Wediquette Wednesday: Can we follow a small, family-only ceremony with a large reception?

Each Wednesday, we tackle wedding etiquette. At times, it’s a reader question or one from a colleague, friend or family member and other times we’ll cover a popular issue. (Note: Questions may be edited for clarity and brevity.)

Question: My fiancée and I would like to keep our ceremony small with only very close family in attendance, but we want to have our reception directly after it on the same site. We are worried about hurting the feelings of people who show up early while the ceremony is happening and are kept waiting in the reception area or when the learn we had a family-only ceremony. Can we follow a small, family-only ceremony with a large reception?

Answer: The short answer is yes. This type of arrangement is more common than you may realize, particularly in some parts of Europe, where a civil ceremony is followed by a small family ceremony then a larger, more inclusive celebration. Or where the civil ceremony precedes a larger private or religious ceremony and reception. A good way to curb hurt feelings is via communication. Let your guests know in advance via the wedding website, invitations, email, text and word of mouth — whatever it takes — that the reception will follow a small, family-only ceremony. That way, there won’t be any surprises. Sample wording might be, “We are looking forward to celebrating with you. Dinner, dancing and libations will follow the family-only ceremony.” It might also be best to have separate ceremony and reception invitations and R.S.V.P. cards, rather than including everything on one invitation. This will cut down on confusion as to whether or not a guest is invited to one or both. Finally, be sure to space the ceremony and reception apart enough to where there is a buffer between the end of the wedding ceremony and the beginning of the reception, since they are being held on the same site. This will also afford the bridal party time for photos and for the couple to make their grand entrance. 

Do you have a solution to share or a wedding etiquette question? Respond in the comments or email

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