The Top Wedding Traditions That Couples Should Not Forgo

The great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post shares reigning wedding traditions.

When it comes to etiquette, the traditions to keep are the ones that help you to honor and show respect for the people who help you marry – even if the tradition in question may feel burdensome or old-fashioned at first. Get tips from etiquette expert Anna Post of The Emily Post Institute.

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Photo: Jodee Debes Photography

“Something old, something new,” the saying goes, and it’s just as true for wedding traditions as for the bride’s attire. Traditions are wonderful when they hold meaning and value for you. They are not there to force your hand to do something that makes no sense for your situation or goes against your vision of your wedding day. Want to mix it up and wear pink? Pick your shade! No dad to walk the bride down the aisle? Mom to the rescue! Can’t stand the garter toss? Out it goes!

Traditions exist for many reasons: practicality, superstition, habit. When it comes to etiquette, the ones to keep are the ones that help you to honor and show respect for the people who help you marry – even if the tradition in question may feel burdensome or old-fashioned at first.

Here are four wedding traditions worth holding onto:

Paper Wedding Invitations

Though electronic invitation websites offer some truly lovely options, when it comes to a wedding invitation, electronic just isn’t enough. Paper invitations have substance – literally – that helps create a gravitas that a computer screen just can’t replicate. In addition, they serve as a physical reminder – pinned to refrigerators, tucked into mirrors, or propped on mantels – of the wedding to come.

Wedding invitations also set the tone for the big day, and a traditional paper wedding invitation says “wedding” and tells guests that the couple thinks it’s worth making a fuss over. That heavy packet in a guest’s mailbox announces that this isn’t just any old dinner party before it’s even opened.

Bride & Groom Talk and Visit with Guests After Grand Entrance

Photo by Stephania Campos; Planning & Design by The Savvy Consultants; From Real Wedding: A Breathtaking Garden-Inspired Wedding with Personalized Details in Houston

Visit with Wedding Guests

Though the receiving line may at first feel like a dull, ponderous roadblock to the real fun of the reception, it serves a vital purpose. One of the most important duties you have is to personally speak with and thank each and every guest for attending your wedding.

The receiving line itself isn’t de rigeur, but as it usually occurs when exiting the ceremony site or entering the reception venue, it is a catch-all that ensures you have the opportunity to speak to everyone. Once guests are mingling at the reception, they are impossible to keep track of, making it hard to guarantee you have the chance to speak to everyone.

Table visits during dinner are the next best option to a traditional receiving line, though they often keep you from enjoying the sumptuous menu you have planned. The one exception to having a receiving line or making table visits is at a small wedding, say 75 guests or less, at which it’s much more likely you will have a chance to speak to everyone naturally during the course of the reception.

Cut the Wedding Cake Early

Though it likely doesn’t rank above the bride’s walk down the aisle or the couple’s first dance, cutting the cake is more than just a hint that something sweet is on its way to guests' plates. It is a tacit signal that guests may leave the reception without being thought rude for skipping out early.

Whether you have cupcakes, pie, or ice cream sundaes, plan to cut the proverbial wedding cake not long after dinner is finished so that older guests and guests with small children can make their exit at a reasonable hour.

Cutting the Wedding Cake Together

Photo by Haley Ringo Photography; From Real Wedding: R&B Singer Tank's Modern Black-and-White Wedding to Zena Foster

Send Prompt, Handwritten Thank-You Notes

Let’s dispense with one of the biggest wedding myths out there: the year to send thank-you notes. While it’s true that couples who are late with their notes should keep at it no matter how long ago they said “I do,” the last thank-you note should really be in the mail by about three months after the honeymoon. (Ideally, any thank-you note, including wedding thank yous, should be written within a few days of receiving a gift.) Aim to respond promptly, writing a few notes a day. Happily for brides, this is one tradition that has moved with the times, and grooms are quite welcome to write their fair share.

And while it’s important that the notes go out on time, it’s just as important that they are handwritten and unique to each guest. Pre-printed cards that the bride and groom simply sign, even ones with a lovely photo from the wedding, are too impersonal for any thank-you note. (Or worse, a blanket thank-you message on the couple’s wedding website!) Though it is inevitable that a few phrases will repeat here and there, notes should sound personal and be written as though you were speaking directly to the recipient.

It’s likely you’ll have a sense of which traditions mean the most to you. And whether you are adding a new tradition to the ranks or considering giving one the cut, think about how adding or skipping it will affect guests. Is there something that it signified that you might want to incorporate another way? After all, all traditions have to start somewhere, and the ones with staying power are the ones with meaning. 

For more tips, discover our guide to wedding dress codes and the levels of wedding formality, and read more wedding etiquette tips!

Opening photo by Jodee Debes Photography; Bridal Salon: The White Dress; Planning & Design by Tessa Lyn Events; From Real Wedding: The Romantic California Wedding of NBA Player Luke Kennard