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Your Wedding Reception – Traditional vs. Non-Traditional

By Sara Abrams


It’s time to plan your wedding reception. Will you go traditional, or will you break the mold and think outside the proverbial box? Before we discuss the ins and outs of a traditional reception vs. a non–traditional reception, you may be asking - is non-traditional really just a code for “low budget” reception?


The answer to that is – maybe. The truth is that nowadays, anything goes. You can have the most formal, traditional, expensive wedding ever imagined, with the bride arriving in a horse drawn carriage, wearing a fantasy gown designed by Vera Wang and being led into a flower bedecked ballroom, or you can have a tropical themed marriage and reception standing barefoot on the beach wearing leis and bathing suits, with a tattooed wedding ring, ala Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson.


The real question is what do you want? What do you, the bride and groom, (not your parents) want? In what ways will you commemorate this special day so that you’re walking on air during the entire event?


In a conventional reception these are the must haves:


Receiving Line – The receiving line forms after the ceremony and before the party. This gives the hosts and the newlyweds, an option to give all of the guests a quick “hello” handshake or hug and kiss before the festivities begin.


Cocktail Hour – Once the guests arrive at the reception venue, appetizers and cocktails are served. This gives the newlyweds and their family an opportunity to freshen up and have photos taken before the celebration.


The Couple’s Grand Entrance and First Dance – Usually both sets of parents are introduced and then the newlyweds are announced for the first time as husband and wife as they make their entrance. In most cases this will lead to your first dance.


Toasts – Following the first dance is a good time to thank the guests for coming. A blessing may be said by a family member or clergy and then an invitation to enjoy the meal. (The toasts by the best man and the maid of honor should be spread out between meal courses.)


Dining – The main course is served or announced if buffet style.


Time to Party – After the dinner dishes are cleared it’s time to dance and be merry! Along with the dancing, this is the time for other traditional activities, such as the bouquet toss.


Cake Cutting – As the party nears its conclusion it is time to prepare the table for coffee and desert and to cut the wedding cake.


A Little More Celebrating – Get the music pumping again after the cake is cut for a few more rounds of dancing, leading up to the Last Dance.


Good-Bye Time – Make your grand exit as your friends and family cheer you on and into your new life.


Let’s now examine a non-traditional wedding reception. First let’s address the question of budget. Do families choose a non-traditional reception to save on money? Not necessarily. In this day and age, some couples are tying the knot for the second, or even third time. In that case the white gown, huge reception and by the book timeline may not be appealing. It may be that the new couple just wants to share their joy with their friends and family in a festive way. For example, I recently heard of a couple planning their reception as a potluck affair. They had a large guest list and not a lot of money. They thought that people could bring food items in place of gifts. For them, it was their way of making sure that everyone could participate and not worry about fancy gifts and they could keep the party fun and casual.


On the other hand, some people opt for wildly themed, expensive parties that don’t seem to have much to do with tradition. A medieval costume party with fireworks capping the end of the night would hardly seem traditional but if the bride and groom want to recreate his being her knight in shining armor and she his lovely damsel, so be it.  Other interesting choices are gothic themes, sports themes, historic periods like the Roaring 20’s, or any kind of cultural theme that embraces your heritage. It’s all up for grabs!


Non-traditional does not mean non-structured. You can still incorporate some of the tried and true formalities listed above. For example, a receiving line allows you to have some one on one time with each and every guest, whereas during the party you may be too involved to get to everyone to thank them for coming. A time line for toasts and speeches also means that you will be able to share some meaningful stories and well wishes with everyone. However you plan your fabulous reception, just celebrate and enjoy!


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