Monday, March 28, 2011

Will the Wedding Police Come After Me?

Through the course of planning for my daughter's wedding, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about today's prevailing American wedding etiquette. Or should I say, some people's (or region of the country, or age group's) idea of wedding etiquette. At first I was highly intimidated and sought to follow down to the letter all the "rules" as I read them on the Internet on The Knot or, or in the wedding planning advice books I was using (such as the Emily Post guide for the Mother of the Bride.)

But I eventually learned, that believe it or not, every bride's situation is different (as is her family.) And I have discovered that hard and fast rules for brides in some regions of the country are not so important in other regions. (Obviously there are differences, too, in wedding customs of different countries and faith groups, but I am just focusing here on the current prevailing American wedding etiquette.)

The major American bridal magazines are published, as most magazines are, in New York or Chicago. Their staffers are mostly 20 to 30-somethings. Obviously, there is also a great concentration of the American population living in Northern regions of this country. So my humble opinion is that the regional customs of the younger generation of the Northern part of the U.S. are what's most commonly portrayed in America as Modern Wedding Etiquette. (or MWE as I will call it from now on!)

The MWE ideas seem rather inflexible. What the young, hip, Northeast Media complex dictates is RIGHT, and everyone else must be WRONG. I currently live and am a native of Texas, with a Southern family tradition on both mine and my husband's side, so consequently many of our planning ideas have come into conflict with MWE. Because I have lived (happily I might add) in both the North and the South, perhaps I have a unique perspective and understanding of both "cultures." I have been fascinated to observe and analyze some of these differences.

What types of things am I talking about? For one example, it seems the idea of getting married in a church is turning into mostly a Southern thing. Other parts of the country seem to be opting for the all-in-one public venue. (Actually, now that I've been exposed to some of the logistics of wedding planning, I can definitely see the advantages of that!) I think some of the secular wedding trend may also reflect the influence of the younger generation -- they just don't have the church ties as in previous generations.

The serving of alcohol at weddings is a prime example of the cultural difference. In the Northeast, there had better be plenty of it, and no Cash Bar, either, thank you very much! In the South, a number of Protestant families still frown upon alcohol being served at the reception at all. (My husband and I are not total teetotalers, but my daugher and her fiance opted for a dry reception of their own accord and we respect that.)

I think the dancing ban was the first to go in the Bible Belt. What was frowned upon in Baptist circles in the South even 20 years ago, is now widely accepted at wedding receptions (just not on church property!) My daughter is getting married in a Baptist church, but then we are moving to a hotel ballroom so that she can have the DJ and dancing she requested.

I think the traditional church basement reception of cake, punch and mixed nuts may be almost a thing of the past too, except perhaps in some small towns with not many other options for a reception venue. (A church hall might be the biggest building in town!) Again, the youth culture is coming in to play here, too -- that kind of reception could honestly be pretty boring!

Another example of MWE involves the wedding invitations. Most wedding advice I've seen says it is not appropriate to put Gift Registry information anywhere on the printed materials. Even for Bridal Showers, it not considered polite to put that information on the invite itself, although they grudgingly give the OK to have a SEPARATE sheet of paper inserted with that info on it. Hello?!!...isn't that the purpose of a Bridal Shower, to "shower the couple with gifts?" And why waste another sheet of paper (and the tree it came from?) I just don't get that at all. Personally, we had no problem in just listing right on the shower invitation where the couple is registered.

Well, the Wedding Police say, the proper thing to do is for guests to just ask the bride's mother where the couple is registered! Well, in our case nearly 2/3 of the guests are college students in another town who don't know me from Adam. That rule, I think, is from bygone days when a bride gets married in the same town the family has lived in for generations, and everyone knows everybody. What we opted for is to list the couple's wedding website (powered by on an insert to the wedding invitation packet. From there, those of her generation can find out what the registries are. Those of my generation who are not computer-savvy (and who likely are relatives or family friends) will likely ask me or the groom's mother. (Naturally, I have read some opinions from some MWE purists that listing the website is viewed as a sneaky, back-handed way to give out the registry info in the invitation and it is frowned upon too. I say to that, "Take a Chill Pill!")

