There's a charming fable about the origin of wedding showers. Sometime way back in the past, a young Dutch couple wanted to get married. But without a dowry, which the girl's dad couldn't (or wouldn't) provide, the wedding was off. Until the village stepped in, that is. Friends gifted the girl with items she'd need to establish a home with her chosen man. The marriage took place, and the couple, we choose to believe, lived happily ever after.
By the 1950s, showers had become obligatory, formulaic rituals. Traditionally women-only, wedding showers have their own set of rules governing when the party takes place, who is invited, what to bring, when to eat, who hosts the party -- and who shouldn't. The practice of showering a bride-to-be with gifts has several functions. It shows community support for the marriage, gives the bride practice at being the center of attention prior to the big day and prepares everyone involved for the bride's status change from single to married. And, let's be honest, accepting all those gifts makes it harder to back out of the wedding.
Traditional wedding shower rules include:
- Showers take place less than two months before the wedding.
- Gifts are mandatory.
- Anyone who isn't invited to the wedding should not be asked to attend a shower.
- Bridal showers can be hosted by bridesmaids, friends and work associates of the bride.
- There can be more than one shower. Friends and family members are required to attend one; additional showers are optional.
- There will be games.
Believe it or not, the games have a purpose. Wedding showers often bring together, in an atmosphere of strict etiquette, a group of people who don't know each other and have only the bride or groom in common. Games help guests get talk with each other and get into a festive mood, and they can cater to multigenerational groups, women-only showers and couples' showers. Get a handle on fun with the games that follow.
Who Am I?
Who Am I? is a game designed to be an icebreaker and get guests talking with each other. There's a tame version for traditional showers with female guests of mixed ages and interests, a version for couples' showers and a full-contact version for the more adventurous:
- Tame version: As each guest comes into the shower, the host tapes the name of a well-known person on her or his back. It can be the name of a book or movie character, a person from history, a famous person, a local celebrity or a family member. Guests keep the names they see on other guests' back secret. The object of the game is for each guest to discover her or his party personality. To do that, they must ask each other questions like, "Am I male or female…Am I in politics…Am I related to the bride?" While the answers are limited to "yes" and "no," it starts the ball rolling on interactions between guests who may not know each other. One or two questions might even lead to a real conversation.
- Couples' version: Each couple that comes to the shower is tagged on the back with one half of a famous couple. Couples could be famous lovers -- Bonnie and Clyde, Sonny and Cher -- or well-known pairings, like bacon and eggs. The tags should be mixed up, so actual couples aren't tagged as a pair. Throughout the game, couples can't talk to their partner. Instead, they question other guests to discover their identity. Once a guest unlocks the secret of her or his alter identity, she or he must find the other half of the duo.
- Full-contact version: In this version of the game, the bride is blindfolded. She must then feel each guest and guess who they are.
What's in the Bag?
This game is fun for all showers. The versions below test players' sense of smell, touch and sight.
Sniff test: How well do guests know their herbs and spices? This test will tell. You'll need:
- White or brown paper lunch bags, numbered one through 10
- 10 different cooking herbs and spices
- Shower-theme colored ribbon
- Paper and pencils for each guest
Put a small amount of an herb or spice in each bag, making sure to note separately the bag number for each cooking ingredient. Scrunch the tops of bags and tie with ribbon to create a small hole at the top. The hole should be big enough for players to get a good whiff but small enough that they can't peek inside. Give guests paper and pencils, and distribute the bags among them. Have people sniff the contents of each bag and write down their guess with the bag number. Keep bags moving quickly to build excitement and competition. The player with the most correct answers gets a small prize -- like a decorative set of measuring spoons. Or you could turn the tables: The person who gets the fewest correct could get the prize, since clearly, she or he needs more practice cooking!
Touch test: How well do guests know their household tools? The touch test will tell. Before the shower begins, the hostess numbers as many lunch bags as there are guests. She places one common item from the kitchen, bathroom and garage in each bag, ties the top closed and arranges the bags around a table. With paper and pencil in hand, players have 5 to 10 seconds to feel the item through the bag, write down a guess, and move to the next bag.
Eyeballing it: This game tests guests' visual discretion. Materials include:
The hostess scoops two to three spoonfuls of one substance in each bag, making sure to note which powder is in which bag. Players must identify each substance by sight alone.
Guests with more experience have an advantage in these games. A game of chance, on the next page, levels the playing field.
