Announcing Your Engagement
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This series of articles on wedding etiquette are not designed to cover every single situation that come up during a wedding, but to point out the general principles of wedding etiquette and offer some tips in dealing with awkward situations that often arise.
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Wedding etiquette is really just a guideline based on tradition. It actually the art of making those around you feel comfortable and accepted. The most important part of etiquette is the latter--making those around you feel comfortable and accepted. That requires putting yourself in their shoes, and it can be an especially tough thing to do when you are up to your elbows in wedding preparations. It's a necessity, though--with the merger of two families, this is a big day for your friends and relatives too and your behavior, good and bad, will be remembered for years and years to come.
One of the many things you are signifying to the world with your marriage is the fact that you are an adult--behave like one. The people in your life may behave any way those choose--you're not responsible for them. You are only responsible for your own behavior, see to it that your behavior throughout your wedding plans and the ceremony itself is impeccable. It may not seem so now, but it can pay big dividends in the future.
The engagement, or the agreement you have made to marry each other, marks a whole new stage for your family and friends as well for yourselves. It is very likely that you two have been discussing the possibility of marriage at least off and on for some time, but now you have made the definite decision to formalize your relationship.
Customs and etiquette in the past dictated that the engagement was not considered official or binding until the potential groom had formally asked and been given permission to marry from the bride's father or the head of the bride's family. It is still the custom in many ethnic groups in the United States.
While that custom has died out, it is best to have a discussion, if at all possible, with the father and then both parents of the bride. It is essential to have a discussion with the parents on both sides before anyone else knows of the engagement! Failing to do indicates to the parents that they are in no way special to you, and can cause hurt feelings for years to come, although the couple themselves might not be aware of it. It is an insult to put the parents of the couple on the same level as other relatives or the public. On a practical level, it may reflect on the amount each family is willing to spend on the wedding, and their level of enthusiasm and participation, since you have indicated that they don't mean any more to you than your friends.
It is also traditional that after the announcement is made to both of the couple's parents--first the bride's parents and then as quickly as possible to the groom's parents--that the parents of the groom pay a call on the parents of the bride. The mother of the groom needs to telephone the mother of the bride to set up the meeting, which is usually in the evening. It need not be a formal call, and dinner need not be involved, but it is gracious of the parents of the bride to provide at least refreshments. If a dinner outside the home is planned, the groom's parents should pay. This is true even if the parents know each other well. The purpose of the visit is a preliminary discussion of the wedding plans. This is also where the groundwork regarding financial responsibility for the wedding expenses is made.
In addition, although it is generally not done at this time that the engagement is announced, immediately after the mother of the bride selects her dress, she should let the mother of the groom know what color the dress is to be so that the two will not clash. If the colors would clash, the mother of the groom is obligated to select another dress.
It is not essential that the engagement be announced in a publication, but many couples still do decide to do so. Recently, large city newspapers have begun charging for such services where in the past it was free, with the result that far fewer engagements and weddings are announced. The engaged couple may decide to have their photos taken to accompany the announcement or not--it is your option. Generally, the backgrounds, credentials and employment accompany the notice. That would include the academic credentials, year of graduation and even where the couple is planning to live after the ceremony may be noted in the paper. If you are planning a newspaper announcement, all but the smallest newspapers have a social editor, and most have information on their social pages regarding submitting your announcement for publication.
You may also, of course, put a notice of your wedding in the same or a different publication, whether or not your engagement was announced there. It would generally contain the same information as the engagement announcement, may or may not have a picture of the couple on their wedding day, and would also have the date, location, and optionally the time of the ceremony. You may also optionally list the names of the wedding party in your wedding announcement.
Another option is to hold a party to announce your engagement. It is certainly not considered a social gaffe if the couple decide to forgo having a party. If you do decide to have a party or "get together," at some point during the evening the host of the party should announce the couple's engagement. That means that if your parents are hosting a party, they will make the announcement; if the couple themselves are hosting (read: paying for) the party, the couple will announce their engagement.
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© 2003, by M. A. Woodman
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© 2003, by M. A. Woodman