Registries, Wedding Gifts, and Thank You Notes

Because we all know what weddings are really about. [via Wikimedia Commons]

I’ve saved my post about gifts and gift registries for last because they are the least important part of your wedding. Yet somehow they get quite a lot of attention on etiquette sites and in the news.

Here’s the thing, yes you are going to get gifts because that is what is done. However, gifts for weddings are completely optional, the amount a guest spends on their gift is up to them (I don’t ever want to hear the words “cover your plate” coming out of the mouth of a couple about their own wedding), AND what a guest chooses to give you is also up them.


Back in the day, a bride would go down to the department store in her hometown and pick out a china pattern and a silver pattern (this means the design on your knives and forks, btw). The store would note it down and when people came in to buy the bride a gift, the store could tell them what patterns she had chosen and they could select a place setting or two and be on their way. And that was the beginning of registries.

Now, you can register for anything your little heart desires. This is great! Not everyone needs 12 settings of Wedgewood china and Waterford crystal. However it also creates some confusion about what a registry really is.

A registry is a list of IDEAS. It can also be somewhat helpful in preventing a couple from receiving 5 toasters (has this really ever happened? Why is the example always toasters? ED NOTE: I got two waffle irons! No toasters yet -Jaya). A registry is not a list of demands or a shopping list for guests to pick from. Guests can absolutely get you things that aren’t on your registry.

Now if you are going to set one up, try to come up with items in a range of prices and try to come up with enough items that guests feel like they have some options.

Alternative Registries

Every day it seems that a new entrepreneurial has created a new way to do online registries. A popular version is the honeymoon registry. While many of your elderly relatives might be heartily offended by these types of registries, they are growing in popularity and are now generally accepted even by etiquette experts (such as the Emily Post Institute). However, there are good ways and bad ways to do a honeymoon registry.

A good way is to list a number of experiences you want to enjoy on the honeymoon- things that feel like real gifts, not just chipping in for airfare. Then, if you receive your “massage on the beach” or whatever, you should do you best to actually do that activity, even though the honeymoon registry company basically just gives you a big check at the end.

A bad way to do it is to just have a general fund that all the guests deposit money into- feels more like you are collecting cash rather than receiving gifts. You should also do what you can to make sure any fees are paid directly by you rather than passing them on to your guests.

Another new registry type is where you list the things you want and guests contribute money to those items through the site. For example, you want a KitchenAid Mixer (it’s not a registry without a KitchenAid, amirite?), but you know that no one will be able to buy you one for $400. So you split it up and ask for 4 gifts of $100 each for the mixer. This is pretty cool! Just like chipping in for a group gift but with less hassle. However, if you are asking for all this stuff, you should do your best to actually buy the things you are asking for when you get your big check at the end. If you are using these registries to trick your guests into giving you cash when they think they are buying you a mixer that you will bake Christmas cookies for years with, then that is extremely shady and you shouldn’t be doing it.

Asking For Cash

That brings me to my next point, cash. Cash is great, everyone loves it! It’s so great that everyone already knows you might like it, so you don’t need to ask for it. I mean think about it, here’s this list of items you might like for your newly wedded home and then at the bottom, you are like, “cash is good too!” Umm, duh.

However, you don’t have to despair. You can get the word around by word of mouth- tell your mother, tell your partner’s mother, tell your bridal party. And if someone ASKS you what you want, it’s totally fine to say “oh we are saving up for a house, so we would really love some money for that, but anything you want to give us is great!” It just doesn’t belong on a list. And if you don’t make a registry, many people will infer that you would prefer cash (though you might end up with some really hideous and/or memorable gifts as well.)

Getting the Word Out

So you’ve made this carefully curated registry. Now how do you let everyone know about it? Traditionally, it was all spread by word of mouth. Your aunt would call up your mom and ask her where you were registered and your mom would tell her. This still works! And again, if someone asks you where you are registered, you can tell them.

The one thing you do not want to do is include any mention of gifts or registries on the invitation. The invitation is all about wanting the guest to come share your day, not about what they are going to give you. This includes “no gifts please,” the point is to not talk about gifts, even not wanting them.

A really excellent place for registry information is on your wedding website, under its own discreet link. This creates a polite layer in which the guest is seeking out information that they want, you are not waving it in their face telling them to buy you stuff.

The Gifts Start Rolling In

It might surprise you at how soon after you announce your engagement that gifts start showing up at your door, so be prepared.

It is traditional that you don’t use your wedding gifts until after the wedding. The reason for this is that, if something should happen and the wedding is called off, those gifts must be returned to the giver!

Make sure you keep track of who sent you what- spreadsheets are great for this! This way makes it easier to send thank you notes.

Thank You Notes

Handwritten thank you notes are absolutely mandatory for wedding gifts. Even if you called them or thanked them in person, you still need to send a note. Wedding gift giving is a sort of formalized gift giving tradition that is basically required of all your guests. Therefore it deserves a formal thank you in return.

For gifts that arrive prior to your wedding, you want to send out a thank you within 2-3 weeks of receiving the gift (so they know it arrived safely!). DO NOT wait until after your wedding to send these notes. You are going to want to break up the note writing as much as possible so you don’t have to do 100 at once!

For anything that arrives shortly before your wedding, on the day, or afterwards, you only have 3-4 months tops to get them done. A year is a MYTH. Just do it and you can enjoy married life without the Sword of Thank You Notes Yet To Be Written hanging over your head.


I hope you all have enjoyed my series on How to Throw a Perfectly Polite Wedding. Be sure to check out all the earlier posts as well!

The Wedding Guest List

Wedding Invitations

The Care and Keeping of Wedding Attendants

Showers, Bachelor/ette Parties, and Rehearsal Dinners, Oh My!

Wedding Ceremony Etiquette

Wedding Reception Etiquette

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