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How To Have An Engagement Party

From a small gathering to a formal affair—here's what you need to know

Did you and your person decide to get married recently? Congratulations! Did your parents or friends mention an engagement party yet? If they have, and you’re not sure what to do, read on.

Engagement parties may seem old fashioned, but they are a fun way to get your people together for what could very well be the first time. This party was traditionally hosted by the bride’s parents, and at one point, it was how everyone found out that you were engaged in the first place. These days, it’s not at all unlikely for your friends to throw you an engagement party, or you could even throw one for yourselves. They can be big formal affairs, but more often than not they’re just small get-togethers to celebrate what may well be a very long engagement (most folks don’t go from ring to aisle in six months these days). It’s also not unreasonable for you to have more than one engagement party hosted in your honor. Maybe your families are far apart, or your work friends really want to do something special for you. Let it happen!

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So if you are going to have an engagement party, what do you need to know?

When Should You have your engagement party?

Engagement parties generally happen pretty soon after you get engaged, and not so close to the wedding that they feel overwhelming for you or your guests (this is a party to celebrate your engagement, after all). Barring special circumstances, within three to four months of being engaged but more than six months before the wedding is ideal. This is a party that’s meant to create space for your families and friends to hang out and get to know each other a bit before all of the traditional wedding events and activities get rolling. But keep in mind that it should be on a smaller scale than the wedding itself (don’t use up all of your best tricks here).

Who Should Come?

An engagement party can be you and your ten favorite people eating cheese in your parents’ living room, or it can be you and a hundred people with a champagne tower in a hotel ballroom. Just make sure that you invite all of your engagement party guests to the wedding (I suggest, for this exact reason, that you keep it small!).

What Do You Do At An Engagement Party?

At some point, once everyone has arrived and enjoyed the party a bit, there should be a moment where the host makes a toast to you and your partner and mentions how excited they are about your engagement. You should also say a few words about how grateful you are and how excited you are as well (again, save some good lines for the wedding). Back to that original tradition, this toast would usually be when the host, the father of the bride, announces the engagement. These days, consider having someone special say a few words. Enjoy basking in all that love.

(Note: you may be thinking of hosting your own party because you want to reveal to your family and friends that you are engaged, which is awesome. If you have a good relationship with your parents or parental figures, consider telling them before the party. They’ll likely appreciate the conversation!)

Beyond that, eat, drink, and be merry. Nothing is mandatory at an engagement party, other than announcing or celebrating the engagement, so plan (or let other folks plan) whatever will make you happy.

Do People Bring Gifts?

If you’re itching to get that scanner gun and run through Target, go for it, but traditionally gifting isn’t part of the engagement party experience. You shouldn’t make mention of a registry on your invitation, either. There will always be people that want to give a gift any chance they get, but don’t expect to have a pile of them. And although the gifts may not roll in, you should still be prepared to write thank you notes to your guests.

What about an engagement party as a surprise wedding?

Go for it. Again, if you have certain close family members who you know would appreciate warning, give it to them. Otherwise, go on and surprise everyone. The reaction photos will be incredible.

What If We Want A Huge Party Because We’re Going To Elope?

Be careful inviting guests to the engagement party to celebrate because you won’t be inviting them to the wedding. This strategy can lead to misinterpretations and hurt feelings. Instead, I vote for inviting everyone to a celebration after your wedding’s over. The “We’re married!” celebration will feel that much better, because you’ve made it official.

Ultimately, engagement parties kick off a stretch of celebratory moments with your favorite people. That’s most definitely a tradition worth keeping.

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