And then there is MWE's opinion on the Bridal Shower guest list. The Grand-Daddy Rule of them all is what I have come to call THE RULE! "It is terribly rude to invite someone to a bridal shower who is not also invited to the wedding!" OMG - I cannot believe the heated arguments and soapbox speeches some people have gone into about THE RULE on the wedding websites and message boards. Lets just say the majority of people are quite passionate about THE RULE! The gyst of the rule is this: If someone goes to the trouble and expense of buying a bridal shower gift, they should be rewarded with a wedding reception invite. Or to put it another way, they look on it as "I'm not good enough to get invited to your wedding and reception, but you still want me to buy you a shower gift? No Way!" Currently the only "acceptable" exception to THE RULE that most everyone agrees on is the Office Shower.

We had to cross this bridge in our own experience -- some of my friends from church graciously offered to give a shower for my daughter, so the question arose -- do I follow THE RULE and invite everyone who attends the shower to the wedding? This would be almost impossible, given our miniscule number of guest slots left over after the couple's friends and our families were invited! And since the wedding is not being held at our church or even in the same town, what is the likelihood that these people would even come to the wedding if they were invited?

So I started to analyze, where does THE RULE come from in the first place? In my opinion, the opposing views on THE RULE can be divided straight down the North/South line, and also reflects the younger generation's "What's in it for me?" attitude.

In my mind, what a typical Northern wedding looks like is a fairly large affair in a nice public venue, features an open bar, with usually a sit-down dinner or at least a nice buffet meal, and a band or DJ for dancing. A wedding invitation in the North is understandably a coveted thing -- it's a "free" night out including drinks, a nice meal and entertainment!

Conversely, up until recently, as I alluded to earlier, the typical Southern wedding reception was a more no-frills, cozy, intimate affair in the church basement or someone's home or backyard, with minimum refreshments served, and certainly no alcohol or dancing involved. There was usually an open invitation extended to all the "church family". So, in the South, the Bridal Shower was something given by the older church ladies for the bride; and it was understood that anyone in the church is welcome to come. If they don't get an invite to the wedding, it was no big deal --because the wedding reception itself was not that big a deal either. The church ladies just enjoyed coming to the shower for the fun and fellowship of being with other women, and to start the young couple off right with things needed for their new household. (Besides, sometimes the munchies were even better at the shower!)

When I mentioned my concerns about THE RULE to the church shower hostesses, who were also from the South and from my generation, they seemed to have no problem with the idea that not all of them would get wedding invites, and they thought my concern was kind of silly. But when I asked some of my Northern friends' opinions, they advised me not to go through with it. They wondered if we could just squeeze a few more people on the wedding guest list, or just somehow limit the shower guest list to invited wedding guests only? Or could we maybe host an after-wedding party for the couple at our church, to which the shower guests would be invited?

You see what I mean? It just boils down to a cultural and generational thing, going by what has been their experience with weddings in the past. We opted to go ahead with the "open" shower guest list, but I did give a heads up to the hostesses that not all guests would be invited to the wedding, and if they were OK with that and the guests were OK with that, well then, let's have us a Shower! We had a fine turnout. My daughter had a great time. The wedding invitations had already gone out before the bridal shower invitations did, so I figured if anyone had a problem with THE RULE they would just opt to stay home, and that was fine, too.

My take on this now is that MWE is slowly evolving into what it should be -- a more fluid set of "guidelines" rather than hard and fast rules. I am breaking some of the rules of MWE, and have even broken THE RULE, but I have relaxed because the Wedding Police are NOT going to come after me! The important thing is -- what works best for the couple, their situation, and what works best for their families who are along for the ride!

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