In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
I took the “rehearsal” part of my wedding seriously. Wearing a short white dress and tramping around the damp grass in heels, I kid you not, I instructed my friends over a microphone on the dance moves they would perform the following day as they walked down the aisle (In my defense, it was a different time. It was 2013). Yes, it was a Thursday. Yes, most people had just arrived from a hasty and stressful work week. And yes, it was showtime. After a few quick run-throughs, I knew the cast of my wedding needed to carbo-load. Wouldn’t want them nutrient-depleted before their big YouTube debut, now, would we? So we dispersed into about 21 vehicles, give or take, and made our way through the fields of Ohio to our rehearsal dinner hosted by my in-laws.
Rehearsal dinners have been happening for about as long as weddings have been happening. Wedding historian Susan Waggoner writes, “Hundreds of years ago, attending a wedding could mean days of travel.” Now we may not have to travel days anymore, but it sure feels like it when your layover is at Chicago Midway, am I right? Waggoner continues, “The night before the event would find the tent, hut, castle, or manor house jammed to the rafters with friends, relatives, and emissaries, all of whom had to be fed.” I recently attended a wedding in Albuquerque, and the night before we had 13 people crowded into a six-person apartment that we rented on Airbnb. The grooms took pity on us and dropped off pillows, blankets, and extra coffee supplies at about 10 p.m., and we plebeians grunted a chorus of thanks from our respective corners.
I love Waggoner’s description of rehearsal dinners of yesteryear: “The meal born of necessity evolved into a party, and with it evolved the convenient belief that it was the guests’ absolute duty to make as much noise as possible in order to drive away evil spirits and ensure a propitious wedding day for the bride and groom.” In Albuquerque, there wasn’t much to do in the wee hours before the wedding day with about two inches of sleeping space, so we had a small dance party... and some craft beer-inspired drumming was involved. While I was certain the neighbors sharing our wall would snitch, they must have understood the gravity of scaring away evil spirits from our beloved grooms, and on Monday our host gave us a perfect review. It was a rehearsal dinner miracle.
Other rehearsal dinner miracles may include: uncles from two sides of the family really hitting it off, your best friends becoming best friends, and perhaps even enjoying the rehearsal more than the wedding itself. Caroline of Virginia says, “Our night-before dinner was one of my very favorite times during our wedding. The actual day was full of whirlwind chaos, but the night before we had so much fun just relaxing, eating amazing food, and being with the most important people to us.”
Dawn of Ohio also experienced the magic of rehearsal dinners: “Our rehearsal dinner became a time for everyone to get to know each other and relax the night before the big day. In fact, after meeting for the first time that evening, a lot of our wedding party decided to all go out together after the rehearsal dinner and then again after the wedding.”
Rehearsal dinners range from being very casual to quite upscale. Erica of North Carolina says, “Instead of a traditional rehearsal dinner, we had a ‘Welcome BBQ’ at my sister's house.” Meanwhile, Regina of Ohio says that in her husband’s family, “they actually call the rehearsal dinner the ‘groom’s dinner,’” which she found a little weird. “It even had assigned seating...unlike our wedding! While it was more formal than my tastes I just sat back, enjoyed it, and let it be what it was.” She could tell how important the dinner was to her mother in law. “It turned out to be plenty of fun and in the end, I enjoyed attending a party rather than hosting one.”
Rehearsal dinners are for making new friends, enjoying a meal, letting your mother-in-law do her thing, and scaring those evil spirits away, of course. All in all, I have to say—for the first time ever—that this is one wedding tradition I hope never dies.