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Reception Toasts

Martha Stewart Weddings, Spring 2005

If ever there was an occasion to raise a glass to someone's happiness and good fortune, it's a wedding. Toasts are an opportunity for friends and family to express in words the enormous joy they feel as they watch the newlyweds embark on their life together. And they are a time for the couple to salute each other and to thank their parents, attendants, and guests for all their love and support.

Being called upon to say something witty, eloquent, touching, and profound before a room full of people can make even the most outgoing person tongue-tied. But when you really think about it, a good toast need only convey one story or message -- something simple and sincere. And there's no need to go on and on.The old adage applies: Keep it short and sweet.

Toasts are as integral a part of the reception as the cake-cutting and first dance, and the bride and groom should decide in advance when and how they will occur. With a little planning and preparation, this time-honored tradition can create some of the most cherished memories of the day.

Do You Know?
Long ago, sharing a drink was a way to show trust. The term toast originated from the piece of bread placed in a cup of wine to absorb the sediment that settled at the bottom. The cup would be passed around and the "toast" became the prize of whoever reached it first.

The Order of Toasts
At the rehearsal dinner, toasts are informal; after a few words from the hosts (typically the groom's parents), anyone can speak. A reception calls for more structure. Here's a traditional order:

1. The first toast is customarily made by the best man. It's fine for this to be the only one offered, though other people will probably want to express their happiness for the newlyweds. After the best man, the maid of honor may offer a toast, too.

2. Next, the groom, bride, or the two together may toast each other, and then raise a glass to the wedding party and guests to thank them for sharing their special day.

3. The bride and groom are followed by their parents. If the bride's parents are hosting the wedding, they speak first, toasting the newlyweds and the groom's parents, and welcoming the guests.

The Basics
Determining the Order
The couple should decide on the order of the toasts well before the wedding, and let each person know when he or she will speak. It's a good idea to write down the order and give it to the best man or the bandleader; he can serve as toastmaster, ushering speakers to the microphone and discreetly signaling them if the toast goes on too long. No one should feel forced to give a toast. If the best man is very uncomfortable speaking before a large audience, the maid of honor or the bride's father can step in for him.

If you have a feeling a lot of your guests will want to give toasts, you might limit the reception to the traditional toasts (from the best man, parents, bride, and groom) and ask others to give their speeches at the rehearsal dinner. This gathering of family and close friends is more relaxed than the reception; there's less need for time limits, and a string of heartwarming stories will add to the light mood (though the best man could serve as emcee to keep things moving).

When to Toast
You should schedule the toasts for a moment that's best for your wedding. Many couples do this before or after cutting the cake, when the crowd is already gathered. Others time it around the meal, having all the speeches occur once everyone is seated (if you're having a blessing, the toasts should come afterward), or spacing them between the courses. For a cocktails-only reception, you might kick off the toasts after all the guests have gone through the receiving line and have been served a drink. The best man can signal the start of the toasts by gently tapping the rim of his glass, or just by standing at his seat or stepping to the microphone and asking for everyone's attention.

What to Toast With
Champagne or other sparkling wine is traditional. Some couples serve a special drink just for this part of the evening. Of course, people can toast with whatever is in their glass at the time. If your drink runs out, simply raise the empty glass, then set it down without drinking.

Toasting Tips
Plan It Out
While you'll certainly want your words to come from the heart, you are not expected to wing it when you get up there. A few weeks beforehand, collect your thoughts and decide what you will say. Practice reciting your toast a few times until it's familiar and comfortable.

Be Personal
The best toasts include personal accounts of first encounters or good times together; a wedding is not the place to dredge up embarrassing tales or old romances. Inside jokes will be lost on others, so make sure to tell a story that everyone can appreciate. If you're good at it, humor will surely be well-received, but don't force it. Just be yourself.

Keep It Short
A toast can be as brief as a few sentences, and it should not go on for more than three minutes. Any longer and guests may lose interest -- especially if there are many speakers still to come.

Write It Down
Although you should not read word-for-word from a note card, jotting down some key points can help you remember all you want to say and do so with confidence.

Stay Calm
It's normal to be nervous. As you rise to give your toast, take a deep breath, look at the person you're toasting, and speak directly to him or her. And remember to speak slowly.

Wish Them Well
A toast to the bride and groom should end with hopeful wishes for a happy future. Offer personal advice, or pull inspiration from historical quotes, literature, even song lyrics -- whatever represents your true sentiments. The final gesture is, of course, to raise a glass and take a sip.