Wedding Etiquette

by rita sinclair

I'm still waiting. I don't think they're ever coming. The thank-you cards, that is.

My husband and I attended a wedding two months ago. The wedding shower for the bride was the month before that. Unless someone is stealing my mail, the newlyweds haven't sent out thank-you cards. To me, that's a big etiquette blunder. But exactly how long does the bride have to send out thank-you cards? 


I sent my thank-you cards the week after my wedding. My sister took a month. So I have to wonder, what are the rules about all those wedding matters? Who pays for what? How long do you have to send a thank-you card? Do you have to hand out wedding favours to your guests?

This article will briefly look at a few key wedding etiquette questions, and I'll leave you with a few resources for those other pesky problems that come up. Grab your wedding handbook, and prepare to make a few notes!

Thank-You Card Etiquette
Thank-you cards should always be hand-written. The easiest way to make sure that you'll have enough appropriate thank-you cards is to purchase the thank-you cards with your invitation package. Speak with your printer about thank-you cards that match your wedding stationery.

If your co-workers or office staff have purchased a group gift, it is acceptable to post a hand-written thank-you card on a company bulletin board where everyone will see it. If your gift was sent by an entire family, address your thank-you card to "Uncle Bill, Aunt Edna, and Family". Better to acknowledge too many people than not enough!
 Popular opinion states that shower gifts and other pre-wedding presents should be recognized within two weeks of receiving the gift. If someone has hosted a shower or other wedding event for you, then you should write a thank-you note within two weeks of the event taking place.

Wedding presents may be acknowledged up to three months after the wedding, but the notes should really be written no later than two weeks after you get back from your honeymoon. Having said that, always better late than never.... No gift should go unacknowledged.

Monetary gifts can be acknowledged tactfully in the same way as any other gift. You needn't say "Thank you for the $100 cheque", but you could say "Thank you for the gift. We're saving for a downpayment, and we've added your contribution to our savings account."

Writing one note for two separate gifts (shower and wedding) is not acceptable. If someone took the time to purchase two gifts for you, then you have an obligation to write separate thank-you notes.

If you're having a small wedding, you may like to do the following. Because my husband and I had a small dinner with twenty-five guests, I hand-wrote a thank-you card for each invited couple prior to the wedding and placed the cards on the dinner plates. The cards said that my husband and I were pleased that the people closest to us had been able to attend our special day, and thanked our family and friends for their support and love. It was a well-received special touch that you might consider.

The Gift
My mother was taught that the size of the wedding gift should cover the cost of the reception dinner (i.e. if the dinners are $30/plate, then a couple should purchase a $60 wedding gift). However, this is a tad old-fashioned. With luncheon weddings, buffet dinners, and hors d'oeuvres receptions, how will the guest know what their plate will cost?

Emily Post, that maven of etiquette, said guests should spend as much or as little as they feel appropriate on a wedding or shower gift, keeping their affection for the engaged couple in mind.

A gift should be sent regardless of whether you can attend. If you cannot attend the shower or wedding, send the gift ahead of time, or ask another family member to take your gift with her.

Unless you have some extenuating circumstance (financial difficulty, for example) it is NEVER appropriate not to send some recognition of the wedding or shower, even if you can't go. Even a simple card expressing heartfelt wishes for wedded bliss will be appreciated by an understanding bride.

When possible, try to send your gift to the bride or groom prior to the wedding. Each year, horror stories emerge from couples whose wedding gifts are stolen from reception halls, vehicles, or hotel rooms. Sending the gift prior to the reception ensures that the couple has time to store the gift in a safe place and get a jump-start on the thank-you cards!

Invitations to the Reception but not the Ceremony
 Yes, you can invite guests to the reception only. Some cultures specify that only the immediate family should attend the wedding. You may need to limit your wedding ceremony guest list due to your ceremony location, or simply for personal preference.

If you are inviting people to the reception and not the ceremony, then the most cost-effective solution is creating an invitation for the reception only. Create a small, matching card with the ceremony details. Include this card with the reception invitation for those invited to the ceremony.

If you can afford it, print two sets of invitations--one that includes both the ceremony and reception information, and one that includes just the reception details. Your printer should be able to provide elegant alternatives to the standard wedding invitation.

Invitations to the Ceremony but not the Reception
This is a pretty touchy subject. Etiquette states that anyone who is invited to the ceremony should be invited to the reception. Most people feel that an invitation to the ceremony alone is tacky.

