Vow Renewal Etiquette
by Rebecca Black, Etiquette Now
These are just a few of the questions we receive everyday concerning vow renewal ceremonies. Couples want to renew their wedding vows for a variety of reasons, yet most want to have a better understanding of the proper etiquette. Wedding vow renewals can be divided into these three areas: before, during, and after the ceremony (the party). The following is a guide to the appropriate etiquette for each of these phases.
Vow Renewals are not second weddings.
Unless somewhere along the way to happily ever after you and your spouse divorced and are now remarrying, this is not a second wedding. This is, however, an opportunity to reaffirm your marriage vows and love of one another, or perhaps a chance to have your marriage blessed by the church.
Bachelor / bachelorette parties?
These parties are typically thought of as your “last night out as a single person”, so, as tempting as it may sound, the fact is that the last hurrah ship sailed a long time ago. You are a married couple.
Shower with love, not with gifts.
Traditionally, the bridal shower is a time when friends and family can shower the bride with items she will need to begin her married life. A shower is also an event to help make guests feel as if they are a part of the wedding planning process. Again, you are already married and have a home set up. When it comes to vow renewals, encourage friends and family to shower you with love and support, rather than gifts.
Resist the urge to register.
While a vow renewal or reaffirmation is a celebratory occasion, it is generally not viewed as a gift-giving situation. In fact, if gifts are mentioned or requested by the couple, the focus may shift away from the ceremony of love. While writing “no gifts please” on a wedding invitation is not acceptable, it is perfectly acceptable to include such wording in a vow renewal invitation. All that said, if you are hosting this event in honor of an anniversary then some people may want to give you an anniversary gift. Any time gifts are given, be gracious and always send a timely thank you note.
Plan well, because you are the hostess with the mostess.
A reaffirmation is a ceremony and party you are hosting for yourself. Unlike college, grad school and your wedding, parents are not typically involved in the finances of a reaffirmation ceremony or vow renewal.
Make this day special, but different from, your wedding day.
You’re at a new stage in your life and love, so it stands to reason that your vow renewal or reaffirmation ceremony should be different from your wedding day. While it’s a nice idea to incorporate some of the traditions from your wedding day, take this opportunity to make new ones as well.
What will I wear?
Let your hair down.
If a wedding is about proclaiming your love with a big fancy dress, big fancy ceremony and reception and big fancy cake. . .the renewal ceremony is more of a simple, understated, private affair. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If you are recreating your original wedding ceremony, all bets are off.
Attendants become attendees.
Did you realize that attendants are basically witnesses? Although you may want them at your reaffirmation ceremony or vow renewal, they do not necessarily need to function in an official capacity. Many women will try to recreate their first wedding for a benchmark anniversary. If this is the case, using your original attendants is fine. But, it is better to simply invite them as guests.
The only thing given away is your love.
None of us are “given away.” This term isn’t even used for wedding ceremonies anymore. While fathers typically walk the bride down the aisle during weddings, this doesn't seem appropriate for vow renewals because the couple is already married. The father doesn't need to publicly show his approval or support of the marriage and the father is not handing the daughter off to her new husband. When it comes to reaffirmation ceremonies, the husband and wife could walk the aisle together or she should walk alone. While the couple’s children and grandchildren may accompany her down the aisle, a procession is not necessary for this ceremony. Our favorite option has the couple entering from the sides of the room walking toward each other and the altar.
Bundle your love in a bouquet.
Flowers are perfect for most occasions, and your reaffirmation ceremony is no exception. Put together your bouquet with care and consideration so that it reflects your love for one another and coordinates with your event in both formality and color/theme choice.
Reaffirmation rings are often part of the ceremony.
While some couples have a real connection to their wedding rings, others view the vow renewal ceremony as an opportunity to exchange new rings. Whatever you choose, be sure to discuss this sensitive issue thoroughly with your spouse.
AFTER the Vow Renewal Ceremony (RECEPTION or PARTY)
Couples often have numerous questions about the party that follows their vow renewal ceremony. Can it be a giant bash? Can the party have the traditional wedding reception components?
While the reception (party) can be similar to a wedding reception, there should be notable differences.
Use a receiving line for large gatherings.
All of your guests should be acquainted with you, but for the large gatherings it is helpful to form a receiving line so you may introduce your children or other family members to your guests. Because you are the host, you will be the first in line.
The traditional reception dances will be different.
The father/daughter dance just doesn't seem right, does it? After all, the wife has been living with her husband for some time. So, while you many not want to include all those traditional dances as part of your reception, you could still dance a couple’s first dance which will signify the first dance of the next phase of their life together. You might also consider inventing some of your own dances. For instance, you could call all couples to the dance floor who have been married for ten years or more.
Not so much a wedding cake as an “anniversary’ type cake.
The reaffirmation cake is sometimes recreated from the couple’s wedding, including the topper. However, this should be more of an 'anniversary' type cake. So, including writing on the cake would be appropriate.
Toasts are a great way to celebrate the couple in this new phase of their life. Of course, for a reaffirmation ceremony or vow renewal, the toasts should reflect upon the couple’s continued love, not upon the couple finding each other (as it is for the wedding reception). Keep in mind, though, that there is no best man toast because there is no best man. The wife already married her best man.
Toss out the garter and bouquet toss.
You’re not alone if you find these traditions more than just a bit silly for a married couple. Would you believe that both of these customs began as a way to keep wedding guests from tearing the bride’s clothes?! It was viewed as good luck to snatch a piece of her clothing. Perhaps you can create a new tradition of your own, instead.
Whatever you choose to include in your wedding vow renewal ceremony, use good, common sense. Consider your guest’s opinions about your event and ask yourself why you are hosting it in the first place. If you sincerely consider everything, you’ll probably avoid any major etiquette faux pas. So, enjoy yourself and each other and create an affair to remember.