Engagement Party Expectations of Material Acquisition

by admin on April 8, 2013

My friend just called to ask me if I had the same impression as she did about an invitation she received.

The invitation is to an engagement party. The hosts are the bride’s parents. On the invitation, guests are directed to a registry — and not just any registry: with an airline for, I suppose, the honeymoon. Evidently, guests can buy frequent flyer points or donate their own.

My friend was really put off by this, and so am I. First of all, although I might be inclined to give a small gift for an engagement, especially to a couple with whom I am very close, when did engagement parties become required-gift-giving occasions? In my opinion, they are not — and if they were, then it would be inappropriate for the bride’s parents to be hosting one.

Then there is their having put registry information right on the invitation. I know that etiquette sanctions putting it on shower invitations (although I still wouldn’t). But that is because a shower is not only definitely a gift-giving occasion, it’s the POINT of a shower. After all, weddings, birthday parties, graduations, b’nei mitzvah, etc., are also gift-giving occasions, but you don’t put registry information on the invitations. And here, too, the parents being the hosts make it worse.

It almost feels to me each of these things multiplies the others: the presumption that gifts are expected for an engagement, the fact that the parents are hosting what they clearly see as a gift-giving occasion, and the inclusion of registry information on the invitation. Like, if someone else were giving the party, the registry info would still be wrong, but not so awful.

And actually I don’t think it would be so terrible for parents to host an engagement party if there were ZERO indication that gifts were even contemplated — more like a “Come meet Petunia’s fiance, Cuthbert, and his parents” party.

And then, of course, there is the perennial topic of whether cash or cash-equivalent registries (travel, gift card, etc.) are ever acceptable. And for an engagement? I’ve never heard of cash engagement gifts, even in the northeast communities in which people give usually give cash gifts for weddings.

My friend was also annoyed that it felt to her as if she was expected to buy three gifts (there will be a shower) for the same wedding. I don’t blame her.

I am not invited to this party or the wedding, but I am acquainted with these people. I’m sorry to say that they are neither poor nor uneducated; the dad is a doctor. (Even though that wouldn’t make any of the errors all right, it might make them a bit more understandable and therefore mitigate the eHell sentence bit.)

I don’t know what she is going to do about this invitation. They will attend if they can — she isn’t going to boycott over this. But she is in a dilemma about whether to get a gift at all. I’m sure she won’t contribute to the airline fund. BTW, engagement gifts (and parties, for that matter) are not customary in my community. We might get something little for a bride we’re very close to, party or no party (e.g. a ring holder), and maybe we might be a little more inclined to do so if invited to an engagement party, but that’s it.

What would you do? And please keep in mind: I’m sure she does NOT want to “teach them a lesson” or give any indication of how she feels about this. These people are friends she likes and doesn’t want to criticize or insult. So, no, not an etiquette book! Although I am sure we can all think of lots of snarky and funny responses, really, what WOULD you do? 0404-13

You’ve done an admirable job explaining why this is reprehensible behavior.   It completely dilutes the joy guests may have at the new season in their friends or family member’s life if there is an expectation that joy is best expressed as “give me something”.  Parents are not immune from the desire to see their offspring as financially “blessed” as possible (it relieves them of any responsibility to provide for their own) and orchestrating events that make sure their ignorant, stupid guests are made aware that money and acquisition of material assets is a parentally approved goal for their soon-to-married children.
My husband and I hosted an engagement luncheon for close friends and family to celebrate our daughter’s engagement and privately we gave her personal jewelry.   The types of gifts offered to honor an engagement should be personal in the event the wedding does not occur.   Giftgiving is at the option of the family, mostly the parents, or very close friends but note the word “option”.   Engagements are not another opportunity in the wedding planning to squeeze more assets from friends and family.    Good heavens, the bride-to-be just received a costly engagement ring..isn’t that enough of a gift?

Another danger to expecting your guests to give financially on the occasion of an engagement party is that the hosts, in this case the parents, better make darn certain that every single guest invited to the engagement party are also invited to the wedding.  Otherwise, what has occurred is that “guests” have been used to increase assets with no respect to their presence being important at the actual wedding.   Money trumps relationships and that is just sick.

If I received that invitation?   I would attend, perhaps mail a congratulatory card to the bride, and give absolutely nothing.   I do not feed the gimme pigs no matter how cute they are.

