Weddings aren’t a sprint—they’re a marathon. Beyond the ceremony and reception, there are many additional opportunities to bring family members and loved ones together in celebration, and they sometimes begin the very day you get engaged. With help from two experts, Ani Sandhu and Kaitlin Przezdziecki, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the most common pre and post-wedding events.
Meet the Expert
- Ani Sandhu is the founder of Ace of Events, a full-service luxury event management company based in the Washington, D.C. area that specializes in South Asian weddings.
- Kaitlin Przezdziecki is the owner and lead designer of Cheers Darling Events, a full-service event planning and design firm located in Washington, D.C.
Read on to find out when they occur, who gets invited, and of all the ways these traditions are being adapted to suit modern couples.
An engagement party is just that: a celebration of getting engaged. Though it typically occurs a few months after the proposal, it can also happen the night of. These “surprise” engagement parties, which are sometimes considered a separate event, are typically coordinated by a member of the couple popping the question and are more informal in nature. Immediate family members and close friends may travel to attend the smaller-scale celebration, but it is most often attended by friends or relatives that live close by to where the proposal happened, or who helped coordinate the proposal.
Be courteous when considering guest lists for pre-wedding events. Those who are invited to any of your pre-wedding events should also be invited to the actual wedding.
A more traditional engagement party typically occurs a few months after the proposal and can be put on by anyone wishing to fête a couple. “We find that a lot of times, family friends end up hosting—a parent’s best friend, neighborhood friends from childhood, etc. People that are basically family, just not by blood,” says Przezdziecki.
An engagement party can follow a wide variety of fun formats and include a variety of games and activities. While gifts are not technically necessary, Przezdziecki says it's a nice gesture for guests to show up with something small. Her go-to: a cookbook tied to the city or destination where the couple got engaged.
In medieval times, when the father of a bride refused to provide a dowry for a marriage he disapproved of, community members would gather together to provide the bride with household items. These days, the tradition of “showering” a couple with gifts for their new home continues in a bridal or couple shower, which, per Przezdziecki, usually occurs around 12 weeks before the wedding.
This daytime event has traditionally been hosted by non-immediate family members of the bride (aunts, cousins, etc.) or by members of the bridal party. That said, as with an engagement party, anyone can host a shower—and there can be more than one. On the invite list: family and friends that are local to or personally close with the host that will also be invited to the wedding, as well as members of the wedding party.
Showers can take on many themes, include fun games and activities, and are an opportunity to share beloved food and drink traditions with loved ones that you might not be incorporating into your wedding. Unless otherwise specified on the invitation, gifts for the couple will be part of the occasion, and Przezdziecki strongly encourages attendees to stick with items on a couples’ wedding registry.
Bachelorette and Bachelor Parties
In bachelorette and bachelor parties, brides and grooms traditionally gather separately—though joint parties are definitely common—with their favorite people to celebrate the last moments of singledom. What used to be one night of revelry has morphed into a multi-day destination affair that typically occurs six to eight weeks before the wedding, with groups jetting off to destinations such as Charleston, Texas, New York City, and Scottsdale.
“Planning is definitely a group effort,” says Przezdziecki, who notes that a maid of honor or best man might take point on coordination, with input from the bride or groom and help from the rest of the wedding party. The bride or groom will pick the guest list, which typically consists of their best friends/members of their wedding party, similarly-aged cousins or relatives they’re close with, and, occasionally, siblings of their future spouse. The celebration often includes activities ranging from low-key yoga sessions to wild nights out, cheeky games (now is also a great time for a lingerie shower!), and, in this age of social media, plenty of Insta-worthy outfits and ’grammable swag.
When it comes to who pays, hosts and attendees are not expected to cover major expenses such as airfare and lodging for the guest of honor. “If they’re asking people to travel [for the event], I don’t think a bride or groom should be expense-free,” says Przezdziecki. “Especially because, throughout the weekend, they’re going to be getting drinks purchased for them and people might be covering their dinners.”
South Asian wedding celebrations are typically multi-day affairs. Across Hindu and Muslim religions, the mehndi, or henna, party is one of the most special events for a bride. During the mehndi, which is usually hosted by the bride’s family, an artist uses henna dye to apply intricate designs to the bride’s hands and/or feet. “It has evolved now to where the families are also part of this,” says Ani Sandhu of Ace of Events. “The moms are getting it, along with cousins, siblings, aunts, friends.”
With this larger group, the ceremony becomes a soirée, and attendees can expect a celebration filled with good food, music, and lively conversation. If they’re close with the bride, they can also expect to be there a while—“I’ve seen brides sit [for henna] for eight to ten hours,” says Sandhu, who recommends having the mehndi applied at least three days before the wedding so it has time to fully darken.
The word sangeet means “sung together” in Sanskrit, and it’s a fitting description of the celebration, which sees family members sing, dance, and otherwise revel in the upcoming nuptials. “It’s like a welcome dinner, but with lots of different types of cuisine and décor, and music—there’s a DJ or a band,” says Sandhu.
