Gifts for Destination Weddings

A friend asked me recently if you have to give a gift when you are going to a destination wedding that is going to cost a LOT- like $1000 a person a lot- to attend. And the answer, like most things about weddings, is a bit complicated.

  1. Technically wedding gifts are always “optional,” but in traditional American culture, it is generally expected that you will give a gift whenever invited to a wedding (whether you can actually attend or not).
  2. However, in traditional American culture, weddings aren’t held on tropical islands that cost thousands of dollars to attend.
  3. So generally, I think you are pretty safe in these situations in considering your “presence” to be your “present.” Doubly especially if the couple states somewhere on their website or other communications that they don’t expect gifts because the wedding itself is so expensive.
  4. However, if you are dealing with the kind of person who might actually be so rude as to inquire where your gift is (um, why are you attending their wedding if they are so awful?), then you can always do a token $20 gift.
  5. Token gifts are especially great if you feel like YOU are going to feel like you are being rude by not giving an actual gift. Just a little something acknowledges the day without adding too much burden to your overall cost.

So basically just go with your gut and assume that anyone you love enough to spend extreme amounts of money to attend their wedding will understand if you don’t want to add an extravagant present on top of that. And if your friends AREN’T that reasonable, maybe consider not being friends with them anymore, because you don’t need that in your life.

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Why Is It So Difficult To Accept “No Gifts”?

[Via Emily Orpin]

[Via Emily Orpin]

I’ve been invited to my first wedding where, in lieu of a registry, the couple has asked that anyone inclined donate to one of their favorite charities. It’s a wonderful gesture, and I’ll absolutely be donating, and yet somehow I’m plagued with anxiety over the thought of not giving the couple themselves a gift. Even though they asked that I not! Even though I’ll be giving money elsewhere!

This is, of course, ridiculous. But it’s something that I realize others might feel if presented with the same situation, or even further, if the couple specifies no gifts or spending at all. I think this reaction comes from a good place. We’ve been taught that giving is good, and for multiple reasons–it’s an opportunity to show we care, to show we know the recipient’s taste, and often a physical marker of our presence at an event. But notice that many of those reasons have to do with us more than the recipients. The entire concept of gift giving hinges on one thing: the recipient actually being thankful for the gift.

It’s also difficult to think of someone not being thankful for a gift, because most of us have been taught that money/stuff is good no matter what (yay capitalism). We chide that they must be being coy, and insist on giving small tokens or even large gifts anyway, under the assumption that they’ll be appreciated. Don’t do that! Not only is it disrespectful to the couple’s wishes, it’s disrespectful to their intelligence. It suggests that you know better than them what they actually want, and that they’re being dishonest about their desires.

Here’s another secret (that’s maybe not a secret, maybe I’m just a terrible person): The couple will likely not remember what you got them. Yes, immediately after the wedding I had a mental list of who bought what off the registry, who sent checks, and who gave cards. And I was very thankful for everything we received, and wrote thank you notes indicating so. However, almost two years later, it has all blended into my life. Aside from a few gifts that are distinctly tied to the giver, I can’t really recall who got us our plates or who gave us a check that allowed us to buy plates. I think that’s fine. There’s warmth in my heart for everyone who bought us gifts, and everyone who didn’t but who spent their time and money to celebrate with us.

Gifts are a symbol of love and consideration and joy, but they are not those things. If a couple asks you not to give them gifts, or to donate your money or time elsewhere, they are saying that they don’t need that middleman. But if you’re really freaking out, bring a card.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Be So Strict About Wedding Anniversary Gifts

The paper anniversary?

I’m coming up on my second wedding anniversary this year. We didn’t get each other gifts last year and it’s likely not a tradition we’re going to follow (though we DID see Mad Max: Fury Road that night and a yearly viewing sounds like a fine enough tradition to start). However, were we to be traditional this year, we’d get each other gifts of cotton. Or paper if we’re going by other conventions. Or iron if we’re going by really old conventions. Or China if we’re going by the modern conventions suggested by the Chicago Public Library.

