There’s no shortage of wedding timelines and checklists on the internet. But most of those lists only focus on the reception, leaving the ceremony as an after thought. As officiants, we know how important wedding ceremonies are. So let’s put the focus of your wedding where it should be: on the ceremony that kick starts your awesome marriage!

Below we’re sharing a full timeline – from 18 months out until the day of – for planning your wedding ceremony. Of course, some of the ceremony planning tasks will overlap with your reception; you’ll probably only have to hire one photographer for the full day, for example.

Think of this timeline for planning a wedding ceremony as your guideline for keeping your ceremony – and your marriage – top of mind. You don’t have to do everything on this list and there may be special things you’re doing for your ceremony that our list doesn’t cover.

But it’s a great starting point to help you plan your perfect custom wedding ceremony!

timeline for planning a wedding ceremony, young hip and married ceremony in calgary
by Deanna Rachel Photography

Summary: Timeline for planning a wedding ceremony

  • 12-18 months: Decide on your guest list, budget and overall vibe. Book your ceremony venue. Ask your chosen loved ones to be part of your wedding party.
  • 9-12 months: Book your main vendors (like your photographer). Order your ceremony outfits. Confirm duties and key dates with your wedding party. Make your wedding website.
  • 6-9 months: Book your wedding officiant (that’s us!). Order and send ceremony invitations. Book your florist, and plan your ceremony decor and rentals. Buy your wedding rings.
  • 3-6 months: Work with your officiant to plan and personalize your ceremony. Organize any food, drinks or music you’ll have at your ceremony. Book your wedding rehearsal, your hair and makeup vendors, your transportation to/from the ceremony, and your premarital coaching.
  • 1-3 months: Write your vows! Print programs, ask loved ones to do readings, buy or make signs, and get your marriage licence.
  • Final month: Confirm your final ceremony details and schedule. Print or write the final draft of your vows. Pack anything you need for the ceremony and indulge in some relaxation treatments.
  • Day of your wedding ceremony: Wake up feeling rested, don’t forget to eat and drink, and remember the exciting reason why you’re having a wedding (hint: to marry your favourite person!).
Kristie and Jo-Ann's outdoor summer wedding at Queen Elizabeth Park portrait
by John Bello Photography

12-18 months before your wedding ceremony

The first step to planning a wedding should be a conversation with your partner. Sit down together and discuss the big picture elements. Talk about things like who should be there, what your budget is and the overall vibe/style you want for your day.

Your wedding ceremony should be included in these early conversations too. So many couples spend all of their time planning the reception, leaving their ceremony until the last minute.

By prioritizing your ceremony early in your wedding planning, you make sure you’re putting the focus where it should be: on your marriage!

12-18 months is usually when couples start their venue search and book their wedding venue. You’ll need to decide if you’re having your ceremony and reception at the same venue or two separate venues.

If you’re having a wedding party, now would also be the time to ask your friends/family members if they would like to be in it. Check out our rules for a stress-free wedding party experience so you don’t run into any unnecessary drama!

young hip and married wedding ceremony
by Jordyn Keller Photography

9-12 months before your ceremony

Now that your ceremony venue is booked, it’s time to move onto your main ceremony vendors. These are vendors that can typically only do one wedding per day and book up in advance. They may also be vendors you’ll work with before your wedding day.

For example, a wedding photographer would fit into this category. Photographers generally only do one wedding per day and you may book them ahead of your wedding for an engagement photo shoot. Other ceremony vendors in this category include a videographer and wedding band.

9-12 months out is when many couples decide on their wedding outfits and order them. Depending on how custom your outfit is, you may need to start this process earlier or later. You’ll also need to decide if you’re wearing one outfit for the whole day or if you’ll have separate ceremony and reception looks.

This is also a great time to get your wedding website up and running. Before you direct guests to it, spend some time filling out the details and making sure everything works.

If you’re stumped on how to write your relationship story on your website, get in touch! As officiants who write hundreds of wedding ceremonies every year, we know how to write a personalized love story that sounds like you!

Lastly, make sure to reach out to your wedding party members around this time with any specific ceremony duties you have for them. You’ll also want to confirm key dates with them, such as when you’d like them to be available for outfit shopping or come into town for your wedding weekend.

brides walking down the aisle, wedding ceremony processional
by Ryan Funk Photography

6-9 months before your wedding ceremony

It’s time to book a few more vendors for your wedding ceremony now that you’re 6-9 months out. First up: your wedding officiant!

Take the time to find an officiant who is going to create a ceremony that resonates with who you two are and what you want; not someone who is just doing the legal minimum or adding in religious elements you don’t want.

Check out their ceremony packages, get to know the officiant team so you find someone you relate to, and ask them questions to make sure it’s a good fit.

