You’ve chosen your future spouse; now, what are you going to do about that bridal party? There’s your best friend from college, your best friend from work, your sister, your cousin, and inevitably there is someone who chose YOU, and expects you to return the favor. How you do begin to pick?

Many of my couples choose to keep their bridal parties small (or eliminate them all together) to eliminate the hurt feelings, political tussles and extra expense of having numerous people on each side. Wrangling all those bridesmaids, groomsmen, jr. attendants, flower girls, and Sparky, the ring dog is not everyone’s idea of their perfect wedding day. Fortunately, there are many other ways to include honored guests in the day and keep the couple’s stress level under control.

For many of your friends and family, just being asked is honor enough. They may not have the time, the money, or (and I know this hurts….) the desire to be part of the bridal party with all the responsibilities that go with that request. When you ask anyone to do anything, you should give them a gracious way out; they’ll love you even more.

But let’s, for the moment, assume you have a list of eligible candidates that is bigger than the ceremony space. How can they be involved?

Many interesting ritual elements can include these guests. Unity candles and sand ceremonies often include different people to pour sand and light candles that eventually are blended to symbolize the intermingling of each partner’s family friends. A traditional Celtic hand fasting can include as many as six people to drape the different cords that will ‘bind’ the couples’ hands. Readings can be included; and many are appropriate and very cute for children if they are old enough to enjoy that spotlight. (Dr. Seuss’ ‘ Oh the Places You’ll Go” and Taylor Mali’s, “Falling in Love is like Owning a Dog”, are two that are great for kids.) Your readers may even want to write their own.

Almost every wedding has ushers (or usherettes!) who will welcome the guests, guide then to their seats, and tell them, (nicely of course) to turn off their cell phones. They can hand out programs, rose petals or bubbles for the recessional. They can also let alert the guests to anything unexpected they’ll be a part of; a ring warming, for example.

One of my couples had two children who were a little too old to be ring bearers or flowers girls. They had a big banner made, and the children preceded the bride in the processional with the side that said, “Here comes the bride!” and then followed the married couple with, “Just Married”. It was adorable, and they wore normal dressy clothes, not outfits that matched the bridal party.

Many of the ceremonies I write with my couples speak of the people that played a part in their history; the colleague who introduced them; the friends who helped keep the proposal a secret. When they are mentioned in the story, it is instantly a more individual story, drawing on the memories of everyone who knows the “character

One of my couples gave single flowers to their siblings, thanking each one for the role they played in their family while growing up; another had their siblings process up the aisle with them and add a flower each to a vase on the ceremony table. Another had a little part of the ceremony in which each sibling and parent stood and read a one line quote about marriage; some funny, some touching.

Your choice to include each person in your wedding is a gift of love. Give those gifts wisely, and your ceremony will be personal and memorable to both you and them.