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Engagement Party Etiquette

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/7/2006 | Social Issues

A friend of ours recently confessed to being worried about the guest list for her engagement party. Chief among her concerns was the fact that while she wanted the gathering to be informal, she also felt she had to invite at least some of the wedding guests who would otherwise be offended. This and many similar issues assume priority when it comes to engagement party etiquette.  

How can you stop Uncle Will from going on and on about your ex? How can Mum be prevented from making arch comments about your fiancées non-existent culinary skills? How can you keep a conversation going between families that may have met for the first time? Will it be another My Big Fat Greek Wedding scenario? Read on to find out.

Basic rules of engagement party etiquette

Invitations: Usually, it is the bride-to-bes parents who host an engagement party, and the common practice is to throw either a cocktail or dinner party, where the bride-to-bes father announces the engagement once the guests have assembled. That brings us to the guest list. As we told our friend, you dont have to invite everyone who is invited to the wedding, but simple courtesy dictates that you dont invite anyone who is not invited to the wedding as well. 

Engagement parties are usually more informal than a wedding, so the best thing is to confine the gathering to close family and friends. And that means you dont really have to include colleagues and casual friends. If you feel guilty about that, why not host two parties one for family, the other for friends? That is, if your budget permits it. 

Gifts: This is often the most awkward part of engagement party etiquette, because the dilemmas are several. Can you announce beforehand that you dont want gifts? In that case, will those who were not planning to bring gifts anyway feel shamed into buying something? When you invite specific people to the engagement party, do you imply that you expect them to bring gifts, even though they have never traditionally been obligatory at engagement parties?  

A lot of people try to get around the issue by announcing their engagement as a surprise at the party. However, there will always be those who know about the announcement beforehand, and they will probably bring gifts. The best thing to do in such situations is to wait for the party to end before opening the gifts, so as not to make the other guests feel awkward. A better idea is for close family and friends to give their gifts in private, before or after the party. If other people send gifts after the announcement or the engagement party, a thank-you note in acknowledgment is a must.   

However, you may be marrying into a different culture or community in which gifts are part of engagement party etiquette. In that case, you must simply go along with the custom and not try and impose your own. 

Play the peacenik: Ah, another tricky situation. Aunts Sandra and Gwen cant stand your fiancé, and the stony silence that ensues every time these three are part of a group is unbearable. Similarly, the two moms-in-law smile in a strained manner at each other, but have nothing to talk about. You have to bridge these gaps when it comes to the engagement party, by letting the participants know beforehand that they must make an effort to bury their differences for your special day.  

Introduce & acknowledge: Always introduce everyone to everyone else, ideally adding a sentence or two about the persons being introduced so that a conversation can keep going when youre not around. If you were to strictly follow etiquette, you would have to introduce women and older people first. However, if the two families belong to different nations and cultures, make sure you and the American guests know that what is considered polite for one may be downright rude for the other. 

If you have a bad memory for names, say so and seek the help of the person whose name has slipped your mind. Dont let your memory lapse prevent you from making an introduction, because that is certain to make a guest feel unwelcome and insignificant.