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How to Have a Meaningful Bridal Shower


Bridal showers seem to be one of the select aspects of wedding planning that APWers are still working really hard to figure out. And I get it. It’s hard. On the one hand, showers usually take place because someone who loves you wants to do something nice for you. But then the cultural noise of it all gets in the way and can make things feel really complicated. There’s the gendered nature of the thing, the exhibitionism (is opening presents in front of people anybody else’s nightmare?), and if you’re lucky like me, all this will take place with nary an ounce of booze nearby. But all that said, showers don’t always have to be complicated. Like anything related to wedding planning, there is always an opportunity to take something WIC-awful and make it really meaningful. So today Emily Rock gives us her formula for a meaningful wedding shower. And there’s a slight chance it made the whole staff kind of teary. Your definition of meaningful might look totally different, but just knowing it’s possible to even have a meaningful shower is enough to give me hope.

Maddie

How to Have a Meaningful Bridal Shower | A Practical Wedding

  • The person who hosts should ideally meet at least most of the following criteria: they offer to host without feeling obligated to; they have a home that can comfortably fit the guests; they have the budget and/or savvy to host a shower that isn’t costly for attendees; they are creative, organized, and/or a natural party planner. Bonus points if, as in my case, they’ve known you since you were nine months old.
  • Make it clear that you don’t want gifts, and mean it. Have the host write on the invitations something unambiguous like, “Emily has requested no presents.”
  • Since they don’t have to buy you anything, the guests can be asked to contribute in other ways. A themed potluck, for instance. Debbie used the theme of “travel” for the shower (inspired by the map motif my fiancé and I used in our invitations). For the lunch portion of the afternoon, she asked everyone to make or buy something they associate with a particular place. This resulted in one of the most eclectic and delicious potlucks I’ve ever attended: sweet potato biscuits, sushi salad, tabbouleh, flan, sticky rice, almond bread, kugel, corn cob jelly, lemons from a friend’s childhood lemon tree, apple crumble.
  • As long as she’s giving the guests homework, the host can also add a writing prompt. Debbie asked guests to think of a place they’ve been that they’d recommend Bret and I travel. Pictures and text optional but encouraged. Some guests brought pictures with captions, some wrote long charming narratives, and my grandma told her story with no notes or visual aids. After lunch, we all sat around in a circle and each woman shared her piece. We all laughed. Some of us cried. I felt the most love and warmth and support a gal could ever feel—and as a bonus, I wasn’t in the spotlight unwrapping things.
  • If you want to get your hair and makeup trial done that morning (because it is fun to have somewhere to go once you’re all done up), do it, but know that you might feel almost sacrilegious walking into a community that’s known you fresh-faced and unmade up for most of your life, and in which some of the women don’t shave their legs, much less put on blush.
  • Craft your guest list with care, and then know that whoever comes are the ones who should be there. This is good practice (I assume) for the wedding itself. There were a few glaring absences: two women from my community who died in the past year, who really should have been there, whose radiance and warmth I missed acutely. And a couple friends I also missed, but who couldn’t be there for logistical or other reasons. It’s hard not to take absences personally, especially when it’s the only bridal shower you’ll ever have. You might, like me, want to be a little bit of a diva about it, stamp your foot and insist they show up. Resist this. Focus on the greatness that is gathering together people from different parts of your life and watching them connect.
  • Take pictures. Actually, have someone else take pictures, and make your one goal to be really present for the whole gorgeous thing.

Pro tips:

  • If possible, schedule your shower on a day that turns out to be unexpectedly sunny.
  • It helps if many of the guests have known you for a decade or more. Among the attendees at my shower were: the poet friend I’ve been writing letters to since tenth grade chemistry class, whose handwriting I still know better than anyone’s. The girl I met my first week in DC, who remains my best Craigslist find ever. My high school carpool buddy and fellow English nerd. My parents’ next-door neighbor of the past fifteen years, who built a new gate in her fence so that we could get to and from each other’s backyards more easily. My “if I had a best friend, it would be you,” circa sixth–seventh grade, with an interlude when we were mere “friendly acquaintances” after a falling out, and who is now one of the women I adore most. My cousin-through-marriage. The friend I’ve known since she was born, after my parents met as chuppah holders at a wedding, who homeschooled with me for the first decade of our lives. That friend’s mom, who hosted the shower, and who has been caring about me and loving me since I was too small to notice. And the two women who knew me first: my mom and her mom, my two best fans, confidantes, and heroines.
  • And get one picture of everyone, because that’s the one you’ll want to look at several times a day for the next week.

This was one of those days I wished I could bottle up and keep on a shelf, take it down and savor it during gloomier times. The feeling of being both loved for who you are, and part of a powerful community of brilliant, funny, compassionate women, is the best kind of sisterhood I can imagine.

Photo taken by the hostess’s husband.

Photo by APW Sponsor Emily Takes Photos

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  • Rebekah

    This is so beautiful. It sounds just like what I’d want!

    (Side note: Is it okay to invite women who’ve been important in your life and whose support and stories you want buoying you toward your marriage but who don’t make the guest list for the actual [destination and very small] wedding?)

    • Melissa

      I have this same question! We have a small-ish venue 4 hours away from where most of my family/family friends live, so we’re struggling with this exact issue right now.

    • Cleo

      I don’t read Miss Manners, but after conversations with friends/family who have gone through similar situations, I think it would be okay to do this, especially if you framed it as a shower/marriage celebration with the people you love most, because you want to include everyone in your joy as much as possible, and the type of ceremony you’re having won’t allow that.

      And also, I would recommend putting “presents optional” or “no presents” or something to that effect on your invitation if you’re going to invite people who aren’t going to be invited to the wedding. If I were in your position, my own paranoia would make me wonder/worry whether some people will see it as shilling for gifts, regardless of my intentions. However, if you know these people you’re inviting won’t think that, don’t sweat it.

    • meg

      Normally I’d say a huge no, but in the case of a very small destination wedding, I think it’s actually much KINDER to invite everyone. People really want a way to celebrate with you. I’m always please for friends that decide to have teeny tiny weddings, but I’m really sad if they don’t do *something* locally: pizza and beer, a shower, whatever. Regardless of if we’re invited or not, we still want to celebrate with them and for them.

      And everyone should read Miss Manners. She’s a genius. And one of the funniest writers of all time.

