Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm trying to plan a wedding, and since my fiancé and my families are not remotely close together, we're doing two "receptions". We're also trying to do very low key celebratory events in each location, because we don't want a huge to-do and also we're pretty broke and paying for it ourselves.
The problem is, the terminology for what these celebratory events should be called is apparently a huge sticking point with my mother. The event in the south will take place in a family member's barn decorated with old barrels and flowers and lights, feature a "make your own taco" bar or similar, and have (giant?) board games as an activity instead of dancing and a large program. It will happen before the proper wedding because that's what works, and we want people to feel free to come, have fun, talk, and then go on their own schedule. It's also happening far away from where the sealing itself will take place, so we expect it to be the main part of the celebration in that part of the world.
My mom is insisting that we cannot call it a reception, and that if we don't call it a "family barbecue" guests will be confused and upset - something about the lack of formality, timing, and etc? She has kicked up quite a fuss about it, too. It makes no sense to me. It seems basically equivalent to a cultural Hall wedding with Costco finger foods, and dancing replaced with games. Also, it isn't just for family, so why call it a family barbecue? Isn't that more confusing? Someone else said we might call it an open house, but I have no idea what makes an open house different from a reception, either, and it seems like an exclusively Mormon term to use for a wedding anyway, and I can find no references on what it actually means. As far as the "family barbecue" idea goes, I have literally never heard of such a thing outside of a "family dinner" context, which is a thing we're doing, but not there and not then.
So what on Earth makes a reception a reception? What would you expect from one? How is it different from an open house or a family barbecue, and when do you use which term?
I believe (and Vienna confirms) that any reception-type activity that's not on the day of the wedding is typically referred to as an "open house."
Now, if I may quibble with myself, I once attended a friend's wedding reception that took place the day before she was married. By the above definition, this would qualify as an open house, but it feels more right to call it a reception because it was the primary reception-type event and it was closest to the wedding.
Anyway, I would call the event you described an open house; hopefully your mom is okay with that.