Engagement Parties: Celebrating a long engagement

by EPI Staff on April 29, 2009

Q: Is there a time frame when it’s appropriate to have an engagement party? My fiancé and I became engaged in February but our wedding is not until next May. His parents would like to host an outdoor party for us at their house in the late summer or early fall but we don’t want it to seem premature.

A: Engagement parties are held close to the time of the engagement, not the wedding. It’s a chance for the families to announce the happy news and for relatives and friends to meet and congratulate the couple. Traditionally, the hosts (typically the bride’s parents) would announce the engagement at the party, which would be a surprise to the assembled guests. Your future in-laws have made a kind gesture—offer thanks and encourage them to hold the party whenever they would like.

For more on wedding etiquette, check out Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, 5th Ed. by Peggy Post.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel Post Senning April 30, 2009 at 10:47 am

It must be springtime. The Institute is starting to see more and more questions about wedding planning and engagement parties.

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scootz May 31, 2009 at 7:36 am

Is a present expected at an engagement party?

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Daniel Post Senning June 2, 2009 at 7:47 am

Engagement parties do not carry the same expectation of a gift that a wedding does. Although it is true that in some parts of the country gift giving at engagement parties is becoming more and more common it has not yet become a standard.

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Daniel Post Senning June 2, 2009 at 7:48 am

A gift is usually not expected at an engagement party.

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JANE LANCASTER June 10, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I have a nephew getting married next May. Her parents are giving them a engagement party. At their engagement party the parents of the bride-to-be are presenting them with their champagne flutes to be used at the wedding reception. Should the parents of the groom-to-be also give a gift. We’ve be searching all day for a answer but found none. Can you help?

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Daniel Post Senning June 11, 2009 at 2:37 pm

The traditions around gift giving at engagement parties vary some depending on the region of the country you are in. In some places it is quite common and in other places it is less so. There is no set rule about this. We do suggest avoiding opening gifts publicly if not everyone is bringing something. In this case it sounds like the parents of the bride are preparing a special presentation of an engagement gift as a featured part of the party and would not be opening a selection of gifts like at a shower or birthday. It would be fine for the parents of the groom to do something similar but it is not an expected part of the wedding tradition.

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Devah Tritz June 24, 2009 at 8:20 am

In response to Jane:

Presents are never “required.” If the parents of the bride are giving the couple toasting flutes, I think a lovely idea would be for the parents of the groom to give a beautiful cake knife and server. Sterling would be wonderful. I would check with the bride’s parents to see if the bride has this or if there’s a family sterling pattern, etc., before proceeding.

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Daniel Post Senning June 24, 2009 at 9:06 am

This is a very nice suggestion. Thank you.

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Suzette Keenan March 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm

My neice just became engaged, what is the protocal for a gift? I am also her godmother.

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Daniel Post Senning March 8, 2010 at 11:15 am

If you are invited to an engagement party you could bring the gift with you. You could also send the engagement gift to your niece with best wishes from her ecstatic godmother. The tradition of giving an engagement gift is not as established as that of giving a wedding present although in some regions it is becoming quite common. Usually these gifts are smaller and less expensive than the wedding present which should still follow.

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Mary Randl November 18, 2011 at 10:18 pm

My son is now engaged to a wonderful gal. Both families are large and both have many friends. The wedding is going to be very small, but everything I’m reading says DO NOT invite to an engagement party unless invited to a wedding. Would it be inappropriate to host an informal Meet and Greet?

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DM April 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm

If a couple was engaged in Spring 2011 and the are getting married in Spring 2013, is it appropriate for an engagement party in Summer of 2012?

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Alicia April 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Sure. Only caviets
1. Everyone invited to the engagement party must be invited to the wedding and wedding reception
2. Do not be surprized if there is not tons of excitement about an engagement that has already been known about for a year and where the wedding is still a year away.

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Cristina April 19, 2012 at 11:07 pm

My fiance and I got engaged this past March and will be having a long engagement (about 2 years) because we are both busy with graduate school. My parents are throwing us an engagement party and I was wondering what the proper protocol is when we receive gifts. I have read that if you do get any gifts not to use them because if by some reason the wedding falls through, they will need to be returned. But with a long engagement does it still apply? Also does it apply to engagement gifts?