    • Kara

      Yes! Invite them! We had guests that could not attend our ceremony due to prior arrangementsbut they loved coming to my shower. Most people want to support you in your nuptuals and will very eagerly accept a shower invitation. If you know your great Auntie can’t travel for a destination wedding but she lives locally, by all means! ;)

    • Amy March

      I vote No in a big way to this. I’d be really offended to hear “I love you so much come celebrate with me” along with “I didn’t invite you to my wedding”. It’s like, if you really care that much, make it work to at least send me an invite, even if you think I wint be able to make it.

    • Sara

      It was not until I started planning my own wedding that I heard the rule “don’t invite guests to the shower who won’t be invited to the wedding”. Neither had my mother, or my grandmother.

      Maybe it’s regional. I’m having a shower back in my hometown (an 8 hour drive), and there will be some guests who won’t be invited to the wedding. Like the woman who was my next door neighbour growing up, or my mother’s best friend. People who I know won’t make all the way out for our wedding, but would like to see me and catch up a bit. To be honest, I’ll probably get more time to socialize with them at the shower than I’d have at the wedding!

  • Andi

    I’m looking forward to my shower next weekend! I haven’t had any role in planning it, except for providing addresses for the guest list.

    I’m sure my maid of honor has done a great job planning it, and I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with some of my oldest friends, but also many recent ones.

    Tell me I’m not the only one who *isn’t* horrified by opening presents in front of people? I’ve been to showers with sweet and thoughtful gifts, and everyone is so excited to see the lovely items picked out for the couple’s life together. (Even more for baby showers, like the one I went to last weekend – who can’t “ooh” and “ahh” over onsies and bows for a baby girl?) It also seems a lot more practical than asking people who are traveling to bring a food item. Anyway, I don’t intend to bash the author: her shower sounds like it was perfect for her. And if people you love (and who love you) are there, the rest is just details.

    • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

      I was horrified but then there were bows on EVERYTHING and I was more mortified when I would cut a ribbon and get told that added to how many kids we would have! It helped a lot having most people there be very sarcastic, so there was a lot of joking about the pilsner glasses I unwrapped from my future MIL, and the many different ways I could use a cake carrier. If I really hadn’t wanted to open gifts my friend who hosted would have supported and redirected everyone to something else.

    • Kess

      You’re not alone! The shower above sounds lovely as well, but I admit I’m kind of looking forward to the present opening bit once I have mine.

      • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

        I will be the first to admit, the day the shower came rolling around i wanted to hide in a closet. Ultimately, it ended up being really fun. My future MIL ended up explaining Duck dynasty to my MOH’s mom, which was hilarious.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My family does wish lists for every birthday and Christmas, and present-opening is the focal point of those celebrations. (Granted, unlike wedding stuff, they’re usually family-only.) I had no second thoughts about setting up a registry and opening gifts.

      Issues that came up:

      *Identical gifts, whether through registry error or because, hey, we need more than one dinner plate. I have no solution to the let-down felt by the giver whose dinner plate is opened fifth rather than first.

      *Reading cards and notes. As a child, I was taught to read the card, aloud, before opening each of my presents at my birthday parties. Well, 7-year-olds don’t write 500 heartfelt words on marriage and cooking. Some notes were obviously just too long to read aloud, but even the short ones I tried to scan before reading aloud, ’cause maybe they were just too personal. I think I’d have skipped reading aloud altogether, if I did it over again.

      *Pacing. Apparently, I spent too much time per gift. I’d advise asking someone with people smarts to keep an eye on your pace and give a discreet signal if you should speed up.

    • Lib

      On the other side of the coin: Is there a graceful way to receive gifts and NOT open them if front of everyone?

      As a guest I always find that the most boring/awkward part of the party. I also hate being the center of attention for prolonged periods of time. Normally I prefer not to get gifts at all anymore because I try to limit my possessions and share experiences instead.

      All that said, I actually need to stock my house. Me and the man have each lived with roommates for so long that we don’t have a lot of the basics. I need those flat ware sets etc.

      I would a million times rather sit in a circle and hear the stories of other women then have to have all eyes on me and have to react enthusiastically to gift after gift that are not a surprise b/c I picked them out myself (not to say I will not be super grateful). Any suggestions to make that happen?

      • Lauren

        I have heard of something called a “display” shower. As I understand it, the gifts are all brought unwrapped (or in a pretty basket with cellophane or something) and set on a table with the card from the giver so that they are on display. This way you can spend the shower enjoying everyone, not have to be the center of attention for the gift-portion, and you can spend time with people individually telling them how much you appreciate X gift. It might work for your situation?

        • Lib

          I guess I have a hard time understanding the point of showing off the gifts at all. As I guest, I really don’t care what other guests have bought. At worst it makes me feel bad if I haven’t spent as much as someone else.

          At most children’s birthday parties I have been to recently the family waits until everyone goes home to open the gifts. The focus of the party is on the activities/cake/socializing, not on gifts. Then the thank you notes serve to acknowledge each gift individually.

          I would like to do this without giving the impression that I’m not grateful or don’t care about the gifts.

          Once I started attending bridal showers I actually found it quite jarring to sit and watch the bride open presents, almost like I was invading the privacy between the bride and the giver.

        • Rachel

          Was just going to comment this! I’m totally trying to make the display shower happen. Freaking genius. http://thecreativeconsultant.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/how-to-pull-off-a-display-shower/

      • Jessica

        I’d say in most cases the answer is no, the most gracious thing to do is spend the time opening their gift in front of everyone. It sucks for you to be in the spotlight perhaps, but gift-givers appreciate having their gift be in the spotlight for a moment and you spending the time to express satisfaction to them in person. Especially when they’re taking the time to be at your shower. Also, consider this….people who attend both a shower and wedding usually either split their budget for the couple among a shower and wedding gift, or put the same amount toward one bigger gift. I don’t think having a shower somehow ensures you get more of what you need. Having a no-gifts shower will mean you still get the things you need from your wedding registry as wedding gifts :)

        • Lib

          I think I agree with you on both points. My vote would be to go for a gift-less shower in that case.

          I’m just asking, do guests actually care? Since I soooo don’t care (snooze-fest) I am trying to understand if other people do. Is this just an old fashioned thing we do to please aunties and grandmas like many wedding traditions?

