Weird Wedding Traditions of Winnipeg: Socials

June 1st, 2011 by Emma Durand-Wood

Well, it’s just about wedding season, and that means only one thing in Winnipeg… weird wedding traditions!

I sort of avoided writing this post for a while, since it’s bound to ruffle some feathers. I’ve touched on it before, but not in any real depth. So here it is: Winnipeg (well, Manitoba) has some weird wedding traditions. And by weird I mean, sort of unsavoury (the “weird” was more for alliterative purposes). Where should I begin? At the beginning.

The Social

The wedding  social is one of things that a lot of Manitobans are fiercely proud of, and yet is completely foreign to most people outside of the province. People throw socials as fundraisers for all sorts of reasons, but a fundraiser for a wedding? I had seriously never heard of this until I moved here. Apparently, they do have versions of this sort of event elsewhere in the country – I think they’re sometimes called cabarets in Saskatchewan, and Buck n’ Does or Stag n’ Does in some parts of Ontario – but here, it’s all socials, all the time.

The concept is this: you need money to pay for your wedding. So you throw a party, and sell tickets to everyone you know. You rent a hall and book a DJ. Then at the party, you sell alcoholic beverages and tickets to “rainbow auctions” (formerly known as Chinese auctions, but really just raffles) for prizes donated by family and friends.  To your guests, you provide snacks like Old Dutch ripple chips and pretzels throughout the evening. Towards the end, you bring out the “social food”: rye bread, kolbassa and rolled up sandwich meats, and cubed cheese, along with jars of mayo and mustard so you can make a sandwich.  If done well, you can walk away with thousands of dollars of profits and voila! Your wedding is paid for! After all, social-goers pay $10 or $12 for their ticket, spend another $20 (or more) on booze, and another $10 or $20 (or more) on auction tickets. The particularly rowdy ones will easily spend $100 — a tipsy social-goer and his money are soon parted.

Now, apparently this tradition has well-meaning roots. From what I understand, a couple’s wedding party would organize and host this event for the bride and groom, instead of holding multiple showers, stags, stagettes, etc. Since it was likely the couple was young, and still living at home, the social (“A social evening in honour of… “) and its proceeds were a gift, a trousseau of sorts, to the couple from the wedding party and community. This scenario is not particularly offensive to me. However, this tradition has morphed into an additional wedding event, and most often hosted by the couple themselves, for the ostensible purpose of paying for their wedding.  I know someone who remembers precisely the first time she was asked to buy tickets to a couple’s own social – it was that surprising and unusual – but now, it’s pretty commonplace.

When I was getting married, I had quite a few people ask me, “So when’s your social?” Notice, they weren’t asking “Are you having a social?” And it was pretty interesting to hear their responses when I said we weren’t having one (I learned quickly to stay politically neutral on this topic – saying that we just wanted to keep things simple). Some people asked me why not, and it was like they were genuinely distressed that we weren’t having one. “But you can make so much money!!” Others were almost relieved on my behalf, and said that it would save a lot of time and energy.

In a previous post, I wrote that “I still feel a little conflicted about the concept of fundraising for weddings, even though it seems like it’s basically the same pool of money (and crushing sense of guilt and obligation) that passes from one couple to the next.” It’s like an extremely well-oiled system of microloans, because the Manitoba Code of Professional Socials Conduct dictates that if someone comes to your social, you must attend theirs. But the guilt doesn’t stop there.  To get out of buying tickets for a social – any social, it would seem – you had better have a really good excuse!

There are varying degrees of commitment and support when it comes to socials. At one end, you buy a ticket to assuage your guilty feelings, but have no intention of actually going (and everyone knows this is exactly what you’re doing. You’re not fooling anyone).  Or maybe you donate a prize to be raffled off. A typical level of involvement would be to buy a ticket and attend, and while there, drink and try to win the “lottery ticket tree” (which now apparently has changed to “lottery tickets encased in a picture frame”). On the extreme end (if you are in the wedding party or are a family member) you do all of the above, plus sell tickets to anyone you’ve ever known plus anyone those people have ever known, help set up the social, help take down the social, and probably clean some puke up. Now that’s love.