Bingo With a Twist
This game is appropriate for all shower groups and keeps guests alert and interested during the long process of opening gifts.
Most shower guests will be familiar with the game of Bingo. These two versions use the same playing format, but the game cards have a wedding shower theme. The word "bride" is substituted for "bingo" across the top of each card. The center square is still "free," but other game squares are customized with wedding words or shower gifts instead of numbers. Wedding bingo cards can be purchased or designed and printed from a home computer.
For the wedding words version, the game grid contains randomly arranged words like cake, veil, rings, church, rehearsal, flower girl, dress and bouquet. Any words related to the bridal shower, wedding or honeymoon will work. It takes 24 words to fill all the grids. Using more words provides variation among the cards.
As guests assemble for the gift opening, each receives a bingo card and some type of grid marker. Each time the bride says a wedding-related word as she opens her gifts, players mark that word on their bingo cards. The first player to complete a straight horizontal, diagonal or vertical line across the card wins a prize. If there are still a lot of gifts to open, everyone can switch cards and start the game again. The hostess may change up the game by playing "four corners" (the first player to mark all four corners of the game card wins) or "fill up" (players must mark every square on the card).
The shower gift version is basically the same, but potential shower gifts fill game card squares rather than wedding words. Gifts can be compiled from the bride's gift registry or go with the theme of the shower. When the bride opens a gift, say a blender, players mark the square of same name.
The next game gets guests up and moving.
Toilet Paper/Newspaper Wedding Gown
This game is fun for both co-ed and women-only showers and is especially good for creative or artistic guests.
The object of the wedding gown games is to see which team of guests can craft the best wedding gown using toilet paper or newspaper. The hostess can define "best" in a variety of ways: most creative, most attractive, most likely to stay on at least half-way down the aisle, or quickest to remove on the wedding night. Here are the basic rules of the game for each media type:
- Guests split into teams of three or more.
- Teams have 5 to 15 minutes to create the dress.
- When time is up, "brides" model the gowns.
- Players vote on the best gown.
- The winning team gets a prize.
The toilet paper wedding gown is the simpler version. Each team gets a few rolls of toilet paper (white, of course), and a "bride" is selected from their group to adorn. Using toilet paper, the teams drape their brides -- over her/his clothing -- with the airy tissue to create all parts of the wedding dress ensemble: gown, veil, train, shoes and bouquet. They can only use the tissue -- no pins or tape allowed. Brides then model their gowns for the party at large, and players vote to select the best ensemble.
In the newspaper version, teams get a stack of newspapers, scissors and pencils to design one part of the gown: bodice, sleeves, skirt, train, veil or shoes. When all pieces are complete, teams tape the various parts onto the bride-to-be over her clothes while she models and poses for photos. The group can vote for the best single part of the ensemble.
Keep reading for a game that's low on competition and high on levity.
Wedding Night Words
The object of this game is to twist someone's words into a different meaning. It's the bride's words in one version, and the guests' words as they attempt a difficult feat in another version.
In the bride version, a bridesmaid or other guest is appointed to secretly write down everything the bride says as she opens her gifts. For example, if she opens a set of luxury towels, she may run her hand across them and comment on their size or texture. After all the gifts have been opened, the "secretary" reads back the bride's comments but puts them in a new context: the wedding night. So the comment about the blender being so powerful takes on new meaning. There's bound to be at least one twisted comment that gets even the most proper guest giggling.
If you need an ice-breaker, guests can become the source -- and target -- of the comments. This game requires a conspiracy of bridesmaids to capture all the comments. A bridesmaid greets each guest on arrival with a piece of paper, a crayon, and the following task: Put the paper on the floor and trace her hand or foot -- without bending either knee. The bridesmaid stands behind the struggling guest and secretly writes down her name and comments. When everyone has accomplished, or at least attempted, the task, bridesmaids take turns reading out the comments as if it's what the guest said or will say on her or his wedding night. For example, "On her wedding night, Aunt Bess demanded, 'What's the purpose of this?'" Or, "On his wedding night, Tony complained, 'I can't reach down there.'" This version lets everyone, including the bride-to-be, get a good laugh.
Just keep in mind that it could be inappropriate for showers given at the workplace.
The next game is a slam-dunk for couples showers.
The Newlywed Game
The newlywed game tests how well couples know each other; it's ideal for couples showers and especially fun for several couples to participate.