          • ElisabethJoanne

            My shower was hosted and attended by little old church ladies, almost exclusively.

            As for age peers at other showers, it very much depends. I’m not very interested in seeing my gift opened, but I might be interested in the other gifts. Some people like china and flatware and cookware. One of the youngest women at my shower (a friend of my mother’s) had a gran’ ol’ time laying out my place settings as I opened them.

            As we’re discussing down-thread, guests expect the gift-opening shindig at showers. But we can craft other parties, maybe not called “showers,” to celebrate the upcoming marriage in other ways.

          • Kara E

            I kind of like it – the chance to have someone you love open a gift you picked especially for them. No, I don’t love the attention when it’s in reverse, but I do love the chance to say thank you in public and in person.

      • http://www.teastrumpets.wordpress.com kyley

        I begged my moh & mom not to make me open presents in front of everyone. I think it kills the /party atmisphere, but more than anything I hate the collective gift-fatigue that happens, when suddenly everyone is polite clapping and clearly bored and your aunts thoughtful trifel dish seems like it is poorly recieved. I’d really rather the chance to write everyone thoughtful thank you letters and open the gifts at home, with my fiance. ( They are for him too!)

        I don’t know the details but I think they just are warning everyone that I won’t be opening gifts, so don’t feel obligated to a) bring them or b) wrap them. And once that was established, and I have just felt really really excited for a party with the amazing women I love. So I’m a big fan of speaking up about what makes you uncomfortable and asking that to be honored and then letting go of the while thing.

    • http://www.jandrfoods.com Rachel

      You are not alone at all. I had two bridal showers and opened gifts at both of them because people really wanted to see my reaction to something they went out and thoughtfully purchased (and wrapped!) for me; and I really wanted to thank the person right then and there for the effort and thoughtfulness (and follow up with a thank you card of course). I love seeing what the bride/mom to be/birthday girl receives and never tire of it.

      • Madalyn

        I have knit gifts that took an extraordinary amount of time, planning, and care. If my gift was just set aside to be opened in private, it would be a let down and would feel dismissive.

        Also, I went to a shower once where all the cards were passed around and I felt really uncomfortable with acquaintances reading my heartfelt and personal note to one of my best friends. I will not be passing the cards at my own shower.

    • RainMirage

      I am looking forward to GETTING presents (yes, I am materialistic, and yes, I do need some things). And I am looking forward to opening them in front of everyone. Hopefully they will see how much I appreciate things.

      Mine is next weekend, too, and my cousin volunteered out of the blue to throw it, and she is an amazing party person, and I am SO PSYCHED you would not believe!

  • Samantha

    This sounds like a magical bridal shower – exactly the type that makes me want to have one. I absolutely love everything travel themed – so chic and sassy. I’m also really grabbed by the no gifts but potluck idea. I feel like it’s a great way to keep things budget-able for your ladies but not asking too much from guests because they can forego the gift. hmmm…

    But APWers my parents are recently (with the last 2 years – drawn out – I don’t know the legal standing of it) divorce. I’m so anxious about bringing the two families together for a wedding I totally wrote off even having a bridal shower. My maid of honor keeps bugging me (in the sweetest nicest way possible) because she wants to throw one for me but I don’t know what to do. In a moment of high emotion I mentioned to my Mom how I wasn’t even going to have a shower because I’m too nervous about the family dynamic. Yes all these ladies are adults and can behave themselves and will come because they love me, but I don’t want it to be awkward, forced or uncomfortable for the interactions. Also I feel like it has to be in a neutral zone which would only exist by renting something. And finally throw my fiance’s family into the mix!

    Does anyone have any advice on how to navigate this terrain?

    • Andi

      Perhaps if the family members live in different places, you can have two (small!) showers. Then people will naturally go to the shower that is closest to them. I’m relying on this so my step-grandmother and aunt don’t fight with each other at the shower. I’m having one where I live now and a “pre-reception” in my home-town for church and childhood friends. It seems to be working out pretty naturally.

      • Samantha

        That’s a good idea except I’d hate to put that on my ladies. I would be perfect if family members offered to have family specific showers. Maybe if I do nothing eventually someone will.

        • Andi

          I totally understand about not wanting to pressure your maids. Only my MOH is going to both. The one where I grew up will also be a coed gathering for my dad to participate in, and so church members (who wont be invited to our small wedding) can celebrate with us and get to know my fiance. It’s definitely useful to think outside of the usual “bridal shower” box, and have a celebration or celebrations that fit your family’s needs.

      • Lauren

        I agree on the small shower/divide and conquer front. I am having two showers, which is very anti my personality, but it is worth it to keep the peace. I am also requesting that my FH be there at both and we have mixed-gender parties to keep it from being too much pressure on me.

        For the one his mom is hosting, we are inviting friends and his mom’s family. For the one his dad’s mother is hosting, we are inviting only his dad’s family and my family. My extended family in general is more his dad’s family’s kind of people, so it prevents awkwardness all around.

    • Jackie

      My parents are divorced too, and my dad is remarried (to his mistress). My MOH/little sister decided to just throw one big shower anyways. She rented a lodge at the town park, which cost about $100, and just invited everyone: Mom’s side, Dads side, step-mom’s side, in-laws side, friends, etc. They were all civil, like you think yours will be, and they all just naturally sat in their own little groups at whichever table they chose.

      I feel like nobody’s going to cause a big scene, because they do love you, and they are there for the right reasons. For me, it just meant letting go and saying “if they don’t want to talk to each other, they don’t need to talk to each other”. It ended up going even better than I could have dreamed.

      • Samantha

        Thank you, that’s encouraging. You are right I guess it is about letting go. Natural group congregations is what I would expect at the wedding anyway. Breathe and let go.

    • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com Emily

      Divide to conquer! My husband’s parents had a nasty divorce. We divided up events surrounding the wedding so that they only had to behave around each other once (statistically lowering the potential for a problem). We divided things thusly:
      DC area couples shower – MOG + partner
      MI bridal shower – my family only
      Sunset cocktails for out of towners (two days prior) – FOG+partner
      Pre-wedding breakfast/mini-triathalon and sailing – FOG +partner
      Rehearsal dinner/out of towners party – FOG+partner
      Post-wedding breakfast/open house – MOG+partner
      Post-wedding family time/beach shindig – FOG+partner

      I agonized over whether we were being “fair”, which was pretty dumb, in retrospect. Most of these were gut decisions that didn’t require too much thought from either of us, and I think everyone was pleased with the time they got to spend with us at the end of the day. It hurt to exclude each of them from things, but it also provided a nice “up side” to the fact that our wedding was more of an extravaganza than a single event (my dad got a little excited about hosting folks in our hometown…)

  • Julie

    The most amazing and meaningful thing that the hostess at my shower did for me with my guests: She handed out a stack of note cards and envelopes and asked each woman there to write at least one note and seal it with the date that we were supposed to open it. Some were for our wedding date, some were for our honeymoon, some for our fist anniversary, some for right after our first big married fight etc. We’ve been married three years now and I’m still opening notes with love and advice from these women who mean so much to me. And it is freakin’ awesome.

    • Samantha

      This is fantastic. I love them sealed and dated!!

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      I love the idea of a note for right after the first married fight. Who couldn’t use some encouragement right then?

  • KC

    I also have a terror of opening presents in front of people.

    I think this is partly a I-don’t-want-everyone-looking-at-me and partly because my face is generally a ludicrously open book, so if there is a momentary confusion upon opening a present (the “what is this?” before one figures out that one is holding it upside-down, or a “oh, dear, more candlesticks” moment), I hate-hate-hate for that to be visible and maybe make someone think I’m permanently disappointed in their present. And, um, sometimes you really aren’t sure what you going to do with a particular gift but still really appreciate Aunt Agatha thinking of you and giving you a present, but you have to come up with *something* to say right then on the spot that can’t be exactly what you said for the last 10 gifts and some people are comparing your reactions (which will mostly likely range from generically-thankful to IT’S-A-KITCHENAID-thrilled, unless you’re better at keeping a straight face than I am) and are feeling badly if their gift doesn’t measure up and that is just plain really sad. Because you don’t want the people you love so much to be disappointed about their gift even if it *is* the third toaster you’ve received.

    So showers are something of a nemesis for me. (I am also horrid at planning them and do not enjoy attending them, either. Sorry, I am a non-literal party pooper.)

    That said, some people do not have the “aack, people all looking at me and expecting me to respond correctly!” terror, and can game-face their way through the ugliest soap dish known to mankind (handmade by my artisan cousin in Ottowa – one of her earliest works, can you believe it?! Yes. Yes, I can believe it.), and really enjoy opening gifts in front of people, can “work” a crowd so that they talk to everyone there, etc., and I consider that a fantastically useful wedding talent/skill.

    So maybe, like with so many other things with weddings, know thyself and know thy crowd… :-)

    • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

      At my shower, using a salad spinner as a cat carousel was discussed by everyone in attendance. It was hilarious, so I understand the working of the crowd angle completely!

  • Margi

    I’m a bridesmaid for my brother’s fiancee but will not be able to attend the bridal shower due to logistical and financial reasons. Is there anything I can contribute to the shower – besides a gift – that would be meaningful? Any ideas?

    • amc

      I totally understand not being able to attend and I bet your family does too. Depending upon the type of shower, I think you could contribute a few things. An easy thing to do would be to send an edible arrangement that could be consumed at the party. However, one of my favorite gifts was pre-addressed and stamped thank you notes (based on the invite list). All I had to do was write in the heatfelt note and send them off. That could be a thoughtful gift to the bride.

      • Jessica

        WOW that’s a fantastic gift idea!

    • Cleo

      Would you be able to skype into the party at some point (during games or present opening or some other set time) so you’d be there even when you’re not there?

  • APW Lurker

    My shower is in a couple of weeks, I am flying out for it because most of my friends and bridesmaids live out on the East and I am very excited! I think the hardest part for me was striking a balance between letting my bridesmaids throw a shower and just being grateful and gracious versus having a party that actually represented me. For example, at first my bridesmaids wanted to have it at tea room and my first thought was “Umm what is a tea room and am I even classy enough to go to one” but then my other voice is like “Shut up you ungrateful brat! You will wear pink and drink tea and like it!” But the more I talked to them and told them the people who would be invited (the majority, for lack of a better word are “bros”) they said “Oh well that sounds like loads more fun! We just came up with brunch at a tea room because that’s what we thought we were supposed to do!” And now it’s a boozy brunch with unlimited drinks!

  • Ruth

    I just had my bridal shower a few weeks ago – I had been dreading it (because of a lot of the reasons mentioned – hating being the center of attention, messy family politics etc…) but in the end, everything came together, and it went really well…which gives me faith that our wedding will come together and go well too :)

    For me, the secret to having an actually enjoyable shower was to have it be really authentic to who I am – and for me, that looked totally different from what the author described, but that’s part of the point – bridal showers are often so cookie-cutter – and I think they can be as different as each individual woman. We held mine in my favorite art gallery (the owner is a close personal friend, and let us use the space on the day the gallery is closed to the public). I let my mom do a lot of the planning – which took a lot of trust and ability to surrender – but I made it clear what my few essential requests were – no games designed to humiliate the bride! So instead we played a really lovely and fun game where we all got a sheet of quotes about love from different authors – but only half the quote – and we had to come up with the other half – or makeup our own. Some people’s made-up endings were profound, others were hilarious – but it got the conversation going and people started opening up naturally about their own love lives – I learned so much about some of the older women in my family!

    One of the smartest things we did is throw out the old advice about who is “supposed” to throw the bridal shower. All the etiquette books say it’s supposed to be the maid of honor – but I strongly second that it should be whomever is most comfortable with and enjoys throwing parties – which might NOT be your maid of honor. Having a heart to heart talk with my best friend / maid of honor about this really helped heal the rift that had been growing between us of her dropping the ball on her “responsibilities” – it allowed my mom, who actually loves this stuff, to throw the party – and it allowed my best friend to genuinely enjoy the day with me and not feel guilty and obligated

  • Laura

    The post is perfectly timed for me! My bridal shower is tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to it, but also nervous. Like many have commented, opening gifts is bound to be awkward. Reading this post and especially the comments is helping to put me at ease, so thank you everyone! I think mainly it’s just good to know that there are so many others out there who find the whole bridal shower thing awkward and anxiety inducing.