So what? If everyone is a willing participant, what’s the big deal? Well, some would argue that the whole thing is akin to saying “Please come to my house for dinner. But I can’t afford to make the meal, so please bring me a cheque to help me cover my costs.” I have also heard of plenty of couples who did not need the money but had socials anyway, because it is part and parcel of the whole sequence of wedding traditions in these parts. So what if the proceeds are actually going to pay for your honeymoon? Or basement renovation. Or 52″ flat screen TV. Everyone does it. (Well, not everyone, but a lot of people.) Does that make it right?

Here is a list of justifications people give when defending socials. (The fact that they have them ready begs the question of whether they know socials are sort of controversial to begin with.)

  • Having a social will let us have the wedding of our dreams that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford
  • A social gives people who will not be invited to the wedding an opportunity to share our joy
  • It’s a fun way to celebrate with the whole gang before the wedding
  • Everybody has a social. It’s just what we do in Manitoba.

I don’t know. I don’t buy any of these. First, couples should have the wedding that they can afford, period.

Second, you think anyone’s consoled by the fact that they didn’t get invited to the wedding, but at least they’ve been invited to help pay for it? And don’t even get me started on socials for destination weddings. Or the idea that businesses should donate prizes, as if your wedding is a charity!

And third, fun? The guests are likely having a great time, but I know brides who were a million times more stressed out about the social than they were about the wedding. And for good reason! If the social flops, you’re out a couple thousand bucks. Seems to me like people’s priorities are a bit out of whack.

The last reason (“everyone is doing it, so why shouldn’t we?) is the only one that I think has any merit. Right or wrong, it’s a cultural custom, so of course there are bound to be outsiders who think it’s weird (or unsavoury). Does it really matter what I, an outsider until quite recently, think?

Okay, now, a lot of people I know and love had socials. Whether they chose to have them for one of the reasons listed above, I don’t know – I figure it’s not really my business. I attended exactly one of them, and I had a blast (and won not one, but two really, really good prizes). From what I understand, the couple had gone above and beyond the call of duty for this social: the food was outstanding, the prizes really desirable.  And I loved them, so I was happy to go – it was basically a big party, after all, with fun people and good music. I can’t remember if “Love Shack” was played, but I know there was definitely no polka.

But I also know a handful of people who didn’t have socials, because it was just too much work, or their wedding party never offered to hold one, or the idea of having a social made them uncomfortable. Recently I heard about a local woman who told her son that if he had a social, she wouldn’t attend his wedding.  She was dead serious – she thought they were tacky and embarrassing. So he didn’t have a social. It would seem that not everyone in Manitoba is wild about them, for a variety of reasons.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really bother me to be invited to buy tickets to a social, and maybe that’s because I know I have a “I’m not from here” trump card to get out of having to buy one. But it seems like for many people, after the first few times, going to socials is not really anyone’s idea of a good time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard strangers grumbling about “having” to go to a social. People in my age range (late twenties to mid-thirties) seem to have a pretty severe case of social burnout – what was initially a fun and novel way to spend a Saturday night has now become sort of like a trip to the dentist – one of those things you just have to do every now and then.  I asked a 30-something friend to estimate how many socials he’d been to in his life, and he immediately said, “Oh, I don’t know, 20?” Then his wife made him start naming names, and he realized it was more like 45. No wonder he said he’s through with socials!

But then, I think of A&G, good friends of ours who met 20 years ago as teenagers at a social in rural Manitoba. They’re now married with three beautiful kids. If not for socials – which were basically the only way for really-small town teens to socialize – they never would have met. And that gives me a warm and fuzzy, “only in Manitoba” sort of feeling.

So, what do you guys think? Do you think socials are fun and in fact, one of Manitoba’s most beloved cultural institutions? Do you have social burnout and hope you never have to go to another one again? Or are you somewhere in the middle – just happy to party with your friends, no matter the reason or occasion?

Here’s your chance to reveal your true feelings – under the veil of internet anonymity!

Next on Weird Wedding Traditions of Winnipeg: presentation.

