How to Have a Meaningful Bridal Shower

  • 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.

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