Parties before the wedding day

It's hard enough planning the big day, but what about all the other festivities to put together along the way?

  • Story by Photo Callander Girl Photography & Words Je T'aime Hayr

It's hard enough planning the big day, but what about all the other festivities to put together along the way?

Traditionally an engagement party is hosted by the father of the bride to announce his daughter’s impending wedding, but these days it’s all about a couple celebrating their commitment to marry. Ideally, the get together should take place one to three months after the proposal, allowing those betrothed to savour the moment. ‘Anyone invited to the engagement party expects an invitation to the wedding,’ advises wedding planner Gayle Garmaz. ‘If your guest list is restrictive, and you decide to throw an engagement celebration, let friends and family know your wedding list is small, so they don’t wonder why they didn’t get an invitation.’
Gifts are not expected at an engagement party, so don’t set up a registry. However, since some people will bring presents, the etiquette is to be discreet. ‘Put them somewhere inconspicuous so others don’t feel awkward,’ Gayle says, ‘and send a thank-you card within six weeks.’ Speeches aren’t mandatory, but it’s a nice way to share the story of how you met, and of the proposal. Gayle suggests keeping it casual. ‘It’s important for the parents or couple to say a few words, but nothing too serious or lengthy. It’s good practice for the wedding.’
Lastly, everyone at your engagement party will ask whether you’ve set a date, so it pays to discuss this with your partner prior. If you live in a different country from your family, or your wedding is less than six months away, you may like to skip the engagement party and have a rehearsal dinner instead so there is still a pre-wedding get-together for your relatives.

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◆ Book a winery to indulge guests amongst the vines. Black Barn Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay and Stoneyridge on Waiheke Island boast a wide range of varietals and fantastic platters while offering incredible views.
◆ Hold a formal occasion at a swanky venue such as an art gallery, hotel or your favourite bar. The stylish Museum Hotel  sets the scene in the cultural centre of Wellington, while inner city Auckland’s Hotel DeBrett has a retro vibe.
◆ A casual backyard barbecue enables guests to get to know each other in a laid-back – and cost-effective – atmosphere.

Hen Party
The term “hen party” derives from the role of the henna plant in North African, Middle Eastern and some Asian wedding traditions where henna tattoos were applied to the bride’s hands the night before the wedding to protect her from evil. Today, modern evils come in the form of champagne excess. It’s never wise to over-indulge in the bubbly stuff the night before a special occasion, which is why the hen party is best planned for a couple of weeks before the wedding.
The chief bridesmaid should plan the hen night, but make sure she knows exactly what you want. If you’re a teetotaller who hasn’t seen the inside of a nightclub for years, hitting town at 2am won’t be your idea of a great party. As one disgruntled bride says, ‘If you want the bride to be happy, it has to be what she wants, not what the bridesmaids think is a good time. I hated the tacky games, so I left them to it and went home early.’

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◆ If the bride isn’t into bar hopping, organise a party where everyone leaves with a gift. Take a craft class at Spotlight to learn how to create jewellery, scrap books, needlecraft or for insight on home decorating.
◆ Head to a dance studio for a group lesson, or arrange for an instructor to come to you. Auckland’s Vibe One Dance offers burlesque (classic and modern), hip-hop, pop, jazz and even Lady Gaga or Michael Jackson styles. 
◆ If a bit of luxury is on the cards, take a couple of days time out at a resort. Otago’s Blanket Bay is on a World Heritage Area, and the enchanting Treetops Lodge in Rotorua has self-contained villas available, plus a personal chef. For a taste of extravagance without forking out for accommodation, Mollies Boutique Hotel in Auckland has a spa which you can book exclusively. Up to six guests can be treated at a time, while the canapés and bubbles are served.

Stag do
Often the hen party and stag do’ are scheduled for the same night, although if many of the wedding guests have children this is something you might want to reconsider. Typically, the best man organises
the stag do, however, if party planning is not his forté, Go Bananas specialises in such events. Similar to a hen function, the best impression on the groom (and bride) is made when the event is tailored to the groom’s interests such as sailing, hunting, fishing or cars.

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◆ Cocktail classes are an entertaining way to learn the art of ‘mixology’. Ask one of the bartenders from your local haunt if they’ll do a home visit – that way no one needs to drive. Otherwise, for those who want to hit the town, Bellini bar, located at the Hilton Hotel in Auckland, offers cocktail lessons for $65 per person.
◆ If learning to surf is high up on his to-do list, visit Surf N Snow tours to book a session with an instructor, or ask your local surf club for a group lesson.
◆ For those hunter-gatherer types, hire a charter for the group. Bay of Islands Fishing Charters caters for a range of group sizes.

Bridal Shower
The bridal shower originated in the 1890s as a way to inundate the bride to be with gifts if she came from a family too poor for a dowry, and today it’s still proper etiquette to arrive with a gift in hand.
The chief bridesmaid usually plans the shower, which takes place four to six weeks before the wedding. It can be a carefree get-together or a sophisticated event, but the golden rule is to keep it to the bride’s style. Choose a theme meaningful to the bride, and spin ideas or games around that, or decorate the venue in her favourite colours.
For cost-saving purposes or simply for convenience the bridal shower can easily be combined with the hen night – begin with the sophisticated shower, and follow up with the more casual hen party.
Add special touches, such as asking each guest to bring a photo of themself with the bride. Collate them into a small album and present it to the bride as a keepsake. Simple gestures can make the event even more special. If the shower involves a sit-down meal include place cards on the tables, and have the host greet each guest as they arrive.

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◆How do you please both young and old guests? Organise a tea party. If you don’t have a family member with a pretty garden, consider booking a venue with landscaped surrounds.
◆As an indoor alternative, The Langham Hotel, Auckland offers an afternoon tea complete with delicacies and bubbles.

The Day-After Bash
To carry on the celebrations, post-wedding gatherings are increasingly popular. Often organised as a casual barbecue, this is an opportunity for guests to wind down with extra time to catch up. ‘We had a barbecue at my parents’ house the day after the wedding. For guests who had travelled long distances to attend our wedding it made the trip even more worth it,’ says Chelsea Yandall. Alternatively, consider holding a brunch at the hotel where the majority of your guests are staying, or putting on a picnic.
For couples having a destination wedding, hosting a party upon returning home is a great way to celebrate with those who were unable to make it to the nuptials.
As a relaxed occasion, the post-wedding gathering is ideally a buffet so that guests are able to arrive at their convenience, but still enjoy the spread. It’s the perfect time to catch up with guests, take photos, open gifts and thank all those involved.

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