Wedding Details: Get the Party Started
Kick off the wedding festivities with an engagement party
The average length of an engagement is fourteen months — but you don’t have to wait that long to start celebrating. An engagement party is an opportunity to share the excitement of your pending marriage with friends and family in a relaxed setting before kicking into high-gear wedding-planning mode. However, the engagement party is relatively uncharted territory
The average length of an engagement is fourteen months — but you don’t have to wait that long to start celebrating. An engagement party is an opportunity to share the excitement of your pending marriage with friends and family in a relaxed setting before kicking into high-gear wedding-planning mode. However, the engagement party is relatively uncharted territory compared to other wedding-related events, and questions of where to have it, who should be invited — and whether to even have one at all — confound many newly engaged couples.
If the thought of planning yet another blowout to celebrate your union has your head spinning, don’t worry. Having an engagement party is not a necessity — and it isn’t practical for everyone. Ksenia and David Scorsolini, a Philadelphia couple who were engaged a week before Thanksgiving, decided they could skip one — by the time the holidays were over, their wedding was only six months away. Each of their mothers, who live in different cities from both the couple and each other, was planning a bridal shower that would be convenient for their guests. “It felt excessive to have yet another party,” says Ksenia. “We already had too much to do in a relatively short amount of time.”
Too many events in a short time can be overwhelming for both you and your guests, says Gina Sole, owner of The Wedding Planner in Philadelphia. A shower is typically two to three months before the wedding, so if the wedding is any less than a year after your engagement, it’s probably best to skip a formal engagement party. If you do have one, it should be spaced out from other events as much as possible, she says.
From intimate dinners for the two families to blowout bashes that include the entire wedding guest list — anything goes for an engagement party, says Drew Skinner, owner of Cricket Catering in Ardmore. “The number of couples having engagement parties has dramatically increased in the past 10 years, and they are becoming larger and more elaborate than ever before.” Even a casual event at a relative’s home is often catered and may sometimes include live music.
Couples should think about what they hope to accomplish with the party, says Sole. “The purpose of smaller engagement parties is for the two families to formally come together for the first time. For bigger affairs, it’s just the first pre-wedding celebration.” There are no strict rules about where it should be held, or who should host or send out invitations. Traditionally, it was the bride’s parents — similar to the wedding — but now, any parent, relative, close friend, or the couple themselves can host, she says.
There are also no strict rules about who should be invited, either, says Cristy Peltzer, wedding consultant at the Radnor Hotel in St. Davids, who has seen anywhere from 20 to 120 guests at engagement parties. “It just depends on the type of event you want to have.” When inviting guests from out of town, you should consider that traveling to yet another event could be difficult. If you’d like them to be there, extend the invitation, but make sure they know it’s okay if they can’t make it, says Peltzer. A skilled invitation writer can assist you in finding the right wording to express this.
Having an engagement party at someone’s home may set a less formal, more intimate tone, but can be a burden to the host, says Skinner. Hiring a caterer can take stress off everyone. So much work goes into planning a wedding, and this should be a time for everyone to relax and enjoy themselves. “Let someone else tend to the details,” he says.
Christine Doherty is a bride-to-be who grew up in Philadelphia and now lives in Boston. Her parents hosted a catered engagement party for her and her fiance at their home in Berwyn. Extended family, the bridal party and close friends of the couple and parents were all invited, and this was the first time that many of them — including the parents of the couple — had met. “It was important to us to bring our worlds together before the wedding,” says Doherty, “so we wouldn’t have the added pressure of introducing everyone for the first time that day.”
Setting the Mood
From barbecues in the formal gardens, to Sunday brunches in the Garden Room, to sit-down dinners in the ballroom, the Radnor Hotel has hosted a variety of engagement parties, but one common element to all of them is champagne, says Peltzer. “This is a time to celebrate, and it often becomes an open forum for toasting.” Friends and family may toast the couple, who in turn may thank everyone for coming or announce information about the wedding. One couple gave out save-the-date magnets that included their picture with the date and location of the wedding, so guests left with information — and a memento.
When choosing music, it’s important to think about the mood you want to create. Music shouldn’t make it difficult to for guests to mingle, says Carmen Tomassetti, CEO of CTO World Entertainment Productions, a live-entertainment management company based in Manayunk. A pianist, guitarist, flutist or harpist can add to the ambience without taking over, he says. “An engagement party is typically more subdued than a wedding reception, so a full band or a DJ is rare.”
“If you’re having an engagement party, you’re someone who likes to celebrate, and music makes any celebration more memorable,” says Tomassetti. “It creates emotion.” And a fabulous engagement party can set the mood for all the festivities to follow.