The biggest piece of wedding advice, advice which I rarely came across in my reading through all the wedding advice books, is that your guests will have fun pretty much no matter what you do. They are there to have a good time. This even goes for those annoying relatives who insisted that you absolutely have to wear petunias and raised such a fuss when you went ahead and ordered begonias instead. Once the wedding starts, they’ll forget all about it. And if they don’t, instead complaining that everything is utterly ruined throughout the entire day, well, then you’re glad they’re having a miserable time, right?
My wedding advice is to do what you want. Sing if you want to (as long as you can sing well, preferably. You don’t want to actively chase away your guests).
The corollary to that (and this is even rarer and better wedding advice) is that your guests notice a lot less about what’s going on than you do. You have been elbow-deep in the wedding planning. As a consequence, you know the size of every napkin, the color of every ribbon, the number of hours you spent picking out suitable favors. Your guests, on the other hand, might notice that the bride is wearing a big white poofy dress.
Consider your first day at a new job. All your new coworkers know everything about anything, it seems, while you can’t remember where the bathroom is. Now switch places. Of course you know everything about your wedding. Your guests just can’t – they’re too overwhelmed with trying to talk to you, grab an appetizer, and pick up a date for the evening at the same time to notice that the coasters are the exact same shade as the bridesmaid’s fingernail polish.
Heck, we had printed up table cards that had our new address and phone number on the back (which we thought was a great idea). Every guest got one, of course. And you wouldn’t believe the number of people who asked us for our new address after the reception. Not because they lost their card. But because they didn’t even notice the address was there in the first place and thus didn’t bother to keep it!
And then remember, since the reception is just a big party, that, despite what the Evil Wedding Industry says, there’s nothing that you have to do. (This doesn’t necessarily apply to your choice of service, of course. That’s between you and your officiant and the local government.) As for the reception, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. Wedding Advice: If you do want to do it, do it. Simple as that.
Putting this all together can save you both money and annoyance. An example of a specific application of this would be save a few bucks and ditch the aisle runner. Either people won’t notice, won’t care that you don’t have one, or won’t say anything because the wedding still took place without it. And money aside, ditching a little thing like that means a little less to worry about (where to get one, arguing over what it should look like, who is going to unroll it, when is it going to be delivered, who has to remove it from the church, etc.), and therefore a little less that can go wrong. And little things will add up in a big way. And suddenly you’re happier, as long as you ignore the protestations of your parents.
That brings me to another piece of advice. Ignore the protestations of your parents. It might not be easy, and you may eventually have to give in a little here and there. But you’ll be happier if you can smile and nod and then do what you want anyway.
It’s amazing what one can do away with and still have a charming semi-formal reception that everyone will enjoy. It’s amazing how nearly nobody told us they noticed that most of this was missing. And it made our wedding that much more not like everyone else’s. Not that you have to agree with our choices, but in alphabetical order we safely ignored:
Being “announced” by a cheesy DJ or wedding band leader – Every one of our guests witnessed us getting married. The priest pronounced us husband and wife (or words to that effect). All clapped as we kissed. Did we really need some random guy with a microphone to “welcome the new Mr. and Mrs. Dutton” as we walked into the reception?
Cake topper – We couldn’t find the one we really wanted, so we didn’t have any. Here’s a true conversation that evening:
Guest: Did you have a cake topper?
Me: I don’t know – did we?
Guest: Uh, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Maybe you did?
Me: So perhaps there’s why we didn’t!
The cake was excellent (angel-food chocolate chip – frosted white, of course), and that was what was important.
Champagne for the toast – There was plenty of wine, so why not toast with that?
Color scheme – In the early stages of the planning, people had asked us what our color scheme was, and we had given some thought about what colors we might like. But in the end, we ended up with floral bridesmaids dresses, royal blue groomsmen cummerbunds, gray table cards with blue writing, floral invitations, gray and black playing cards as favors, green tablecloths and napkins, and a whole array of thank-you notes. Not one comment from any of the guests.
Electricity – OK, people noticed that, but it wasn’t our fault!
Flower Girl and Ring Bearer – We simply didn’t have any young sisters or brothers or cousins that would fit the bill.
Grand exits – We had the idea of getting into a canoe and canoeing away into the sunset (or towards where the sun would set in a few hours). Then we’d come back and hang with our friends. But the rain dampened that idea. Instead, we just hung with our friends until past midnight without first making the grand exit. So we missed less of the party. (Hanging out with your friends after the reception is a good idea, especially if they’ve come from way out of town and you don’t see them often.)
Head table – I got this idea from a friend’s wedding. Instead of a head table, we just sat at a regular table in the middle of all our guests. That way, we’re not constantly on display, we’re closer to more guests, and nobody is all the way in the “back”. We also sat with our parents and grandparents, rather than the bridal party. That way, we could sit the bridal party with their dates and friends, which makes them happier. Furthermore, we had the other tables chosen randomly by the waitstaff – we hadn’t planned on that originally, but we didn’t have time to decide for ourselves. They were given big cards with the table names on them, and they chose where to put each of the cards without knowing who was sitting at each of the tables.
Ice sculptures – God, no.
Limousines – I didn’t mind driving, we had friends with cars, and we were planning on getting to the church before everyone else anyway. As it turned out, Sue and I were the very last people to leave the church; even the priest had left, so we turned off all the lights and locked up, then drove alone to the reception. It was very nice to have that quiet time to ourselves, though we can just imagine what people driving by seeing a bride and groom in the rain leaving an empty dark church thought. Anyway, between getting there before everyone else and leaving after everyone else, nobody would have noticed the limo in the first place. And then after the reception, we weren’t going anywhere anyway.
