The idea of eloping in secret is not a new concept. Thousands of small, private wedding ceremonies happen every day for various reasons (just ask Vegas). And it's no secret at all that many couples even prefer this to an enormous, busy, distracting pageant on their big day.
Of course, this doesn't mean that these couples don't want or can't have such a celebration of their union someday later. This is exactly what a celebration of marriage party is, and what we're here to explain.
What follows is a guide to answer all your questions on the matter. (Specifically, "Exactly what is a marriage celebration and how does it work?")
Obviously, a party after elopement is very different from the traditional big wedding reception formula most of us are familiar with. So, we're going to cover exactly how they are different and what you need to know when planning one.
If you've recently eloped or are considering it, find out all you need to know from this guide.
What Is a Celebration of Marriage?
As mentioned above, a celebration of marriage is the name used for a big party to celebrate the marriage union when the wedding itself is a private ceremony or elopement. It is also known as an elope party, post-elopement party, or post-wedding party.
As for what is a post-wedding party, it's an opportunity to invite all your loved ones to celebrate your marriage if it wasn't possible, or planned, on your actual wedding day.
Reasons to Have a Wedding Party Instead of a Wedding
The reasons to have a celebration of marriage party instead of a big wedding are mostly the same as the reasons for eloping in the first place. Many people elope because they want to be married soon but don't have enough money at the time for a big wedding. Later, when they have enough money or outside help to make it happen, they throw a celebration of marriage party.
Other times, couples elope because they aren't ready for everyone to know about their relationship. When they are ready (or the secret is blown regardless) they host a big, after-wedding celebration.
There are also the spontaneous, Vegas-style weddings. Since these are unplanned, spur-of-the-moment decisions, there is no time to invite guests and celebrate "properly."
Lastly, some couples don't want all the pressure and busyness of entertaining guests to distract them from enjoying the true reason for the day—that is, each other.
Post-Wedding Reception Etiquette
Post-wedding party etiquette is usually about the same as with same-day wedding receptions. There are only a few main differences.
The first is that a traditional wedding-style ceremony is optional but not necessary. It's up to the host couple to decide whether or not to include this. The same goes for the wedding cake, bouquet-throwing, and any other time-honored wedding traditions.
The second difference is the timing and phrasing of marriage celebration party invitations. This and other celebration of marriage party ideas are covered further down the list.
Can You Have a Reception Months After a Wedding?
Speaking of timing, there is no set rule for a reception after eloping as far as timing is concerned. As we said, some marriages are kept secret for a time, possibly a year or more. In this case, a post-marriage reception won't happen until the couple decides to be open about the relationship.
Other times, the timing of the reception after eloping depends on when the couple can get enough funding for it. This could mean holding the wedding reception months after the big day.
In any case, as with post-wedding reception etiquette, the date of the wedding reception after a courthouse wedding is entirely up to the host couple. Because of this, couples have many more options when planning a delayed party instead of a wedding reception. This includes all aspects of the celebration—everything from budget size to date-setting.
Next, let's talk about how to send "We Got Married" reception invitations.
How Do You Word Invitations For a Reception Only?
The wording for reception only invitations is the same as standard wedding reception invitation wording but with a little additional information included. First, you need the same date, time, location, and other information and formalities you'd print on a normal wedding reception card. For this, you can start with traditional reception invitation templates.
But your wedding celebration party invites also need to clarify for guests exactly what this event is. They need to know that the actual wedding has already taken place and that they're only invited to the wedding reception.
And remember, this event is not necessarily traditional and is determined by the host couple. As such, wedding reception only invitations need to let guests know what to expect. Tell guests whether you've planned for all the traditional reception activities plus dress-code or if this event is different.
How Is Hosting Only a Reception Different Than a Traditional Wedding?
Really, the differences between a traditional wedding party celebration and a reception only wedding/elopement reception are whatever the host couple wants them to be. That, in and of itself, is the biggest difference.
The wedding after marriage etiquette, reception agenda ideas, formal vs casual reception dress-code—it's all decided by the host couple rather than tradition. Couples have complete freedom when planning a wedding reception only.
To illustrate this, let's look at some possible party ideas when just having a wedding reception after eloping.
Tips For Planning a Reception Separate From the Ceremony
The best way to plan a wedding reception vs a ceremony is to start by considering how you'd plan an actual wedding. Then, think about what you can, should, and would prefer to do differently.
Keep what you want/need and cut what you don't. (We suggest you still have a gift table and register for gifts.)
Your reception after the wedding can be according to any budget, timeline, and style of your choosing. So make it what you want.
Do you want formal or casual dress for the reception? What location and season do you want for your post-nuptial celebration? And even though you're just having a wedding reception, a wedding ceremony is still an option.
When you separate the wedding ceremony and the reception, it's all up to you. Invite who you want, when you want, to whatever type of celebration you want.
Private Wedding Ceremony, Big Reception: Plan Your Celebration of Marriage With This Guide
What is a celebration of marriage? Now you know. More importantly, now you know what to tell your guests in the reception party invitation wording.
If you're considering a private wedding ceremony with a big reception after, bookmark or print this guide to help you plan.
Want some more great advice? Check out How to Book a Wedding Venue: Your Complete Guide.