Many things about a marriage are a matter of taste, such as your bridal gown, marriage jewelry, centerpieces, and music. Some things, however, are very clearly defined by traditional marriage etiquette, and to deviate from the expected is to risk offending many people. Invitations definitely fall into the category of being ruled by etiquette, but there can be some confusion about the proper usage of them. This is a look at the difference between a marriage invitation and a marriage announcement, as well as when each is appropriate.
1st the fundamentals. What is the purpose of a marriage invitation? To ask your friends and family to put on their best clothes and jewelry and join you in celebration of your marriage. After all, one of the 1st lines in every invitation is the phrase requesting the recipient’s presence at the marriage. Traditional phrases are “the pleasure of your company is requested” or “the honor of your presence is requested”. In case you were wondering what the difference is, the former is to be used for a marriage in a secular location, and the latter is the correct form for a church or synagogue ceremony.
The other reason to issue an invitation is to let your guests know when and where the event will take place. You want all the information in one place, which is why the marriage invitation is very specific. While a save the date card might just let people know who is getting married and when, the official invitation should have the date, time, location (with street address, if necessary), and city. The obvious reason for this is so that anyone who plans to attend can find their way with ease.
So who should receive a marriage invitation? Anyone you actually wish to have attend your marriage! Make sure to only send as many invites as the number of guests you can genuinely accommodate. Far too many couples have sent out 110 invitations for a venue that only fits 100 people, counting on a 10% decline rate…only to have everyone accept! Invitations should be sent out about six to eight weeks before the marriage to allow sufficient time for everyone to R.s.v.p., as well as so guests can make their travel plans. If you feel the need to inform your guests about your marriage further out than that (perhaps if your marriage will take place on a holiday weekend), send out a save the date card up to six months in advance, and the formal invitation within the usual time frame.
The marriage announcement serves a different purpose than the invitation, which is to let extended friends, family, and acquaintances know about your marriage after the fact. This is a key distinction: the announcement is not about the marriage, but about the marriage. Announcements are not sent to anyone who was invited to the marriage, but rather those who were not invited, such as in the case of a smaller marriage or a destination marriage. Traditionally they are issued by the bride’s parents, with the following wording: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith / have the honor of announcing / the marriage of their daughter / Jessica Smith / to / Mr. James Howard / on Saturday, the twenty-ninth of May / two thousand and ten / St. Andrew’s Church / Rochester, Minnesota. Notice that “honor” is spelled in the British fashion, just as it would be for a formal marriage invitation.
Announcements should be mailed out as soon after the marriage as possible, ideally the very next day (although a longer lag time is acceptable, particularly in the case of an elopement). Never, ever send a spare invitation after the marriage to serve as an announcement. The person who receives it is likely to notice that it was mailed after the marriage, and take it as an insult; ie, you wanted to make it look like they were invited, but did not actually want them to attend. This is a serious etiquette error, which far too many well-meaning brides have made. The proper response to a marriage announcement, by the way, is a note of congratulations. Gifts, while welcome, are not expected.
With a clear understanding of the difference between marriage invitations and announcements, you can currently be sure that you are sending the right stationery to convey your intended message!
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