However, if you insist on going this route, plan on having a receiving line outside your church or ceremony location in order to personally acknowledge the people not invited to the reception.

Who pays?
Tradition states that the bride's family is responsible for the cost of the wedding. This dates back to a woman's dowry; the groom's family was paid to take on the burden of the woman. The bride's family was responsible for planning and paying for the event; the groom's family was already sacrificing their son to "the cause".

These days, it's not inappropriate for the bridal couple to sit down with parents or step-parents and politely ask if there will be a financial contribution to the event. The bridal couple does not have the right to argue about the amount pledged by their parents; in this day and age, many couples assume the financial burden of their own wedding!

If the parents do agree to foot some of the bill, make sure you're very clear on exactly what is involved. For example, my in-laws pledged a sum of money to use as we saw fit; my parents agreed to cover the bar bill and dinner costs regardless of the total. Be sure you know exactly who is paying for what ahead of time--trying to solve financial worries a week before your wedding is NOT a good idea.

The bride and groom are responsible for purchasing gifts for the bridal party.

Family Squabbles
So Aunt Lou won't come if Uncle Charlie shows up at the wedding? And Oma's not impressed that you invited estranged cousin Marlow to the reception? Now people are threatening not to come to the wedding?

There is nothing you can do about the behaviour of your family members, especially if they're adults. Something is bound to go wrong--don't stress about it. Just know that you can't do anything at all about family squabbles. The proper etiquette for handling family disagreements ("I'm only going if you uninvite Joe!") is to ignore them. Quietly explain to the offended party that you invited the people who are important to you, and you hope that everyone on the guest list will come. Don't express any preference for one guest over another, and you should be all right.

If Aunt Lou still won't come, then it's her problem, not yours. While disruptions like this can be stressful, rest assured that you have done nothing wrong. If you think it will help, ask Aunt Lou to come to the wedding and keep her animosity towards Uncle Charlie under wraps as a special wedding gift to you.

Known more commonly as "wedding favours", bonbonnieres are the little gifts or trinkets that you give to your guests in appreciation of their presence. When my mother was married in 1970, it was considered appropriate to provide female guests with a small slice of the wedding cake (usually fruitcake) to store under her pillow. That night, women were supposed to dream of their true love. Romantic, but perhaps not practical in this day and age.

Giving a bonbonniere is not required. If you do choose to provide a token, you can give one to each couple to help you cut down on costs. Creating your own bonbonnieres is also acceptable; consider a home-grown plant or specially-decorated vase or candlestick. It isn't necessary to give children a bonbonniere, though doing so will make them feel extra-special.

It has become commonplace for couples to donate the money they would have spent on bonbonnieres to a charity of their choice. If you go this route, then the best man or your Master of Ceremonies should mention the charity in their speech, and detail why the bride and groom chose it.

Wedding Registries
We live in the age of wedding registries. What is considered appropriate, and what's not?

Remember, though, that guests are not obligated to buy off your registry.

First, you can register for anything you'd like, from electronics to tools to china. Just be sure that whatever you choose, your registry includes a wide price range. Registering for thousand-dollar items is a little impractical and may make your guests feel uncomfortable. A wide price range ensures that no one will feel out of place with their purchase.

While there are no set rules about the number of registries you can have, try to limit yourself to two or three national stores. Most large stores offer small registry cards for your use. Whoever hosts your bridal shower(s) can include registry cards with the shower invitations.

It is gauche to include any mention of gifts with the wedding invitation. Sure, guests should bring a present, but it's still one of those things that simply isn't discussed. If someone asks, feel free to tell them where you are registered. If you have a wedding web site, you can also post the information there.

The wedding invitation itself should never mention gifts, best wishes only, or monetary gifts. The best way to spread the registry information is to make sure that the immediate families and the bridal party are aware of the registry information.

You may not ask for monetary contributions in lieu of gifts. If you and your fiance are already stocked up on most household items, consider registering for new items so you can throw out the old stuff, or items that will keep and can be used through the years--i.e. plush towels, wine glasses, place settings, perhaps a nice piece of art.

If you absolutely do not need anything whatsoever, then consider a honeymoon registry. These are becoming more popular as couples are living together prior to marriage. Travel agencies are jumping on the bandwagon and are offering an opportunity for guests to donate cash to your vacation.

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Rita Sinclair is an author on Writing.Com, which is located at ( http://www.Writing.Com/ ).
You can see more of her work at .