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The Basics Of Having An Engagement Party

Updated on July 13, 2014
Lisa HW profile image

"Lisa" , a "social sciences enthusiast" and Mom of three grown kids, writes from personal experience/exposure and/or past research


What Some Future Mothers-of-the-Bride May Not Yet Know About Planning An Engagement Party

Sometime with the last few months I was having an ordinary Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday, anyway), working online, when my daughter's boyfriend popped up on Instant Message to excitedly share with me that he'd bought my daughter an engagement diamond. It was a surprise and a secret that he asked me to keep until the weekend. Sworn to secrecy, I assured the future husband of my only daughter (and youngest child) that I could be trusted to keep the secret. Well, apparently, he couldn't be, because with the next day or so my daughter called to tell me she was wearing the ring. Not long after that, something that hadn't yet occurred to me was brought to my attention. That was the fact that an engagement party would be in order, and it is usually the parents of the bride who throw the engagement party.

Well, as with so many things in life that we don't think much about until we're faced with one situation or another, I knew nothing about being "mother-of-the-bride" and little about exactly what etiquette calls for when it comes to some aspects of the engagement party. As with so many other things in life, I'm proud to say that I've managed to rise to the occasion (along with my daughter's father); so, as I write this (October 27), my Trick-or-Treat candy (ordinarily all packaged up in adorable bags by this time) remains in the grocery-store bags it was brought home in, as I enjoy the calm-between-the-storm of knowing people have begun to get their invitations and waiting for the favor supplies to arrive tomorrow.

Although, in order to make sure my daughter gets the kind of engagement party she has in mind I did ask her a few things about her preferences, I got the feeling she'd enjoy the the process and the party more if I kept a lot of the details a surprise for her and her fiancé. Because of that, I won't make public a lot of those details here. The party isn't for another three weeks. Still, in that short time since that somewhat awkward Instant Message, back and forth (at least a little awkward on my end) with my daughter's finance, I've learned a few things about engagement parties and even become quite confident the party will be lovely yet fun without breaking any etiquette rules.

What Kind of Party Should An Engagement Party Be?

After checking with several wedding etiquette sites, I learned that an engagement party can be whatever kind of party the bride and/or the person(s) throwing it wants it to be. It can be anything from a party held at home to one held outside at a restaurant or other venue. It can also be a casual backyard affair with or without a theme. Whether or not the party is a catered affair can depend on how many people will attend and on whether the person giving the party prefers to cook for the number of guests or not. A wine-and-cheese party, or cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres or even desserts only is another option.

It turns out there are really only a few etiquette rules when it comes to engagement parties. In fact, there are few rules at all. On the one hand, that can make planning a party easier, simply because it can be whatever the couple or person(s) throwing it wants it to be. On the other hand, sometimes having a good set of rules can leave a whole lot fewer decisions to make. Then again, if there were a third hand (which, of course, there isn't), what I've discovered is nice about planning the party is that it allows for some freedom of expression, and provides a great opportunity for doings things my/our way (and a formal wedding doesn't offer the mother-of-the-bride that kind of freedom).

Those Few Rules:

The following four points are generally the only firm etiquette rules there are for engagement parties:

1. When to Hold the Engagement Party: Generally, the engagement party is held anywhere from within a few months of he couple's becoming engaged to any time that's no closer than within six months of the wedding. Having the engagement party sooner, rather than later, however, keeps the party as "its own thing" and won't interfere as much with plans or preparations for the wedding. Something else to think about is whether you want to make those in the wedding party, friends, relatives, and even the couple party-weary (especially in view of the fact that all showers, parties, and other events are focused on the same couple).

2. Do Guest Bring Gifts? No. Gifts are not customary.

3. Should You Invite People Who Won't Be Invited to the Wedding? No.

4. Who Should Host the Engagement Party? As with the wedding, itself, it is traditionally the parent(s) of the bride-to-be who hosts the engagement party. As with the wedding, itself, however, when this is not possible or desirable it's acceptable that someone else hosts the party or help with it.