26 Responses to “Weird Wedding Traditions of Winnipeg: Socials”

  1. I’m from Nova Scotia and moved to Manitoba 4 years ago. I had never heard of a social until I moved to Manitoba. I like the idea of a social in theory and don’t really have a problem with it as it is something that makes Manitoba very unique, and provides a form of entertainment for rural Manitobans. I however don’t like the idea of pressure to buy a ticket or to help organize one. I pretty much pick and choose which socials I will attend or support. If I feel like going and having a social outing, I will support it, but if I don’t feel like it then I don’t support it. I find being an outsider is kinda like a free pass – I’m invited to partake if I want to, but no one gets annoyed if I don’t attend or support it – I guess because a social is not part of my heritage.

  2. pj says:

    yay anonymity!
    we didnt have a social – and im pretty sure most of our friends were pretty happy about that. It would have been just one more thing to add, and my inlaws are not from MB – so explaining it to them would have raised more than a few eyebrows. plus – no one wants to pay for the wedding of two people in relatively decent careers.

    I did have one girl wrinkle her nose and say quite snootily “socials are only for poor ukrainians…” – of course this didnt go over when my ukrainian husband overheard …

  3. Monique says:

    I hate socials!!!! Seriously, I totally think its pathetic that people feel the need to throw a social so they can make money to have a wedding that is more than they could afford. My husband and I are from Winnipeg and neither of us had any desire to ask people to help us out by paying for part of our wedding. And to ask small business’s to give me donations since i use their service!!!! I am not a charity!! I would rather see those companies in a position to help out actual charities not greedy brides and grooms. Whew, that felt good:)

  4. Great minds think alike – I just wrote a post about my dislike of socials the other day!
    http://lovemelovemywinnipeg.blogspot.com/2011/05/oh-im-going-there.html

  5. Emma says:

    Hey! That’s so funny – I just came across your blog last night! I promise I didn’t rip off your idea – embarrassingly, my post has been in the works for at least a year (eesh – where does the time go?). It’s creepy though…. it’s like we share a mind! Okay, I’m off to comment on your post. Oh, and I LOVE your blog title.

  6. seriously tacky…yet sometimes really fun :)

    i’d rather give the couple a better wedding gift than loft over at least $50 for cheese, rye bread, and pickles.

  7. W. Krawec says:

    Am I the only one who thoroughly enjoys socials? I seem to average about 6 or 7 a year these days, and I generally always have a good time at them. (In my experience, the amount of fun you have is directly proportional to the amount of people you know in the crowd, so it stands to reason that people not from here may not share my enthusiasm!)

  8. MIchelle says:

    Yay Anonymity! I despise socials!! Loathe. People don’t have in them in lieu of all the other stuff, they have them in addition to. They feel like a money grab, not a way to share in the joy. The draws for silent auction get later & later so that people stay longer and drink more. By the time I’m writing a cheque for presentation at the wedding, I’ve already spent more than I care to in order to send them off into their new life. And nine times out of 10, they are already merging two homes worth of things and don’t actually NEED the step up into the future.

    Oh yeah, I’m bitter. Socials and the whole wedding thing has gotten way out of hand. Especially considering 50% of them don’t survive.

  9. B Wong says:

    Hey. Just talking about origins of socials and loved your discussion. Also loved Love Me, Love My Winnipeg about this uniquely Winnipeg phenomenon.

  10. Honeybee says:

    Hey there! Fellow Winnipeg transplant here. Just came across your website today (while blogging about Shmoo torte, of all things… loved your post!) It’s like you were inside my head when you wrote this social post. I completely and totally agree with everything you said and what you experienced when it came time for your own wedding. I went to my first (and so far only) social a few weeks ago… it was nice, and I had a fun time… but this was mostly due to the novelty of the occasion. Most definitely will NOT be making this a regular thing… luckily I don’t know too many couples having upcoming events (and I, too, use the “I’m not from around here” excuse!)

  11. […] a couple weeks ago I looked at wedding socials, those ubiquitous Manitoba nuptial fundraisers.  Today I want to talk about another strange […]

  12. Bre says:

    I’m born and raised in Manitoba and HATE it when the bride and groom invite me to a social. Especially when I’m not invited to the wedding….like ARE YOU KIDDING ME? “I don’t like you enough to invite you to my wedding, but could you please come and drink your face off so that I can host 500 other people? Thanks”
    I think the idea of the wedding party trying to help the bride and groom out is a great idea, but it never happens that way anymore. Fund raising socials for sick people or people who lost their house are A-OK by me though.
    Even still, when I go to socials, I usually have a blast, its just the “cash grab” nature that I strongly dislike.

