Long-overdue receptions to celebrate couples whose weddings were impacted by the pandemic are here, and we couldn't be happier.


If there's one event that's planned out more than any other in our lives, it's the wedding day. Incorporating a favorite flower, securing just the right venue, and booking that highly sought-after photographer are among the many things couples check off their list during the planning stages. Unfortunately, many couples with 2020 weddings had another thing to cross off their list—getting married during a pandemic.

Wedding Bride and Groom First Dance
Credit: Getty Images

Although several kept their wedding dates and forged ahead with scaled-back plans—now dubbed micro weddings—most felt the pang of discouragement by culling their guest lists. As many close friends and relatives missed out or viewed ceremonies via Zoom, these 2020 couples have something new to celebrate in the form of having an anniversary party. What their original wedding day couldn't include in guest count and festivities, their first-anniversary bash will make up for in many ways. First-year celebrations are on the rise, and here's what the experts think you need to know about how to plan an anniversary reception.

Gather friends and family to celebrate.

Even if you live streamed your ceremony, viewers longed to be with you in person. Hosting an anniversary reception is a fabulous way to gather everyone in one place again. Set the tone by sending an invitation to generate excitement about the occasion.

"In the initial months of COVID reschedules during 2020, there was patent interest among my clients in the 'marry now, party later' concept," says Valerie Gernhauser, owner of Sapphire Events in New Orleans, Louisiana. "I've had several of my clients opt for a small ceremony during 2020 with plans to celebrate in late 2021 or 2022 with their original guest list." Everyone felt the impact of being quarantined, which means you'll have attendees that are excited and more than ready to celebrate your union and your anniversary.

Decide whether you'll include a vow renewal in your celebration.

Although you are already committed and said, "I do," having a mini vow renewal centers your day around its intended purpose. However, if you simply want to gather together, you can skip the renewal and mingle with family and friends. Just like your wedding, an anniversary reception is your day, and it should reflect what you and your partner envision.

"An anniversary reception has fewer guidelines, so the couple has the opportunity to do whatever they want," offers Keith Willard, owner of Keith Willard Events in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He's had couples opt for vow renewals while others have bowed out and concentrated solely on the reception. "When freed from the typical guidelines, couples can truly showcase what makes them unique as a couple."

Hire a pro to plan your anniversary reception.

Couples who pulled out all of the stops with a detailed micro wedding still had a downsized reception. Your anniversary celebration takes the place of your original reception and should be treated as such. Incorporate lovely centerpieces, decadent favors, and an eye-catching cake. Even if you choose to go with a family-style backyard barbecue, an event planner can help take share the burden of preparing.

"I highly recommend investing in a planner because one thing we have all secured in this last year is an honorary degree in negotiations and crisis management," advises Gernhauser. "A skilled wedding planner is going to be able to share with you the faithful advice you need to navigate planning an event of this scale in a post-COVID world." In addition, having someone experienced by your side will alleviate the stress of having to plan a second event.

Rework your original budget.

"Expect to spend a bit more on each aspect of the planning process than in pre-COVID times," says Gernhauser. "The pandemic wreaked havoc on our industry, disrupting supply chains, severely limiting resources, and increasing the cost of everything. As a result, what couples initially expected to pay for their 2020 wedding has increased for 2021 and beyond.

However, Willard has a creative way to look at reworking your budget. "A phrase that comes up in many of my conversations is 'emotional value per dollar,'" he explains. "People want to celebrate and share their joy, but they also want to make sure that the dollars they spend will add to the experience of the event and the overall memory when guests look back." In short, concentrate your budget on what's important to you as a couple and will resonate with attendees.

Don't expect gifts at your anniversary reception.

Wedding gifts are a bit of a tricky area. Essentially, it all depends on whether or not your guests have already sent a present. "Gifts are not required on anyone's part," Willard advises. "The couple has been together long enough that they probably have amassed all the items that they would want. Most opt for a simple bottle of champagne or a favorite bottle of wine."

However, your gathering also offers guests who didn't have the chance to mail a gift the opportunity to do so in a timely fashion. "Focus on the celebration and spending quality time with the people in the moment, and send a gift to the couple's home either before or immediately after the celebration," Gernhauser recommends.

Determine the level of formality.

Want to get all decked out in a wedding gown or tux? Go for it! Want to stay casual and wear comfy shorts or a sundress? Also, go for it. "Anniversary receptions are just like any other party, and the fashion etiquette would not be any different," offers Gernhauser.

Some couples are taking the opportunity to splurge on an outfit for their celebration, but unlike wedding day attire, they are considering longevity. "This may be the first time they will wear this particular outfit, but unlike their wedding, it won't be the last," states Willard. As with the wedding day, the couple determines the level of formality.

No matter what your actual wedding day looked like, feel free to branch away and tailor your anniversary reception to who you are now. "The pandemic really tested people's relationships," says Willard. "It feels like couples realized how much they rely on each other and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. They want to celebrate that." And what a reason to celebrate! Your first year is quite the milestone, and what better excuse to gather family and friends than to anticipate many more years to come.