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Rehearsal Dinner Revamped

Spice up yours with these ideas:

1. Go for a Dip
Have some fun with fondue. Keep it casual at home or soak up the elegance of a restaurant. A tasty beginning would be chunks of bread and various cheese pots. Move on to meats, cooked potatoes, and zucchini. Add dipping sauces like teriyaki or sweet and sour. Pound cake with melted chocolate, or bananas and honey would be a sweet ending.

2. Let the Good Times Bowl
Reserve lanes at a local bowling alley, then have competitions between the families and hold an awards ceremony with distinctions such as Highest Score, Most Strikes, or Most Gutter Balls! Favor ideas are bowling shirts embroidered with guests' names or the bride and groom's, like "Team Chris & Sara."

3. A Party You Can Really Dig
Serve up fresh seafood with all the fixings at a clambake. Find a catering company or play seaside chef for the night. For a traditional clambake at the beach, dig a pit two or three feet deep and tend to a fire. For an easier clambake, steam clams and provisions on a stovetop. Or just lose the grill and steam clams in a pot on the stove.

4. Toast of the Town
A wine tasting adds class to any dinner. Select six to eight different wines for a casual party, using white tablecloths where the wine will be poured and tasted. Give guests pens and pads to make notes about the wines they enjoy most. Just uncork the bottles and place them out on a buffet table with plates of cheeses; or get more formal and bring them out in stages. -- Erin Hill

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Wedding Rehearsals + Brunches: Extended Wedding Weekends

From welcome parties to good-bye brunches, here's how to plan a long weekend of nonstop revelry for your guests.

"It's over before you know it." How many times have you heard that bridal bit? The solution? Prolong the party. Take a cue from the hottest trend in weddings: three-day weekend celebrations. Even if your location seems more familiar than foreign, creative hospitality will make the wedding an endlessly fascinating trip. Keep the festivities rolling (and yourself relatively stress-free) with these party pointers. (Disclaimer: This article isn't meant to imply you need to do all these things. We just want you to be familiar with the options.)

1. Welcome Party

Why: If most of your wedding guests are out-of-towners, or if they're just folks you haven't seen in a while, a welcome party is a great way to greet everyone in a relaxed, no-pressure atmosphere.

When: A day or two before the wedding, but you should really base it on the date when you know most of your guests will be arriving. Also, you don't want it to conflict with the rehearsal dinner --though a cocktails-only celebration could certainly follow the dinner.

Who Hosts: Anything goes with this one. You and your fiance can certainly act as emcees and welcome the crew, or another family member or close friend can host. If you're also having a rehearsal dinner, definitely don't ask the groom's parents to host the welcome party. If you can't come up with the cash on your own, ask both sets of parents to host jointly.

Who to Invite: All of your out-of-town guests, naturally, though why not invite the guests who live down the block too? The more the merrier, we say. Most to-be-weds invite most of their guests to the welcome party.

Where: A welcome party can be a cocktails-only, open-house-style celebration at a bar (for total convenience look into the bar at the hotel where everyone is staying) or something festive like a riverboat trip complete with buffet dinner and cupcakes. Don't go too formal with this one -- the welcome party should stay lighthearted and be all about hanging out and having fun.

Brilliant Idea: Are guests coming in from the places where you grew up? Show your hometown pride with a pair of signature cocktails named for your former stomping grounds or choose local beer and wine to serve with dinner.

2. Rehearsal Dinner

Why: As everyone is brimming with anticipation on the eve of the wedding, this celebratory, often casual dinner is filled with toasts, roasts, and general good cheer. This is a good time for the bride and groom to present the attendants' gifts. Make sure to also give your parents and anyone else who was an integral part of the wedding-planning process a token of your appreciation -- flowers, a nice bottle of wine, or even a sentimental toast will do.
When: A day or two before the wedding -- typically following the ceremony rehearsal. If 90 percent of your wedding is comprised of out-of-towners, consider hosting an intimate dinner with just the wedding party two nights before the wedding, then a more casual and relaxed welcome party (like we just described) the night before the wedding.

Who Hosts: Traditionally, the groom's parents. But depending on who is paying for the wedding, the couple or the bride's family may decide to host this event.

Who to Invite: At the very least, it should include just the wedding party, very close family members, and the officiant. But don't be afraid to include others you want to thank (for example, friends who aren't in the wedding party but have helped you out). It's really up to you, your budget, and whatever other parties you have planned.

Where: Many rehearsal dinners are held in hotel banquet room, or at nice restaurants, with full-course dinners and desserts. Others are held at home, and feature a backyard barbecue or clambake. It depends on the size of your guest list, of course -- a totally casual affair might not be appropriate if it's an intimate dinner for 10.

Brilliant Idea: Add your wedding photographer to your rehearsal dinner guest list. Having a good idea of who the main players are for the wedding will help him or her get the shots you want on your wedding day.

3. Farewell Brunch

Why: At the end of the weekend, a postwedding brunch is a great way to wind down and exchange final good-byes before leaving on your honeymoon. Newlyweds can take this chance to thank their guests and spend a bit more time with loved ones who've flown in from all over.

When: The morning after the wedding. Keep in mind hotel checkout times when picking an appropriate start time (10:30 or 11:00 a.m., for instance); you don't want to start the brunch too late, especially if out-of-towners are going to be itching to get on the road.

Who Hosts: There's no hard-and-fast rule here. It's a nice gesture for the couple to bear the brunt of the planning and cost, but either family could also assume the hosting role -- especially if one side is entertaining more out-of-towners than the other.

Who to Invite: The brunch is usually for the couples' families and any wedding guests who are still in town, but feel free to include attendants, friends, or even children who weren't invited to the wedding. Basically, anything goes.

Where: Like most parties, the brunch can be held wherever suits the mood: your parents' home, a hotel salon, a friend's backyard.

Brilliant Idea: Get even more psyched for your postwedding getaway by theming your brunch around your honeymoon destination. For example, serve antipasti if you’re headed to Italy, or a tropical fruit salad (with plenty of pineapple, of course) if you’re bound for Hawaii.

Knot Note: If it seems that your wedding is turning into a real mini vacation (e.g., a four-day affair), consider setting up optional activities for those who aren't familiar with the area and need something to do (a sign of a truly gracious host). Think tee times, horseback riding, hikes, fishing trips—it really depends on the wedding locale. Let guests know their options (and reservation and cost info) well ahead of time with a separate mailing. And be sure to include the details in their welcome packet.

-- Kathleen Murray

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