    One of my biggest worries initially was just wondering what the heck we would do the whole time. I don’t really have the personality to “work the room” the whole time, but I really thrive with activities. So my shower will be a crafting party, all the guests are going to help work on the ceremony backdrop for the wedding. It will give everyone something to do AND will cross one more thing off my very long DIY to-do list. And I really think it’s just so awesome to get to have all the important ladies in my life have a hand in creating a special part of the wedding day.

    • Laura

      Following-up to my comment post-shower. My bridesmaids and mom did an AMAZING job planning and running the shower. I felt so very special and loved, and all the guests loved the crafting theme. The guests were all saying it was one of the best showers they’ve been too, and they loved getting to help make something for the wedding. We played just 2 games. A toilet paper wedding dress design competition/fashion show for the guests to play, and I had to guess how my future husband answered some questions the girls had asked him ahead of time.

      Opening presents was a little awkward as expected, but overall really not that bad. It helped that the hosts told the guests they could keep crafting as I opened gifts if they wanted to, so I didn’t have every eye in the house staring at me the whole time.

      So yeah, it was a really great event in the end. And I went into it a lot calmer having been able to read this fabulous post ahead of time. So thank you Team Practical!

  • Emily

    Also horrified by opening presents in front of people — but luckily I get out of doing that myself! I went to my first bridal shower last year for my now future sister-in-law, and didn’t even know I was supposed to bring a present (luckily my future MIL clued me in). I was shocked that the bride sat in a circle with people oohing and aahing over WIC-type gifts (wouldn’t Emily Post roll over in her grave about the discomfort you’ve caused everyone? I thought), as my handmade cookie mix in a mason jar, wrapped in a tea towel tied with twine was tucked next to Tiffany and WS boxes and bows.

    How we’re dealing with the shower thing: calling it something else entirely. My mother- and aunts-in-law really wanted to do one for me, but awesomely were very open to having a couple’s shower and not doing presents. So now it’s a backyard, mixed-gender BBQ. Which is essentially a belated engagement party, which is fine by me.

    I’d recommend, though, as others have said, to be very grateful and not micro-manage. I started providing input on the typeface of the invitation, but then was very politely told to not worry about the details, and so I haven’t. There won’t be anyone there who I’ve known for a decade, but I’m still excited about it.

  • Molly

    I loved my bridal shower. Loved it. We were doing the whole thing of going around the circle and saying how everyone knew me, and in a moment of being a little self-conscious and also trying to be funny, I told everyone they also had to say what they thought was my best feature. Everyone laughed at first, and then it quickly turned into a lot of crying on everyone’s part because it got so sentimental! All my female relatives gave me things they got from their mothers or grandmothers, and most were handmade — embroidered tablecloths, aprons, and napkins.

    For weeks after, I was on such a high from all the love I got that day. I think showers get a bad rap as a “chore,” but people need the chance to express what you mean to them, and if you can get over yourself or your reservations or shyness or embarrassment a little, and just go with the silly and the sappy, it will end up lovely.

  • http://www.medeamaterial.com jules

    My sister threw me a surprise shower. I showed up to a business meeting with a friend and discovered that his house was full of people who wanted to celebrate with me! There was a huge banner signed by my friends, food, drinks, themed cupcakes, great music and my future husband via skype.
    What made it great was that I was genuinely surprised. I had seen SO many friends when I stopped at the supermarket before the meeting to grab something to snack on and was feeling all happy thinking to myself that I loved my neighborhood because I met people all the time… only to see them in the house a few minutes later. They had thought that For SURE I had already guessed about the surprise.
    So even though I wasn’t into showers, I loved mine, because it truly was tailored to my taste.

  • Lindsey

    It seems to me that the author has confused a celebration with a wedding shower. A gathering of wedding guests, family or friends or everyone you know to celebrate your upcoming wedding is fine. A shower is a party that’s meant to “shower” the bride (or couple) with gifts.

    And I actually disagree with the “no gifts” thing if you’re having a shower – each to their own but as a guest, I always enjoyed the upcoming celebrations and opportunities to “shower” the bride. It was always meant to help the couple start their life together. The only ettiquette rule I know surrounding showers is guests invited to showers must be also invited to the wedding.

    Additionally, a celebration is just that – a time to celebrate the couple. The article combines the two… maybe it’s because I live in the South but the engagement period is filled with teas, an engagment party, gatherings etc. to celebrate the couple and this special time. It’s also a time for the guests and families to get to know each other better. I know some people are more comfortable with various levels of attention but most people want to celebrate these milestones with you. And your friends/family want to met his/her friends/family. They’re going to be together at the wedding and it’s nice to get to know others before the wedding/ceremony.

    • Brenda

      I think the thing is that so many people now are getting married later and have lived together and/or independently for so long before getting married that they may not need the shower of gifts designed to furnish a brand new house and family life. I think we can still justify an independent celebration of the bride (or bride and groom) before the wedding by thinking of it as a shower of love in preparation for their life ahead.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’m a bit uncomfortable with a “no-gifts shower,” too. I think this is yet another instance where the decline in throwing parties is causing extra headaches when there’s a wedding and parties are thrown.

      You’re the first real person (as opposed to a bridal magazine) to testify to “all these wedding-related parties” – particularly the teas and other gatherings. Here in California, we have bridal showers, bachelorettes, and whatever can be crammed into the wedding weekend. That’s it. No “bridesmaids’ teas” or even engagement parties.

      But, if I came from a place, either a literal or a mental place, where “bridal teas” and other gatherings, other than showers, were common I would, 1) have a better name for a “no-gifts shower,” and 2) have a better idea how to plan or attend one. And if we in general entertained more, we could just throw a party and wouldn’t have to have a name for it or a theme.

      • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com Stephanie

        Maybe it depends on culture etc? I grew up in Orange County, and my friends and I have all had bridesmaids teas and engagement parties. I think it has a lot to do with trying to act “wealthy”.

        And honestly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with gifts, games, or other “WIC”/”traditional” bridal shower elements. A shower is for gifts. If you don’t want gifts, don’t have a bridal shower. Have an engagement party.

    • http://swimmingwithsharkeys.wordpress.com/ Meg

      Thank you, I was just about to post the same thing but after reading so many comments was afraid I’d get a little bit flamed. The party described above does sound lovely, but it is not a bridal shower. It’s a pre-wedding celebration, bridal luncheon, or some other term for an event that involves close friends and family of the bride/groom, but it is not a shower.

