How to Plan a Wedding Weekend

There are a few events that fill out your wedding weekend. Here is what to goes into each event—from the rehearsal dinner to the after-party—and how to plan it all.

By Jenn Sinrich

So, you have your wedding and then you have your wedding weekend. It sounds extensive but the phrase wedding weekend simply refers to the days before and after your actual ceremony and all the events that you fit into those days. Most commonly, a wedding weekend will include a welcome gathering of some kind, a rehearsal dinner, the ceremony and reception, and a farewell breakfast. Note: Just because weekend is in the name, doesn’t mean those celebrating weekday weddings can’t also plan and enjoy these extras.

Why Plan a Wedding Weekend?

Wedding weekends are popular because it provides more time for the couple and their guests to spend more time together celebrating and catching up (in the case of geographically distant friends and family). Multiple small celebrations also allow both sides of the family to play host if they want. For example, if the couple is paying for the wedding themselves, one set of parents can host the rehearsal dinner and the other set can host the breakfast.

If nothing else, spreading out your wedding celebration across a full weekend is flat-out fun. When it comes to such a memorable event such as your wedding, you deserve to make the most of it—however you see fit.

A full-fledged weekend celebration does require more planning and coordination than a single event, of course. You might feel a bit overwhelmed at the thought of trying to pull each and every event off—but don’t. The events of your wedding weekend can be as elaborate or simple as you prefer.

To help you navigate the ins and outs of your three-day wedding weekend, here’s a look at what each event typically entails, and what you need to know to nail the celebration.

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Welcome Party

What: A welcome party is traditionally the kick-off event to the wedding weekend. It serves as an opportunity for the bride, groom, and their respective families to welcome their guests who’ve come from near and far. It’s often a cocktail-hour type of event with passed hors d'oeuvres, but can be any other type of event the couple chooses, from bowling to an outdoor picnic to simply meeting for casual drinks in the hotel lobby.

Who hosts: Whoever is hosting the wedding also hosts the welcome party, be it the bride and groom, their parents or any other relative.

When: The welcome party is typically held on the first evening of the wedding weekend, which might be a Thursday or a Friday.

Who attends: It’s customary to invite your entire guest list to your welcome party.

Where: A welcome party can really be held anywhere the bride and groom chooses, however, it’s most often held in a central location that’s convenient for all invited guests, be it the wedding venue itself, the hotel everyone’s staying at, or a local bar or restaurant nearby.

Rehearsal

What: Just as it sounds, a wedding rehearsal is just that—a rehearsal of the wedding ceremony itself. You want to make sure things run smoothly as you prepare to say your “I dos.” A wedding rehearsal ensures that you and your soon-to-be spouse as well as all those involved in your ceremony (i.e. your wedding party, parents, and any other honorary relatives or friends) know what their role is and what they’re expected to do once things begin.

Who hosts: The officiant usually hosts and coordinates the wedding rehearsal. It’s up to the couple to make sure to convey all logistical information to their wedding party.

When: Usually the night before the wedding. It typically takes no more than 30 minutes at the most, since it is merely a quick run-through of ceremonial events.

Who attends: Anyone who has a role in the ceremony should attend the rehearsal. This may include the couple, their parents, siblings and grandparents, the wedding party, and any other family members who will play a role in the ceremony.

Where: The rehearsal is most often held at the exact location of the ceremony. This helps familiarize all of the participants with the venue itself and ensures they know where to be at all times.

Rehearsal Dinner

What: The rehearsal dinner is an occasion for all of the main participants of your wedding ceremony to enjoy a meal together the night before the wedding itself.

Who hosts: Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is hosted by the groom’s family, especially if the bride’s family is paying for the wedding. However, depending on how costs are being divided, anyone could really host—the couple, parents, or even grandparents.

When: The rehearsal dinner is typically held directly after the wedding rehearsal.

Who attends: The rehearsal dinner is an intimate affair that includes the couple, the wedding party and their significant others, immediate family members (parents and siblings), as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles. Sometimes, however, invitations are extended to guests traveling far distances, too.

Where: The rehearsal dinner is often held at a nearby restaurant. If the wedding is in either fiance’s hometown or in the city in which the couple lives, the rehearsal dinner location is often a place that holds significance for the couple.

Some couples choose to keep their rehearsal dinner on-theme. For example, if they’re having a barnyard wedding, they may hold their rehearsal dinner at a rustic venue. If they’re having a beach wedding, they might also choose to have their rehearsal dinner beachside.

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Wedding Ceremony & Reception

What: The ceremony and reception are the main event—aka when the actual nuptials go down. The ceremony is more formal and when the couple says “I do.” Once the ceremony has commenced, the reception begins!

Who hosts: The actual ceremony and reception are traditionally hosted by the bride’s parents, although who hosts and pays for the wedding is entirely up to the people involved. Sometimes it’s the case that both sets of parents split the hosting duties (also known as dual-hosting).

When: The ceremony and reception typically occur in the middle of the wedding weekend.

Who attends: All invited guests attend the ceremony and reception as well as the officiant and any hired vendors.

Where: Weddings are held in a wide variety of venues—from religious spaces like churches or synagogues to secular ones like barns, hotels, or the beach. The reception is usually held in a separate venue, or, if you’re wedding is at a banquet hall or another all-inclusive venue, it may be in the same location as the ceremony.

Wedding Afterparty

What: A wedding afterparty is a post-reception event that can be either planned or spontaneous and is for the purpose of continuing the celebration. Most wedding afterparties involve some kind of drinking and late-night snacking, which comes in clutch for hungry guests.

Who hosts: It’s often hosted by the couple themselves, but may sometimes be coordinated by their respective parents.

When: A wedding afterparty occurs directly following the wedding reception.

Who attends: A wedding afterparty can be as intimate or inviting as a couple chooses. Usually there’s an open-door policy. Anyone who attended the wedding is welcome to attend the afterparty.

Where: A wedding afterparty is often held at a hotel or in another room of the wedding venue itself. Alternately it can be held at a local restaurant or bar.

Farewell Brunch

What: The farewell brunch is a day-after affair held for all of the guests who attended the wedding, especially (or sometimes only) those who have traveled from a far distance. This event gives the couple the chance to chat with guests who they may not have been able to interact with during the wedding reception or afterparty.

Who hosts: Traditionally, the farewell brunch is hosted by one set of parents—or sometimes both.

When: The farewell brunch is held the morning after the wedding.

Who attends: In most cases, the farewell brunch is exclusive to the guests who are staying at the hotel or who have traveled far distances to attend the wedding. Invitations are also often extended to the wedding party and close family members.

Where: To make things most convenient for wedding guests, the farewell brunch is often held at the hotel where most guests are staying. Alternately, it can be held at a local restaurant or at the home of a family member or parent.

While these are the standard events included in a wedding weekend, how you choose to celebrate and spend time with your guests is entirely up to you! Decide as a couple what events you would like to host for your guests and which you don't need.