Gather your family and friends, bring on the food and drink, throw in some stories, cheers, and lots of laughs for what may be the last chance to relax before wedding mayhem commences — your rehearsal dinner. Usually held after a ceremony trial run, this small, intimate event allows families to mingle and bond, you to spend more time with loved ones and thank those who have helped along the way. More and more, this typically North American tradition is taking on a modern twist for couples looking to add a touch of culture that won’t overshadow the entire wedding celebration.
Location, Location, Location: Depending on the size of your party, venue choice is the most important decision. Although usually held near the ceremony location or at the hotel where guests are staying, any gathering spot will do as long as it comfortably accommodates everyone. For a cultural touch, choose a restaurant serving traditional fare to help introduce new foods, flavors, and customs into the family. My husband and I had our rehearsal dinner at a Brazilian restaurant since our reception food was more standard, allowing our families to share a delicious Brazilian meal together in celebration.
Show your Style: Your rehearsal dinner isn’t necessarily the ugly step-sister to your reception and can have a fabulous style and feel all its own. Use elements of your wedding theme to tie everything together but don’t reveal the big day surprise. A formal meal in an elegant restaurant may be appropriate for a traditional wedding. Why not add a small roving band to play the classics? Having casual wedding in mom’s backyard? A fancy catered picnic can set the mood early; throw in some lawn games just for fun.
Cultural food, music, and decoration are excellent ways to honor both family backgrounds; remember U.S. culture can also vary by region and could be included. Bring in traditional singers, specialty dancers, drumming groups, or henna artists to entertain guests. These gatherings can be as fancy, informal, traditional and offbeat as you want, just have fun and show your personality.
The Big Questions: Who pays and who is invited? Etiquette says the groom and his parents are responsible for the rehearsal dinner with only the wedding party, their spouses and immediate family invited. These days, couples are opting to pay, which allows for more guest list flexibility. I invited all my out of town guests; they came from too far away just to sit in the hotel room while we ate. At the end of the day, it’s your party, invite the people you want to be there celebrating with you.
More than just eating: Wedding days are hectic so this event is a perfect time to thank loved ones for their help and support during the planning process. A quick toast from the couple is common before opening the floor for others to share and toast. Gifts are usually given to parents, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and those taking on important wedding roles. Gifts representing family heritage and toasts in multiple languages are simple ways to add a cultural dimension in a meaningful way.
Invitations: Who, what, when, where, all those important details your guests need; try snail mail, e-mail, or in an out-of-town guest bag.
Pictures: This is part of the entire wedding celebration; remember the photos. You will want them in years to come. If you can, arrange for your photographer to come by for an hour or so. If not, spread the word for guests to snap away.
Transportation: If you have the resources, providing transportation to and from for guests can be a nice touch.
Most important, have fun, enjoy yourself, your family, your friends, your soon-to-be spouse; everyone is there to celebrate you!