      By definition a shower is meant to “shower” the couple with gifts. IT IS OK TO NOT HAVE A SHOWER. I think many people have mistakenly come to believe that a bridal shower is a rite of passage, a necessary thing that happens before getting married. NOT SO. I was so freaked out about opening presents in front of a group (there were ~30 at my bridal shower, all aunts/cousins/close friends) but it was ok. I was surrounded by the people who we love, and who love us, and they were kind and generous enough to want to have a party specifically designed to help us get a better start to building our home together. Had my aunt not offered to host a shower (which in and of itself is a gift) then I still would have found other ways to celebrate the occasion with our closest friends & family, but that other event would not have been a shower. (And it’s honestly kind of hurtful to hear that the author believes the above party is somehow more meaningful than the generous and thoughtful shower I was given, which was more traditional.)

      I was raised with very old-school manners, and a huge no-no for party etiquette of any kind is telling someone how to spend (or not spend) their money. Saying “No gifts” is just as inappropriate as saying “cash gifts preferred” or any of the other tacky things that have crept into our culture. I’m still of the belief that you NEVER put registry information on invitations of any kind, you supply that information only if asked when a guest is RSVPing, but even etiquette professionals are conceding that because the purpose of a shower is to “shower” the honoree with gifts, these are the ONLY invitations (wedding and baby shower) where it is appropriate to supply this information. But it is only information, not a demand on how someone should spend their money. A person invited to a shower has 3 options: they can send their regrets and not attend, they can attend and bring a gift from the registry, or they can attend and bring a gift of their own choosing that is not on the registry. Telling someone how to spend their money, even when presented in a cute manner (ie “bring a book for baby’s library instead of a card!”) or in an attempt to be gracious (“no gifts, please”) is still telling someone that you know better than they do when it comes to how to best spend their money.

      Related, the idea of giving guests homework is off-putting. I don’t mind being asked to share a memory of the honoree, or to offer a piece of advice, but the only people who should be contributing food are the co-hosts. You are either hosting a party or you are not. Asking people to bring food WHO HAVE NOT OFFERED is incredibly rude. My sisters in law are hosting a baby shower for me this weekend, my mother is not co-hosting, but offered to bring a side dish. In this case it’s appropriate for her to bring food, because it was her idea, and the hosts thanked her and said yes when asked. It would be a completely different case if she had been asked by the hosts to “bring a dish to pass.”

      I normally love all of the posts on APW, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. I sat on my hands for a few days instead of replying instantly with my feelings, but after a few days time I’m still left with a feeling of unease about this posting, and decided to leave a comment. I read every day but almost never comment, so my apologies if it appears that some n00b has showed up to rain on someone else’s parade. That wasn’t my intent, just as I know it wasn’t the author’s intent to imply that the traditional shower I had was meaningless. People celebrate weddings in all ways, both before and after the event occurs. It’s ok to have a non-traditional party to celebrate with friends and family, but a shower IS a traditional thing, and this is one case where I believe it’s better to have an alternate celebration instead of trying to mutate tradition.

  • Angie

    I wish I’d thought of getting a picture of all the guests together – we did at the wedding, but not the shower!

  • Nicole

    Really great ideas. I was so looking forward to reading this post, because for so many reasons, my (now) husband and I decided against having any wedding showers at all whatsoever. One thing I really was hoping would be touched on in this post was ways to encourage a gender all-inclusive event, instead of an event just for women.

    • http://www.mollyeverafter.com Molly Ever After

      We had a gender all-inclusive shower, and it was great. My aunt and uncle (godparents) hosted the party, and the guests were all family members. The only game we played was a type of Newlywed Game where the husbands/my fiancé had to answer questions about their wives/me, like “What is her favorite color?” Or “Where is her dream vacation destination?” It was fun and took the focus off us because some of my aunts and uncles had no clue what the right answers were, which was very funny. Other than that, it was just lunch and opening gifts.

    • http://www.foreveryoungadult.com Erin

      Some friends of mine had a “stock the bar” party, which was AWESOME, because it was mixed gender and the bride and groom both had signature cocktails that they served and everyone got drunk and showered them with booze and bar accessories (lovely cocktail napkins! vintage stemware!).

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    My friends found our belly dance instructor to come give all of us a lesson. That is one of my cherished memories, watching my mom and mother-in-law meet for the first time and learn how to do snake arms together. Priceless!

  • CinColorado

    Our shower was last weekend, and it was so much fun! I’ve always kind of hated baby and wedding showers, and really didn’t want to hate my own. Turns out, I didn’t have much to do with this one other than OK the co-ed nature of the party (Yay! Everyone can come!) and provide the guest list. I suspect my wonderful MOH (who throws fabulous parties) started planning the details right away, bless her sweet hand-crafted-banner-making heart! It was in her home in the late afternoon with a happy hour/picnic vibe. It was the first time I’d been to a co-ed shower, and it was a blast! My MOH and bridesmaids made sure there wasn’t a TP bridal gown game in sight, and that the games were fun for everyone. The guys in attendance were overheard saying that if they knew showers were this much fun, there would be more of the co-ed kind! It is generally known that we won’t be having kids, but we still did the ribbon breaking joke anyway – a fun tradition that didn’t do any harm. Yes, I’ll be carrying my paper plate bouquet at the rehearsal. Turns out, I’m a tad more traditional than I suspected going in to the whole wedding planning thing! We opened the gifts up in three stages, in between games and snack/cocktail breaks. Which seemed to work well, with none of that dreaded, awkward “won’t they just hurry UP?!?” staring. Best of all though, is that with a very long engagement (18 months), seeing so many of our close friends gathered in one place, (some drove hours or actually flew in to see us), was magical and really helped us feel that it is finally happening! I wish I had more photos, though. Bonus: My sweetie and I are writing the thank-you notes together, and since we were both there, it is turning out to be way more fun than I thought it would be!

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    I don’t like attention at all, but my aunts and other relatives would have been disappointed if I hadn’t opened gifts. So I asked my 3 and 4 year old nieces to be my gift opening assistants. They were thrilled and definitely took the focus off me.

