Skylar is a Texas-based wedding planner & designer sharing her sanity-saving processes & templates.


What Nearlyweds Can Learn About Wedding Planning from ‘The Art of Gathering’

Congratulations! If you’ve made your way onto my blog, planning a wedding that truly reflects your unique bond and personalities is likely at the top of your to-do list. We’re all in for the story, connection, and community that comes with a wedding celebration around here.

Recently, I read an invaluable resource that can provide guidance you need to make your wedding truly extraordinary. “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker is an enlightening book that offers profound insights on creating meaningful and memorable experiences during gatherings of all kinds, including weddings.

In this blog post, I’m exploring how just as few of Parker’s principles can help you design a wedding that goes beyond the ordinary. From defining the purpose of your celebration to curating a guest list with intention, and from crafting unique rituals to setting the perfect tone, “The Art of Gathering” is brimming with inspiration to elevate your wedding planning journey. So, let’s dive in and discover how you can transform your wedding into an extraordinary celebration of your love and connection!

Define the Purpose of Your Wedding

Why are you having a wedding?

In her book, Parker encourages readers to start planning an event by determining its purpose. And this purpose should be deeper than the surface. In her firm, but gentle way, Parker extends a hands to guide you outside of the ritualized aspect of our gatherings and define a purpose that means something to us.

If your answer to the above question was “to celebrate our love.” You aren’t alone, but you’re still only at the tip of the ice burg.

Instead of trying to give your expected, modern-day wedding answer, consider what you want your wedding to represent and what you hope your guests will experience.

Maybe your purpose is to get your families together because one of your parents is aging and you’re not sure when your next opportunity to all be in the same space will be. Maybe your purpose is to show off the new city you’ve relocated to with your loved ones and college friends. Maybe your weddings’ purpose is to get your parents off your back about making your relationship paper official.

Being honest with yourselves about what your wedding’s purpose is will become a filter and tool to help you create an event that is aligned with your goals, values, and personhood.

Use Your Purpose to Determine “Who” and “Where”

The first job of your filter (aka purpose) is to determine who is on your guest list and where your wedding will be.

Who to Invite to Your Wedding

Parker encourages being intentional about who is invited and how each person contributes to the gathering. Your purpose will create its own parameters that will make it clear who is a “yes” and who is a “no.”

This is actually a concept my husband and I unwittingly brought into our own wedding. We decided our “rule” for our guest list was that we both have met the person in question. Since we had been together for almost six years by the time we got married, we knew that anyone who didn’t meet this criteria also didn’t contribute our purpose: to celebrate with the support system that got us to our wedding day and, we hoped, would continue to be our village in marriage.

Your “rule” may look very different. It all depends on your weddings’ purpose.

I particularly love the section where Parker discusses “How to Exclude Well.” The questions she poses challenge the societal obligations we may feel when writing up our guest list and puts a new perspective, for me, on the role a guest list plays in a wedding.

Priya Parker’s Questions to Exclude Well

  1. Who not only fits but also helps fulfill the gatherings’ purpose?
  2. Who threatens the purpose?
  3. Who, despite being irrelevant to the purpose, do you feel obligated to invite? (And are they among those who this gathering is for first? If no, they are a “no.”)

Where to Host Your Wedding

I love, love, love that Parker encourages couples to think about the role their venue will take in shaping how guests interact with and experience the wedding. I’ve spoken in many posts about how choosing a planner first — before venue shopping — will save you a lot of heartache, and one of the reasons is that we can save you from a venue selection mistake. But Parker takes it step further.

Instead of booking a venue based on looks or financial comfort zone alone, this book says the ultimate filter is your purpose. When looking at your purpose you might find that the best fit venue isn’t even a traditional wedding venue.

If your weddings’ purpose is to give you the nostalgia of what it was like growing up with your partner, maybe your ideal wedding venue is actually a private fair ground complete with ferris wheel, food stands, and fireworks. Imagine how much more memorable and purposeful that wedding would be in comparison to a typical wedding celebration where you get married at a particular venue because “it’s pretty” or “that’s where our guest count fits”.

Choose Meaning Over Ritual

Rituals and traditions are not dirty words. Yet I’ve met so many couples who have been shamed one way, or the other.

Whenever I’m talking about traditions with couples, I encourage them to take what feels authentic to them, their families, their values… and leave the rest. I’ve helped many a couple work through a list of traditions to determine what to keep, what to tweak, and what to throw out. Parkes approach is similar, but she also suggests creating your own rituals and experiences that reflect your values and personalities.

This can be poignant for couples from different cultures who are juggling the expectations of two sets of very different parents, but it can be just as meaningful for those who share a culture but are looking for a wedding true to them and not simply recreating traditions that are over 500 years old.

Incorporating unique rituals, games, or activities that engage guests will make the event stand out and create meaning for those rituals or traditions that would have felt flat or like an obligation beforehand.

Your Guests’ Experience with Your Wedding Starts from the Invitations (or Save-The-Dates)

Another topic Parker nails, in my opinion, is that your guests’ experience starts well before the wedding day. It starts from the moment they know you’re getting married.

Couples can learn from Parker’s book to set a clear and consistent tone that aligns with the purpose of their gathering. The way you talk about the wedding, share information, and build anticipation with guests ahead of your wedding day will impact the way they feel after it’s all said and done.

One way couples can set the stage for the wedding experience is with their save-the-dates or invitations. Parker advocates for thoughtful and personalized invitations that convey the significance of the event and make guests feel valued and excited about attending.

The wedding website is another spot I believe couples can start delivering on guest experience from day one. Having a functional, helpful wedding website that communicates expectations and important info from the moment save-the-dates are sent impacts guests’ interactions with your wedding. One of my past couples developed a playlist to the set the mood for the wedding weekend. This playlist was available on the website, through a QR code on the welcome cards, and played during their casual welcome party. All setting the tone and starting the experience before the wedding even begins.

There is a fantastic example in the book about how a group of groomsmen took a bachelor party to the next level through their creativity and created an experience that started long before the actual event. I don’t want to spoil it here, but it blew me away and made me wish I could re-do my bestie’s bach weekend just so I could try to get on their level.

If you found value in the ideas shared here, I wholeheartedly encourage you to delve even deeper into the wealth of knowledge offered by Priya Parker in her book “The Art of Gathering.” Within its pages, you’ll discover a treasure trove of wisdom that extends far beyond weddings, providing guidance on how to create meaningful connections during any type of gathering you might host throughout your life.

In addition to her book, Priya Parker generously shares more resources and insights for couples in her wedding planning hub catered to couples seeking to create intentional and heartfelt gatherings.

As you continue your wedding planning journey, remember to keep the core principles of “The Art of Gathering” at heart: define your purpose, curate your guest list thoughtfully, embrace creativity, and foster genuine connections among your loved ones. Your wedding will undoubtedly become an unforgettable celebration, reflecting the love and bond you share.

Happy gathering!

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Photography by Smith House Weddings