With email, telephones, and far fewer social formalities to follow, the news these days is usually out before the bride-to-be has had time to realize she has said yes. But that doesn't mean your engagement should not be celebrated, or even formally announced, with a party. While traditionally the engagement party is hosted by the bride's parents, in these untraditional times it often turns out that friends of the bride and groom, or other relatives, want to host an engagement party as well. In that case, you may opt to have two or more parties: one for relatives and family friends, for instance, and another for your own friends. All the same, a good rule of thumb is to let the bride's parents have the opportunity to be the first to celebrate the engagement; even if a veritable stream of parties follows, theirs should be first.
It is nice if the engagement party comes soon after the engagement, while the news is still fresh. You might even decide to announce your engagement at the party, although for maximum impact you will need to concoct a good excuse for gathering so many friends and relatives together in one place.
The traditional rules of etiquette suggest that guests invited to the engagement party should also be invited to the wedding; however, the guest list will likely be shorter. Often the idea is to make this a more intimate event than the wedding itself.
But this is no longer the only accepted approach. Now, because so many people have very small weddings or hold their ceremonies far from friends and sometimes even from family, the engagement party often includes people who may not be invited to the eventual wedding.
For a traditional party (which is to say, one given by the bride's parents), both families should be invited, whether or not all members will be able to attend the event. You will also want to invite close friends of both your families as well as your own close friends.
Even though gifts are not customary at an engagement party, some guests will inevitably arrive bearing them. This is a natural impulse: It is part of the celebratory nature of weddings and parties. Consequently, you may want to compile at least a preliminary list of selected gifts and china and flatware patterns at a wedding registry; the couple's parents should be apprised of where guests can find this information so they can tell anyone who asks. For an informal party given by friends, it is unlikely that the guests will arrive with anything more substantial than a bottle of wine or some flowers, the same tokens they might bring to any festive event. But it is still a good idea to inform your host about where you have registered.
A cocktail party hosted by the bride's parents at their home is the classic example, but it is by no means the only option. Part of the delight of an engagement party is that it allows the host room for improvisation and inventiveness. Jessica Strand of Los Angeles says, "My own engagement party was very formal, at a country club." But to celebrate a good friend's engagement, she gave a casual backyard party one warm spring evening. "We put up tables on the grass," she says. "I made flower arrangements, and I made the food myself."
Finally, giving an engagement party is a special act of generosity and affection on the part of your family and friends. Among the many memorable stops along the road to a wedding, it is the first, and so lingers in memory with a special significance. The bride- and groom-to-be may want to give a thank-you gift to the host that's as special as the party was; for example, tickets to a show, or a first edition of a book they love. It need not be grand; it can be just something that reflects the bond between you. For that, your best resource is your imagination.
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