  • Abilene

    Hi all – you may remember me from my Wedding Graduate post on dwelling. As you can imagine, my own negativity ruined my own bridal shower for me. Instead of focusing on what the shower was – a gathering of all the women who love me most, hosted by my mom and sister in my childhood home, filled with wine and lots of delicious goodies – I focused on the bad things that people had said, the people who didn’t RSVP, etc., etc. By the time the day rolled around, I was sick with worry and panic and had a hard time enjoying myself. Sadly, I can’t get that day back, and guess what? I’m still kicking myself for it!

    So if you’re dreading your shower for any of these reasons:
    a. You don’t want to open gifts in front of people;
    b. Your future brother-in-law said to your future husband, “What, so we have to buy her a gift for the shower AND for your wedding?!”;
    c. Someone you thought was a good friend said that the plates on your registry were “so unlike you”;
    d. Your future mother-in-law refused to RSVP, and your future sister-in-law chose to attend a soccer game instead;
    or others, I have advice for you:

    LET IT GO! This is one event in your hopefully-long life, and it’s supposed to be joyous. Don’t worry about other people. Focus on the people you love, the ones you know want to be there with you. It might be hard to ever get all of these people into the same room again, so enjoy it while they’re there.

  • sarah

    I live far away from my family, so there was no way for my mom/ aunts/ bridesmaids to put together a shower. Instead, I spent time with my maid of honor and each bridesmaid in the days before the wedding.

    However, a very good friend of mine did throw me a shower-like party with my friends who do live nearby. She contacted my sister to make sure it was okay and that my family wouldn’t be upset since they were too far away to attend. This was really considerate of her (and my family didn’t mind at all)!

    She called the party a “tea” so that no one felt pressured to bring presents. She did ask that each person bring a seed packet which turned out to be an excellent and low-key gift idea because my husband and I keep a vegetable garden, so this year when we planted we hardly had to go seed shopping at all.

  • Amy March

    If there are no gifts, I don’t think it should be called a shower at all. That’s just a party. As a guest, the reason I value going to a shower is because it is meaningful to me to materially support your new marriage. Attending yet another day to just celebrate (on top of an engagement party, bachelorette, actual wedding)- not so much.

  • Anonymous

    Well the only issue I have with this advice is that a shower, by definition, is a gift-giving event. It would not make sense to call something a shower and then write “no gifts” on the invitation. If you want to have a get-together and eat food to celebrate the upcoming wedding the host(s) should call it a luncheon instead. Calling it a shower, many people are still going to feel like they should bring gifts because that is the main point of the shower.

    As for something addressed in the comments, I don’t think it is EVER a good idea to invite people to a shower or pre-wedding party or luncheon if they did not make the wedding guest list. The ONE exception I could see would be a shower thrown entirely by your co-workers as a work shower. Even if it’s a destination wedding, by choosing to have a destination wedding, you are choosing to forego the normal pre-wedding festivities OR have them with a very small guest list. You can still get together with friends when you return from the DW and have a BBQ or something to show them some wedding pics, but don’t make it a wedding event.

    • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com pluis

      I think we had an acceptable ‘exception’ as well. We told our friends that we would get married in a tiny ceremony with just our parents and siblings present. Some time later our friends asked if they could throw us a co-ed bachelor(ette) party anyway, just because they really wanted to, and we said yes. No one at that party seemed to mind at all that they were not invited to the wedding ceremony.

      In the end, we threw a party for friends and extended family several months later to which we of course invited all the lovely people who organized and came to our bachelorette party.

  • Other Katelyn

    In the spirit of APW shame-blasting: It’s possible to have an extremely meaningful shower… WITH gifts and other components that may look WIC-inspired on the surface. It’s about intent, it’s about the ritual, and it’s about the people.

  • http://www.mollyeverafter.com/ Molly Ever After

    This post rubbed me the wrong way because it made it seem like if you have a traditional shower, it won’t be meaningful. We had gifts and games and chicken salad sandwiches at my shower, and it was great because people who loved me and my fiancé were there to show their support for our impending marriage. How to really have a meaningful shower? Show up ready to soak in the love of everyone who came with plenty to give you. That’s it.

    • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

      “Show up ready to soak in the love of everyone who came with plenty to give you” You’re absolutely right. I’d encourage you to remember Meg’s letter from the editor that started this month, though. The author here, while presenting her story in a “how-to” format, is really just speaking to her own Good experience. It’s easier to find stories about traditional bridal showers, so she took the opportunity to share her non-traditional one. She’s not taking away from other people’s meaningful experiences, instead she’s adding another happy story to the mix.

      I think you and the author came to the same conclusion- soaking in the love- by two different, and equally Good paths.

      • http://www.mollyeverafter.com/ Molly Ever After

        I think it was the presentation of it in a “how to” way that bothered me. You’re right that we both came to the same conclusion, but by the author framing her experience in a “how to” post, I felt that it dictated best practices, similar to APW’s how to create a wedding timeline and how to do smokey eye makeup posts.

        The author’s shower sounds like it was a lovely event; I just wish she had framed her post about it differently.

  • H

    I had a bridal shower. I didn’t hate it, nor did I love it, but I felt guilty for the entire thing. We’ve been pressured into registering by the whole family (both sides). We registered; we were told what we registered for wasn’t adequate; we registered for more stuff to complete the adequacy; now that the registry is almost empty, we’re told we need to register for even more, when we’re f-ing sick of receiving presents in boxes that we basically don’t have room for, and we finally put our feet down. I’m grateful for the presents; I really am, but we just feel so shitty about the whole thing.

    Mom spent way more than she should have to host the damn shower. Most people had to drive multiple hours to get there, but convincing my mom that having one was a bad idea wasn’t going to happen. In fact, I was scared to make the guest list, because there were a grand total of 5 people that didn’t have to drive over 2 hours to get to it. I did what I was supposed to and opened gifts and chatted and dressed up in a dress that Mom picked out to make her happy, but she really wanted to be the center of attention, and I really just wish we hadn’t had one.

    So, in my experience, bridal showers are solely there for making your parents/brides-people happy. You may or may not have fun during them. However, the fact that there were frozen margaritas made it much more tolerable.

