@Marieamanda: First of all, generosity and selflessness are never rude. Generosity — willingness to give without thought of return or gain — is the essence of hospitality, and precludes of course expectation of immaterial benefits such a adulation and the thrill of the spotlight as much as it precludes material gain. That is why a hostess — even one who is a bride — who declares her offense at not getting gifts from everyone, or who throws a party for herself as guest of honour, loses all credible claim to being hospitable (and why self-hosted birthday parties stop being appropriate at about age ten.) And why a hostess; again, even a bride; should not be setting up her party to make sure that she is better-dressed and better-fed than all her guests who are deliberately cast into the shade and forced into the role of peasant to her princess. But it is also why a hostess who puts her effort into serving her guests by feeding, sheltering and entertaining them to her own cost is performing an act of virtue even if she happens to be a bride — like you.
Traditional etiquette does not require that everyone inited to pre-wedding events be invited to the wedding, because traditional etiquette does not recognize that weddings are a multi-day pageant of pre-events leading up to a climax. Traditionally people just have social lives, which include a social event on their wedding day as one event among others. So you may certainly have a party if you want to, and all the more may your mother or your mother-in-law host parties if they want to. What the hostess must do to ensure that their party is gracious is :
- avoid presenting the party in such a way that it seems to be soliciting material gain.
- avoid structuring the party in such a way that anything focusses on a social event or party that some of the guests will not be attending
- avoid aggrandizing herself in comparison to her guests
- assure her guests’ safety, comfort and entertainment to the highest quality she can offer
So your question is how to do those things in the context of an engagement party that will not be followed with a wedding party. In a more perfect world, the first bullet point would not be a problem, because guests would know that gifts are never expected and are not considered appropriate at engagement parties. Unfortunately we live in a world where people do complain about how rude others are not to have brought gifts, and intimate that everyone always enjoys receiving material goods. A hostess sidesteps this modern social minefield by just inviting people, without inviting that it is a “something” party — be the something “engagement”, “birthday”, “housewarming”, or whatever. This is consistent with the traditional “engagement party”, at which the host of the party, usually the bride’s father, hosted his social circle to an event at which — surprise! — he used a pause in the nights entertainment to announce his daughters engagement as fresh news to their gathered friends.
Since in your case there is no social event upcoming — just a small family dinner which is frankly a private event — you don’t need to worry about the second bullet. But if any of your guests do bring up the question of your wedding, you simply need to say that it will be a quick private civil ceremony, with no other ceremony. If you choose to use the pary to announce your engagement, that fact can be mentioned in the announcement.
Now, if your mother or mother-in-law hosts the party, then the third bullet is moot, too. But if that is the case, let them host! Their style, their guest-list, their agenda: not yours. If you host, then position your party and conduct it so that no-one is being explicitly honoured, or so that you are clearly and explicitly honouring someone other than your selves — perhaps your parents.
And I think you can figure out bullet 4 for yourself, although I and others on this board could give you hints, with a little more information. For one thing, what kind of a party were you thinking of: formal or informal, afternoon or evening, with or without meal/dancig/other entertainment?
If it is a formal dinner-dance at which your engagement will be initially announced, for example, being given by your mother, she would word it as
Mr and Mrs Mariamandas Parents
request the pleasure of the company of
Miss Aspasia Phipps
Saturday the twelfth of November
at seven o’clock
. in honor of MarieAmanda and Guy
and then during the evening one of your parents could take a pause in the dance music to announce something like:
“I know you will all be delighted to learn that Guy and Amanda have set a date for their wedding! They are planning a private ceremony on November thirtieth, so we’re very happy that tonight’s gathering gives us a chance to congratulate them!”
If it is an informal afternoon barbecue that you are hosting, for example, and your guests already know you are engaged, then you would word it as
Dear Aunty Aspasia
Guy and I would love you to join us at our home for a barbecue on the twelfth of November, at four o’clock. Since our upcoming wedding is a private ceremony, we want to make an opportunity ahead of time to honour all our friends and family, and especially our parents, who have helped us come to this happy point in our lives.
Congratulations on your fast-approaching wedding. I hope you may both be very happy.