As many of you know, we eloped last year. It was perfect in its own way, but not being able to celebrate our wedding with our families bothered us. We were saving up for a wedding in the States, but eloping threw off some of this.
Our elopement was small, intimate, and romantic, however I knew that I still wanted to have a proper reception and a ceremony despite eloping. I’ll include some lessons learned from our post-elopement party, which was planned from abroad.
*Gorgeous photos by Christian from Fox House Studio.
Why you should have a post elopement reception (and maybe a ceremony)
A wedding is a joining of two people, however it can be much more meaningful than just two people declaring their love for each other. It’s also about two families (hopefully) joining together in celebration of the couple. In the modern era, weddings are increasingly about the couple, which is why many choose to elope: to have their dream wedding.
That said, a post-elopement reception is often more about celebrating your marriage with those you care about and letting them enjoy this moment too. For us, eloping made more sense as getting married in the Netherlands simply made more sense for us. However, we wanted our families to be able to join us fully.
Both of our parents were happy for us, however they wished that they got to experience this moment as parents. As an only child, I know that it meant a lot for my dad to be able to walk me down the aisle and for me, I wanted to honor the traditions of my ancestors. For Jacob, he wanted to make it as silly as possible while incorporating his family’s traditions of shape note singing at important occasions.
As we live abroad, it was special having a whole weekend with everyone who loves us to eat, relax, drink, and dance together. It was nice being able to do this with less pressure compared to a traditional wedding as we made the entire celebration about our families and the kind of non-traditional celebration that we wanted. Simply, it was a blast being able to share this moment with our families. Both of us get emotional just thinking about it and it’s barely been a month.
Tips for having a post-elopement reception
Make clear it’s a celebration, not a real wedding
My dad was quite firm about this as he found it a bit strange to call it a wedding when we had already been married for some time. We called it a renewal of vows and that is exactly what it was. You can also call it a celebration if you choose to!
It’s good to note that you are not required to do anything, so don’t feel like you need to have a big party. Some people have only an informal BBQ. We both wanted an epic yet relaxed celebration that our families and friends could enjoy.
What we wrote on our post elopement reception invitations
To be honest, we’re not serious people. We made a handful of printed ones inviting some family members and family friends by mail to join the “celebration of our marriage” or “renewal of vows,” However, I made this card myself in photoshop using some stock images. We called our celebration a “weekend wedding jubilee” as we also did a barbeque the day before. Our guests loved the card.
You can wait to have your elopement party
We waited around 1.5 years to have our post elopement party as it was not feasible financially or timing-wise for a while. Don’t feel that you need to do have a party immediately after you elope. Enjoy getting married–then worry about having the party that you want!
Notify people in your elopement announcement that there will be a celebration later
Save yourself some work later and let people know in your elopement announcement cards (if you’re forward thinking) that there will be a celebration with more details later…
This meant that we only had to send out around fifteen actual invitations in the mail and the rest of the people were notified by Facebook of our website with more information. (I used Minted.)
You can have a ceremony ….and it doesn’t need to be boring or traditional.
I encourage anyone who wants to do a ceremony to think about the family traditions that they love–and to be creative. Our ceremony focused on paying homage to our family’s very different histories and traditions, rather than just us or religion.
Our ceremony was entirely made up by us. We tried to incorporate various traditions from both of our families. Jacob was firm about having his uncle preside over the ceremony and it was wonderful having someone so close to us add special stories to it.
I entered with my parents, which was a special moment for my father who walked down the aisle with me. We then stood underneath a chuppah that was hand designed and woven by Jacob’s mother and her sisters. (The frame was constructed by his uncle.) Then, Jacob’s family welcomed my family into theirs with a beautiful shape notes song sung by his extended family. My aunt (who was there for our elopement) read a poem that she wrote for the occasion.
We ended up incorporating some Jewish traditions into our elopement, including breaking a glass and circling the chuppah. (Jacob thought it would be funny to run although we ended up running in slow motion due to my dress.) We exchanged affirmations of our love and recieved some great advice.
The highlight of our post-elopement ceremony stemmed from a Jewish tradition of mothers breaking a plate. We bought these plates at a secondhand store and we figured that they looked thin, so they’d be easy to break. …It turns out that we purchased Corelle plates, which are intended to be break-resistant.
Needless to say, Jacob thought it would be funny if his mother broke her plate with a sledgehammer, which appeared suddenly at this point in the ceremony. It worked beautifully and made everyone giggle.
However, my mom struggled considerably to smash her unbreakable plate by throwing it, resulting in the iconic moment of both moms swinging a sledgehammer at a plate together. It was special and everyone loved it.
For the actual party, we made the playlist ourselves. It was full of silly music (like Space Jam [our opening song]), but we also included some traditional wedding songs like the Hora. Everyone joined in.
Don’t feel that you need to splurge (You’re already married)
Since you’re already married, the pressure is a bit off to have a crazy big wedding. That said, you should spend the money on what matters to you. If you’ve dreamed of a big dress, do it. If you want bridesmaids, why not?
Our celebration with about forty people cost about $10,000. That’s a lot of money that I would love to use otherwise, however I knew that that number would include everything. We had to pay for flights from the Netherlands to North Carolina, our hotel, the venue (which included decorations and a bartender), drinks, supplies for a picnic the day before, drinks out with our friends, paying for gas (a story for another day), and our own meals. I suspect that we couldn’t have done it for much cheaper in the United States.
A good photographer is worth the money
A post elopement reception is about your family and friends celebrating with you. As our parents had not yet met each other in person and our extended families had never met, it was a big deal for me to be able to have beautiful photos to remember this day! We also don’t get to see our extended families too often, so I really wanted to have good photos.