  • Brooke

    My sister organised me an afternoon tea in the lead up to my wedding, and I was excited about getting together with so many of the important ladies in my life. I got a shock though when I walked in and saw a pile of beautifully wrapped presents, because I had let my sister know beforehand I didn’t want gifts. But my sister whispered to me to calm down and wait and see what was in store. She knows I love hunting out treasures in second hand stores (“op shops” here in Australia), and so she had asked each guest to bring along a gift they had found in an op shop, or something they had already at home, something I could add to my collection to help me host afternoon teas in the future in my own home. And so I began unwrapping this amazing, eclectic collection of cups and saucers, plates, cake servers, linen…..and each one came with a story from the giver. Like the beautiful gold teacup that our 75 year old family friend received for her 18th birthday, and decided she wanted to pass on to me. Or the friend who was thrilled with the gorgeous blue jug she had unearthed for 50c in her local charity shop. These gifts were so meaningful, and I love thinking about the people that gave them to me and the stories behind them each time I get them out for a cup of tea!

    • Emilie

      This is a brilliant idea.

  • KC

    I think this may be a geography/class thing, but I’ve never been to an engagement party. In addition, many people who might want to come to a “shower” sort of party might not want to come to a bachelorette sort of party (which is usually smaller and more age-constrained in my experience, anyway?). And there are definitely people who I’ve wanted to give a “congratulations on your marriage!” gift to where they had a small enough wedding that I wasn’t invited (but it is also possible to just give people gifts without there being a party involved).

    Some people want gifts; some people do not want gifts. Some people enjoy opening gifts in front of people; others would rather hide under the table.

    Some people want to give shower gifts (build the new home!); some people do not want to give gifts (rather give a larger gift at the wedding, or we-have-no-money-right-now-but-still-want-to-show-up-to-say-we-love-you).

    Some people love tea parties; some people hate tea parties with a burning passion.

    Some people like potlucks; others don’t.

    If we could maybe all agree that:
    a) it’s best to assume that your loved ones are not trying to be greedy
    b) it’s best to assume that your loved ones are not trying to torture you
    c) it’s best for everyone to do what will minimize suffering, where known and applicable
    d) so it’s best not to judge others negatively by your expectations,
    That would be cool.

    So maybe we could let other people off the hook for doing things the right/wrong way (according to your practices), whether they’re brides or hosting the shower or attending (or choosing to not attend) the shower. While there are probably a lot of wrong ways of having a shower (shower being “not as advertised”, like a tea-party shower that turns out to actually be a cross-country hiking expedition; deliberately embarrassing people; denigrating gifts that were well-meant; etc.), I think the comments so far demonstrate that “the right way” or “the best way” to host/name/invite/structure a shower-like thing is *not universally agreed upon*. So, maybe, mutual charity to all?

    • http://seasofgales.wordpress.com/ KH_Tas

      I love this comment

  • Nora

    I highly recommend the “non-shower shower” as we referred to mine. aka no presents (meaning i opened 2, from the people who had something they wanted to give me and stated “i don’t like to follow directions”). My godmother and second-mother figure hosted it, and they sent everyone a recipe card and asked them to bring it filled out with a favorite recipe. They gave me the matching recipe box at the shower, and it was so great! People explained where the recipe came from or just what it was, and I got a bunch of recipes, written in the handwriting of the people I love most.

  • Kara E

    If you want a shower with no gifts, don’t call it a shower (it’ll be easier that way!) — it’s a brunch, or a luncheon, or a celebration, or some other word.

    Also, for This was one of those days I wished I could bottle up and keep on a shelf, take it down and savor it during gloomier times.

    I did, and I do. Can’t want (the 2 weeks) until my baby shower – not for the gifts, which I don’t really want, but for love.

  • Karen M.

    This is indeed a silly tradition but it worked for my family (We are Asian-American). My Sister and my Mom both got married in court, I will be the only one in our family to have an actual wedding. They don’t know much about bridal showers and had been doing a lot of research on Google. I don’t remember seeing them put so much effort into their wedding and yet I see them dedicating so much time and effort into my bridal shower and wedding planning. I am an introvert and really shy but seeing my mom and sister getting so excited for me made me feel so much LOVED!

    I’ve never commented here on APW before so this will be my first time and just wanted to post something positive about Bridal Showers.

  • Rachel

    I’m glad APW is talking about alternatives to showers for those of us who are uncomfortable with the traditional format. For me, there was no question of a traditional shower, and I didn’t want people to have to travel on a separate weekend in addition to the wedding. So my mom organized a “women’s circle” on the day before the wedding (it was a 3 day weekend so most guests were in town already). We invited about 20 women – my closest friends, sisters, cousins, and women in my mom’s generation who I’ve known since I was a baby. I didn’t dress up, but my mom brought a beautiful floral wreath that I wore on my head, which made me feel special and pretty. The guests were asked to bring something to share – a poem, story, artwork, song, whatever. No gifts. And we had a simple, casual lunch. That was it.

    It was one of the highlights of the wedding weekend for me. Everyone’s contributions were amazing. My best friend wrote a poem about our decades-long friendship that had me bawling. Another friend made an incredible, funny drawing that harkened back to our childhood silliness. A friend of my mom’s gave me a feminist bumpersticker she’d been saving for decades. My cousin made embroidered pillowcases!

    I felt so lifted up and showered in love, and I treasured every minute. But there was something more — in a weekend that was all about celebrating my relationship with my wonderful husband, this was a time carved out to celebrate my bonds with women who were in my life long before he came along and who remain just as important to me now that I’m married.

    I’d recommend it for anyone who feels weird about the gifts, games, and other trappings of traditional showers. (Although of course if that’s your thing, enjoy!) You don’t have to sacrifice the intimate, intergenerational women’s love fest!

  • MDBethann

    A year ago I had 2 fabulous showers – 1 at a friend’s house for my friends, where my husband and I live.
    The other shower was a couple of weeks later for our families, up where they live in PA. The small one near my home was a yummy tea party for my girlfriends and we had a fun afternoon (with some hilarious commentary from my one friend’s daughters). The other shower was wine themed, which was yummy and my SIL & MIL & sister clearly enjoyed planning it. I appreciated all of the thought and love that went into both parties and I’ve always enjoyed going to showers for my friends and relatives.

    That said, if you don’t want to be showered with gifts, I second the idea of having a tea, luncheon, cocktail party, etc. to celebrate your upcoming marriage. Just don’t call it a shower if you’re not being showered with gifts/advice/recipes, etc.

    Maybe something like a hen party? I don’t know too much about them, but a friend of mine in Britain has talked about them – sounds like some combination of a shower & bachelorette. Maybe one of the European APWers can enlighten us more fully on the concept?

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