Planning a Non-Wedding Reception
April 26, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan a 10-year anniversary party (to be on par with a wedding reception) for my boyfriend and myself. Specifically, what might our guests expect from the evening?

I want to throw a big party for my boyfriend and I on our 10th anniversary. We will likely not get married as a personal preference, but I still want the drinking and dancing and cake and a fancy dress. Ten years together seems to be a cause for celebration and I also want to honor the wonderful friends and family we have. The party wouldn't be until 2014, so I'm just trying to hash out the very basic details.

Wedding receptions generally have the same traditions - speeches, first dance, cake cutting, garter toss, etc. - so the guests know sorta what to expect. I don't know what to expect if I were invited to a large anniversary party, let alone what our guests might expect, so I need some help!

I'm looking for thoughts or suggestions on:
* Speeches or toasts - I'd like to give one as the hostess, would it fit to ask anyone else to speak?
* A slide show of some sort - Would it be considered tacky as they're usually done at wedding events?
* Having the couple kiss when the guests clink their glasses - Will people be expecting this to happen?
* Gifts - I've often read that whether you want gifts or not, people will do what they want. Would people want to give gifts for an anniversary? Would they expect us to register?
* Other 'events' - What could we do in place of the first dance and garter toss type traditions?

I've already signed up for The Knot so I can use their budget and guest list tools. Any other non-wedding event planning advice would be helpful as well. Thanks!
posted by youngergirl44 to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Speeches or toasts - I think anyone you wish to have speak is perfectly acceptable if they're amenable, or you could make your speech and then offer the open mic to whoever feels moved to share.

Slide show - Personally, I usually find them kind of tacky at weddings as well (mostly due to the content, not the actual presentation medium), but if you want to put one together, I don't see any particular problem. It's your party, after all, so do what makes you happy.

Glasses clinking = couple kissing - Is that a normal custom where you are? I've found that to be pretty regionally/family specific, but it's also a custom I've only ever encountered at weddings, so I'd be a little surprised if people started clinking their glasses spontaneously just because. If people do start clinking, I expect you might find yourself kissing just to shut everyone up.

Gifts - I suspect you will receive gifts from some people you're close to, but I'd be surprised if you received gifts from everyone. It wouldn't really occur to me to bring a gift to an anniversary party unless it were a couple I was very close to, and even then I think I'd be completely thrown if a registry were involved. You can always put "no gifts" on the invitation, but definitely do NOT put any registry information on the invitation if you decide to go that route.

Other 'events' - You really don't need those events at weddings, so you shouldn't feel like you're missing anything by not having them at your anniversary party. That said, if you really want some kind of structured activity, a pub quiz about the two of you or a scavenger hunt might be fun. You could even do some kind of door prize/raffle if you really want to get the crowd riled up. And you could still kick off the dancing together, if you want a "first dance" type moment.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:02 AM on April 26, 2012

I think the extent to which people act like it's a non-marriage equivalent to a wedding reception will depend on the extent to which you you treat it like one, I think. If it's a big fun party, there is unlikely to be gifts or clinking or garter expectations. If you put the invitation on a wedding invite-looking cardstock, and it's in a traditional reception location, and you set up the room in a reception-y way, I think you would see more of those behaviors.

Either way you will probably want to emphasize the fact that this is not a "surprise we eloped!" party. If someone invited me to their anniversary party, some percentage of me would be expecting that.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:05 AM on April 26, 2012

I'd expect informality. I'd expect buffet food perhaps, and dancing, and frivolity, and schmalz.

I wouldn't expect any explicitly wedding-based traditions (white dress, gift registry cake cutting, glass clinking). If I saw any. I'd be feeling embarrassed that somehow I missed a trick and it was a wedding and I should have got you a wedding present or said congratulations or something, and how rude would it be of me now to ask you if you just got married?

I would give you a gift, not for your anniversary but because you invited me to a party. It would be a bottle of booze or some flowers or something, like a hostess gift.

i'd definitely appreciate some kind of low key joining-in activity like the above mentioned pub quiz.
posted by emilyw at 10:07 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

as a not-really-into-marriage type person who just celebrated a 10 year anniversary with my boyfriend, I can say - be prepared for everyone to think you are eloping, or announcing something at the party. We went for a weekend in vegas to celebrate, and everyone *had* to ask if we were going to get married by elvis. The more your party is like an actual wedding, the more people are going to be puzzled about why don't you get married already. whether this bothers you or not is up to you, but having some fun snappy replies ready might make your day easier.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Congratulations! This will be fun. I’ve helped plan both weddings and anniversary parties. Here's how the two are different…

At weddings, we celebrate newfound love, passion, promise, the START of something. This is why wedding gifts typically focus on housewares, because a newly married couple is expected to be building their home together.

At anniversaries, we celebrate lasting love, commitment, hard work, success. The tone is different. You’re also expected to have built your home by now, so registering would be redundant (and probably in poor taste).

SO: If you think of this party more like a milestone birthday party, you’ll find this easier. For example:

- Would you bring a gift to a birthday party? Yes, so expect people will bring gifts. But would you register for a birthday party? No.

- I think glass-clinking falls in with other wedding-specific traditions like the garter toss, so I would not expect to see that at your party. It wouldn’t be inappropriate if it did happen, but in any case this decision is made by the guests. If they want it to happen, they will make it happen.

- Speeches, toasts, slide shows – both of these are normal at milestone events so go nuts.

Also, you can still have the drinking and dancing and cake and a fancy dress! In fact many couples choose to have a replica of their wedding cake made for their anniversary party. So if you want to have a wedding-style cake, I think this is one area in which you’d be ok.

