Wedding Etiquette: Anna Post on Dos and Don'ts of the Big Day
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; 11:00 AM
Do I have to give a gift on the registry? How do I trim the guest list without hurting feelings? Can we send our invitations by e-mail? Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and author of "Do I Have to Wear White? Emily Post Answers America's Top Wedding Questions," took questions from brides, grooms and guests on navigating weddings with grace and good manners. The transcript is below.
Harrisburg, Pa.: My cousin is having a weekday destination wedding. I would have to take a week off work to travel, attend the ceremony, and travel home. I believe in this situation the bride and groom must expect that many guests won't attend, but other family members feel declining will cause hurt feelings. Is it rude of me to decline the invitation?
Anna Post: No, it's not rude to be unable (for reasons of vacation time or finances)to attend a destination wedding. Do send a gift though, even if you can't make it.
Boston, Mass.: Hello Ms. Post,
How early before the wedding is it customary to send out Save The Date cards? We will know our wedding date roughly 18 months beforehand -- will people appreciate the early head's up or is that weird? Thank you!
Anna Post: It's okay to send them out as early as that to be sure that people get you on their calendars. (Especially if it's a destination wedding, so that people can hopefully save on airfare). That said, balance your timing to also build momentum and excitement for the wedding -- you don't want someone to forget!
San Diego, Calif.: Thank you for taking my question Ms. Post.
Is it appropriate to invite guests to a bridal shower who will not be invited to a small wedding?
Anna Post: No, all guests invited to any pre-wedding party (shower, engagement party, bachelor/bachelorette party) do need to be invited to the wedding. The only exception is for work showers, or in the very, very rare case that all the guests who might attend such a shower clearly understand they will not be invited.
Washington, D.C.: This is a post-wedding question. What is an appropriate (and realistic) time frame to send out your thank you notes after the nuptials? I know I have exceeded my grace period, but I am curious as to just how bad it really is...
Anna Post: It's best to have them done within three months (the year is a myth -- sorry!). That said, finish up your notes, no matter how late (even years). Just be sure to add a brief apology for the delay!
Washington, D.C.: We plan to not have kids at our wedding reception. My family does not like the idea. Am I right for not wanting kids there even if one of them is my 18 month old niece?
Anna Post: It's up to the couple and the hosts (as in, those paying, such as parents) to decide about kids or no kids at the wedding. So yes, it's up to you. But know that you may have to smooth some ruffled feathers, or lose some guests who can't find childcare. And be sure not to make exceptions -- it's not fair to those who do find childcare.
Charlottesville, Va.: As the parents of the bride, to whom should we make the offer of accommodation in our home for the wedding weekend? Almost all the guests will be from out of town so is it more important to host the groom's parents, the bride's uncle and aunt, or the bridesmaids?
Anna Post: It's very thoughtful to open your home to out of town guests. There is no formal etiquette as to who receives the first offer; I would suggest asking the bridesmaids first, though, as it is traditionally expected that their lodging expenses (but not travel) be covered.
Washington, D.C.: What's a polite way of deterring guests from getting us gifts, while still providing a registry for those who won't take no for an answer? We already have way too much stuff, and we want to give people a break in these tough times, but we know some relatives and close friends would love to get us something anyway.
Anna Post: In the end, the choice of gift is always up to the giver, so know that no matter what you do, you may still receive a few. Setting up a charity is one way to deflect guests from purchasing you gifts. Also, don't make any mention of gifts -- even "no gifts, please", on the invitation. Instead, spread this information by word of mouth: "To be honest, we are have everything we need. Joining us on our wedding day is the best gift you could give us."
Columbia, Md.: If you have no choice but to attend a remote destination wedding (sister), on short notice no less (3 months), is it acceptable to NOT bring a gift?
The way I look at it, the cost to attend the wedding is hard enough, and I really don't feel like tacking on another $100+ gift. The couple should be happy my wife and I are attending. By the way, we haven't even been sent an invitation yet for this wedding at the end of April!
Anna Post: A gift is required any time you are invited to a wedding ceremony. That said, there is no dollar amount you must hit with a wedding gift. The choice of gift is always up to the giver, and is based on two things, and two things only: Your relationship to the person, and your personal budget. If your budget has been stretched to make it to the wedding, then it's fine to give a less expensive gift than you might have had the wedding been close to home.
Alexandria, Va.: We've been in several of our friends weddings, does that mean they should be in ours? Is it okay to not have a formal wedding party of bridesmaids and groomsmen?
