We know that the traditional practice in most weddings is for the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father, or in his absence, traditionally by the nearest male relative.
There’s something traditional and not a little medieval at the back of that tradition, in that the bride was once regarded as “chattel,” the “property” of her family – and therefore of whichever man was leader of the family, and she was “given” in marriage to the new man who would essentially govern her life – her husband – at the end of the aisle.
While this is the 21st century, and that unfortunate history has long been swept away by the more equal and joyous notions of equal rights and shared family occasions grounded in the love of the two people getting married, it’s a mark of how bride-focused the wedding ceremony is that it’s rare for anyone to ask who walks the groom down the aisle.
Traditionally, this is not written into the job of the best man, who will usually be there at the front of the aisle before the groom makes his way there.
So… whose job is it to escort the groom on his last journey as a single man?
Well, to be honest, the answer depends on what kind of wedding you’re at.
There are a few options here. We’ve said it’s not written into the job of the best man to escort the groom down the aisle. Of course, neither is this prohibited.
Come to that, it’s not written into the ceremony anywhere that the groom even has to come down the aisle. Often, the officiant will lead both the groom, the best man and however many groomsmen there are into their places just in front of the altar from the side, rather than down the aisle at all.
If, as is frequently the case, the groomsmen are on duty to escort the bridesmaids or matrons of honor, the groom is left in the sole charge of the officiant, who will lead him in, again, from the side, avoiding the whole aisle procession altogether. The groomsmen and bridesmaids get to use the aisle, but not usually the groom.
If the groom especially wants to proceed up the aisle for sentimental reasons, the officiant can, on request, lead the groom, the best man and/or the groomsmen (if they’re not accompanying the bridesmaids) up the aisle before anyone else processes, to the groom can, if they want, watch the whole subsequent procession.
So in Christian weddings, often the groom doesn’t use the aisle at all, but if they do, they will be accompanied by the officiant, and may be accompanied by the best man, and/or the groomsmen.
In traditional Jewish weddings, the groom gets a much more public and distinct use of the aisle. The officiant will walk down the aisle first, followed by the groom, who in Jewish weddings is accompanied by both their mother and father, assuming both are living. The groom then waits outside the chuppah to greet the bride, while his parents wait underneath the chuppah.
You want a proper, full-on, no-holds-barred groom arrival? You’re looking for a traditional Hindu wedding.
Making a grand entrance during the baraat, the groom will usually arrive on a sumptuously decorated horse. They will be accompanied that far by their family, and there will usually be guests and musicians involved in the procession, so it’s much less solemn and much more jubilant as a spectacle than many groom processions.
Once the groom and their family arrive at the ceremony, there’s a somewhat sweet reversal of the traditional Christian idea. Rather than the bride being handed over from her family to the family of the groom, in a Hindu wedding, it’s the groom who is handed over, from his family to the family of the bride.
The bride’s parents will then take the groom’s arms and escort him down the “aisle” to the mandap, where the wedding will take place.
Islamic weddings are frequently pretty different to many of the other types of wedding, in that there’s not always a procession at all, so – as in most versions of the Christian ceremony, the groom may miss out on their procession down the aisle.
What is more crucial at a Muslim wedding is the signing of the Nikah (the wedding contract) – which is akin to that moment in the Christian wedding ceremony where the bride and groom sign the register to assert they have been married on that day and in that place.
Sometimes though, depending on the individual couple and their traditions, there will be a baraat, as in traditional Hindu weddings.
One of the joys about a non-religious ceremony is that pretty much anything goes.
If the groom wants to walk down the aisle on their own, they can do that.
If the groom wants to be accompanied by their mother, father, or both, that can happen too (depending on the width of the aisle).
If the groom decides that on balance, they want their best man to accompany them down the aisle, they can leave the groomsmen seating guests and make that journey together – brothers in the occasion of the day, the end of a solitary journey and the beginning of a new phase of life.
Or if, as sometimes happens, the bride and groom (or indeed, the groom and groom) decide they actually want to walk down the aisle together, as a symbol of the journey that has led them to this point, that’s fine too.
The point of a non-religious wedding is that the only points that have to be in place are legal, rather than rigidly symbolic – so you can use whichever symbols or traditions you favor for yourself.
Whichever tradition you’re in, there is either a prescribed way for the groom to come down the aisle, or a handful of options on how the groom comes down the aisle.
If you’re having a faith-based wedding, these will be set down for you in advance, so you won’t be in any uncertainty on the day. And if you’re having a non-denominational or secular wedding, the world – and the aisle – is your oyster!