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Just Laura April 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Gifts are not given for engagement parties. Engagement parties are formal announcements of the happy news. I did receive a few gifts prior to my wedding last year, but they were wedding gifts. I’ve given gifts to friends prior to their weddings for showers and the like. My friends used them. If you are really concerned that your wedding won’t make this 2 yr engagement, then what to do with presents is at the bottom of your list of priorities.
If you receive a wedding present tomorrow, simply write a thank-you note and use it. I’m sure your wedding won’t fall through, unless you are a Kardashian. :)

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Winifred Rosenburg April 20, 2012 at 9:07 am

I’m guessing you’re not actually concerned that the wedding isn’t going to happen but would like to behave in accordance with the principle that some engagements don’t lead to marriage and etiquette also recognizes this with the rule you just suggested. It’s an admirable effort, and I applaud your politeness at following rules that most people would assume doesn’t apply to them. I also don’t think you requested engagement gifts in any way, but you are probably anticpating the possibility based on the habits of some of the guests so you have done nothing wrong in that respect either.

I had a similar debate when people gave my now-husband and me engagement gifts, and I was unable to find an answer in any etiquette books. Ultimately my now-husband reasoned that wedding presents shouldn’t be opened yet because the wedding hasn’t happened yet but engagement presents can be opened because the engagement happened. Admittedly, this isn’t an official answer from an etiquette source, but I would suggest using these guidelines unless you find a better source saying otherwise. (Please let me know if you do!) Best wishes on your engagement!

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Just Laura April 20, 2012 at 9:47 am

I think you’re a pretty good source.

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Winifred Rosenburg April 20, 2012 at 11:35 am

Thank you! :)

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Alicia April 20, 2012 at 9:40 am

Wedding gifts(including shower gifts) are a conditional gift based on the assumption that the wedding is happening. Engagement gifts are given after the engagement and often are even meant to be used prior to the wedding or at the wedding. With the exception of family heirlooms which need to be returned to the correct family if the wedding is called off all the engagement gifts are permanent. So use any and all of your enagement gifts any time after you have written your thank you notes.

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Addy February 21, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I just got engaged recently but I still don’t know when we are going to have the wedding. My mom is asking when can she have my engagement party… Should I tell her sooner or later on?

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Alicia February 21, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Engagement parties happen shortly after engagement. However, only those that 100% will be invited to the wedding should be invited to an engagement party.

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Addy February 22, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Thank you! :)

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ann September 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Hi, i was recently engaged (July) but in august found out my dad needed heart surgery. When his surgery wasn’t scheduled til September and we knew he would be out for a few months and unable to travel or have a party themselves, my fiance and i thought it would be OK for his family to have the party they wanted. We invited my parents by knew they coudln’t likely come. We also offered that his parents come down later on in the year to meet my parents separatelyl. Was this wrong to go ahead and plan? i feel we were torn between my parents being able ot be there vs everyone else wanting to celebrate. We didn’t want to have the party 6 months from now either. i know my mother is upset and feels we were inconsiderate. My dad just had a stroke so truly is unable to do anything for more months now. Do we still celebrate or just go on with the wedding planning?

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Elizabeth September 30, 2013 at 9:25 am

It sounds like you’re talking about an engagement party. You can (potentially) have more than one engagement party. His parents could throw you a party, your friends could throw you a party, your parents could throw you one later – none of them are the ‘official’ engagement party. And they don’t have to be at the same level of formality. I think it is right of you to accept your future in-laws hospitality and attend the party they would like to throw in your honor. I can absolutely see how your parents would feel bad about the situation. Being sick is no fun, and I can see how they would feel left out. But their feelings don’t trump your need to celebrate your milestones with other people who love you, and it doesn’t preclude your having a party with them later. I would cut your parents some slack about their feelings, but I also wouldn’t stop living because they’re having a bad time. Be supportive to them (and I’m sure you are), and that’s all anyone can ask.

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