The Differences Between Vow Renewal and A Wedding



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Question: I hear what’s being said loud and clear: if your married you cannot have another “wedding” unless you’ve divorced at first. However, my confusion is in regards to what occurs during a renewal, convalidation or whatever purpose it is, other than the initial wedding (I’ll stick with renewal for simplicity). First dance, Giving away, Tossing bouquet, those are understandable you are not single anymore.

However, if the situation is important enough for the married couple to hold the renewal, why can they not have a Large event, vs small and intimate? why can they not wear white, considering the history of white as a wedding dress is argued as not originally signifying purity but signified “wealth” and “Vanity”, and only first truly occured in 1840 because Queen Victoria wanted to incorporate some lace she happened to own at the time into her own wedding? Even then while some people copied her “style” it didnt become truly “vogue” until later when pictures of the wealthy wearing it at their weddings spread the trend. If they want to have a multi-tiered cake instead of an sheet anniversary cake, why not?

As long as they avoid those things that truly signify single to married, why can they not incorporate those types of things I mentioned above along with many others that don’t have any relationship to going from single to married? All of these things I’ve referenced above I have read at times on this site and the other linked site you cannot do at a vow renewal. As long as it is clear on the invite it is a Renewal, not a wedding and the “traditions” are carefully selected why not?

incidentally the 2nd definition of Wedding in the dictionary as a noun goes as such (Which confuses the etiquette situation for me more):

“2. the anniversary of a marriage, or its celebration: They invited guests to their silver wedding.”

Sorry for the long post, but as I said, this really seems to be a very sensitive subject with many people who post here, and I truly do not understand where some of the “rules” come from.

Rebecca Black, Etiquette Consultant, Etiquette Now

Due to all of your examples (as a teacher I appreciate your research) it appears that you want to justify doing whatever you want to do, most likely hosting a wedding even though you are married. If this is the case, then by all means do it, as there are no etiquette police to take you to etiquette jail. However, if you really just want to know what the real deal is, well, I can help you there.

Where do the “rules” come from? The rules come from all of us, those socially savvy people who instinctively know what is considered socially acceptable behavior. Those rules are written in books for those who need help finding them.

Now, vow renewals have few rules because this type of event isn’t a rite of passage or any other regular life event. It is more of a personal and, should be, private event. The main rule for the vow renewal is that it shouldn’t appear to be a wedding, which it clearly is not. All rules follow that main rule.

White should be fine; it doesn’t really signify weddings. We usually advise against it though because so many do feel that it is reserved for the wedding dress. The main point is that it shouldn’t appear to be a wedding dress.

A tiered cake is fine as long as it doesn’t appear to be a wedding cake. Could it be tiered and still appear to be an anniversary cake? Your call.

All wedding-like elements should be avoided to appear proper and not just plain silly. It would be unfortunate to plan a sweet renewal of vows and find out about all the snickers later. We hear about it and it isn’t pretty.

And those formal, large events are usually reserved for those bench mark anniversaries (20+). Even those could draw some arched brows of disapproval if not planned with care. Guests tend to be uncomfortable watching obviously married people pretend that they are bride and groom.

As for the dictionary…I believe you were reading the definition that follows “Wedding”. It is “Wedding Anniversary” and should have continued with “Silver wedding anniversary instead of just silver wedding. There is no such thing as a silver wedding unless you consider those of us with silver hair marrying.

There are many well known and respected etiquette professionals who espouse the same advice we do. Miss Manners is one who rants about this often–at least once a year. It is always a great read.

Remarriage Expert

Agreed. As long as the renewal doesn’t appear to be a wedding, since it’s not, then no worries. It’s when couples, feeling like they missed out on something by having a wedding that was not completely what they’ve always dreamed it would be, then decide later to try to host a “do-over”. It’s viewed negatively since the couple is obviously already married and sometimes can appear to be just a way to gather gifts the couple feels they missed out on. In fact, we have many who tell us they have gotten married in secret and then host their “real wedding” later on, actually fooling their friends and family and even the priest/clergy. Granted, that is an extreme example.

Etiquette is based mostly on common sense. So, if you can host an event that you can honestly say wouldn’t seem weird or off-putting if you were the guest, then in most cases you’d be right. Of course, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” and there will be those who think nothing of committing an etiquette faux pas because they either don’t know better or they aren’t bothered by it. My best example is the ever-disgusting blowing the nose at the table in a restaurant or where others are dining. I’ve seen (and heard) a lot of that in my time so obviously there are folks who think that expelling mucous out of one’s nostrils while others are trying to eat to be perfectly acceptable. I don’t, so I would always excuse myself from the table to do this in the bathroom, where I won’t offend anyone, and so I can then wash my hands before resuming eating. Most of us would do the same, but, obviously some won’t (don’t) and don’t care about the feelings of those around them.

So, the “rules” aren’t etched in stone but are what make sense to the majority and in place to help keep feelings considered.

Reader Response

Thank you for taking the time to reply. However, it did generate some additional comments in me.

