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Is it Necessary to Have Wedding Programs?

There are so many conflicting opinions on the necessity of wedding programs out there, so I think we need to reevaluate this question critically for the MODERN couple and in doing this, it seems that we can say definitively that:

No, wedding programs are not necessary. However, with the growing popularity of weddings that celebrate diverse cultural and religious backgrounds as well as unique individual choices, wedding programs can come in handy for guests. These days, there are also more eco-friendly, and less wasteful ways of doing wedding programs than ever before.

Traditional wedding programs can be expensive, time-consuming (if you’re DIY-ing them), and also pretty wasteful — as they’re only used for an hour tops, and then thrown into the garbage (Sorry, yes, I know that a handful of people will actually keep the program! But most guests won’t).

So couples shouldn’t feel like they have to have the traditional paper programs for each individual guest. In this post, I’ll explain why you don’t need to have wedding programs, why you MIGHT want to have them anyway, and finally some MORE ECO-FRIENDLY wedding program options than the traditional paper programs.

You may also enjoy my other articles on this website, where I share all about eco-friendly and budget friendly wedding ideas:

Why You Don’t Need to Have Wedding Programs

In general, I think that we don’t really give our wedding guests enough credit. They are (mostly) intelligent people, and can usually manage to figure out what’s happening at a wedding without needing to follow a program. WE ALL KNOW what a wedding is all about!

Even if your wedding is a little bit out of the norm, we all get the general gist of a wedding… I mean, we know that two people are going to end up married. And if we’re a bit lost for parts of it, it’s not a huge tragedy. Weddings aren’t an intellectual event like a conference or a lecture… We’re not taking notes and we don’t necessarily have to understand them. They’re meant to be experienced and FELT.

We went to our friend’s wedding last year, which was a very traditional Jewish ceremony with many non-Jewish guests (like us). They did a great job of telling us all what was happening in the program, but to be honest, I barely looked at it. I was more interested in watching what was happening and didn’t want to miss anything by reading along in the program. Even if we didn’t understand every single thing that was happening, it didn’t matter. We could see it and feel it, and that was more than enough.

Additionally, and I’ll get into this a bit more in the final section here, wedding programs are mostly just WASTEFUL. After all that work, time, and money, they’re used for no more than an hour, and then for the most part — discarded… into the trash and eventually the landfill.

There are SO many other areas of your budget that would be better spent on other things, which I get into a bit more in my article on the 25 essentials step to planning a BUDGET wedding, which you should definitely read. Wedding programs just aren’t worth it, in most cases.

Cases When Wedding Programs Would Be Nice

Now there are some cases when having a wedding program is nice (although still not necessary). One such case is when you’re having an interfaith or intercultural ceremony in which a lot of the guests aren’t going to know what the heck is going on and will seriously be lost without some kind of explanation in written form. I’m thinking if part of the ceremony is in another language, if there are really unique rituals happening that many people in your crowd aren’t familiar with… etc.

Another scenario when wedding programs would be nice is if you’re planning on having a LONG ceremony. Long being anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour. Because the longer your ceremony is, the more guests are going to be looking at each other thinking “What comes next?” and “When do we start eating/drinking?” So if you must have a longer ceremony, a program can be a good guide for your guests to be able to gauge how long they have to wait before going to the bathroom, etc.

Yet another reason: A multilingual ceremony. If your crowd is multilingual, and parts of the crowd aren’t going to understand your ceremony, a program can act as a sort of transcript for people to be able to follow along without feeling left out. For example, if you do your vows in one language and print them out in the other language, everyone can understand what’s being said and enjoy the moment fully.

And finally: If your wedding is going to be outside on a hot summer day, your wedding program can double as a fan. If you make/have your programs made with this intention in mind, you can design really effective fans that will keep your guests cool throughout the evening and serve a MUCH more useful purpose than just the program information on its own! And if you do fans, these can TRIPLE as your favors!

One note with program fans: Try to use recycled or recyclable materials — and avoid plastic fans/programs.

Totally Frivolous But Still Fun Reasons to Have Wedding Programs

Sometimes we just want a program for the fun stuff. I’ve noted some of these “fun reasons” or extraneous reasons to have a wedding program in the list below. It’s not that wedding programs aren’t FUN — they are! But that doesn’t make them necessary.

So without further ado, here are some completely unnecessary, but still fun, reasons you may want to do wedding programs:

  • Having pictures and/or blurbs about your wedding party. Some people like to honor their wedding party in this way and make them feel extra special.
  • Saying thank you to family, parents, and anyone else who’s helped you with the wedding. This is a really nice thing to do in print, but really can just be done verbally at some point during the ceremony or reception.
  • Printing a favorite poem, verse, excerpt, or prayer. But this can also be done verbally in your vows or in the form of a reading.
  • Acknowledging loved ones who have passed away. This is lovely but can also be done in other ways, such as placing framed photos on the guest book or welcome table at the reception.

Eco-Friendly Ways of Doing Wedding Programs

In addition to being an unnecessary expense, wedding programs aren’t usually very eco-friendly, and tend to be quite wasteful. But if you plan on doing programs, there are ways of making them a bit more “green.” Here are some options:

  • Just do a SIGN. ONE sign. Instead of individual programs, many couples are making one sign with the program written on it, and placing that at the entrance of the event. These can be really simple or as intricate as you want. You can even encourage guests to take photos of the sign to keep as a reference during the ceremony.
  • Put everything online. You can type up your whole program and put it on a page of your wedding website (links to my review of wedding websites). Many wedding websites make this super easy to do these days. AND THEN make a QR code to this program page! People can scan it on their phones… it’s SUPER EASY and have the program right there in their hands with no harm and no waste. If you’re not sure how to do any of this but have a minimal background in how to use a computer, you can do it! And your older relatives can share the “program”/get help from other guests.
  • Use plantable seed paper. Print your programs on paper that can be kept and planted straight into the ground, and then grows into flowers and herbs! Really! It’s so cool. There are all kinds of companies that use printable seed paper (this link is to my guide on companies that make eco-friendly wedding invitations, including plantable seed paper).
  • Use recycled paper. You can be proactive in the months before your wedding, collecting pretty paper that would otherwise be thrown out, and DIY your programs using recycled paper! Or have your programs printed by a company that uses recycled paper.

That’s it!

I hope this article was helpful for you in making a decision about programs! The bottom line is that you don’t need them and no one will miss them if you don’t have programs. But if you’re insistent, there are budget-friendly and eco-friendly ways of getting it done 🙂 GOOD LUCK and happy wedding planning!

Check out some of my other articles here on this website, and my YouTube channel for more exciting wedding planning chat!


Brittany is a writer and teacher in Vancouver, Canada. She started the website Wayfaring Weddings as a way to share her research on affordable, eco-friendly, and less stressful approaches to wedding planning.