Military weddings are an excellent reason to celebrate. Not only is it a celebration of two families joining together in holy matrimony, but it’s the celebration of the nation’s finest coming together in the celebration of one of their own.
Whether you’re planning a military wedding of your own or you’ll soon be attending one, it’s worth knowing what to expect. Tradition means a lot within the military and that extends to wedding ceremonies. Here are seven of the most common traditions you’re likely to see on the day of the wedding.
Military Wedding Traditions
1. Military Dress
Military dress is one of the most common signs that a military wedding is taking place.
Dress military uniforms are often the only visible sign of a military wedding. Choices for military dress depend on the preferences of the bride and groom, along with which of them served if not both. Women usually wear the traditional white dress rather than wearing their military uniform, while men will almost always wear their uniform for the ceremony and reception.
Men sometimes decide to wear their uniform for just the ceremony and then switch into the traditional tuxedo for the wedding reception.
Anyone wearing their military uniform during a wedding ceremony and reception should do so while maintaining a respectful image—no military member should have to be reminded that they are representing their country while in uniform. Military personnel in their attire should treat other guests properly, drink moderately, and respect the boundaries of those around them.
2. Military Colors
Some military weddings will choose the colors of their flowers, table settings, bridesmaids’ dresses, and more based on the colors of the military branch either spouse serves in. Military colors don’t have to be incredibly blatant, either—they can be subtly incorporated beside other color choices of the couple.
Some instances include highlights involved in the flowers placed on wedding reception tables, sashes worn by bridesmaids that feature the military branch’s colors, or unique wedding band inlays representing the color of that spouse’s military branch.
3. The Arch of Swords or Arch of Sabers
While most commonly performed at an officer’s wedding, where military members serving under them would perform the ritual, some enlisted service members choose to perform The Arch of Sabers Ceremony at their weddings.
If the military members do not have swords at the time, they will have to talk to their place of training to consider borrowing them for the wedding ceremony. This will have to be done in advance—to ensure the swords are actually in possession of all groomsmen and because preparation will be required to ensure that all involved members are on time.
The location of the arch of sabers depends on the branch: Marines perform the tradition post-ceremony; the Army and Air Force can do it before and/or after the ceremony; the Navy often conducts their arch right after the blessing.
The outdoor arch, post-wedding ceremony, is formed as the bride and groom exit the chapel. The veterans will face off and raise their swords into an arch for the newly married couple to walk under. As they near the end, the last two swords are lowered and the members, and congregation, will yell out, “Give the man a kiss!” After she has done so, the veterans will raise their swords again and shout “Welcome to the Army,” or whatever branch of the military is being represented.
4. Unique Wedding Bands
Unique wedding bands tend to be a favored addition to military weddings. While some military members will offer to give their spouse a copy of their military academy class ring, others will choose on matching couple rings. The type of ring chosen is up to the couple, but choices often revolve around incorporating their military branch’s colors into their ring, whether as an inlay or a sleeve. Others might go for a color reminiscent of the military, such as a sleek gunmetal band.
5. Military Chapels
While military weddings can be had anywhere, active or veteran service members might decide to use military chapels for their wedding ceremony. Often located on bases, this makes for an inclusive and cost-effective decision, allowing the military presence to be front and center. Furthermore, you can decide to have your service performed by a military chaplain, which will bring no added cost to your wedding.
Certain base chapels tend to have long waitlists, especially when their chapels are in better condition than others, so it’s a smart move to set a reservation as soon as possible to ensure your military marriage can take place.
6. Seating at the Wedding Reception
The choice of seating arrangement depends on the opinion of the bride and groom. In some cases, military members can be seated either entirely together, by area of service, or among family and friends. While the choice lies entirely on the bride and groom, there should be consideration given to high-ranking military officers. These officers have given their lives to supporting the country, and they should be given special designation from the rest of the wedding crowd. Consider seating them and their guest at a table near the head table.
7. Cutting the Cake
As the wedding reception goes on, everyone will be patiently waiting for when it’s time to cut the cake. Like utilizing swords during the Arch of Sabers Ceremony, a sword can be utilized to cut the cake in style and cultural tradition.
Tradition states the technique of cake cutting with a saber is as follows: The bride’s hand will be placed beneath the groom’s, who will be gripping the handle of the sword. Together, they cut through the cake, effortlessly moving the saber throughout it, bringing honor to both their wedding and the military.