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Good Reception: Throwing a Wedding-Free Wedding

Plan a wedding that you and your guests will remember forever.

No matter how you do it, a marriage is something that should be celebrated. Sometimes, however, couples want to keep the wedding part to themselves—whether by throwing an intimate island ceremony or hopping down to city hall on a Thursday morning—and throw a reception later. 

One reason to throw an after-the-fact reception is to spare (or mend) any hurt feelings. Some family and friends will feel miffed that they were left out of the wedding part of your wedding—that’s inevitable. Some won’t understand why you wanted to marry in the island of St. Bart’s instead of at the Church of St. Ignatius. Just remember: It’s your day—but an inclusive reception that has some traditional wedding elements, such as the cutting of the cake or the groom’s first dance with his mother, can work wonders. 

Even if you’re planning a low-key backyard barbecue, send paper invitations—but they don’t need to be as formal as one might send for a traditional wedding. Search for ideas on Pinterest. Purchase custom invitations at your local stationery store or online at Paper Source, Etsy, or Charlottesville, Va.–based Rock Paper Scissors. (The Knot.com has some tips for wording the invitations.) Real invitations will make the event—and your guests—feel special, instead of like an afterthought.

Don’t expect gifts, as wedding etiquette dictates that guests are only obligated to give them if they’re invited to the ceremony. You can set up a registry or wish list in case guests express interest in giving a gift, but don’t include that information on the invitation. 

Make it memorable with fun details, such as a menu or signature cocktail from where you were wed and a slide show or framed photographs from the wedding so guests who didn’t attend can get a glimpse of your (other) big day.