I can’t be the only one who finds these gifts puzzling. What about the tenth anniversary suggests tin? Why should I be supporting the ivory trade for the 14th? What about paper seems romantic? Where the hell did these come from?

Most sources suggest that giving certain gifts for certain anniversaries revolved around the luck-bringing properties of those gifts. A few sources also point to the trend beginning in Central Europe. “Among the medieval Germans it was customary for friends to present a wife with a wreath of silver when she had lived with her husband twenty-five years. The silver symbolized the harmony that was assumed to be necessary to make so many years of matrimony possible. On the fiftieth anniversary of a wedding the wife was presented with a wreath of gold,” according to one source. The other anniversaries probably trickled down from there, and by the 20th century less valuable and durable materials–crystal, tin, wood–represented fewer years. There are also theories about what each one represents, from “paper is a blank page” to “iron is a symbol of a sturdy foundation” blah blah blah.

Many older etiquette guides mention these gifts not as ones the couple should exchange between themselves, but gifts guests should give the special couple on “anniversary weddings,” or celebrations on their anniversary. Invitations to the first anniversary, the “paper wedding,” “should be issued on gray paper, representing thin cardboard,” according to The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette of 1877. The tin anniversary was supposed to be printed on oxidized tin cards, which is some hipster bullshit. The author also notes, “it is not unusual to have the marriage ceremony repeated at these anniversary weddings,” though notes a repeat ceremony is usually reserved for the silver or gold anniversaries.

Golden anniversaries could be somber occasions, according to The Home Manual of 1889, “too often fraught with sorrowful memories of the dear ones who have passed into the shadow-land.” The silver one is much more fun, with the couple “still in life’s prime instead of being near the end of their earthly pilgrimage.” You could also celebrate the twentieth anniversary as the linen wedding, but not if you’re Scottish, as they “have a superstition that one or the other will die within the year if any allusion to it is made.” Or maybe it’s unlucky for everyone.

According to Social Life: Or, The Manners and Customs of Polite Society, there is a particular protocol that must be observed when celebrating a golden anniversary. Anniversary poems are read (whatever those are), telegrams from those who couldn’t attend are announced, and there is a recitation of Longfellow’s “The Hanging of the Crane.” It is noted, however, that “good taste” would keep anyone from repeating the original wedding ceremony, so Social Life and The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette can duke it out over that.

Even though having specific silver embossed invitations and gifting conventions for an anniversary seems overly complicated, there’s something about it I like. It’s elaborate, but contained. Keep the celebrations to the milestones. I’m not saying the couple can’t choose to celebrate every anniversary themselves–they should! Get gussied up and go out! Just that families don’t need to be throwing parties every year. Can you imagine if, in addition to the seven weddings you’re invited to this year, you had to go to anniversary parties of all the weddings you were at last year? I’d die.

Am I Allowed To Have A Shower If I’m Already Married?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

My husband and I eloped about 2 weeks ago. It was a lovely, perfect day together! We are planning a small reception for family and close friends in the spring.

Two close friends of my husband’s family have just offered to throw me a shower. I’ve known these ladies for several years as well and they also hosted a shower for my husband’s sister a few years ago.

I would like to take them up on this offer, but I’m wondering if it’s gauche since we’re already married. I’ll add that my husband and I have been together nearly 6 years and lived together for just over 2, so we don’t necessarily need a lot of gifts but the thought of spending a morning with the important women in my life is quite appealing.

Thanks very much!

Best,
Sorta Wants A Shower

Official Etiquette
A lot of the bastions of etiquette don’t really mention how to have a shower after the wedding, presumably because it was Just Not Done. The point of a wedding shower is to provide the bride with token gifts for her new life and household, according to Amy Vanderbilt, so holding it after the wedding, and after they’ve already presumably received wedding gifts, doesn’t make much sense.

Our Take
Jaya: I think this question gets to the heart of hour our ideas of what a shower is and means have completely changed.

