Should You Have Your Reception First?

Should You Have Your Reception First?

Why are people so judgmental when it comes to unconventional wedding choices?

When I was doing a little research for today’s post, I came across a lot of forum results. Couples who were trying to be strategic, creative, or proactive about solving a problem or putting together a wedding that worked for them were put down by a bunch of strangers who are working under the assumption that their wedding is about the guests, and not about a very big, personal commitment that the celebrants are making with each other.

My partner and I want to have the reception before the ceremony, because…”


I’ve never heard of this. I’m sorry, but this is an awful idea.”
“The whole point of your reception is to THANK your guests. You CAN’T do that BEFORE the ceremony.”

I would personally hate this.”

This would be inconsiderate.”

The newlyweds always have such a glow to them right after the ceremony… such a sparkle in their eyes, that isn’t there before the ceremony/the day after. I would hate to have to miss seeing that.”

Writing Wedding Anarchy has probably given me about 200% more eye strain. Not from the extra time I spend looking at screens… from all the extra time I spend rolling my eyes so far into my head they get sore.

The idea that we have to do weddings in the way that they’re supposed to be done is there for two reasons: To create an environment that helps sustain a really predatory, toxic industry, and to keep other people comfortable.

Think about it: What’s wrong with having your reception before the ceremony? You can thank your guests at any point during the day(s). It doesn’t need to be near the end of the festivities. And having a reception doesn’t preclude you from doing anything: Having a meal, having entertainment for your guests, having cake, having toasts, dancing, drinking (if that’s what you’re into), spending time with your loved ones… You can do all of these things. There’s no rule that says it’s illegal to engage in certain festivities before you have the ceremony.

I should note: Not everyone who responded to the aforementioned couples was hostile to the idea of a reception-first wedding. Most of them… but not all of them. And I did spend most of my time reading the more popular (mainstream, traditional) wedding forums.

Some people just don’t handle change well. Even if something is ultimately inconsequential or only mildly inconvenient, they’ll rally against something purely because it’s not what they expect at a wedding, and therefore not how it should be done. They will view their expectations as more important than the desires of the celebrants.

There are plenty of reasons to have a reception-first wedding… and every last one of them is valid! Ultimately, it’s your wedding, and you should make the decision that feels best for you.

If you’re unsure if reception-first is the way to go for you, see if any of these situations apply to you:

You hate being the centre of attention, and you think having a reception first would take some of the pressure off. Walking down the aisle (or standing at the front of the space) and having everyone you know staring at you the whole time is super uncomfortable for some folks. If you feel that having some time to mingle with everyone first would take some of the pressure off of you, then go for it!

You want a late/sunset/after dark/midnight ceremony. I’m all for after dark ceremonies. You can do so much with lighting and candles once the sun sets. I’m almost convinced that it’s impossible to have a ceremony after dark that isn’t incredibly pretty.

You want a brunch reception, but without the early morning wake-up call. Brunch receptions are an excellent way to save money. But who wants to get up that much earlier for the ceremony? Don’t worry about it. Sleep in and have the ceremony after everyone’s had some breakfast!

You want to give your guests the option to leave earlier in the day. People are busy… we have a lot going on. Whether it’s work, acting as a caretaker, personal obligations, or making the effort to honour our own physical and mental health, an evening or late-night reception isn’t feasible or accessible for everyone. If you want to give your guests the chance to leave the event earlier in the day (hey, no judgment!), a reception-first wedding may just work out better for everyone’s timetable.

You have a high-drama family or friend group. It would be great if we could expect everyone to get along, if only for the sake of the wedding. Unfortunately, we have no control over the actions of other people, and civility may just be too high an expectation for some people. Regardless of who did what or who said what to whom, some people just can’t or won’t be cordial with one another. But where does a reception-first wedding come into this?

Picture if you will:

You have two people (or groups) who can’t be in the same room together for long. Maybe your parents are divorced and aren’t on speaking terms. Maybe your family and friend group are extremely different, and you’re concerned about a clash of personalities or politics. Maybe you love two people who are estranged from one another- but you still desperately want them both to celebrate your wedding with you.

You have your reception- it’s earlier in the day. You get to spend time with one half of the pair/group of people you’re concerned about.

Afterwards, you have your ceremony- you invite everyone you want to celebrate with you. They can sit/stand on opposite sides of the space. They’re in the same room for ten to sixty minutes, no talking involved.

Once the ceremony is done, you have your afterparty. You could treat this like a second reception… Or you could do something entirely different! Invite whoever wasn’t at the reception earlier, while the attendees from the first event depart after the ceremony.

I really love this idea for folks who find themselves with more reserved, conservative families and bold, less inhibited friends. If you aren’t comfortable with mixing family and friends, this might be a good template for you!

You want to leave right after your ceremony. Ceremonies can be really emotionally intense. If you suspect you’re going to be a bit of a mess after you say “I do” (not necessarily a bad mess!), then you may want to have your reception first and take the time after your ceremony for aftercare… or just some regular old privacy with your partner(s)! It’s completely valid to want to bask in newly married bliss with your partner(s) in private. Spending time in a crowded place with a lot of people can be draining for some… even if you love them. Don’t feel bad if you want to run away after the ceremony!

Having the reception first just fits better with your schedule. Sometimes, the unconventional choice just happens to be a better fit. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty, selfish, or inadequate for reordering the traditional wedding day timeline. Your wedding is a blank canvas- it’s ultimately your party. You get to do it your way, even if it’s unorthodox!

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