Anna Post: Your guest list is your own to create; you don't have to invite all the couples whose weddings you were in. That said, if you were in their wedding, you are likely close, and it may make sense. But base your answer on genuine affection for these couples, not obligation.
It's just fine to forgo bridesmaids and groomsmen if you don't wish to have them (or to have just a maid of honor and best man).
Annandale, Va.: My daughter insists that, according to etiquette, the parents of her attendants need to be invited to the wedding. Is that true?
Also: cousins. I have four first cousins in one family. My daughter knows two of them, but not the other two. Do I have to invite all four? We are trying to pare things down, but don't know if this is a no-no.
Anna Post: There is no point of etiquette requiring the parents of a couple's attendants to attend. In the case that they are family friends, you might then consider them -- but because they are family friends, not because their child is in your daughter's wedding.
There is also no rule about inviting "blocks" of family; as in, all cousins or no cousins. On the other hand, if you are looking to avoid hurt feelings, it does help make explanations easier if guest list cuts are made along "neutral" lines, such as all cousin or no cousins.
Arlington, Va.: Good Morning Miss Post!
What is your take on an after-reception gathering? I'm from a large family and thus will have many out of town guests. Do my fiance and I need to plan an event for after the reception to entertain people? If so, what do you recommend?
Anna Post: You don't need to arrange something for guests to do after the reception, but you certainly can! Guests often take matters into their own hands, meeting up at someone's house or a local bar. If at all possible, the best thing you can do is provide safe transportation for them if you plan to serve alcohol at your reception.
Irvine, Calif.: My son and his fiancee were talking about something called a honeymoon registry. Would you please tell me more about this? Are there any etiquette rules I should know? Thank you.
Anna Post: Honeymoon registries are new addition that allow guests to pay for parts of a couple's honeymoon: a kayak excursion, golf lesson, day of scuba diving, etc. It's okay to have these, though many guests may choose to avoid it if it's not the kind of gift they had in mind to give. My recommendation is to set up a traditional registry as well, so that all guests will feel there is something for them to give that will be appreciated.
Washington, D.C.: Do you have any thoughts on sending thank you notes to vendors that you use for a wedding after the event? We sent thank you notes to the ceremony officiants and the reception site organizer, but not to the florist, band, cake company, etc -- we weren't super impressed with them, but thought they did a good job (we did give some of the vendors tips) -- just curious about the proper etiquette, if any.
Anna Post: It's never wrong to send a thank-you note. As they were contracted for a service, it's not required.
Silver Spring, Md.: I am getting married at the end of March. We are receiving RSVP cards, and while we addressed envelopes just to the individuals invited, I have received some back where the person added the name(s) of children. We do not want nor can we have everyone's children at the wedding. What is the best way for me to handle this?
Anna Post: Ouch! It's a shame they didn't understand how to read an invitation (or worse, chose not to respect it). As a refresher, the place to make clear who is invited (or by omission, not invited) is on the inner envelope. If a couple's names are there, but their children's names are not, then the kids aren't invited.
In your case, call them up and explain, even if you did things right: "I'm so sorry if there was any confusion, but we aren't including children at the wedding. We hope you understand, and we hope you can still attend." Those last words should be your final ones -- "we hope you can still attend." That's the goal after all. Just don't make exceptions -- it's not fair to those who did find childcare.
Rockville, Md.: As the father of the groom, I understand my roles to be the three "ups" -- dress up, show up, shut up. Are there any other particular roles or functions that I have besides sharing the joy of our son and new daughter-in-law? Thanks.
Anna Post: The first two are musts, but I think we all know the third one is just for humor. The best thing to do is to ask your son and his bride if there is anything beyond having fun that they would like you do -- it's possible they might ask you do give a reading or be ready to dance with the bride after she dances with her father (not required, but not uncommon).
If you and your wife are hosting the rehearsal dinner, you should discuss whether or not you will be giving a toast that evening as host (also common).
Manhattan: What is an appropriate gift for an engagement? My friend bought me a beautiful serving platter and sent it to me. I've purchased an elegant cake stand for her, but now worry that I'll be giving it to the couple at the same time. Is that still an appropriate gift? Or should I consider the future husband's interests when selecting a gift?
Anna Post: I'm guessing you mean because the groom might not be so interested in a cake stand -- but don't worry, the idea is that you're giving them a gift for their new life together (which I'm betting will include cake he'll enjoy eating), and if you think they'll like it, then it's the right gift.