First, your supposition is incorrect, I am not trying to justify doing whatever I want. In actuality my husband and I have chosen the small and intimate affair for our renewal. However, there are many issues both social and political that people can believe in the freedom of the act and still choose not to do it themselves. That is what Freedom of Choice is about.

I cited so many examples to ensure that my questions were clear and not misunderstood. They are valid questions, which still require personal research to be answered in my mind except, I believe it may now be a broader topic of Etiquette in general. I was personally under the impression that socially acceptable behavior was determined by the majority and not apparently the few socially savvy individuals you referenced, as we do not live in a caste society. And for the books on the subject unfortunately for every book on a subject written, there is always a contradictory one available. However, since the most of the posts I have seen focus on wanting to incorporate things that are deemed inappropriate, wouldn’t their simple desire to do those thing be a small example of majority rule determining what is socially acceptable? Of course, I grant this forum is a very small sampling, so I suppose that would be part of my own personal research.

Since your initial reasoning behind my question were mistaken, I will explain that the true driver of my question is that I have found that a large percent of the posts I referenced above seemed to be met with a very harsh, unbendable and at times hurtful response. With the justification always seeming to be “You are already married and that is reserved for single people”, it made me wonder about those traditions that are not driven by moving from single life to married life, what is the reason those are unacceptable?

In terms of Wedding like elements looking silly and being laughed at behind the couples back, that is exactly why I indicated that the traditions should be very carefully selected.

My final point is regarding my ability to read a dictionary. I am a highly educated woman, and am very capable of reading a dictionary.

To validate my sources prior to this reply I checked several different well known and accepted dictionaries to ensure it wasn’t just my original source of the American Heritage Dictionary. I would have posted the links but believe that is against the rules here, so I will reference the dictionaries should you choose to validate my statement:

Collins English Dictionary: 2 the anniversary of a marriage (in such combinations as silver wedding or diamond wedding)
Merriam-Webster: 3: a wedding anniversary or its celebration —usually used in combination
Oxford Dictionary: These are all actually listed separately, as example: Ruby Wedding • noun the fortieth anniversary of a wedding.

Oxford actually lists them all as individual references: Diamond, Golden, Ruby, and Silver Weddings. Not Wedding Anniversaries.

While of course it can be surmised that they are implying the combination of anniversary, my point is that it is listed singularly under Wedding. Therefore is it possible that it shows some changing of the tides in what is socially acceptable regarding the classification of weddings and anniversaries?

While I appreciate your reading these threads and taking your time to reply, what concerned me the most is the nature in which a lot of these people are responded to. Many, if not all may be renewing their vows for very personally powerful and sometimes painful reasons. Clearly they feel very strongly about it. However, I could see how they might come away from their post feeling very upset and questionable about what they are doing. Just because it is not currently judged as socially acceptable by Miss Manners, it does not mean that their feelings are invalid. Even my post which was a few simple and legitimate questions in a non-confrontational manner I feel was responded to with several belittling remarks against me, my intent and my intelligence.

While making it very clear the difference between weddings vs. renewals is obviously very important on this site, there are many more sensitive ways that they can be answered without hurting them and possibly making them question whether they should have this important event for whatever reasons it is important.

While writing this response I saw another response to my post from “The Admin”, which I appreciate as well. That type of response makes sense to me. The examples she gave are logical to me and I can agree with, but I actually see those things as more about poor etiquette and morals in the area of dishonesty and greed vs. whether the dress is white or the venue is large, but that’s neither here nor there. The restaurant example, I definitely agree with fully!

I appreciate you both taking your time in reading and responding to my posts.

Remarriage Expert

I’m sorry that you feel the responses were negative. I don’t see them, or read them negatively. I think you may have misunderstood. Please try not to read any perceived inflection into these answers.

Again, you have your right to your opinion, but we are answering based on what MANY/MOST etiquette experts deem as socially acceptable. These aren’t just a random few of us who have decided what’s best. I believe Rebedca said the “rules come from all of us who are socially savvy”. That isn’t a random few or a class of pwople. As I mentioned, most of etiquette is based on common sense and in place to make sure our guests are comfortable. So, does it makes sense to host a wedding for a couple who is already married. I don’t think so. I think it makes more sense to celebrate in other ways like renewals or receptions. You know, this is the “entitled” generation coming up. We need to set an example for them. You just can’t have it all. Make decisions and then live by them. We get a lot of couples saying they married in a rush at the JP to get a tax rebate, insurance coverage, housing or a green card. Then, after years of marriage and a few kids they say, “hmmm, I never had that big wedding. I want it now”. Up the aisle they go, teenagers in tow, mother in a long white gown with veil…how silly. They aren’t marrying. They appear foolish. We get this from many visitors who get invited to these events.

When a visitor comes to this website and asks for our advice, they can choose to take it or leave it, and do what they will. But, we aren’t here to validate, which is what many couples seem to be looking for. Yes, sometimes we need to stand our ground since our reputations get called on the carpet. But, when spoken to with respect, we do return the favor as evidenced here.

