Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
Help, engagement gifts are making me uncomfortable! My fiance and I just got engaged, and people keep sending us engagement gifts. If it were close family members or friends that would be one thing, but these are all coming from family friends of his that either a) he’s never met or b) met once or twice, most likely at least 5 years ago. Of course we’re thanking them, but is this weird?
Weirded Out By All These Bowls
The short answer is that, traditionally, engagement gifts are not given. In the olden days, when you got engaged, you would tell your parents, and then they would host a dinner or something with close friends and announce your engagement at your engagement party. Since it was a surprise to all the guests, obviously they wouldn’t have brought gifts. And with engagements being far shorter in the past, by the time anyone sent you anything, it would clearly be considered a wedding present. However, with longer engagements these days and engagement parties celebrating the engagement instead of the announcement, engagement presents have started to crop up as a thing. Engagement gifts should really just be a token of your affection for the couple: a bottle of champagne, a pair of toasting flutes, or a nice picture frame. Still, you are absolutely not expected to send/bring anything at all.
Victoria: Obviously these rules about what the expectations regarding engagement presents are all well and good until someone completely ignores them and sends you a lavish gift anyway.
Jaya: Yeah, this is one of those situations where everyone says “oh, how thoughtful,” but actually it’s not that thoughtful of them! Ok, it’s a little thoughtful, but not in the way you’d like.
Victoria: I think the only thing you can really do in that instance is accept the gift in the spirit of generosity in which it was offered and send a nice thank you note immediately. And don’t feel any pressure to invite a random person to your wedding just because they sent you a gift!
Jaya: Right! I think a lot of people hear a couple got engaged, get them an expensive crystal bowl or something because it’s expensive and “nice,” and then they think they’ve done this great job. Meanwhile, the couple is probably freaking out thinking that now they have to invite this person, or their parents are saying “they were nice enough to send you a gift, can’t you make room?”, and they have no idea how to use this gift and just feel guilty that someone spent upwards of $100 on something they didn’t even want.
Victoria: What a mess.
Jaya: Is there any way to stop the madness?
Victoria: I think the only thing you can really do to discourage it is to hold off on setting up a registry and if someone asks just say “oh, it’s all so new, we haven’t even begun to think about presents yet!”
Jaya: Yeah, and in general people need to consider their relationship to the couple. If you’re their best friend, go for it. If you went to high school with the groom’s mom and keep in touch with her but haven’t seen her son since he was in grade school? A gift is probably not necessary!
Victoria: Maybe as a safeguard you COULD revive the tradition of sending out wedding announcements AFTER the wedding, in which you have a nice card printed the basically just says so and so were married on such and such a date. It’s just a nice way to let people know that you did get married, and it has no expectation of gifts.
Jaya: But a pre-wedding announcement doesn’t have an expectation of gifts either!
Victoria: True, and there is the danger that people might feel compelled to send you ANOTHER gift. But, hopefully, these people are considering these “engagement” presents to be a wedding present too and are just getting it sent early?
Jaya: Yeah. But it’s so easy to read into it another way. Sending gifts is a wonderful thing, and it may come from a genuine place, but weddings are so fraught with tension and meaning, that sometimes a simple “We’re so happy for you” is more appreciated than anything.
Jaya: But yes, write them a thank you note, figure out a way to use/return the gift, and hope that it’s not a secret ploy for a wedding invitation.
Victoria: When in doubt, write a thank you note.