Before the shower, the hostess compiles two sets of questions -- one for each round of the game -- to separately ask each partner. The object is to see if what one partner says matches what the other one says. Questions can run along the lines of:
- What team did he root for in the last Super Bowl?
- When is his (or her) birthday?
- What one thing do you wear that she hates?
- What's the best dish that she (or he) cooks?
- Where would he like to go on your next vacation?
- What movie (or song or book) makes her cry every time?
The hostess acts as game show host, asking the questions. Each couple that participates should write a brief introduction, including how long they've been together, for the hostess to read aloud. As they're introduced, couples come to the front of the room and take their "player" seats, facing the "audience." After introductions, one half of each couple leaves the room. The hostess asks the first set of questions, and the players in the room write down their answers. Then the absent partners come back. The hostess asks those partners the first question from the same set of questions, and they write down their answers. One at a time, the couples read their responses aloud. Couples get points if their answers match; they lose points if the answers are different. Continue until the first set of questions is finished.
For the next round, the partners who stayed in the room for the first round leave. The remaining partners answer a second set of questions. Play continues as above until both partners have answered all questions and all responses have been compared. The couple with the most points wins a prize they can share, like movie tickets or a bottle of wine.
Test guests' knowledge of the bride with the next game.
Bride (or Couple) Trivia
This is a challenging sit-down game for all showers. How well do the guests really know the lucky couple? Find out with a bride or couple trivia game.
For this game, the hostess creates a quiz of trivia questions for guests to complete. She doesn't need to know all the answers up front. They'll be revealed in the end. Questions can delve into the past and probe into the future. Here are some examples:
- Where did the bride/groom graduate from high school or college?
- What's her/his dream travel destination?
- What was her/his first job, car, pet, broken bone, etc.?
- What's her/his favorite ice cream, sports team, musician/band, book, movie, etc.?
- How did the couple meet?
- What size shoe does she/he wear?
- What does she/he put in her/his coffee?
- How many speeding tickets has she/he been awarded?
- What word (or phrase or habit) really ticks her/him off?
The bride (and groom, if present) fills out the quiz, too. Their answers become the answer key against which players answers are checked. The person who's known the guest of honor the longest -- her or his mom -- doesn't necessarily have an advantage in this game.
In a variation of this game, the hostess or bridesmaids come up with a list of true and false stories about the bride or couple. They tell the stories, and the guests decide which stories actually happened, and which are pure (or mostly) fiction.
What do the items in a woman's purse tell you about her? Draw your own conclusions with the game on the next page.
Handbag Scavenger Hunt
This game is good for traditional and girlfriend showers.
Handbags collect all manner of oddities, particularly if the owner has young children. What can you learn about a woman by discovering what she chooses to pack in her purse? Who is bold enough -- or competitive enough -- to reveal the deepest, darkest secrets of her constant companion? Bigger is better in the handbag scavenger hunt game.
Before the shower, the hostess makes a list of items that might be found in a purse and assigns points to each item -- low points for common stuff and high points for things you don't expect to see popping out of a purse. Here are some item and point suggestions (of course, the items and their points are up to you):
- Five-point items: Keys, mirror, lipstick/lip balm, nail file, lotion, business card, pen, mints/gum, cellphone (deduct points if phone is on during the shower)
- 10-point items: Eyeglass cleaning cloth, scissors, notepad, tissue, hand sanitizer, prescription medication, work/school ID
- 20-point items: Adhesive bandage, book of matches/lighter, flashlight, measuring tape, multifunction tool, voter registration card
- 30-point items: Deck of cards, eyelash curler, sewing kit, whistle, toilet paper, bottle of water
- 40-point items: CPR face shield, first aid kit, snacks, carabiner, compass
Bridesmaids keep track of the points and announce them at the end. The player with the most points could win an appropriate prize, like a heating pad to sooth her aching back. However, if the hostess is brave and knows the guests well, she could throw in one final item to clench the game. This item needs to be specific and uncommon, like keys to a tractor, a full change of clothes or a taser. Any guest who can pull that from her bag wins, regardless of points. This game-changer must be handled carefully, though. If it smells too much like a fix, polite ladies could transform into mutinous sailors.
Test the basics of couple communication with the next game.
This game is fun for couples showers, and more than one couple should play.