Happy anniversary. I wish you both well.

Reader Response

Even though you did not see it as I did, thank you for recognizing my discomfort with the previous post, especially given that it was not yours.

I understand you have to stand your guard as you get questioned daily i’m sure. As I have read so many in such a short time frame, they are all very fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, I have seen a tremendous amount that came across as “You did it, Live with it, tough”; “Maybe you should have thought about that before” etc. Thats what I meant about the responses being hurtful at times.

I know that with the last post “Due to all of your examples it appears that you want to justify doing whatever you want to do, most likely hosting a wedding even though you are married” That was an incredible assumption and a painful comment because the real reason we are having this recommitment is extremely painful, and this is meant to be a loving and healing process.

I don’t believe any comment about my motivations were necessary in that post simply because they were generic questions, but with another post, it could always be said gentler, and some of them that I have read have been. More of a “I know it must be difficult to have missed that, unfortunately circumstances etc, however a renewal ceremony can be beautiful etc .” without the single line 2nd post always following up with “Just make sure its not anything like a wedding” almost like being chastised. As I said before I understand your example when its about gifts or attention etc, and those are not the cases I am speaking of.

But the funny part (to me atleast ) is that even with my examples in the first post, it still became about calling it a Wedding vs. Renewal. i.e. “Then, after years of marriage and a few kids they say, ” hmmm , I never had that big wedding. I want it now”, yes I agree that could look silly. And this is really not the situation I am confused about.

I was trying to find out about the pieces “inside” the day for lack of a better term. The parts that aren’t about turning from single to married. It just seems odd to me when I have run across a post about a multi-tiered cake and the response is “you can’t have that”, or have lots of guests “you can’t have that”. Those components I don’t understand because I don’t understand why they are only for single people.

For Example: You have a very large family and alot of close friends and they all watched as you battled Cancer and they all cried when you were supposed to die 95%death rate, and they all rejoiced when you fought and actually won, and you actually lost your mother during all that, and your husband now wants to renew his vows to you because he was next to you the whole time as your hair fell out, you were sick and every other painful thing you went through. And everyone of those family members and close friends wants to join you on this most special of commitments, and you want them there because you would not have made it into the 5% survival category had they not been there, which then of course leads to a large cake because there’s 45 people there, why is that not okay? That’s not having a wedding, that’s not asking for gifts, or tossing a bouquet, that’s having a beautiful incredible miraculous moment with those who love you in a beautiful dress because you’ve felt terrible about yourself for years. Yes, I struggled with that decision. In the end it will be small for me, but only because I cannot handle that, but if I could why would it be wrong? I know there are no etiquette police, but why is it wrong? If I wanted to have my father give me away, or get “homestarting” gifts, have a bachelorette party, toss a bouquet, I understand why that is wrong, but some of it I just don’t get, do you understand what I mean?

Maybe I just happened upon posts that particularly touched me and the responder saw something I didn’t. But there were a couple in particular the pain came right out of the computer screen to me, but the answer was along the lines of “tough”, and it made me feel terrible and angry and I wanted to tell them I was so sorry they were being chastised for wanting something that might be healing to them.

Anyway, that’s it, that’s why I initially had those questions and what confuses me.

Again, I do thank you both for your time in reading and responding as I am sure this is volunteer (Or very close) and I am sure you try to helps hundreds of people everyday and its got to be tough.

Remarriage Expert

Again, I think you’re misreading Rebecca’s intent there. Many times we’re not just answering you, the poster, we’re answering for all who come to this website to read in the future as well. Please read her answer in that light.

As a woman who just recently underwent a mastectomy, I am not without feelings for those who want to celebrate life. I’m just confused as to why it has to be with a wedding or anything that has to appear to be a wedding – like a wedding cake, for example. A wedding cake is for a wedding, a birthday cake for a birthday, etc. Make the cake reflect your event. Having your father escort you down the aisle appears like a bride with the father giving her away, which to many may seem silly since you’re already married and have a family of your own. Sure, get Dad involved, but maybe in a more appropriate role – one that doesn’t appear to your guests as anything like dad walking a bride down the aisle. Same with the clothing and the party. I think what we say most of the time is to avoid appearing silly plan an event that is age appropriate and event appropriate. And, I don’t believe we ever say, “you can’t have that” because, actually, you can have whatever you want. As Rebecca said, there are no etiquette police.

If all we’re talking about were a cake then, gee, have the dang cake. But, in most cases, it’s not about a cake – it’s usually about all of it including the parties, white dress and veil, gifts, registry, and the hooplah. You may be tearing out bits and pieces. Please read our website as a whole instruction.

I, in fact, do feel like, hey, you made a decision, now live with it. That’s life. It’s a concept this upcoming generation just doesn’t get. They want it all. It’s one of the reasons our economy is in the mess it is. But, I digress…

So, at the end of the day, you got our advice and reviewed the website. You can choose to accept the information, or not, it’s totally your choice.

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