Detroit, Mich.: Hello, I know traditionally the rehearsal dinner is for family and out of town guests. However, since our family and friends live all over the country, our rehearsal dinner would then be almost everyone attending the wedding. As our budget is tight, would it be a faux pas to just invite the wedding party and family to the rehearsal dinner? Or could do something separate that's slightly cheaper, such as a rehearsal brunch or lunch? Thank you very much.
Anna Post: Great question! Let me set the record straight on this one: It's not required to invite out of town guests to the rehearsal dinner. You can certainly invite as many people as you would like if your budget allows.
The essential list of those who need to be invited are:
Anyone participating in the rehearsal:
The officiant (and spouse, if applicable)
The bridal party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, ring bearers)
...And the couple's close family (including steps):
Children from a previous relationship
Often included are also godparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
Anyone on this list who is married, engaged or living romantically with someone must also be invited.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Is it weird if I don't invite co-workers who know about the wedding? What's the etiquette for colleagues? Thanks.
Anna Post: It's okay not to invite co-workers, even if they know you are getting married.
If there are some people from work who you would like to invite, treat them as friends, and send the invitation to their home address (it's okay to ask for that), and don't discuss the wedding in front of those not invited.
Detroit, Mich.: Dear Ms. Post, I will be holding my wedding at a mosque where a modest attire is expected. Most of my guests will be Muslim like us and so will know this, but some will not. How can I give them this "how-to-dress" information with the invitation? Thank you.
Anna Post: In this case, because it's to pay respect to a religion, enclose the information on a separate card and send with the invitation. There is no formal wording for this, but use something along these lines: "For guests of the mosque, please..." or "We respectfully request that attire for guests of the mosque be..." and then invite guests to call with any questions. It's possible your mosque has addressed this before, so I suggest asking them for wording, as well.
Thank yous: At a recent shower the hostess gave each guest an envelope and asked us to print our addresses "to help the bride write her thank you notes". I was appalled by this (having hunted for addresses for probably 300 notes for my own showers/wedding). Is this the new thing to do? Of course, then the hostess drew a couple of envelopes and awarded door prizes, but still, it's not okay, is it?
Anna Post: No, this is not okay! Thank you for asking. If you are put in this position, be a good guest and go along with it. But I would strongly dissuade anyone from ever doing this at a shower. Using a guest book to collect addresses or having a prize-draw are both just fine -- it's asking guests to address their own envelopes that isn't.
Thank-you notes should always be handwritten, and that includes the address. (And they should be sent for gifts given as a bridal shower, even if the bride thanked the giver in person.).
gifts: I hate it when I read "gifts are required." Gifts may be expected and desired, but the idea that one must bring a gift as an entry ticket or send one even if they can't attend is rude and presumptuous. When I invited people to my wedding it was because I wanted to share my day with them. We appreciate, enjoy, and say thank you for gifts, but they are gifts! One of my daughter's videos had the line "a gift that required is not gift at all!" I hope she remembers that when she gets married some day!
Anna Post: It's never okay to print "gift required" on a wedding invitation. In fact, there should never be any mention of gifts on an invitation, even "no gifts, please." The focus should only be on sharing such a big day with those you love. Registry information is spread by word of mouth, and can also by placed on wedding websites.
"No gifts, please": Last June, I received an invitation to a wedding of a friend who is in her early 60s. She and her now-husband were combining complete households, and decided that the only gifts they needed or wanted were contributions to one of several charities listed on a card in the invitation. I made such a contribution in their honor.
Then, a few weeks later, I received an invitation to a "bridal luncheon", not shower, at the home of the bride's friend. Given the wording of the invitation, I decided that bringing a gift to the shower wasn't necessary. Well, was I wrong. I ended up being the ONLY person who didn't bring the bride a gift, some of which were very pricey. I was horribly embarrassed, and purchased a gift for the bride later. Did I just completely misread the invitation by distinguishing between a wedding gift and a shower gift?
Anna Post: A bridal luncheon does not require a gift the way a shower does, so your confusion is understandable, and you did the right thing by graciously giving a gift to the bride later.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in a question; I wish I could have answered them all! Best wishes to all the couples who participated, and to all the friends and families supporting them!
washingtonpost.com: Thanks for taking part in our Wedding Week discussion with Anna Post. Please join us tomorrow, when personal finance expert Jean Chatzky takes questions on weddings and finances, and again on Friday, when an editor from Budget Travel takes questions on how to plan a cheap but fabulous honeymoon!
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