Q: We are having a reception for our son and his new bride (they were married in a different state a few months ago) and are coming here so that our friends can meet the new bride. We are hosting an informal reception for them in our church hall. Friends will be bringing gifts. Is it appropriate for the couple to open gifts as they arrive, to set them aside and open all at once at the end of the reception, or take them home and open them later?
A: Congratulations on your son’s marriage. You have hit upon one of the trickier areas of wedding etiquette. The answer depends upon your social circle and local custom. Generally at weddings the party activity takes place around food and festivities, not the gifts. (This is in contrast to a shower, where the entire event revolves around the opening of the gifts.) In addition, it is fairly common nowadays for guests to mail the wedding gift directly to the couple. With online registries, this is very easy and saves the couple the trouble of having to transport the gift from the reception site to their home.
However, there are some cultures where the displaying of gifts is an integral part of the wedding. In these cultures, the gifts are dropped off in advance of the celebration, opened (usually by the aunts of the bride) and arranged in a tasteful display.
I would strongly discourage your son and his bride from opening gifts as people arrive. In addition to being seen as materialistic and greedy, it would distract them from socializing with their guests.
Providing it does not go against your culture or local custom, I would strongly encourage you to put the gifts aside. Enjoy the party. And then your son and new wife can open the gifts later back at your home.
Jodi R. R. Smith is a nationally known etiquette expert and author. She is the president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. You are invited to email her your etiquette emergencies at Salem@Mannersmith.com