 

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Cat April 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

I do not give gifts to an engagement party. It’s just a chance to meet the couple and to congratulate the groom-elect on his happy choice. I understand that one never congratulates a bride-elect as the assumption is that he is the lucky one, and not that the lady bagged herself a good one.
I hope your friend goes sans gift.

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Michelle C. Young April 12, 2013 at 2:36 am

One congratulates the bride-to-be in private, when the men aren’t witness to it. Much winking and nudging ensues.

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WildIrishRose April 8, 2013 at 9:46 am

At the risk of sounding like I live in a cave, until I found this website I had never even HEARD of an engagement party. I certainly didn’t have one. And it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been made aware of these types of registries; I’ve been dragging my jaw on the floor ever since. This sounds like the parents are more concerned with gift-grabbing than the HC are, but that’s just my interpretation. At a wedding I recently attended, I learned that the HC had had no fewer than–get this–FIFTEEN engagement parties. Yup, you read that right–15 engagement parties. I swear I’m not making this up. And it was the MOB who arranged all of them. And, as with the couple in this story, these are people who are not hurting for money (the wedding itself was very lavish and beautiful, and I detected no faux pas there, not that I was really looking for any). So I’m with Admin. on this one: I would attend the party, send a lovely card to the bride, and not give a gift. Gifts should be (in my opinion) limited to showers and the wedding itself, and I would NEVER donate to a honeymoon fund! Unbelievable.

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Shoegal April 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I’m not sure 15 engagement parties is exactly a violation of etiquette – mayb there was an ample guest list and the MOB broke it up into 15 parties. Does sound excessive I have to say. Was she expecting gifts for the couple at all the parites? Did she invite the same people to all 15 parties?

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WildIrishRose April 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

I have no idea! The groom is a friend of mine, and all I know is he was embarrassed by it.

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Michelle C. Young April 12, 2013 at 2:47 am

If the groom is embarrassed, that’s generally a good indication of something being bad.

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Mer April 9, 2013 at 8:53 am

Fifteen does sound a lot, though if gifts were not expected and everything was otherwise fine etiquette-wise, it might be that they had several for different friend groups. Bride’s coworkers, groom’s coworkers, families, the group from that hobby groom has been doing since little kid, bride’s study-comrades, etc etc and rather than doing one big, decided to have several smaller gatherings.

Or it might have been just gift grab, don’t know.

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Lo April 8, 2013 at 9:56 am

I’ve hosted an engagement party and it was my first time attending one as well and it never would have occured to me that the bride and groom would get gifts. She did get a few things which surprised me. They were personal things from close friends. The idea of putting a registry on an engagement party invite? That’s really gauche.

If I wanted to attend but keep in budget and not cause drama I would show up with a token gift for the half of the couple that I was personally acquainted with. This could be a nice bottle of wine or spirits, a box of chocolates, a box of cigars, a basket of tolietries with balt salt and lotion and the rest, maybe even a restaurant gift certificate; a gift that is congratulatory in nature. I would not purchase anything that was for setting up a home either on my own or off a registry– no towels, china, glassware, kitchen tools, etc.

I would then divide the cost on the shower gift and wedding gift if I were going to give both. For example if I were happy to give her $50 for her wedding I might purchase a $25 shower gift and offer a check for the same amount on the wedding day. I would count the congrats-on-your-engagement gift as a part of the overall wedding gift. Reason being that it’s expected and so the couple is obviously charging me a fee. I’ll go to the trouble of picking out a nice present but I get to choose how I pay that fee. That’s not going to be chosen for me in airline miles.

And that is how I would satisfy those manufactured requirements while still retaining my dignity.

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Doris April 8, 2013 at 10:32 am

I’ve never been asked to an engagement party. It’s just not a popular event in my area of the country. I have, however, given gifts to newly engaged couples. Each couple was close to my family, the gift was given privately and was always something small with a personal twist. For instance, our niece received an old sixpence for her wedding shoe while her fiance got a fancy vintage apron. (A joke that even he enjoyed.)

I do have a question – would it be appropriate to bring a hostess gift to an engagement party? We try to bring such a gift, although we tend more toward helping with the event in some way.

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Gellchom April 10, 2013 at 10:43 am

I probably would bring a hostess gift IF I were not bringing a gift for the HC.

