marry the couple will begin by welcoming the wedding party and give details of the ceremony,
  • Charge to the couple, the person leading the ceremony will then talk about the couple and maybe even share a meaningful reading or two,
  • The Vows, the promises of love and commitment are shared by the couple,
  • The exchange of rings, rings that resemble everlasting love and commitment between the bride and groom are exchanged. In religious ceremonies the rings are usually also blessed,
  • The first kiss, as the couple are announced to be married they share their first kiss as a married couple,
  • Signing of the register or marriage certificate, the signing of the documentation that makes a marriage legal sometimes happens during the ceremony,
  • The recessional, as the ceremony concludes, the Bride and Groom will leave the Ceremony together as husband and wife.

After the recessional, the Wedding reception typically begins, but not before confetti is thrown and photographs are taken!

If the Wedding reception is in a different location to the Ceremony, Wedding guests will need to now travel to the Reception venue.

If the ceremony and reception are in the same location, typically a champagne reception and canapés will follow the ceremony, enabling the venue to set up for the reception. Usually, during this time the Married couple will have their photographs taken.

The wedding reception is a social event to celebrate the marriage. There are certain, traditional elements of a Wedding Reception too that you may want to consider including – however a wedding reception is usually far less formal than the ceremony itself.

A Wedding Reception Will Typically Include

  • Champagne toast, immediately upon arrival at the reception, guests are usually offered Champagne or Prosecco and some canapés whilst mingling with other guests, now is a great time to have the guest book available for people to sign, 
  • Entrance of the married couple, after the first reception, guests will be invited to take their seats in preparation for the wedding breakfast and when everyone is ready, the bride and groom will be introduced as Mr and Mrs for the first time!
  • Wedding Breakfast, Day guests will enjoy a meal and drinks as part of the celebration,
  • Speeches, at some point either after, or during the Wedding breakfast, members of the Wedding Party will give speeches, traditionally this is the Best Man, Father of the Bride and maybe a thank you by the bride and groom, but in recent years there have been trends in Maid of Honour speeches too – it is your day – who gives a speech is really up to you!
  • Arrival of evening guests, after the wedding breakfast, evening guests may start to arrive ready for the reception celebrations to continue into the night!
  • Cutting of the Wedding Cake, the bride and groom cut their cake,
  • The First Dance, guests gather on the dance floor as the bride and groom share their first dance as a married couple,
  • Dancing or evening entertainment, usually, after the first dance, the dancefloor opens up and dancing and socialising happens,
  • Evening food, as well as there bring a bar with drinks, often during the evening of the wedding reception, hot food will be served to guests – nothing as formal as the wedding breakfast – maybe burgers, bacon sandwiches or even pizza!
  • Exit of the Bride and Groom, towards the end of the evening, guest may gather to wave the bride and groom off as they leave the celebration and begin life as a newly married couple.

The Wedding Ceremony and Wedding Reception are two very different celebrations of love and marriage.

How Long Is A Wedding Reception Vs A Wedding Ceremony?

For most weddings, the Wedding Ceremony itself is considerably shorter that the Wedding Reception that will follow.

You can expect a Wedding Ceremony to last anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on a number of different elements that may or may not happen. That being said, it is tradition that the Bride is late to these proceedings so time allocated to the ceremony will usually be a little longer.

We would anticipate no longer than two hours for the Wedding Ceremony to be concluded, that is if an almost prompt start time is adhered to!

The Wedding Reception, however, is usually a much longer affair! It is the party after all and can last long into the night!

If a Drinks reception begins at say, 2pm, and the reception involves dancing and a party, most venues will allow for this to continue until at least midnight – so receptions can last hours!

Typically, Wedding Receptions continue for anywhere between 6 to 12 hours.

This can be vastly different if your wedding reception is held during the day, or only consists of some of the traditional formalities. There is no hard and fast rule about how long they should be. You should instead aim to plan a reception that suits you and your partner.

Where Is A Wedding Reception Vs The Wedding Ceremony?

Traditionally, the Wedding Ceremony and Reception are held at two separate venues. Either a building of Religious significance, Town Hall, Registry Office or other Ceremony location.

As the formalities of the Ceremony conclude, guests and Wedding Party travel to a different location to being the social celebrations of the Wedding Reception.

The transport between locations can be organised by the Bride and Groom so that guests travel together, but it is not uncommon to expect guests to organise this themselves.

Holding your Wedding Ceremony at a separate venue to your Wedding Reception can be beneficial if:

  • You want to get married at a building of religious significance and have a religious ceremony,
  • The Reception venue requires you to set up in advance for your celebration,
  • You want to invite a greater number of guests to the wedding reception rather than the ceremony,
  • If your chosen Reception venue is unlicensed or there is another reason that prevents your ceremony from being held there.

It has become increasingly common over the past few years, for happy couples to select venues where both Wedding Ceremony and Wedding Reception can be held.

This allows for guests to fully relax and enjoy a more fluid day of celebrations, instead of planning a journey between the two locations!

The Guest List of a Wedding Reception Vs A Wedding Ceremony

A Wedding can be as intimate or as large as you want it to be! Some couples choose to have one guest list of their big day, inviting all guests to be a part of the ceremony and reception as a whole.

For some couples, it may reflect their relationship more by having an intimate ceremony and larger reception and celebration in the evening.

It is your wedding and therefore perfectly acceptable to invite different people to different parts of your day.

As a general rule, guests invited to your Wedding Ceremony, are guests that would also be invited to the Wedding Reception too.

These guests include:

  • Immediate, close family,
  • Bridal Party,
  • Groomsmen and Ushers,
  • Close friends,
  • Close Family,
  • Close colleagues from work,

For different couples, this list is likely to change: it is not exhaustive. To your Ceremony, we would advise inviting guests that you know well as a couple. They will be sharing with you your most intimate moments.

If you are choosing to invite further guests to celebrate your Wedding Reception with you, consider:

  • Extended family,
  • Wider circle of friends,
  • Other colleagues,
  • Partners of guests that you don’t know as well,
  • Family friends,

Again, this is not an exhaustive list. There will certainly be others that you may wish to include, but we think this is a great starting point.


Remember, your Wedding Day is about you as a couple.

Your Wedding Ceremony is the legal element that constitutes marriage. You will make meaningful promises to one another in the presence of the most important people in your lives.

Your Wedding Reception is the celebration – eat, drink and party! Remember to pause on your wedding day and take in the atmosphere and celebrations.

It is your day to enjoy.

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