Because the Indian subcontinent is filled with hundreds of subcultures and language dialects, wedding customs vary based on a family’s area of origin. That means who hosts and who attends a sangeet, along with when it occurs and how long it lasts, can also vary.
“Now, typically what we see is that the bride and groom’s family get together and host a [joint] sangeet the day before the wedding,” says Sandhu. “That way, everyone who is coming from out of town is also able to attend.”
Per Sandhu, the sangeet can rival the wedding itself, with guest count creeping up to 300, 400, and 500 people, depending on the size of the wedding guest list. Some families may also combine the sangeet and the mehndi, or choose to hold them on the same days.
This Jewish ceremony—aufruf translates to “calling up” in Yiddish—typically takes place at a synagogue on the Saturday before the wedding or a Saturday a few weeks before the wedding. In more traditional congregations, the ceremony is reserved for the groom only. During a service, the groom will be called up to recite a blessing called an aliyah over the Torah (In more liberal synagogues, the couple will be called up together.). The rabbi then offers a blessing, and the couple is playfully showered with candy—which symbolizes sweetness and fruitfulness—by the congregation as they return to their seats.
As the aufruf is part of a congregation’s regular service, the entire congregation can technically be present for an aufruf. Depending on the congregation, a couple may also extend an invitation to members of the wedding party and other close friends and family who do not typically attend that synagogue or Jewish religious services in general. With a more traditional aufruf, the groom or groom’s parents will coordinate details with the rabbi, and afterward may host a kiddish, or reception, at a separate location.
“This is more of a Southern tradition that has started to creep north,” says Przezdziecki. Also known as a bridesmaid luncheon, the bridal luncheon typically occurs a few days before, or the day before, the wedding. It is an opportunity for the bride to express her gratitude for and gather with members of her bridal party, along with anyone else from her side of the wedding that will be involved in the ceremony (grandparents, junior bridesmaids, etc.).
“It can be really casual,” adds Przezdziecki. “We’ve done everything from backyards to restaurants. At a destination wedding, it can even take place on property where the wedding’s going to happen right before everyone runs off to the rehearsal.” The daytime event is typically hosted by someone close to the bride, such as the mother of the bride or a favorite aunt or family friend, but can also be hosted by a member of the bridal party or even the bride herself.
The rehearsal dinner occurs the night before the wedding, typically after the ceremony rehearsal. At a Saturday destination wedding or a wedding where most of the guests are coming in from out of town, Przezdziecki prefers to hold a smaller rehearsal dinner Thursday night, and then schedule a larger, more inclusive welcome party for Friday night.
In more traditional heterosexual couples, if the bride’s family is hosting/paying for the wedding, the groom’s family will host/pay for the rehearsal dinner. These days, though, it’s quite common for the families of both members of the couple, along with the couple themselves, to contribute financially to all major wedding weekend events, including this one.
“Anyone who's participating in the ceremony should be invited to the rehearsal dinner,” says Przezdziecki. “And be sure to include your wedding party’s significant others.” Beyond this core crew, you’ll also want to include grandparents, close family members, and, if you have a strong relationship with them and they’ll be attending the rehearsal, your officiant.
Private rooms at restaurants are a common venue choice for rehearsal dinners, but as long as the locale isn’t too far or hard to get to from where guests are staying, you’ll be golden. The purpose of this fête is to allow for more bonding time between the couple’s innermost circles—and, in more traditional families, for the groom’s family to honor the groom and thank the bride’s family for hosting the wedding—so get ready for a night of special memories, heartfelt toasts, and, yes, maybe even a roast or two.
If the majority of your guests are traveling for your wedding, a great way to express your gratitude—and to make that travel more worthwhile—is to include a welcome party in the weekend’s agenda. Thrown the night before your wedding, this event can occur after or even in place of your rehearsal dinner.
If you won’t be providing a full meal, schedule the event for later in the evening—around 7:30 or 8 p.m.—so guests have time to grab dinner beforehand.
Hosting duties typically fall to the couple or, in more traditional circumstances, the groom’s family or the family not hosting the wedding. You’ll want to extend an invitation to anyone that’s in town that night and attending the wedding, and it’s totally OK to keep this event more casual in nature—maybe it’s drinks at a bar or on a reserved patio at a hotel—or to go with a fun theme. If you’re working with a much smaller group, Przezdziecki also loves the idea of doing something more experiential. “We’ve had clients do box seats at a baseball game,” she suggests. Other ideas include a boat tour or a wine tasting.
If your loved ones partied their way through the reception and an after-party, it may be a touch unrealistic to expect them to make small talk during a sit-down meal early the next day. That’s why Przezdziecki’s favorite version of this event is a grab-n-go breakfast. “This way, you’re getting to see their faces, but you’re not asking them to get dressed [up again]” she says. “Guests can pop in on their way out, and there’s coffee cups to go, along with wrapped breakfast sandwiches and pastries.”
Done in this style, the event is typically hosted by the couple or the parents of the couple in a room at their hotel for a few hours the morning after the wedding. They can choose to open it up to the entire wedding guest list, or keep it confined to members of the wedding party and close family.