Most importantly: please be clear with your guests. Your invitation can be fancy/formal but please state clearly what you are celebrating and how so that people know what to expect (e.g. “We are celebrating 10 wonderful years together! We want to share our happiness with those we love. Please join us for an evening of dining, dancing, and reminiscing”). I would probably make NO MENTION of gifts at all. You can probably still expect to receive wine, gift cards, maybe a crystal bowl or two, etc (of course this all depends on what your friends/family are like).
posted by yawper at 11:04 AM on April 26, 2012

Response by poster: I'm glad the consensus so far is no registry - I was leaning that way myself. I will also make sure to word the invitation clearly and spread the word through our family & friends that this isn't a 'surprise we're married' party. Yawper's suggestion to treat it like a milestone birthday is wonderful.

Thanks for the pub quiz suggestion, Diagonalize. It's right up our alley and incorporates the prize aspect that I was already tossing around.
posted by youngergirl44 at 11:57 AM on April 26, 2012

Specifically, what might our guests expect from the evening?

I think that will depend on the guests. In my family, for example, people aren't religious or really traditional, but I think it's also fair to say that none of them have had any new ideas since the late 1970s. As a result, they'd be confused by the whole thing. The more reception-like the affair was, the more confusing and stressful it would be for them.

Of course, I also have friends and acquaintances who would take it in stride. You know your guests best, so you'll have to judge.

As for me, as a pretend invitee to your party, I can say

Speeches or toasts - I'd like to give one as the hostess, would it fit to ask anyone else to speak?

I'd expect you and your boyfriend to speak, but not toast, unless you're toasting your friends and family for their support, etc. over the years. If other people gave toasts, it would seem very wedding-like to me. YMMV.

A slide show of some sort - Would it be considered tacky as they're usually done at wedding events?

I've never seen one of these that wasn't tacky. I was surprised when people started treating wedding receptions like business meetings (PowerPoint, for God's sake). And do you know that it's happening at memorial services now, too? Bizarre.

Having the couple kiss when the guests clink their glasses - Will people be expecting this to happen?

If you're toasting your family and friends, no. If you're being toasted, yes. But as I said above, I'd find it strange for you to be toasted.

Gifts - I've often read that whether you want gifts or not, people will do what they want. Would people want to give gifts for an anniversary? Would they expect us to register?

Do you expect gifts? If so, register. If not, don't. Registering creates an expectation.

Personally, I'd not register, not expect anything, but accept any gifts gracefully and in such a way that the gift-giver felt appreciated but that guests without gifts didn't feel as though they should have brought something. But I'm suave like that.

Other 'events' - What could we do in place of the first dance and garter toss type traditions?

Something personally significant to the two of you. Be creative.

For example, my wife and I are planning a 10-year anniversary celebration with a theme based on a funny little joke we shared around the time we met. It's meaningful for us, and it should be fun for the guests.
posted by jingzuo at 11:57 AM on April 26, 2012

If you want to set the tone for it being more like a milestone birthday than a wedding, I have one suggestion: A piñata! Everyone loves piñatas. Weddings don't usually have piñatas (but they should. Way more fun than a garter toss).
posted by troika at 1:34 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you positioned this as a 'commitment party' (not quite the right words, probably, but a "party to celebrate our committment to each other") instead of an anniversary party, i think that people might more easily get that this is equivalent to a wedding reception, and it'll make it easier to include all the wedding-y type things you want.

(Also, i just want to say: i love this idea. Why should the married people have all the fun?)
posted by Kololo at 1:51 PM on April 26, 2012

Also, if you do want it to be wedding-y, just sending out wedding-like invitations (you know, cream coloured with black script, with a request to RSVP, etc) would position this as "like a wedding" for people.
posted by Kololo at 1:57 PM on April 26, 2012

As someone who has created very professional slide shows for funerals and other life events, feel free to memail for detackifying advice.
posted by b33j at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2012

I've had three friend-couples do this three different ways. For one, we hung out in the park until dinnertime, when we walked en masse to a local hall and had a catered dinner with several bands and dancing. They had various people get up and talk about what makes them such great partners. They've been together since high school, and her mom brought a photo album with pictures of them when they were 16. I think most of their families' "gifts" were simply traveling from out of town for the party. Most friends did useful things -- my partner made dandelion wine, someone else did some flowers, that sort of thing.

The second couple held a block party out in front of their house. I don't know if there were gifts. They organized a bunch of games to help the people from different parts of their lives get to know each other -- "Find two people who sing in choirs" kind of bingo; had everyone stand in a circle and say how they know the couple. This one was the most milestone-birthday-like.

The third I didn't attend, but it was most weddingy, held at a fancy hotel, with fancy clothes and gifts. She wore rings afterward and they had their guests bring vials of water which they poured all together like a unity ceremony.

I think my point is, you can do what you want. What are the most important parts to you? Cake? All your favorite people in one room? Your community coming together? Do those things.
posted by linettasky at 11:58 PM on April 26, 2012

> I don't know what to expect if I were invited to a large anniversary party, let alone what our guests might expect

I would be confused if I were invited. Tenth anniversary of what, exactly?

Uncharitably, the thought would cross my mind that this was a way for you to get presents.

I know one couple who did an everything-but-the-actually-marriage part of a wedding ceremony, and it was for unpleasant reasons. I know another couple who did the same thing because the groom was actually married to someone else at the time. I would wonder if there was something gossip-worthy going on with you and, because I'm nosy, I would hope to get the dirt. Why are you being so weddingish but not actually getting married?

To appease / not confuse people like me, I suggest keeping this as unlike a wedding reception as possible (within reason). Do not wear a white dress. Do not have a pale-colored cake. Have the wording and layout of the invitations be non-weddingy. Do not use the words "reception" or "anniversary." Just throw a big party.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:45 AM on April 27, 2012

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