An engagement party is a party held to celebrate a couple’s recent engagement and to help future wedding guests to get to know one another. Traditionally, the bride’s parents host the engagement party, but many modern couples host their own celebration.
Originally, engagement parties had the appearance of normal parties at which the father of the bride-to-be made a surprise announcement of the engagement to his guests. The engagement party had the purpose of sharing the engagement news with family members and friends. Therefore, it was not a traditional gift-giving occasion, as none of the guests were supposed to be aware of the engagement until after their arrival.
In ancient Greece, an engagement party was a commercial transaction. It was essentially an oral contract, made between the man who gave the woman in marriage (usually her father) and the groom. The bride was not present.
A Jewish engagement party is known as a vort. Breaking a ceramic plate at a vort is customary, symbolizing the permanence of marriage and mirroring the breaking of a glass at a Jewish wedding.
In modern times, an engagement party may celebrate a previously publicized engagement. It is a party like any other, except that usually toasts or speeches are made to announce the upcoming wedding.
While it varies, an engagement party takes place at the beginning of the process of planning a wedding. It is often thrown at the couple’s home or at the home of a close friend or relative of the couple. Gifts are never obligatory, and if one is brought, it should be small and less expensive than a typical wedding gift.
In the Western World, engagement parties are currently a more common practice particularly in the UK and US. Unlike publishing the banns of marriage, an engagement party has never been required.
In Africa, what is now known as an engagement party may in fact be the last remnant of the traditional, pre-colonial marriage ceremony itself. Such is the case with the Yoruba people and their bride-price rites and the Nguni people and their lobola practices.