I think it’s sad that in 2013 an apron is considered a gag gift for a man. Maybe because it was ultra frilly or something? But still.

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Sansa April 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

Engagement party gifts? Yuck. I’m with the OP- since when are you expected to pony up for an *engagement* party?What’s next? In-vitro fertilization parties with a cash registry?

I say the solution is very simple: do not donate to the registry. Purchase a congratulations card, as Admin suggested, or your friend could just simply attend and congratulate them in person. Just because they expect a present does not mean your friend has to provide one. What happens if the engagement is called off? Will the cash present be returned? The parents/bride/groom, someone would have to know how much you gave and would that not be considered tacky?

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Marozia April 10, 2013 at 3:54 am

Could be worse, @Sansa. The couple could ask all men to provide a ‘sample’ for the IVF party.

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Michelle C. Young April 12, 2013 at 2:51 am

Oh, Marozia, now I have to clean my screen! That was a good one.

I really have to stop drinking while reading these things. Or at least stick to water.

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Ashley April 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

I’ve always thought that engagement parties are NOT gift giving occasions, and if you DO decide to bring a gift of any kind it should be something like a bottle of wine that the couple enjoys. You know, nothing too fancy or anything, just something that says “Hurray, you’re engaged!”

I don’t like honeymoon/flight/etc registries no matter where they are listed. Something about paying for a vacation I don’t get to go on bothers me. At least if I buy the couple the wine glasses they had on their registry, I might end up at their house one day having a drink out of them, but unless I’m packing my bags to come with you on your honeymoon, sorry, I’m not paying for it.

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WildIrishRose April 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

Admin, where’ s the “like” button? :)

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Susan April 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Wow, I also might go, but no way would I contribute to airline miles or cash. A simple card signed would do for me. Totally rude to ask that by the brides parents. Can’t Imagine what they want for the shower or wedding gifts.

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Rachel April 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

This is pure tackiness! I had a bridal shower, engagement party and of course the wedding. Most people weren’t invited to both the shower and engagement party ( one was by the grooms friends and one was held by mine) but there was a few that were. We certainly did not expect them to bring a gift to both. We also assumed that anyone that brought a gift to one of these wasn’t going to bring another to the wedding. Go to the engagement party skip the gift and take your wedding gift to the shower. There is absolutely no reason for people to expect multiple gifts from one person especially in this day and age were most people have a household set up before marriage.

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Michelle April 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I helped host an engagement party for my friends recently, the bride and groom were surprised that people even bought bottles of wine and champagne and would have never dreamed of having a registry (they were very happy and grateful for the gifts, however).

I find what the couple in the OP story did really tacky, isn’t a shower and wedding gift enough for these people?

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Kirsten April 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Are poor or uneducated people more likely to be rude, then?

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gellchom April 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm

NO NO NO, of course not!

As for “poor,” it looks even worse for someone who is not even in need to be asking for money.

As for “uneducated,” we can’t even give these hosts, who obviously have attended lots of weddings and such before, the benefit of the doubt that they just didn’t realize that this isn’t how things are done.

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FRM April 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I caught that one, too, Kirsten. What does being poor or uneducated have to do with the story? I find quite often that rich, educated people are quite rude because they think they deserve the biggest, the best, etc. etc.

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gellchom April 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Very true. I think that the point was that their being wealthy was just that it made it even worse — no desperate financial circumstances or lack of knowledge of etiquette that would make the whole thing more sympathetic, although still incorrect.

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Michelle C. Young April 12, 2013 at 3:00 am

If I have a friend who is poor and getting married, and they let it be known (pulling vs. pushing, please) that they would like to take a trip for their honeymoon, but cannot afford it at all, I would be more likely to donate to the cause. However, if the couple are well-off and could afford it, if they would just save up for a few months or a year, then no, I will not donate.

Uneducated people are less likely to be able to afford the trip, because most high-paying jobs require an education.

I don’t think it was meant to be a slur against the poor or uneducated, but more an exclamation that these people had NO excuse to go money-grubbing. They could have paid for the trip, themselves, but instead hit up their friends and family for contributions.

