Courtesy Invite: Do I send invitations to relatives for an event even if I know they can’t attend?

Q: We are planning our son’s Bar Mitzvah for next year.  We have a lot of out of town family and friends who we are fairly sure will not attend. We do not want to ‘beg’ for a gift but we don’t want to insult them by not inviting them.  Is there a nice way to say that we are sending them a “courtesy” invitation but do not expect a gift?


A: No one is insulted not to receive an invitation to an event they cannot attend, especially a gift-bearing event where they feel they are being asked for a gift. If you feel they will not be able to travel to your son’s Bar Mitzvah, you simply do not invite them.  There really is no such thing as a “courtesy” invitation, and you wouldn’t want to mention gifts on the invitation, in any event.


  1. Jody

    I disagree with part of the EPI advice here. A Bar Mitzvah is a big event; I would go ahead and send invitations to the out-of-town family and friends even though you know they can’t attend as that would be a nice way of letting them know what’s going on. Not sending an invitation may cause ill feelings that would end up being more trouble — years ago I didn’t get an invitation to a family friend’s wedding because they knew I couldn’t attend and my mother and sister (one of the bridesmaids) never felt the same towards that friend again.

    I do agree that you shouldn’t mention gifts on the invitation. If the friends call to ask what your son would like, that would be a good time to say something like “we don’t expect gifts, we just wanted you to be part of the day.”

  2. scdeb

    I agree with Jody on this. Years ago when I got married my mother-in-law “decided” that family friends on the groom’s side would not attend the wedding because it was a twelve hour drive or a long plane ride away. So when the invitations went out these people were not sent invitations. It was to be a 200 guest wedding & reception but she insisted that only 27 invitations would go out from her side, all but 1 couple was family. My husband had grown up with these friends & was terribly hurt and embarrassed that none were invited. (Out of respect to his mother he allowed her request.) My parents were insulted & upset even though their own guest list could be increased. 200 invitations went out, including invitations to my family’s far flung relatives & friends. To our surprise everyone came despite the distance.
    To exclude people because you are predicting an outcome does a disservice to the potential guest. Feelings will be hurt. Sometimes people who live far away will accept & attend–you never know. It was an honor that these people attended my wedding & very sad on our next visit to my husband’s parents when the people who were not invited asked about the wedding. I was the first daughter out of four to get married & my mother’s bible was Emily Post. My mother said that we will invite the people who we love and if they can come they will and if they can’t we will accept it. We aren’t just filling seats we are letting people know that we want to be with them.

  3. Jazzgirl205

    I, too, agree with Jody. When I got married, I didn’t send announcements but sent everyone an invitation even if I knew they could/would not attend. I was surprised and extremely flattered by the amount of people who actually made the trip for my wedding. This included an elderly priest who flew down from Chicago. He had been a dear friend of my late Father. Had I known he was coming, I would have had him officiate.

  4. Carole

    I disagree with the answer also. Years ago I was given a baby shower. When making up the guest list, I was embarrassed to send invites to people, feeling like I was mooching, so I left off some more extended family. I heard about it afterwards wondering why they weren’t invited and sending a gift anyways. Being older, I now understand their feelings. I happen to like going to showers and even if I can’t attend because I live across the country, I still like being thought of and remembered. If I don’t want to send a gift, I am under no obligation to send one, if I don’t attend.

  5. Kathey

    Specific out of towners told me they can’t afford to travel here this year. My sisterdtill wants to invite them to the 90th birthday party. I disagree. She also wants me to invite out of town elderly, disabled guests with limited income to the party who are 12 hours or less away by air. I disagree. Others I am on the fence about but do want to be looking for a gift. Thre is no exchange of cards, calls or visits at any time & I do not believe they have to be invited because someone else locally is. Help!

    • Elizabeth

      I would suggest inviting the people you want to come (or wish they could come) and don’t invite the people that you don’t. (People you never see and who never visit or keep in contact do not need to be invited.) however, I will say – there is no downside to sending an invitation. People will not see it as a gift grab, and you could always include a note saying “I know you said you wouldn’t be able to make it, but we’d love to have you if anything changes.” or “I know travel is difficult for you, but we just wanted to let you know we were thinking of you and wishing you were here.”

  6. Jack

    I have a similar dilemma with long distance invites. I’m having a house warming party because my husband and I just bought our first house. We live in a different state than our entire family and most close friends. I already know that 80% of the people getting an invite wouldn’t even consider making the trip – they never have in the 7+ years we’ve lived away, why now? Some people actually cannot make the trip because of age /kids /obligations. It feels silly to even send them an invitation….seems like we’re begging for a house gift. I also can envision the reaction “why would they even bother asking me – don’t they know how far it is, how rude.”

    I wonder if there is a way to word that in the invite without being tacky? Like “We know it’s far, but we would love to have our family over…..”.

    Any advice appreciated.

  7. Lori C

    I was always under the impression hosts invited local friends, family, neighbors and perhaps co-workers to a house warming party. I suggest sending your out of town friends and family a change of address note with an invitation to come and visit.

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