I might be a bit more picky than the average bride as someone who shoots photographs myself, but I wanted someone who would focus on the candid moments and who had a good eye.
I also wanted to hire someone locally as it meant not needing to arrange flights/hotels for the photographer (although I loved our photographer from our elopement). Christian from Fox House Studio was my first choice and luckily, she was free that weekend.
You can see the photos here. They’re gorgeous and given that they’re our memories of the day, I’d say that it was worth splurging on the photographer, even though we splurged on nothing else. I’ll be making printed photo books for my parents, Jacob’s parents, ourselves, and my grandmother.
You don’t need to wear a white dress
I wore a cute ’50s style white dress to our elopement. I found on it on a clearance rack for 10 euros and the dress was perfect. However, I wanted something different for our elopement party.
I never go to anything black tie and I’ve always loved the dramatic 1920s/1930s mermaid-style gowns. After cycling past this small formal wear store in the Hague, I knew that it was the place to get my dress.
I also felt weird about wearing a big white gown as this party was about 1.5 years after we got married. (I also came to the conclusion that my taste in wedding gowns runs on the expensive side.) Although I was supposed to look for gowns with my mom and friends in New York City, it was still wonderful having my mom visit this summer to look for something different.
Simply, when I put on the dress, I knew it was right. Sure, it was black, but my own wardrobe isn’t the most colorful one… I simply felt glamorous and beautiful. (The price was also right at ~150 euros.)
Do you need to invite everyone?
No. When we eloped, we went through the rounds notifying everyone that we could think of that we got married. We did this with a cute postcard. However, we did something clever and made two different sets of postcards: one where we invited people to a celebration and one where we simply notified them of the wedding.
We really wanted to keep this whole celebration very intimate, however the issue is that both of our families live in different parts of the United States. That was hard. We ended up inviting 120 people, including partners. I wanted about fifty people there and it’s hard cutting down the list. In the end, about forty people came. (We were around 55 RSVPs.)
You are not responsible for everyone and their travel arrangements
Having a big elopement party is a lot of work in itself and a lot of people seem to expect the couple to take care of everything, including their hotels and flights. It’s a bit much and it’s good to be upfront that you are not their travel agent. (If you have a travel agent friend, you could easily throw them some business.)
Combined with flying from the Netherlands, we had a lot of details to work out. It was a bit much with almost everyone I know updating me about our travel plans. I did my best to help people who needed information and finding others that people could carpool with, but you are not responsible for everyone’s travel arrangements.
In the end, we found it would probably be cheaper for our guests to fly into Charlotte and find accommodations to suit their budget rather than asking them to stay at a 4* hotel that many of them wouldn’t stay at otherwise. Beyond that, we told people the event times/locations–and let our guests figure it out. It worked out beautifully and everyone found their way to the venue with or without GPS working.
Don’t expect gifts
Quite a few people were very generous with us when we got married and some can perceive a reception only event after an elopement to be a money grab. It’s nice to receive gifts, but don’t expect it.
Given that you eloped and you’re already married, you’re most likely already living together. As a result, what might be helpful for a traditional wedding might not be helpful as you’ve already created a new home. I think creating a wedding registry is even more important to ensure that you get gifts that you need and will use regularly.
Find a venue that will help you with the details
One of the best decisions I made at the recommendation of a friend, a former wedding planner, was finding a venue that included as many things as possible. I’m detail oriented, but I found out that I did not enjoy planning a large party with numerous details.
I ended up choosing Appalachian Farm Weddings outside of Asheville. They had never dealt with an international bride before, however I loved the historic barn, the fact that they had all the decorations included in the price, and how we simply had to show up.
Communication is key with a venue and not living nearby was a bit annoying, but it was a stunning venue that solved a lot of issues that we had. Ensure that you’re both on the same page.
They also recommended a fantastic caterer (Carolina Culinary Creations) to us who included our dream menu (barbeque!) along with plates for a price that we couldn’t beat. We only had to purchase insurance for the day and drinks/cups. (Being able to bring our own alcohol (beer and wine) saved us a lot of money.)
A good spreadsheet will change everything and make your life a thousand times easier
I made a few spreadsheets to keep track of things. One included our guest count and notes about them: addresses, whether there were kids, dietary restrictions, whether they drink alcohol, and their invitation/RSVP status. I overestimated how many people would drink alcohol, so we could have saved a little money in this regard.
For those planning everything themselves, I recommend purchasing the Knot wedding checklist and planner if you don’t have a wedding professional to help you with the details. I was lucky enough to have a good friend with wedding planning help me with getting my planning in order. Six months is enough to pull off a smaller celebration.
How to begin planning your post elopement reception
Plan your elopement first. Enjoy it.
If you’re intending to have a larger party, you first need a venue. As a first step, I recommend securing your date and booking your venue as early as possible. (Watch for hidden costs!) Next, the photographer, caterer, your travel arrangements (if needed), and where you’ll stay. Then, the rest, including the dress and decorations, can follow later.
I also made a specific sheet for gifts that we received, so that we can send out thoughtful thank you cards to our guests kind enough to give us something!
Get firm numbers as quickly as possible
A lot of people will drag their feet when it comes to RSVPing. It’s annoying. You might need to call a bunch of people to get firmer numbers as the lack of a firm number will drive up costs a lot.
We were +10 over the number that we actually had, but there was enough food luckily. Beyond that would have been a waste of money and food. Get those RSVPs into Yeses or No as quickly as you can as the numbers also impact what kind of venue you need. I initially booked a venue that could hold 100 people, but in reality, we could have stood to have with a smaller space. That said, I loved our post elopement reception and I am so glad that we got to celebrate our marriage with our families.