No matter how much time you spend planning every detail of your wedding day, from the flowers to the music and the fashion to the food, the most important moment happens when you and your partner are both—finally—standing at the altar to exchange vows. That’s why knowing which side you want to stand on after your walk down the aisle is such an essential part of mapping out your ceremony.
Traditionally, in ceremonies that have a bride and groom, the bride stands on the left side and the groom on the right. This dates back to the ancient codes of chivalry when the placement of the groom was crucial for the bride’s protection, Mirelle Eid, owner and founder of Honeybreak Officiants, explains. “This is a tradition that actually dates back to the Middle Ages when the groom had to keep his sword hand at the ready in case he had to fight off anyone who tried to steal the bride away before he could marry her,” she shares. “Obviously, we’ve come a long way since these days, and hopefully there are no impending sword fights, but just like many other traditions, this ‘rule’ about sides has stuck!”
Meet the Expert
Mirelle Eid is a wedding officiant and the founder of Honeybreak Officiants, a New York-based collective of wedding officiants who aim to produce inclusive, love-filled ceremonies for every type of couple.
That said, since wedding traditions are constantly evolving, the way in which the bride and groom stand at the altar has also shifted to suit today’s modern times. While many couples choose to embrace traditional altar placements once it’s time to say “I do”, there are modern variations that are equally as appropriate, which Eid breaks down below.
Traditional Altar Placements
In traditional Christian weddings with a bride and groom, couples will typically follow the “rule” of the bride standing on the left and the groom standing on the right. This is also common in modern, non-religious ceremonies where the couple has decided to keep with tradition when planning their celebration. As it relates to other religious customs, however, the bride doesn’t always stand on the left.
“In a traditional Hindu wedding where the partners are a bride and groom, the bride actually switches sides during different rituals, moving from the groom’s right side to his left once the marriage is official,” says Eid. “In traditional Jewish weddings where the partners are a bride and groom, the bride will stand on the right side of the groom, with both partners facing the rabbi. This is a nod to the following line from Psalms: ‘Your queen shall stand on your right.’”
Modern-Day Altar Placements
With today’s slim-to-none chance of a duel breaking out at a wedding and a general relaxing of wedding traditions, couples can choose where each partner stands according to their own preferences. “[These rules] can most definitely be altered and as a modern millennial wedding officiant, I recommend it,” says Eid.
For instance, couples who choose to have each family sit in separate sections of the venue might opt to stand opposite their people, allowing their loved ones to see their face instead of their back or profile. Brides and grooms can also select their spots to show off their best sides. “I always recommend that the bride or groom decide where to stand based on the side that they prefer to be photographed or where they feel most comfortable,” says Eid. “They would stand with the side of their face they prefer facing their guests (and photographer), and the side they least prefer facing their officiant.”
How to Decide Which Side Is Right for You
If you’re having a traditional religious ceremony, you may not be allowed much input on where you stand; the religious leader officiating your ceremony might insist you follow tradition. But if you do have the chance to decide, Eid recommends considering the following:
- Lighting. “Check with your photographer about the best lighting, and where and how to stand,” she says. “You don’t want to be staring into the sun, but you also don’t want to be covered in shadows.”
- Your hairstyle. “How you plan to wear your hair during the ceremony might influence how you want to stand, and which side of your profile you want to be facing your guests and photographer,” Eid explains.
- The seating arrangement. “Are you having your guests choose their seats for the ceremony or are you having an aisle that divides each partner’s guests?” she says. “Your answer to this question might influence which side of the officiant or altar you choose to stand on.”
- Personal preference. “Think about when you pose for photos when you’re out with friends—do you have a ‘good side’ and a ‘bad side?’” says Eid. “If so, you’ll want to stand with your ‘good side’ facing your guests so that you get this captured by your photographer as well.”