The practice of having wedding attendants, and the great honour that is associated with this role, is sometimes traced back to a Talmudic interpretation of Adam and Eve’s union. In Genesis this is described as follows: “and the Lord fashioned into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man, and He brought her to the man.” This is taken to mean that God himself escorted Eve to her wedding. The angels Michael and Gabriel are said to have accompanied Adam.
The custom of having an entourage for the bride and groom also derives from their being thought of as a queen and king – a couple on their wedding day is compared to a royal couple and thus merits the attention of attendants for this very special occasion. Historically, kings and queens were never left alone. It also is an instance of g’millut chasadim, kindness and consideration. The bride and groom will take pleasure in the support attendants can offer them.
The custom of having an entourage for the bride and groom also derives from their being thought of as a queen and king.
While there are no stipulations as to who should attend to the bride and groom, most often their parents escort them as they walk to the chuppah. In contemporary weddings the bride’s parents will usually walk with her, and the groom’s parents will walk with him. An alternate practice is for both mothers to accompany the bride and both fathers to attend the groom.
Whomever escorts the couple, one common custom holds that the principle attendants each bear a lit, braided candle (the same kind used in Havdallah) throughout the ceremony. There are many reasons for this practice. Most obviously, the attendants symbolically light the way for the bride and groom as they enter into marriage. Moreover, most Jewish celebrations, such as Shabbat and the holidays, are ushered in with the lighting of candles therefore including candlelight in the wedding ceremony is evocative of these happy occasions.
The groom must arrive at the chuppah before the bride does.
The greatest moment in Jewish history, the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai – often described by analogy as a wedding of God and his people – was marked by fire and lightening. Thus, lit candles also signify the joy of entering into a sanctified union.
In addition to parents, wedding parties typically include a maid of honor and a best man. These roles are usually accorded to siblings and/or close friends, although there are no strict rules about this. Bridesmaids, groomsmen, and grandparents are usually present as well, although this is entirely up to the wishes of the couple. (Note: it is not a requirement that all members of the wedding party be Jewish, although some rabbis may prefer this to be the case.)
It is customary for the parents of the bride and groom to stand with the couple under the chuppah.
While there is no fixed formula governing the order of the processional, the groom must arrive at the chuppah before the bride does. This too is said to harken back to the original wedding, that of Adam and Eve. Because Adam was created first, many interpreters hold that he was already waiting for Eve under the chuppah when she was created and brought to him.
It is customary for the parents of the bride and groom to stand with the couple under the chuppah. The maid of honor and best man sometimes do so as well – customs in this regard vary widely, so it is best to check with your officiant. Most often, the other members of the wedding party stand by the chuppah for the duration of the ceremony. (In some communities the guests stand as well.)
The most common order of procession is as follows:
groom’s grandparents (they are often seated in the first row after entering to avoid any physical discomfort from lengthy standing)
Siblings of the groom
groom, with his parents (or with the two fathers)
bride’s grandparents (they are often seated in the first row after entering to avoid any physical discomfort from lengthy standing)
maid of honor
Siblings of the bride
bride, with her parents (or with the two mothers)
Modifications to this processional can be easily made to accommodate a particular couple’s preference, or their familial circumstances (divorce, step-parents, etc.)