If you really want your friends to donate to a honeymoon fund, then the proper way to do it is to enlist the aid of a close friend. Said friend then whispers to other friends, “Sally and John sure would love to have a honeymoon, but they just don’t have the money for it, what with the wedding and everything else on their plates. So, I’m putting together a fund for them to use toward their honeymoon. Hee hee! They will be so surprised! Would you like to join me in that?”

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Shoegal April 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Engagement parties aren’t a big thing where I am from. In fact, I don’t think I have ever attended one. To me – it is just a party – come celebrate the proposal – meet the engaged couple and that’s it. If you really want to give something to express your joy – ok – but I really don’t think it is necessary – and it should not be expected. Putting the registry info especially on this invitation or the wedding invitation – is just extremely tacky. The fact that it is to contribute to an airline fund makes it worse. I would go but I would attend only to verbally express my happiness. No gift – no card.

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Katana April 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Engagement parties should only serve one purpose: for relatives and friends of the bride and groom to meet each other before the wedding. That’s what ours was for and we did not expect gifts, but we received a few from friends and relatives. One was money, which was a complete surprise which we put towards the wedding as it had been intended. But it was mostly cards, which we still have.

Bridal showers are rare in Australia and people do not see it as a faux pas to give registry cards with the wedding invitation. But putting them on the invitation is a definite no no.

And I would never contribute to a honeymoon registry. I might buy a registry gift, but honeymoon registry is hardly personal.

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Ange April 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Huh, funny how things vary. In all my years of attending weddings here in Australia I’ve never seen a registry card but I’ve seen plenty of those awful poems about giving money instead of presents. I’m not a fan of either but in a pinch I’d prefer the registry card, it’s less horrible to read. ;)

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Kate April 9, 2013 at 4:28 am

I had an engagement party, and I was honestly quite surprised when we received gifts (some cash, some not). We wanted to have one because my parents had not yet met my fiance’s family. Maybe people thought gifts were necessary because we provided food and drinks for guests?

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Sarah Jane April 9, 2013 at 6:27 am

I agree with everything admin says except the part about the “expensive engagement ring”. May or may not exist. Doesn’t matter either way…engagement parties are not meant to be gift grabs.

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Lauren April 9, 2013 at 7:55 am

I think you mean Bar or Bat Mitzvah – never heard of a B’nei Mitzvah. Then again I’m not a particularly observant Jewish person.

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Lo April 9, 2013 at 10:06 am

it’s the plural form

I’m a gentile who married in.

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Shannon April 9, 2013 at 10:32 am

I believe that B’nei is just the plural of Bar.

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Melnick April 9, 2013 at 8:00 am

Perhaps it is a cultural thing. Here in Australia, they are quite common and you do give a gift. Although, it’s more common for people that have a long engagement. I have rarely known of couples who intend to marry within 6 mths of their engagement having a party. The gifts are usually things like mugs, salad tongs, platters, towels etc and I’d say most people spend $30 – $50. It would be strange to me to show up to an Engagement party without a gift. That said, I don’t ever remember receiving registry information in an invitation. Most Engagement parties are hosted by parents and they have a list of ideas should you want some guidance. If your friend doesn’t want to contribute, don’t. If she doesn’t want to give a small gift of her own choosing, then don’t. If the whole situation makes her too uncomfortable, have plans for the evening. When there seems to be an expectation of a gift when gifts aren’t usually given, it makes it uncomfortable for everyone.

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clairedelune April 9, 2013 at 9:24 am

The original purpose of an engagement party was for the bride’s parents to announce the engagement to their family & social circle. This was back when brides more commonly married right from home, and sort of goes along with the idea of her parents “giving her away.” Therefore, no one would have given a gift at an engagement party because no one would have known the PURPOSE of the party before the announcement was made. (or at least, everyone would have had to pretend to be delighted and surprised. I imagine people often guessed what was going on beforehand.) So the idea of an engagement party as a traditional gift-giving occasion completely misses the original point of the event.

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Angel April 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm

My parents gave DH and I an engagement party about 2 months after we got engaged. We invited immediate family and close friends who we had already asked to be in the bridal party. I was astonished to receive gifts at the engagement party! I got things like candles and picture frames, which I was definitely able to use but certainly unexpected. I always thought the purpose of an engagement party is to celebrate a happy time, eat drink and be merry, and spend time with close friends before the wedding planning begins. That being said, I would probably bring a little something if I were going to an engagement party–but it would probably be like a bottle of wine that they like, candles, picture frame, an empty scrapbook with some pretty paper. But certainly nothing expensive.

