How to Plan an Anniversary Reception: Tips and Etiquette

Two experts answer etiquette questions and explain how to plan this event.

bride and groom kissing

Photo by Gretchen Gause

Since many couples chose elopements or "minimonies" over traditional weddings during the pandemic, a new trend has emerged: anniversary receptions. “While in the past, first-year anniversary celebrations tended to be more low key, this year many couples are going all out—even if the guest list is still limited,” says Dayna Isom Johnson of Etsy.

What Is an Anniversary Reception?

An anniversary reception is a party held on a married couple's wedding anniversary in lieu of a traditional reception on their actual wedding day. This gives couples the opportunity to creatively celebrate their would-have-been-wedding at a later date.

Etsy has also seen a significant increase in searches for “anniversary cake toppers” and “paper arrangements/décor”—a nod to the classic first-anniversary gift. If you’re seeking insight on the dos and don'ts of the reception 2.0 trend, read on for more intel as Johnson and wedding planner Jamie Chang detail how to plan an anniversary reception.  

Meet the Expert

  • Dayna Isom Johnson is a trend expert at e-commerce brand Etsy. She also served as a judge on NBC's Emmy-nominated series Making It.
  • Jamie Chang is a San Francisco-based destination wedding planning guru and ‘designer of joy’ at Mango Muse Events. She has been creating personal and meaningful wedding experiences all across the world for over a decade. 

Anniversary Reception Etiquette

1. Is an anniversary reception right for you? 

“One of the big questions couples have about an anniversary reception is whether they should have one at all,” Chang says. Some couples worry that having an anniversary reception is selfish or that asking guests to celebrate perhaps for a second time is unnecessary. It’s important to remember though that after a year where so many celebrations were put on hold, it’s likely that your guests will look forward to the chance to gather, see others, and most importantly, celebrate your union! 

2. Who throws an anniversary reception?

Any couple who had to downsize their wedding, elope or have a virtual wedding will likely be considering an anniversary reception. Chang shares that in many cases the couple will host the reception, since it is technically an anniversary celebration, but parents may also be involved as this could be considered an opportunity to throw the wedding for their children that they didn't get a chance to. 

3. When do you throw an anniversary reception?

Typically, an anniversary celebration would take place one year, maybe two, after the original wedding date. However, in the “new normal,” the anniversary reception doesn't necessarily have to be on the exact anniversary. 

4. Who gets invited to an anniversary reception?

Anyone you would invite to your wedding is who you'd invite to your anniversary reception. Of course, just because you're having an anniversary party doesn't mean it has to be huge. Chang advises you should still focus on inviting the people you love and want to celebrate with above all.

5. What will people expect at an anniversary reception?

Your anniversary reception could be very much like a full wedding including the usual expectations from such an event (dinner, dancing, etc.)—or not. Chang points out that it could be something completely non-traditional where you have a theme or center the event around an activity. Or, it may be more of a familiar anniversary party where you share moments from your wedding, but also celebrate where you are now.

Johnson says couples looking to creatively weave anniversary symbols into their receptions should consider incorporating paper—it’s not only a unique material choice for decorations like bouquets or centerpieces, but is the traditional one-year anniversary gift.

 6. Do you need to send formal invitations?

Given that an anniversary reception is very similar to a wedding you will want to send official invitations. These invitations should reflect your style and what's important to you, so they don’t have to be as formal as a complete wedding invitation suite but they should include all of the event details and match the style of the party. 

7. Should gifts be expected or accepted? 

Gifts are a bit of a grey area, Chang says, particularly because couples who are planning an anniversary reception right now may have already had some type of wedding and received gifts then. Though if you eloped in the truest sense of the word, this anniversary celebration is basically your wedding reception and gifts would be an acceptable expectation. As a couple, it's important to make a decision and then let guests know whether you decide to share registry details on the event website or request no gifts by word of mouth. 

8. Does there need to be a dress code?

This is a time where all bets are off and wherever you land on the spectrum from black-tie to blue jeans is up to you! Either way, Chang recommends treating the dress code as you would a wedding as far as letting guests know what is expected and giving them guidelines. 

Steps to Planning an Anniversary Reception

 1. Conceptualize your vision.

Planning an anniversary reception begins with understanding what your hopes, dreams, and goals are for the event. Is it essentially the wedding you would have originally planned (or maybe in this case, vow renewal)? Or is it something different? 

2. Agree on a budget. 

In many ways the anniversary reception will be treated similarly to a “normal” wedding in the sense of budget and who pays. Once you’ve decided what kind of event you’ll be having, you’ll want to have the financial conversations early and be upfront about who will contribute where. 

3. Pick a date.

Chang thinks of the anniversary receptions we’re seeing this year more like sequel weddings stepping in where a "normal" celebration couldn't take place. That said, there’s no need to get hung up on trying to lock in your actual anniversary date. Pick a date that works for the experience you want and go from there. Maybe it’s your exact anniversary, maybe not!

4. Hire a planner.

Once you’ve determined some general concepts and a budget you can work with, it's time to bring in a planner to make your vision and ideas concrete. Just like a wedding, your planner will formulate a plan to bring those ideas to life, ensure a seamless event flow and make sure everyone has a good time.

5. Assemble a team.

The execution of the event will likely require vendors, or perhaps some family and friends, depending on the scale of the event. Either way, Chang says “finding a team to help you execute the experience you're looking to create is critical, as every team member brings specific skills and talents that help make your event great.”

6. Decide on the details.

After your team is in place, it's time to dial in on the details. These may include the schedule, floorplan, flow, guest communication, logistics, design details, music, gifts, and maybe a few fun surprises. “These are the pieces that will help ensure an awesome experience and put the cherry on top,” Chang says.

7. Decide what to wear.

Ultimately the type of attire you choose is really up to you and the reception you're creating! Just remember to include any details of the dress code on your invitations as well. 

8. Enjoy the moment.

Don’t forget to sit back and really enjoy this moment of togetherness. “You've got a team in place to help you execute everything so all you need to do now is have fun, celebrate with your loved ones and share these special moments with your partner,” Chang says. “Because like with any wedding, your anniversary reception celebration will go by fast and you want to savor every moment.”

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