Relationships are all about communication. But what happens when the language of love hits a language barrier? Lots of fun and laughs. For this game, the hostess assembles two identical sets of small items and a pair of trays for each couple playing. There should be lots of common things, like string, coins, toothpicks, rubber balls, forks and other items that are easy to duplicate -- but less familiar items that at least half of the happy couple won't be able to identify by name work well to turn up the fun. The sets can contain different items for other couples playing the game.
On one tray, the hostess carefully arranges the items, holding them in place with spray adhesive. The arrangement should be elaborate and layered, with items at angles, overlapping each other and wrapped or tied together with the string. The second set of items is dumped into the middle of the other tray. They are the same items, but the form may be different. For example, there are toothpicks and balloons in both sets. The toothpicks are whole and the balloon is deflated in the dumped pile; but on the pre-arranged tray, the toothpicks are broken in different places and angled or separated, while the balloon is half blown-up with something unidentifiable inside.
In the playing arena, the bride and groom sit back to back with their eyes closed as the trays are presented. One partner gets the pre-arranged tray; the other partner gets the tray with the pile. The objective is to talk each other through the arrangement so that the unarranged tray ends up looking just like the arranged one. Couples get about 10 minutes to work through the problem. The timer starts when they open their eyes.
After the buzzer, guests compare the arrangements on the trays and decide whether the bride and groom communicate effectively or if they need more practice. If several couples play, guests can vote for a winning pair. The hostess presents them with a prize designed to foster communication, like a pair of toy walkie-talkies.
Find out what you can learn without words on the next page.
This game is good for all showers. An old standby, it sorts the lovers from the fighters.
Here's how the clothespin game works. Before the shower, the hostess determines a word or gesture that guests must not utter or perform during the shower. The forbidden words are ones that are hard to avoid during the course of the shower, like wedding, gift, honeymoon or the groom's name. Off-limits gestures are usually habitual and equally difficult to avoid, like crossing your legs or touching your hair.
As guests arrive, the hostess clamps a clothespin on her shirt and explains that if she says the forbidden word or does the off-limits gesture, another guest can take the clothespin. The object of the game is to collect as many clothespins as possible from other people. If a player has collected extra clothespins and gets caught crossing into forbidden territory, she loses all her/his clothespins to the alert guest. At the end of the shower, the player with the most clothespins looks silly, but she or he wins the game and a prize.
It's fun to see how guests react to this game. Some players, the lovers, are relieved to be rid of the clothespin. They just want to talk and act naturally. A few of these types get it over with immediately, walking up to the first person, clothespin held in offering and do the deed.
With other players, this game activates a latent competitiveness or reawakens sibling rivalry. When the bride's grandmother, who seemed stiff and standoffish for the first two hours, suddenly launches herself from her chair and charges across the room to snatch a clothespin from her sister's dress, you'll understand why this game shows up at nearly every shower.
Floriography — the association of flowers with special virtues and sentiments — has been a practice from antiquity to the present day.
More Great Links
- Adam, Elise Mac. Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between. Simon & Schuster, New York. 2008.
- Adams, Michele and Gia Russo. Wedding Showers. Chronicle Press, San Francisco. 2000.
- Bussen, Karen. Simple Stunning Wedding Showers: Festive Ideas and Inspiration for Perfect Pre-Wedding Parties. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York. 2006.
- Elliot, Amy. "Bridal Shower Games: A Complete Guide." The Knot. (July 27, 2011)
- Hakulinen, Salla. "Here Comes the Bride! Wedding Traditions in Finland and the United States." Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere. Spring 2005. (July 28, 2011)
- Isidore, Chris. "It's official: U.S. in a recession since December 2007." CNN Money. Dec. 1, 2008. (Aug. 4, 2011)
- Layton, Monique. "Magico-Religious Elements in the Traditional Beliefs of Maillardville, B.C." B.C. Studies, no. 27, Autumn 1975, 50-61. University of British Columbia. (July 28, 2011)
- McMurray, Shane. "Average Length of Engagement Time and Engagement Months." The Wedding Report. June 15, 2011. (Aug. 4, 2011)
- Montemurro, Beth. "'You Go 'Cause You Have To': The Bridal Shower as a Ritual of Obligation." Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 25, No. 1 (2002), pp. 67-92.
- Pearson Education. "Median Age at First Marriage, 1890-2010." Info Please. (August 4, 2011)
- The Maid of Honor Guide. "Top 10 Bridal Shower Games." (July 27, 2011)
- Warner, Diane. Diane Warner's Complete Book of Wedding Showers. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1998.