Do you and your partner really want to elope but feel obliged to (or want to!) provide your friends and family with some sort of wedding-esque involvement? The elope now, party later approach may be for you. A lot of couples opt to have a reception-like celebration after their intimate ceremony. On a personal note, this is an idea we toyed with. I thought about it mostly before I told my mom. When I wanted something that might soften the blow of the news we were eloping. You have to be careful here though. My mom’s first response was that she already had a location picked out and I was going to have to wear my wedding dress again. Whoa, hold on there! We already got married, this is just a get together, not a second wedding! I think you have to be very clear when you go this route so that no one has any unrealistic expectations of what it is. Choose your nouns carefully. By calling it a reception or not being clear on the invitation that you are already married, some guest may be assuming they are attending a wedding ceremony. Be clear early on so you can avoid hurt feelings later.
Many couples let a (trusted) friend or family member plan this celebration. The happy twosome shows up as guests just like everyone else. I like this approach, I think it takes a lot of the pressure off. You are free to mingle and not have to worry about caterers, cooking, or if your uncle is getting too drunk. This does not have to be a formal event. Have a cocktail party or barbecue.
Something to consider if you really want some tangible family memories is to hire a photographer or designate one of the guests as an amateur photo taker. Everyone there will still be honored they were involved in your marriage in some way and photographs are a great memento of that. It may be a good negotiation tactic with people (mother’s) not fully on-board with the elopement. A nice family portrait to add to the mantle place may be all that she wants, and it is easy enough to provide her with that.
If you are expecting gifts, or not, be clear when people are invited. Don’t make your guests guess. I know some find it in bad taste to ask for gifts or money but most people nowadays will welcome the honesty and clarity. Don’t expect anything? Instruct your guests that the only thing they are required to bring is good wishes and laughter. If you eloped abroad and are needing to build up your saving’s again you can make-up some sort of light cute way to encourage people to contribute to the empty pockets post-world-traveling fund.
In the end we chose not to have an official “after party”. Both of our families are pretty spread out across a few continents. We let people know we would spend the next few years traveling around the world to visit them, and they were welcome to celebrate with us at each destination! No one elopes to exclude people from their wedding. No matter how you choose to get married people will have opinions or be offended they were not involved. Whether you have a big wedding or small celebration after you elopement, only surround yourself with the people who truly love and support you.