May 24, 2024
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May 24, 2024
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Engagement Enlargement

In the Jewish world, and possibly the secular world too, there is a growing trend toward having large, epic engagement parties. These are pre-wedding soirées meant to celebrate those who, like a sailor working on a Clove Hitch or a boy-scout perfecting a Sheet Bend, have decided to tie the knot. Such engagement parties, like bar mitzvah bashes and bris brunches, are not required under Jewish law but, like sending children to expensive sleepaway camps and spending Passover at a fancy resort, they arguably are approaching minhag status.

Have engagement parties gotten out of control? Some might say so, especially when an engagement party has many of the trappings of a full-fledged wedding, including music, dancing, photographers, videographers and elaborate spreads. In fact, the only thing separating some engagement parties from weddings is a chuppah, badeken and yichud room. So, how do you know if your engagement party has gone overboard? Here are a few signs:

1. The couple insists on having an engagement party rehearsal dinner. (Is that really necessary?)

2. In honor of the parents hoping to marrying off their last unmarried child, the crowd starts dancing a premature mezinka. (That would be dangerously premature. Remember the ancient Jewish proverb: Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched and don’t dance your mezinkas until they’re hitched.)

3. There is an engagement cake-cutting ceremony. (What’s next, an engagement honeymoon?)

4. There are table assignments and large and elaborate centerpieces. (Large centerpieces can actually be helpful if you want to avoid other people seated at your table.)

5. There are dance motivators. (O.K. everyone, chill out and relax with the dance motivators. That is going too far. We don’t need extra motivation to dance just like we don’t need extra motivation to eat. Some things just come naturally.)

Another consideration is cost. Extravagant engagement parties can be as pricey as a wedding. If a family can afford both, bully for them. But if a family feels pressure to exceed budgets and ignore sound financial planning just so that their engagement party is the talk of the town, pity them.

Yet another concern is the buzzkill factor. An over-the-top engagement party that knocks it out of the park might leave the wedding feeling a bit ho-hum. If the same songs are sung and the same dances are danced, the wedding might feel like a dull and dreadful déjà vu. A wedding should feel fresh and electric so, at the engagement party, cool your jets and slow-walk it. Hold your powder and leave something in the tank for the main event.

So, in light of the above, why would someone throw a lavish engagement party? Well, some would argue that the pumped-up engagement parties on steroids serve one very particular purpose: it allows you to invite certain people to the simcha without actually having to invite them to the wedding. This mostly applies to tangential, peripheral and distant friends, including friends who you enjoy but with whom you are not necessarily all that close and newly-made friends whose friendship has not yet ripened, whose loyalty has not been tested and/or whose motives have not been fully revealed. Tangential friends also include “friends of friends” who are your friends simply based on the mathematical communicative property, that is, if “Friend A” is friends with “Friend B” who, in turn, is friends with “Friend C,” then, by extension, “Friend A” also is friends with “Friend C.” That is how “Friend C” winds up at a wedding thrown by Friend A even if “Friend C” really has no business attending. (Don’t even get me started on the ridiculously remote friendship with “Friend D”!)

But a bloated and blingy engagement party, at least on its face, seems to avoid this mess, ensuring that friends from afar who are invited only to the engagement party feel some love while close friends who also are invited to the wedding still feel special. Of course, at the same time, you might wind up making some guests feel inferior because they are not in your inner circle. Thus, the engagement party could accidentally shove that devastating reality in the faces of the outer circle, but under the guise of inclusiveness and cordiality. Although the attenuated friends will initially be happy at being at the engagement party, they ultimately will feel like they are on the outside looking in. On the flip-side, you will initially feel good about inviting them but you eventually might regret giving them the wedding invite stiff-arm. Thus, an invitation to a blowout engagement party can be both a positive and a negative. It’s sort of a win-win and a sin-sin.

Final thought: It is better to be engaged than encaged, and hopefully the former never leads to the latter.

By Jon Kranz

 

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