The Rehearsal Dinner, Traditional and Alternative
. . . and a word about rehearsal dinner toasts

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If your budget permits, a rehearsal dinner is a lovely way of "rewarding" your attendants and creating a stress-free environment to review wedding details. Such a dinner not only extends the festivities, but also allows you to offer hospitality to out-of-town guests who incur added expenses by attending your wedding.

What's the Tradition of a Rehearsal Dinner?
Traditionally the rehearsal dinner is held the evening before the wedding after the wedding rehearsal. Even though many couples don't actually rehearse the evening before their weddings, the rehearsal dinner has remained a tradition which has, for many couples, changed somewhat in its nature. With families living far apart, more and more wedding guests travel from some distances to attend a wedding. Oftentimes they arrange for lodging a day or even two before the wedding to "settle in" and sometimes to visit. The rehearsal dinner traditionally was a time for the members of the wedding party to share a meal after rehearsing. Now it has evolved to also include out-of-town guests who are included in this pre-wedding party. It gives guests an opportunity to get acquainted and starts the festivities one day earlier than the wedding itself.

The rehearsal dinner is a terrific way of having the "key players," including the immediate families and your attendants meet one another, as well as some of your guests. The dinner can be as formal or informal as the host and/or hostess wish. Some people choose to hold the dinner in a restaurant, club, or catering hall, with a sit-down affair, but, an informal backyard barbeque or an at-home buffet is equally acceptable. Especially if the groom's mom is not from the same town as the bride's family it makes sense for her to ask the bride's mother for restaurant recommendations, and then follow up, by phone, herself.

In the same way as wedding receptions and ceremonies have taken on new and interesting forms, couples are becoming more and more creative about the ways in which they use the rehearsal dinner.

By the book, the rehearsal dinner is usually hosted and paid for by the groom's parents. New accommodations, of course, allow the bride's parents, or a close friend or relative to accept the financial and planning responsibilities.

Who Gets Invited?
Those who are invited are the bridal party (including their spouses), or significant others, the immediate families of the bride and groom, members of the clergy, and just a few very close friends. According strictly to etiquette guidelines, out-of-town guests are not invited, unless they have come from very far away. The area of out-of-towners is one where the traditional parameters have been expanded, as more and more out-of-town guests are being invited routinely to rehearsal dinners, or in the alternative, an evening's entertainment is arranged especially for them.

What Happens at a Rehearsal Dinner?
Besides the rehearsal which precedes it and the socializing that go on throughout the event, the rehearsal dinner is typically the time when the bride and groom present their attendants with little gifts, as tokens of their appreciation. For some couples this is also an occasion to exchange their own wedding gifts (perhaps pearls for the bride and cuff links/studs for the groom). Some couples also give a token of appreciation to their parents as a thank you for hosting the wedding.

Toasting is also traditionally a part of after-dinner activities. The best man should be prepared with a toast to the bride and groom. The couple might also consider a toast their parents. Some rehearsal dinners have recently taken on a bit of a "roast" quality. The more creative members of the wedding party, usually the young people, can write poetry, tell stories, and share anecdotes about the couple. Because this party is limited to close friends and family, it affords an opportunity to share childhood memories and stories of friendship.

One new spin on dinner is a desserts-only buffet. In any event, such rehearsal events now often include not only food and music, but even a "roast" or a "This is Your Life" of the couple. Although tradition suggests that guests leave fairly soon after dessert is served, many couples are extending the event by bringing in a band for dancing. In some cases the bride's family or close friends of the family invite the out-of-town guests to an after-the-wedding brunch or breakfast. These festivities serve also to introduce the immediate family members who may offer toasts, give speeches, or anything else that imagination and creativity conjure up and are in good taste. Because it comes right on the heels of the wedding reception, the Rehearsal Dinner should be less elaborate and more informal, so as not to overshadow the main event.

A word about rehearsal dinner toasts . . .
Traditionally, the toasts begin with the serving of the first course. The host, usually the groom's father, welcomes the guests and thanks the bride's parents for hosting the wedding. The bride's father responds with his own good wishes, followed by the groom, the groomsmen, and a bridesmaid or two. In the new parameters of today's etiquette, more and more guests are participating as well and it's not even unusual for the bride or her mother to add a few words. The rehearsal dinner is the perfect time for the bride and groom to present their wedding party with small gifts. These new "rituals" create a less formal but more memorable gathering.

Holding a rehearsal event of any kind is not mandatory and there are situations in which it even may be in bad taste. If in-laws or stepparents don't get along, planning another event at which they need to exchange pleasantries is foolish. A much better alternative is no function at all or instead a quiet meal with just the best man and maid of honor.

The fact that rehearsal dinners, like many other wedding customs and traditions are being expanded on and getting new twists is a testament to the creativity and flexibility of today's couples and their families. Whether you decide to have a fancy sit-down dinner, a dessert-buffet, a picnic, a barbeque, a pizza party, or even a potluck, the rehearsal "dinner" is an opportunity to set the tone of joy, fellowship and celebration for all of your wedding festivities.

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