If you are to be a guest at any wedding, you really will not behave any differently from the way you do at church, or at any nice party. Most people have learned the fundamental tenets of social behavior. However, everyone always seems to be concerned as to whether there may be some special requirements as a guest at a wedding - and there are.
Perhaps the greatest caution is required when you are invited to a wedding reception of people who are from another national background than American. They usually have customs of their own which you could not possibly anticipate. Don't hesitate to ask the bride or groom for information. You will find them most courteous and hospitable, and they will make you feel comfortable. So don't worry.
Replying to a Wedding Invitation
No reply is necessary to an invitation to a wedding in a church, without an invitation to a reception. However, an informal personal note is always correct and thoughtful - especially if a person is unable to attend. Send it to the bride, her parents or the groom or his parents. If a pew card is enclosed with your invitation, a reply is definitely in order so that the bride's mother may know whether the pew will be occupied.
Every reception invitation should be answered, affirmatively or negatively, as soon as possible.
Concerning Wedding Gifts
A wedding invitation to the ceremony only does not obligate the recipient to send a wedding present, nor does a wedding announcement. However, a person is certainly free to send one if he wishes.
If the recipient of an invitation to a ceremony and reception declines, he is relieved of the obligation of sending a wedding present. On the other hand, there is no reason why he may not send one if he wants to.
The acceptance of an invitation to the ceremony and reception implies a wedding gift, but there is no absolute rule on this. It is a generally understood and accepted custom.
Note: One authority believes that the receipt of the invitation to the reception obligates one to send a gift - whether he intends to accept or decline.
If gifts are sent before the ceremony, they should be addressed to the bride; if after, to the bride and groom. Even a friend of the groom who does not know the bride, addresses the gift to her if he sends it before the ceremony.
Behaviour for the Wedding Guest During the Ceremony
The guests should arrive at the church about twenty minutes before the ceremony. However, for a big wedding, they may arrive three-quarters to a half-hour before. They should not be any later than fifteen to five minutes before. Guests are expected to keep their wraps with them (just as one does for any church service). Do not bring your children to the church or reception unless they have been especially invited. And then watch out for them. If they begin to fidget, do be considerate enough to take them home.
When the processional begins, in most churches, everyone stands. You may turn your head to watch the bride come down the aisle on her father's arm. Protestant women should wear hats or head coverings of some sort in a Roman Catholic or Episcopal church, or in an Orthodox synagogue in deference to the custom of that church. Similarly, Christian men should wear hats or skull caps at a Jewish wedding of Orthodox or Conservative congregations.
If it is the custom of the church to stand during the ceremony, to kneel or sit during it, the guest usually conforms (unless his own religious beliefs prohibit). There is no reason, for instance, why a Protestant should cross himself in a Roman Catholic ceremony. A Protestant in a Catholic church may simply sit with head bowed while others kneel, but should stand when others do. What one does must be decided by his own personal feelings in the matter.
With these few guidelines in mind, you should know just how to behave at a wedding.
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