The following engagement-party-related points are guidelines, rather than firm etiquette rules:

Whether or not the couple plans a formal, traditional, wedding is something to consider when deciding on the kind of party the engagement party will be. The more formal the wedding, the more appropriate it is to have an engagement party of a more formal nature. The look (decorations) of the engagement party should be very different from the look of the planned wedding reception. The engagement party is not, of course, the wedding reception; so it shouldn't create the impression that the couple if having two wedding receptions, as far as size, look, and degree of formality goes. On the other hand, some etiquette advisers note that when a couple will have a very small, informal, wedding; it can be appropriate to have an engagement party that offers a way for the couple and their friends and family to have an engagement party that will be the only big celebration. It is suggested guests be informed when the engagement party won't be followed by a big wedding, just so nobody will be looking for any wedding invitations that won't be coming.

What Kind of Invitations Should Be Sent?

That depends on how formal the party will be. The most formal engagement parties might have very formal invitations, a slightly more formal party would, of course, call for invitations that are just a little "dressier", and yet not formal. Of course, if the party is to be held at a beach the invitations might suggest that beach theme. Making and/or printing the invitations yourself can also be appropriate for some parties.

Who Should Be Invited?

Ordinarily, the engagement party provides an opportunity for the close friends and family of the the couple to celebrate with the couple. The party offers the opportunity for some family or friends who haven't yet met to do just that. There is no rule, however, that there cannot be a separate party for family and another one for friends. Some couples may have reason to prefer this, although inviting family and friends is a pretty "standard" thing to do.

People who aren't considered "close" family or friends may be invited to the wedding but aren't generally invited to the engagement party.

With the exception of the parents of either the bride-to-be or groom-to-be, people who would be required to travel and have accommodations made for them are not invited to the engagement party.

It may be worth mentioning again that nobody who will not be invited to the wedding should be invited to the engagement party.

As For My Daughter's Party:

For my daughter's party we've chosen a slightly more formal event, mostly because it's a great opportunity to have some fun planning a color theme and a look. I'm having a catered affair, although the groom-to-be's mother and sister, and I, will put together some desserts for a dessert table. The party will be a vegan party, so finding a vegan cake for 60 was just the slightest challenge. I'm convinced, though, the woman who will be decorating the cake knows exactly the right color scheme. We're going with "real" dishes, as opposed to colorful, paper/plastic, party-ware; so I've decided to go with cloth napkins as a way of helping build a color theme. The look I'm hoping to create will be "elegant light", with small touches that I hope will add just a hint of festive sparkle and color, which I hope will make the evening party have an elegant, pretty, atmosphere without seeming too formal.

Over the weekend, sometime between the usual weekend activities and the Sunday-night Trick-or-Treating, my daughter's father and I will be unpacking the boxes containing the the materials for the favors and setting up a two-person assembly line in order to get the favors ready to go and have little else to do but pick up the cake the day before, call in some definite numbers to the caterer, and double-check with the florist that the flowers we want can be available when we want them.

Whew! So far, everything seems to going along smoothly - and I, in the meantime, have figured out how to take on of my first responsibilities as mother-of-the-bride (to be). It occurs to me, that after all this figuring out and planning, it's kind of too bad that I won't get to use any of the mother-of-the-bride knowledge I imagine I'll be picking up along the way again; because if and when my other two grown children decide to have a wedding, I'm going to be the mother-of-the-groom in both of those instances.

Oh well, if there's one thing I'm learning as the mother of grown children it's this: Just when you think you have the whole mother-of-grown-kids/empty-nest thing figured out; and just when you think you're confident in your own "supremely capable" way of knowing just what to do in most situations; some grown kid just may decide to do something like get married, and introduce a whole new set of things you need to figure out. One day I may write a Hub about the very awkward Instant Message responses I had when my daughter's fiancé shared the secret about the engagement ring, but for now I'd like to leave you with the impression that I've been "supremely capable" of graciously and almost effortlessly putting together this party with little warning that the end of 2010 would include a 60-guest, catered affair.

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