Traditional Elements of the Wedding Reception

8 Events that Keep the Reception Rolling Along

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The Cocktail Hour

Couples who choose to take pictures after the ceremony or host a receiving line usually provide cocktails and hors d’oeuvres so that guests are entertained during the newlywed couple's lengthy absence. An open bar is a nice gesture to thank guests for their patience, but cash bars are common. Soft background music and reception games enliven the party, so consider offering guests activities that get them mingling and laughing.

The Newlywed Introduction

Typically, the newlywed couple makes a grand entrance after all the guests arrive at the reception venue. The DJ generally announces the parents, the wedding party and finally the groom and bride, usually as Mr. and Mrs. Couples usually head straight to the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife or to the head table so that the formal dinner can begin. In some cultures, the groom and bride are escorted in by the guests, such as the Scottish Grand March.

Dancing the Night Away

Celebrations of happiness are almost always accompanied by music and dancing. Even if you are a bit shy on the dance floor, there are several special wedding dances that take place during the reception. Traditional dances include one with the bride and groom together and then with their parents, the entire wedding party, cultural performances and guest group dances.

The DJ is responsible for moving the festivities along, but you should choose the music.

You may also want to consider compiling a Do Not Play List for group dances if the opening notes of “YMCA” or the seemingly endless repetition of the “Macarena” grate on your nerves. Afterward, the dance floor is open to anyone who wants to boogie. 

Breaking Bread

The source of physical and spiritual nourishment, every culture celebrates life’s greatest joys with food.

It is how we embrace family, welcome guests and give thanks for our blessings. Whether it is a formal meal, family-style buffet or simple platters of meat and cheese, most receptions include food. One of the best ways to honor your cultural heritage is to add your favorite ethnic dishes to the menu.

Once everyone is seated, play a photo slideshow of your journey together as a couple. Cultural performances or live instrumental music are also common during the dinner hour. 

Bestowing Marriage Blessings

There is typically a dedicated time for guests to offer the newlywed couple their well wishes for a happy future together. The best man is responsible for kicking off the champagne toasts. The maid of honor then shares her speech, which often consists of childhood memories and blessings. The rest of the wedding party then the immediate family should be invited up to offer a few words as well. Since all eyes are on the couple, this is also the perfect time to add a short unity ceremony that could not fit into the marriage ceremony. 

Cutting the Cake

Everyone gathers around the newlyweds as they hold hands, slice the cake and carefully feed each other a small piece to symbolize their "commitment to provide for one another," notes About.com's Cake Decorating Guide Michelle Anderson.

Some cultures incorporate other activities into this portion of the reception, including speeches, unity ceremonies and the cake pull. 

Who Gets Married Next?

Most cultures have some way to predict who will tie the knot next, whether it is finding a certain trinket hidden in the wedding cake or catching the bridal garter and bouquet. Traditionally, only the single men and women of marrying age are dragged onto the dance floor, but many couples are now choosing to invite everyone to participate. 

The Grand Getaway

After the newlyweds have one last dance, the guests closely gather near a doorway to shower the couple with well wishes as they head for the getaway car. The cheering crowd might toss rose petals, blow bubbles or light sparklers to bless the newlyweds with a long and happy marriage.