DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have both a son and daughter planning weddings within the next 2 1/2 years. They and my future son- and daughter-in-law are worrying and wondering about how to settle on a list of guests that includes as many family members as possible, but doesn't make the cost impossible.
They aren't looking for anything extravagant, but neither side of the family has any money to speak of; income-wise we are probably considered lower middle class, so it's going to take a big effort on everyone's part to pull off two modest weddings.
My husband and I both have exceptionally large families -- I have five siblings and he has nine. Obviously that makes for a huge number of aunts and uncles and cousins. Some live in the immediate area, and we get together often, but even most of the out-of-towners stay connected and get together often for holidays, graduations and weddings.
There is a strong sense of tradition in our families, and many of the cousins have found ways to invite the entire extended family to weddings. There are a few cousins, including those who have grown up a long distance away, or were from earlier marriages, who have not remained as close, but are sometimes included in special occasions.
It has become a question of stress and concern, and we would love your guidance. Several possible solutions have been discussed, but none seem ideal. Obviously, we could lower the cost of the reception and invite every single cousin, but based on the budgets we're looking at, that would mean having hot dogs on paper plates. There is the idea of inviting only cousins who have been part of the smaller events and have been close over the years, but it's hard to figure out where to draw that line.
Another thought was to invite each aunt and uncle "and family," and trust that RSVPs will come in time to get a good head count, but that leaves open the possibility of more than we can handle.
Can you please tell us a way to include everyone we should, still allowing for an event a little more formal than a cookout? My kids and their spouses-to-be are caring, earnest people who each want to have a lovely, memorable reception without hurting anyone's feelings.
GENTLE READER: Your family's priorities are exactly the opposite of those held by most people who are planning weddings. It is now widely believed that one should first decide on the desired place, the food, the music and such, and then figure out from the cost how many people to invite.
Because you understand that is upside-down planning, and that the guests are more important than the expensive trappings, Miss Manners is especially delighted to inform you that your children may have weddings that are not only formal, but more charmingly so than the standard weddings of today.
A vast wedding industry has convinced people that a proper wedding consists of a multicourse dinner and dancing through the night, in addition to auxiliary events for days before and after. It is wildly expensive, and many have gone into serious debt to stage it.
But ostentation does not produce elegance. Traditionally, the weddings of those who could afford anything were held in the daytime, followed by a tea. As this needn't require more than tea sandwiches, cake and champagne or punch, you will be able to invite everyone.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)