6-9 months before your ceremony is also a good time to book your florist, ceremony decor and any rentals you may need. Don’t forget about planning for rain, such as renting a tent, if your ceremony will be outdoors. You can also add “buy wedding rings” to your 6-9 month checklist.

Lastly, you’ll want to start thinking about your wedding ceremony invitations. The type of wedding you’re having (e.g. wedding weekend or on a holiday) and whether guests are local or will need to fly in will determine when you need to send your invitations.

You may also choose to send save the dates first and then formal invitations later. Regardless, invites should be decided upon by this time.

wedding ceremony guest behaviour
by Shari & Mike Photographers

3-6 months before your ceremony

We’re getting close to ceremony time! These months are all about planning and organizing so your ceremony goes off without a hitch.

Work with your wedding officiant to plan your ceremony script. Are there ways for you to personalize your ceremony or involve your guests? Are you happy with the order of events? Are you incorporating any songs, readings, prayers or quotes? How will you be processing down the aisle? There are lots of decisions to be made and your experienced officiant can guide you through all of them.

You’ll also want to plan your wedding rehearsal – check out our full rehearsal timeline and checklist – as well as any extra ceremony elements, such as coordinating music with your band/DJ or arranging for food or drinks to be served with your caterer.

3-6 months out is when you’ll want to book your final ceremony vendors. If you’re having your hair or makeup professionally done, now is the time to book that in. You’ll also want to book transportation to and from the ceremony.

Lastly, 3-6 months before your wedding is the perfect time to start premarital coaching. Premarital coaching doesn’t mean your marriage is in trouble or you aren’t sure about your partner – it’s the opposite, actually.

Coaching is for couples who want to talk through tough topics before problems occur. A coach will help you and your partner get on the same page about everything from kids and in-laws to finances and religion so you can start your marriage on the best foot!

wedding ceremony with young hip and married
above & feature by Erica Miller Photography

1-3 months before your wedding ceremony

You’re getting to the home stretch! We like to think of this as “paper time” for your ceremony as many of your tasks in these months have to do with paper.

Now is the perfect time to start writing your vows. If you don’t know where to start, grab our FREE vow writing guide and check out our online vow writing course. You’ll also want to order your vow books, if you plan on using any, so they arrive in time.

If you’ll be having ceremony programs, you’ll want to create and print those. And if you’re having readers at your ceremony, now is a good time to ask your chosen people to be your readers and confirm what they will be reading.

Your final paper tasks: If you’ll be posting any wedding signs at your ceremony, now is the time to buy or make those. This is also a good time to get your marriage licence. Licences are valid for three months in many Canadian provinces, so we recommend picking yours up 1-2 months before your wedding date.

Last but not least, check in with your wedding officiant to finalize any last remaining decisions for your ceremony script and make any changes.

funny wedding vows at vancouver wedding ceremony
by Clint Bargen Photography

The final month before your wedding ceremony

By this point, your ceremony should be in good shape and it’s all about the final little tasks.

Take some time to confirm all of your ceremony details and the schedule with everyone involved – you, your partner, your wedding party and your ceremony vendors. You can also start packing everything you think you’ll need before, during and after the ceremony so it’s ready to go.

If you haven’t already, print out your vows or write your final copy. If you’re worried about forgetting them on the big day, you can send a copy to your officiant to print out for you. You’ll also want to spend some time practicing your wedding vows out loud this month.

You should already have your wedding rings and marriage licence by this point. To help you remember them for your ceremony, we suggest placing your rings on top of your licence and putting both somewhere you can’t miss.

Lastly, if you’re starting to feel some wedding stress, take some time this month to relax. Book a spa day, take a yoga class or just get outside for a few mind-clearing walks.

confetti during wedding ceremony recessional, wedding exit song
by John Bello Photography

Your wedding day!

Congratulations, it’s your wedding day! All of your ceremony prep should be done by this point and all that’s left to do is to get you married.

Try to get a good sleep the night before your ceremony so you wake up well rested. Drink plenty of water and remember to eat so you’re not running on fumes.

Your ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience and we’d hate for you to miss a moment of it because of wed stress. Intentionally take some time before your ceremony to ground yourself. Breathe deep, focus on the present moment and remember what this big day is all about.

Vancouver City Hall wedding elopement venue with young hip and married wedding officiants
by Jelger & Tanja Photographers

Now that you have your complete timeline for planning a wedding ceremony, you may be feeling a little bit overwhelmed with everything you have to do. Deep breaths! Keep in mind that many of the things on this checklist – like ceremony programs and outfit changes – are optional.

To make your wedding day even easier, you’ll want to work with vendors who will keep things stress-free. Our couples always tell us how easy we made the ceremony process, how communicative our team was, and how grateful they were to have an experienced officiant walk them through their ceremony step by step.

If you want an experienced wedding officiant on your team and helping to create your perfect ceremony, get in touch! You can meet our team and check out our ceremony packages to find the right one for you.