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Lou April 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I’ve not been to many engagement parties – I didn’t have one, nor did my cousin or my sister-in-law, who were both married recently. At the last one I attended there were a number of gifts but the majority were bottles of wine or champagne (to the bride’s sorrow, as she was secretly 2 months’ pregnant and couldn’t indulge!) If it helps, I got married just over 2 months ago and there were several guests who didn’t bother with a gift for that (we were slightly disappointed that, in a couple of cases, they didn’t even bother with a card, but it’s not like you can say anything – apart from to each other!), so I certainly wouldn’t worry about not showing up with an engagement gift. In fact, have you considered that a lot of guests may feel the same way and decide to ignore the registry altogether? I think your friend would be absolutely fine with a heartfelt congratulatory card, but if she feels she wants to give a gift, possibly a bottle of something sparkly or maybe a book on wedding planning/subscription to a wedding planning magazine or website could work? (I’m not being snarky here, honestly I’m not – I would have loved someone to get me something like that when I first got engaged, as I knew nothing about planning weddings!)x

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Gellchom April 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm

We have attended, and occasionally given, a few “engagement parties.” I put that in quotes because usually it is just a catch-all name for a non-shower party in honor of the HC, given sometime before the wedding.

For example, in our community, it is common for the parents’ close friends to give some sort of party in honor when one of the group’s children marries. It might be a shower, it might be a meal for the out of town guests (either Friday night dinner before the wedding or brunch the day after the wedding), or maybe stocking and hosting a hospitality room at the hotel — whatever works best for the family. Or just a party or luncheon. In one typical case, the bride’s friends were already planning a shower. She didn’t want two, and she wanted something more evening-y. So we gave them a party at one of our homes one weekend when she and her fiancé were in town. I think we referred to it among ourselves as an “engagement party,” but the invitation just said something like “Please come for drinks and dinner in honor of Petunia Smith and Cuthbert Jones.”

The same is true around here for the term “rehearsal dinner.” In our community, that means a casual supper the night before the wedding for all the out of town guests, plus in-town relatives and probably those close friends who hosted those other parties, housed people, etc. It has nothing to do with the rehearsal, which usually took place a day or two earlier anyway. But we still seem to call it a “rehearsal dinner,” just as shorthand – we haven’t found a more descriptive but not cumbersome term.

Oh, and by the way, a few people may have brought gifts for the couple when we give such parties. We usually do not get hostess gifts from the guests, but there is always a thank you gift from the couple and/or their parents.

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pterabite April 17, 2013 at 9:31 am

seems to me that they were just trying to facilitate gift giving if people wanted to give one. Saying “this is what we prefer” is not the same as asking for gifts… if it were, obituaries saying “in lieu of flowers, please donate to X” would be asking for flowers, and that’s not the case. They know somebody will send something, and they’re heading off getting something they don’t want.

It’s honestly kind of unbelievable to me how much thought people put into gift giving and how personally the OP took this. There’s such a thing as reading way too much into something… if you don’t want to give something, don’t, nobody’s expecting anything.

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gellchom April 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm

As in, “This is what we prefer” … for a gift for our own daughter that you wouldn’t have thought would you would expected to give anyway for an engagement?

And obituaries are in the paper and on line, viewed only by those who seek them out. They aren’t mailed to people, let alone as part of an invitation to guests. Like registries.

This goes way beyond that. It’s (1) combining an offer of hospitality with an indication that a gift is expected, (2) for an event for which gifts aren’t even customarily given, (3) for an immediate family member of the hosts, and (4) a suggestion that that gift should be money. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.

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Enna May 4, 2013 at 6:53 am

You don’t have to bring a gift and if there is disappoinment at that then that’s their problem!

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Pat December 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Help. I am the bride’s mother and I too have never heard of an engagement party until my daughter and her fiance just invited me to theirs. They are hosting it themselves and now that I know I should be paying for it (they did not ask), I wonder now if I should bring a gift. No gift giving was mentioned on the invite and I don’t want to be the only one to bring one or not bring one. What should I do?

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Pat December 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm

one more thing. If I am to bring a gift, what kind? A couple gift? Each a separate gift? Money?

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