Matching bridesmaid shoes – “Just get white pumps” could anyone notice they weren’t all exactly the same?
Matching groomsmen tuxes – We told the groomsmen that if they had a black tux, then they could wear it. For those who didn’t have one, we ended up renting from different places. I owned one already, and I wore that. We did get the groomsmen matching cummerbunds, though. But even in the pictures, it isn’t at all noticeable that the tuxes are all different.
Receiving line – This was more accidental than anything. We had decided not to do this leaving the church, but rather we told everyone to rush to the reception with the intent of doing it there. But the rain meant we couldn’t do it outdoors, and there wasn’t a suitable place indoors, so we just forgot about the whole thing. No big deal. We made sure we talked to everyone.
Reception invitation cards – Not the reception table cards, but the separate matching reception information cards that are often included with an invitation. As you can see on our invitation, we put the wedding and reception information together; after all, everyone is invited to both.
Rehearsal dinner – We didn’t mind the idea of a rehearsal dinner, and we even called and looked around for prices and other information. Then we thought about who we had to invite. Parents, grandparents, and the bridal party, for sure. But what about those that flew or drove eight hours. We decided it would be much easier (and cheaper) to throw an informal barbecue after the rehearsal, and invite any of our guests who happened to be there that night. We’re glad we did – it was a stunningly beautiful day, we had burgers, went swimming and canoeing in the lake (the Inn lent us the canoes, as well as the barbecue pit, for free), and chatted with all our guests. Our plan was for us and the bridal party to man the barbecue, but our fathers happily took control (you know the whole men and barbecuing thing). After it got dark, we went to my parents’ cabin for more toasting, then the younger people hung out in the bridal party cabin for much of the night. Great time, and it excluded nobody.
Table Assignments – OK, this one is to see if you are paying attention. We actually did have table assignments, although we could have ignored this if we wanted. But we decided not to ignore this because we once got lost and arrived late to a reception where guests were expected to seat themselves wherever they wanted, and so there was no room for us to sit with the three other people we knew (who were in the car with us, also lost). So we decided to spare anyone the potential trouble. Besides, deciding who will sit with whom was probably the most fun aspect of planning a wedding. Or maybe we’re weird that way.
My point in giving you this wedding advice is not to say that you shouldn’t do any of the things we didn’t do (except perhaps ice sculptures and aisle runners), but to point out that we didn’t do many of the things that are commonly thought of as requirements, and yet we still had a fun, lovely, and interesting wedding reception.
You may choose not do do things because of money, because of irreconcilable aesthetic differences among the involved parties, or because you simply don’t like the idea. Don’t feel that you have to do anything just because you have been told you have to. I would guess that you would be happier not doing the things you don’t want to do than doing the things you don’t want to do.
Unfortunately, you’ll also have to practice being happy not doing the things you want to do. Some things you will have to compromise over (give in on the napkin color and you’ll get your way on the top hat issue). Some things you can’t afford (that lovely reception at the Rainbow Room). Some things are better off enduring if it will avoid a larger problem (yes, you should invite your sister even if you hate her). Some things might have to be cancelled at the last minute because the weather does not cooperate (that post-reception softball game). Yes, it’s easy for me to say that you’ll just have to relax and take everything in stride. So that’s what I’m going to say. The alternative is to be permanently miserable, and we don’t want that, do we?
The problem is not that there are people who want the Hollywood-style perfect wedding. It’s that there are people who expect it. Obsessing over the tiniest details and brooding over every little setback is a recipe for disaster and overshadows the real reason two people get married.
To be fair, I suppose I have my own small list of things you probably should do.
If you’re inviting people, have written invitations. It makes it easier for everyone. They don’t have to be engraved or cost a thousand dollars or even printed up professionally. If you want them to be, fine. That’s what we preferred. But if you want to photocopy a sheet of notebook paper with crayon writing, fine, too. If a guest is horrified at that, then they probably don’t deserve to be invited.
Most people are bad at responding to the invitation. Including self-addressed stamped envelopes for guest RSVP’s helps a little, and we’d recommend it, but you’ll still be calling people after your deadline passes. And then an alarming number of yes people will call anyway to cancel at the last minute. So do what you want, as long as you let everyone know how best to contact you.
And most of all, be nice. Don’t be a little dictator. Let the small things slide. I have said that you should do what you want to do, but I have left unsaid the “within reason”. The definition of “reason” is for you to decide; just be reasonable. Dispensing with the flowers may be weird, but it is not going to hurt anyone, while inviting people to the church and not the reception is just asking for trouble.
(Of course, advising people that inviting people to the church and not the reception is just asking for trouble is in itself asking for trouble. I have since been informed that in some parts of Europe it is customary to invite fewer people to a reception than to the wedding ceremony. Well, it still sounds rude to me. Yes, I’ve been saying all along that it’s your wedding, do what you want – but I don’t have to like it!
If you want to be at your reception, have your pictures done before the ceremony. If you have to ask why, you aren’t ready to have your picture taken professionally.
But what about not seeing the bride before the ceremony? Hogwash, is what we say. The photographer recommended it, the priest recommended it, anyone who has done it recommended it. It’s better than missing the reception you payed thousands of dollars for. We did the vast majority of our pictures before the wedding and still needed to take a few afterwards, so we were the last people to leave the church (see above) and we got to the reception a half hour after people had started munching.
For some strange reason even most of the people who took pictures with us were adamant about my not seeing her at the church. She’d need to walk by where I was standing, and I’d get a chorus of bridesmaids yelling “don’t look!” as if I hadn’t just seen her for two hours beforehand. Go figure.