  13. Bride to be says:

    I’m in my mid-30’s along with my fiance and we are both from Manitoba. I don’t feel old at all, but I know that this is a bit of an older age to be getting married for the first time. I just didn’t find him any sooner! My fiance and I moved in together over the summer and are making a go of things just fine. I’m from the city and he’s from the country, but he’s been living in the city for about 10 years.

    I’m in favour of a very simple wedding. In fact, I feel a bit ill at the thought of having it get too big. But my hubby to be really wants to give me and all our friends a party to remember. The wedding is not going to be simple at all. And it’s going to be expensive. I’m not happy about this but what can I do? I don’t have it in me to break his heart if it’s his dream to have a big fancy wedding! It’s only money right? It’s also his idea to have a social to solve this problem. I was/am dead set against it and hate the premise of having people pay for our wedding when we both have good jobs, already live together and are in our 30’s!! He absolutely insisted so I finally gave in. I told him that he will have to do all the work, because I just can’t fathom planning this sort of party. He completely agreed to do all the planning. I know that his friends will help out alot. I hope it’s everything he wants it to be, but I’m scared it’s going to cost us money. He says that even if we only break even, we’ll have had a fun party. I guess it’s just not the way I like to throw a party. It really is like inviting people over and asking them for money. ICK ICK ICK. And I’m going to have to show up at this social, MY wedding social (OMG), and be all gracious and bride-y and pretend to be happy to be there. And then I’ll have to be the same at this (er- I, mean, my) big wedding. I feel like hubby here has lost the focus of what this is all about: getting married. – and he doesn’t share my social burnout at all. I’m so done with all of that, and I’m horrified to be part of one myself.

    So, yeah, I’m sorry everyone. I’m sorry to be adding to this complete nonsense social business! If we were 22 and just starting out, and our friends insisted on doing this for us, then okay. But this is not that, and I rather fancy the thought of hiding out or of being sick come the day of the social so I don’t have to show my face there.

    (Wow do I ever have to change my attitude, eh?)

  14. amber says:

    socials are NOT just for weddings my home town recently held a social for a little girl who needed a heart transplant. so the town all pitched in got some great social prizes and ended up making a ton of money that not only helped send her to another province for her surgery but also her parents. there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when that little girl came up to thank everyone!

    my sister is getting married, and doing most of the planing for the social, but I’m also doing about 70% of the planning being the MOH. its not because they cant afford their wedding (most of it is all paid off) but because they love to have a party with their friends and family!

    i know your an outsider when it comes to Manitoba traditions, but i fond some of the things you said offensive. so sorry to say but i will not be coming back here to read your blog.

  15. Joe says:

    It’s funny how negative you are towards socials without taking all the facts into consideration. You do realize that drinks are considerably cheaper at a social ($2.50-$3.00 each) vs at a bar (upwards of $4-$5 each). Pop is generally free, wheras they cost almost as much as most mixed drinks at a bar.

    You also talk about ‘feeling an obligation’ or ‘being guilted’ into going. I don’t know who your friends/acquantinces are, but I’ve said no to many socials without having ‘a good excuse’ or being made to feel like I was being rude for saying no.

    While for some people, making money is entirely the point of a social, I’ve known many who would be just as happy as long as they didn’t LOSE money.

    For the record, I’m not a natural born Manitoban either, I’m in my 30s, and I have both helped and attended many socials in Winnipeg without ever feeling like it was an ‘unsavoury’ experience.

  16. lenaj says:

    Socials are and will probably always be a Manitoba tradition…
    this has been a way to celebrate ie; blow off winter blahs/steam and share with everyone your big decisions you should be proud of finally happened –just so you know, the benefit is one way to keep your cost down for your wedding- not have another pay for-
    any party requires food, drink, if planned appropriately you should break even. don’t forget to have fun out there people :) that’s what it is really for…

  17. vanessa says:

    wow. honestly, I’m in my mid-twentys, and I LOVE SOCIALS. seriously, when you want to go out and have a good time,

    would you rather be at a gross club or bar where all the 18 year olds are half naked rubbing up against each other? NO WAY

    I would much rather spend an evening having fun with my friends in a relaxed atmosphere, where my money isn’t going to CANAD INNS, and is instead going towards good friends or family.

