Is It Rude to Have a Small Ceremony Followed by a Large Reception?

Plus, how to plan without offending anyone.
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Elizabeth Ayoola
elizabeth ayoola headshot
Elizabeth Ayoola
The Knot Contributor
  • Elizabeth contributes a range of lifestyle content to The Knot.
  • She also works as a full-time writer at NerdWallet and contributing writer at ESSENCE and POPSUGAR.
  • Elizabeth has a degree in Environment, Politics, and Globalization from King's College London.
Updated Aug 30, 2023

One of the best things about weddings is that there isn't a cookie-cutter formula for a successful one. You can personalize everything from the wedding ceremony to the reception and everything in between. Some people choose to have a small ceremony and big reception. This idea became popularized during the pandemic, as many couples hosted intimate ceremonies to heed gathering restrictions (known as minimonies), scheduling a larger reception when big celebrations were safer.

There are many reasons a couple may want a small ceremony. Cutting costs is one; hosting a small ceremony could shave some dollars off a budget, for instance. Another could be to create more intimacy and only have close loved ones present while the couple is exchanging vows. Yetunde Ośo, an event planner and owner of The UpperRoom Events shares advice on how to execute a small wedding and big reception as well as the etiquette around it.

In this article:

Can You Have a Small Ceremony and Big Reception?

You absolutely can have a small ceremony and a big reception, says Ośo.

"Many couples choose to have an intimate ceremony with close family and friends, followed by a larger reception to celebrate with a large guest list," she says. "This allows for a more personal and meaningful ceremony while still having a grand party atmosphere at the reception. It's a popular way to balance different preferences and create a memorable experience for everyone involved."

Not only can having a small ceremony help you create a more intimate experience–it can also help you reduce the amount you spend on your ceremony venue if you plan to get one.

Where to Have a Private Wedding Ceremony and Big Reception

The next question you may have in mind is where you can have a small and private wedding ceremony. Luckily, The Knot Vendor Marketplace is a robust resource filled with venue ideas for both the ceremony and reception as you'll likely need two different spots. You can even filter venues by city, state, capacity, price and more.

Do Guests Bring Gifts?

Sending a wedding gift is always a good idea, whether guests are invited to the intimate ceremony or not. The couple will appreciate the gesture and it can be a nice way to make a loved one's presence felt. Before buying something, guests should find out if the couple has a wedding registry so they have a better idea of what to give them.

Find your kind of venue

From barns to ballrooms, discover reception venues that feel like you.

"Couples can guide gift choices via wedding websites or invitations," says Ośo.

You also can't go wrong with cash gifts, especially if it's a cultural norm to give them. For instance, in Italian and Nigerian culture, giving money during the reception is part of a cultural tradition. Cash gifts can also offer the couple flexibility in terms of how they want to spend the money, Ośo adds.

How to Have a Small Ceremony and Big Reception

Having a small ceremony and big reception can sometimes mean planning out two different events. To ensure everything runs smoothly and minimize hiccups, thought and planning should go into the process. Here are a few tips to help you along the process.

Decide on a guest list.

If you're having a small ceremony and big reception, you'll likely need two different guest lists. Take time to think about who you want at the ceremony, who will attend the reception, or who will attend both.

"Clearly communicate the format of your wedding to your guests using the invitation or wedding websites so that guests will understand the plan and know whether they're invited to both events or just the reception," says Ośo. Also, explore ways to communicate the message so people don't feel excluded or take it personally. You could use reasons relating to budget, wanting to create a more intimate feel, or capacity to communicate.

Choose the right venues.

Once your guest list is out the way, you can decide on which venues are best-suited for your guest list. If you're having both events at separate places, think about logistics. It could be frustrating if guests who are going to both events have to journey a long distance just to get from your ceremony to your reception.

"Plan the timing of your events carefully," says Ośo. "Ensure that your guests are informed about any time gaps and logistical details to minimize confusion."

Depending on how small the ceremony will be, you could choose to do it in your house, at a community church, or at the courthouse. You may then want to go all out for the reception and rent a hall, especially if you have a big party.

Host the party on a later date.

Or, just scrap the whole tradition of hosting your ceremony and reception on the same day—or even in the same month. This way, you put a little distance between each event so your reception guests understand that your ceremony was a smaller, more private affair—and now it's time to party.

Design the ceremony and reception differently.

If one of your objectives in having a small ceremony and big reception is intimacy, you may want to design the two events differently.

"Design each event to have its own unique atmosphere. Create an intimate and personal ambiance for the ceremony, then, transform the reception into a lively and festive celebration," suggests Ośo. The wedding reception could be centered around your culture, favorite sport, or have a theme if you want to make it fun. There's also nothing wrong with keeping the intimate theme consistent if that's what you prefer.

Having different themes for each event can be fun for people looking forward to going in on wedding decorations. You may decide to have minimal wedding ceremony decorations but have more elaborate themes going at your reception.

Consider a destination ceremony.

If you're keeping things small because you only want the people around who matter most, consider cutting the entire guest list down and saying "I do" at a destination that gives you a built-in excuse for only inviting certain people to the entire celebration.

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