    Stop hating on socials. if you dont like them, then just dont go. If i don’t really know a couple, then I just say no! there are MANY people out there who do like them, and are HAPPY to be supporting their friends or family, rather than go out to a sleazy bar on a saturday night, and have their money go to waste while being spilled on.

  18. Tamara says:

    I have lived in Ontario and Saskatchewan, but am a true Manitoba girl.

    Most socials are fun, but even for those that have a less than stellar DJ or food, it’s still great to spend time with friends (sometimes you’ll see people you haven’t seen in ages)and a great way to celebrate and support the bride and groom, even if you don’t expect to be invited to the wedding. For my husband and I, it’s a fun, safe environment to be able to dance and have a few inexpensive drinks, since we don’t do the bar scene. Seeing our friends and having some fun together is a bonus.

    For those of us who have hosted a social – I know it’s a lot of work, but you forge a stronger bond to the people you work the social with, and you appreciate other socials more.

    As for asking businesses to donate a prize to your social – I know the requests get to be too much sometimes, but if you offer discount coupons or packages instead, you’re creating a new customer (and perhaps more with the advertising at the social). Personally, I only try to ask businesses who I use very frequently, or who I know are open to the request.

    If you hate socials, just say no thank-you when offered tickets. Those of us who enjoy them will be happy to party together.

  19. Nicole says:

    I was researching idea’s for socials and came across this article.
    When my fiance and I got engaged, the number one thing we were soo excited about was our social! We’re huge supporters of anyone and everythone who has one and we were go excited to show everyone up!
    We both have full time jobs, and even with that – we can’t afford a wedding we believe our love deserves. It won’t be flashy and over the top (our hall actually costs less than our social hall to rent!) but, with weddings naturally costing more than my car – I don’t really know how any one expects us to pay for one ourselves.
    We are so excited to throw this huge party for everyone and show off to the entire community that we’re getting married. We are not putting any pressure on anyone to attend, donate or participate, honestly we have people asking us how they can contribute!
    Our drink prices will be cheap, our prizes will be awesome (we’re buying most ourselves or winning them at other people’s socials, a friend of ours is a DJ and our cousin who is a caterer is putting together the food. It’s going to be a great time!
    I think to say it’s all a money grab is kind of ridiculous and insulting to us. It’s a night out with everyone who cares about us, old and new friends – and it helps someone achieve a wedding they’ve always dreamed of.

  20. Jenni says:

    I just wanted to say that I love attending wedding’s, and in this day and age with the prices of absolutely everything going up I don’t mind in the least supporting my friends and going to their social to help them out in that sense. Mind you I do not go to social’s of people I do not know just for fun. All the socials we attend are friends or family and whether they need the money or not it’s a fun way to help and celebrate their engagement. When my fiance proposed to me I knew from the moment I began thinking about the wedding that I did not want to plan one. I did not want a social, a shower or a wedding with 100 people. I wanted to run away and take our parent’s to the Bahamas. I LOATHE planning anything. I become a complete stressball ~ so I saved and saved and worked hard to get the money together for our small intimate wedding far far away. When my friends and family found out I was having a destination wedding THEY INSISTED on us throwing a social. If they couldn’t attend our wedding they wanted to at least be able to spend one night celebrating with us and supporting us since they couldn’t attend or give presentation in a different way. I fought this to the bitter end, because I felt it was wrong to hold a social (a fundraiser) when I already had the money saved and these people would not be able to attend the wedding. In the end though my friends and family won out and are thus throwing us a Halloween Themed Social this weekend, complete with prizes, pizza for supper and the works. I’m thinking to myself that I wish we could just call in a minister and pop a wedding at the social ~ Wouldn’t that be fun? But seriously I just may donate our proceeds to a charity after the fact. Just another instance of this weird tradition taking over … even when you don’t want it to.

  21. Kyle Kurlowich says:

    wow, i had no idea that people didnt emjoy socials that much! I grew up in rural manitoba and have recently moved back here after my engagement and am now planning a social. I think socials are great, especially in small towns. If you live in or close to a city or major town then they might not be a big deal to you, but for me and most of the people in my corner of manitoba it is one of the few events that we can attend and know almost everyone there. and sure its a money grab, but i went to a halloween social last week and i didnt even know who was getting married! If I can hang out with at least 50 people that i know closely, spend $50-$60 bucks total in a night and have the chance to walk away with a cool prize i would choose it any day of the week over going to a bar in winnipeg, dealing with drunk people i dont know and paying $5 for a beer!
    Plus if youre really a manitoban you always have fun putting the salami on the out-of-towners shoulder :P

  22. Iris Smithson says:

    I think wedding socials are completely tacky and in poor taste.

  23. Pinkie Pie says:

    I decided to have a social for my wedding when my friends started to pressure me about it, but in the end I realized how much fun it will be! I love to throw parties, and I decided to make it a costume party as it’s easier to wear skimpy Halloween costumes in the heat of summer instead of cold October. I’m not really doing this for profit. I just want everyone to have a good time. That’s always what I’ve been about!

  24. Jax says:

    I agree…socials are silly. I grew up in Winnipeg and the bar/social scene has never been fun for me. I avoid them as much as possible. When asked to attend a social and I say “no, I don’t enjoy socials”, people look at me kike I have two heads. And…they continue to ask me even though they know it’s not my scene.

    I am in a wedding party next year. My sister’s. Family is throwing a social and everyone expects me to be there. This frustrates me. As an adult…I should be able to tell people that I am not going without any annoying opinions being flashed in my face.

    But I am not in the majority with my outlook on socials. Everyone around me seems to love them. Amongst all the people I know, only 2 share my opinion. So I have learned to say I happen to be busy on whatever evening the events is being held. But I am not sure I can get out of the social for my sibling. Fake sick perhaps? lol…whatever works.

  25. Sheepish says:

    I think it’s a great idea to use a social (or as I prefer to call it: Engagement shower) to raise a little money. I wouldn’t have alcohol at mine, nor was there any at the one I went to (hence why I prefer to call it a shower, since socials tend to have drinking involved).

    I can understand being uncomfortable with what “socials” have become. I’ve been to a social that was dry because of the couple’s beliefs, and I’ve been invited to many more secular socials that involve people getting wasted, which I have turned down.
    But the original idea of socials, in my mind, it’s like a shower for the couples who don’t have a Bridal shower or anything like that. How is that any different? It’s financially supporting a couple entering a marriage either with money or a gift of monetary value.

    I plan to have a family-friendly social that will be super fun and a chance for people from our church to get to know our love story better, and just have a wonderful time celebrating our upcoming marriage several months down the road. Because, sadly, I won’t be inviting them all to the reception. But they will have felt like part of our celebration.

    I know that’s how I felt when I went to my good friend’s social. I think it’s when you start inviting friends of friends for the sake of having a huge party and maximize your profits that the heart of it all gets lots, and I think might be what people have a problem with.

    I live in the German/Mennonite dominant part of Winnipeg, and something about us in the North that they don’t have as much in the south end where my Beloved lives, is that we LOVE getting together. Going out for coffee is huge here. Getting together is a big part of the Old culture that is still alive and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    It’s a cultural thing, there’s nothing immoral about it. If you don’t want one, don’t have one. If you don’t want to go to one, excuse yourself politely from it. But don’t look upon those who do have socials with a judgmental eye. And vice versa.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Socials are a great idea, the couple getting married can see people they haven’t in a long time and get together and have a good time. It’s not always a negative experience I guess it depends on the crowd that you surround yourself with. Mainly I do support them when asked and I often do not make them because of poor timing. But when I do attend they are pretty fun. They are there so people can “socialize” hence given the name. There will always be the negative people with the bad experiences. Were they REALLY all that AWFUL? In my case not once have I experienced anything negative while attending just a lot of good memories! It’s nice! So I have nothing negative to say about it myself. Why bother going if your not going to enjoy it save yourself from being the sour grape of the whole thing and just stay home. Just Saying…..

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