Victoria: Oh yeah?

Jaya: Just from being something done to help set up the future wife’s life, and only held by certain people, to now another excuse for a party. Because if we’re going off the traditional idea of what a shower is, then this is totally gauche. But luckily we’re not doing that.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s definitely not a done thing, technically. I think the problem with shower etiquette is it’s a party being thrown for you, so you have very little control over it.

Jaya: Which is a weird thing in itself. Because if the person of honor doesn’t want the party, you’d think people would back down, but so often that leads to hurt feelings.

Victoria: I definitely think that when you offer to throw a shower, you should definitely be prepared to hear a no. This is how we get 3-4 showers happening, it’s nuts.

Jaya: Here, it sounds like LW is totally reasonable. She wants to hang out with these women in her life, and is not wanting/expecting a registry’s worth of gifts. That’s great! She just seems worried about how it’d look.

Victoria: Yeah, I think if someone is wanting to throw it, and you want it to happen, then, go ahead.

Jaya: And you can give input on what you’re comfortable with, so it doesn’t turn into a huge thing.

Victoria: Presumably only relatively close friends and family will be invited, so it’s not like you are giving the vapors to your mom’s garden club.

Jaya: That is a fantastic image. But yeah, if the thought of spending the morning with these women sounds nice, say that! You can be like “since we’re already married and living together, a traditional shower doesn’t make sense, but a ladies brunch sounds just lovely.”

Victoria: Yeah if you feel uncomfortable with a shower, call it like, a meet the bride luncheon or something. Jinx!

Jaya: And the great part is if someone does happen to think it’s gauche, it’s not your fault! You didn’t plan it!

Victoria: Exactly! And hopefully people who think it’s inappropriate, won’t come.

How Many Wedding Gifts is Enough?

BridesmaidsDear Uncommon Courtesy,

I know that the wedding gift question is always done to death but since it is such a quagmire I thought I would throw another one in the mix. I am a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding for which I will have to travel a few hours. I have also traveled for her bridal shower and her bachelorette evening. For both events, I helped pay for the events themselves and bought small gifts (lingerie and coffee mugs). The wedding websites tell me that I am also expected to buy a wedding present and I feel like my friend is expecting one. I am not married and not expecting to get married which is making this whole experience feel very unbalanced. I have already spent a ton of money on my friend. How do I politely get out of purchasing yet another thing for this wedding?

Sincerely,
Broke Bridesmaid

Victoria: Okay, so first let’s talk about how ridic this all is

Jaya: Hahahah

Victoria: Like, bridesmaids shouldn’t have to plan and pay for BOTH a bachelorette and a shower.

Jaya: Yeah, like here’s a rundown of the average bridesmaid expenses now: dress, shoes, travel/accommodations to wedding, possible travel/accommodations to bachelorette party, AND gift? I know this is the “norm” now but let’s go on the record saying it shouldn’t be.

Victoria: It should not be! And if we get any questions from any brides asking how can they kindly ask their bridesmaids why they didn’t send a gift after doing all this stuff, we will very politely discuss how they are incredibly wrong and selfish and then mock them (just a heads up).

Jaya: Hahaha, of course.

Victoria: So my advice to this bridesmaid is to not send a wedding gift. Write a very nice and heartfelt card instead.

Jaya: Yes, that sounds good. Okay, so the tricky thing is that no, you are never obligated to give a gift at any point, no matter what your relationship to the wedding, but people have weird expectations now.

Victoria: That’s true, but I mean, honestly, the only way we are going to get past this is by just not doing it.

Jaya: Yeah

Victoria: If bridesmaids would just put their stylishly-clad-in-matching-shoes feet down and say, “I’m sorry, but attending both your wedding and your bachelorette in Vegas and your hometown shower is too much for me”…then people wouldn’t start getting all these expectations.

Jaya: That’s a good point! And it’s hard! Weddings are an emotional time, and nobody wants to be the one to hurt the bride’s feelings. So I think a lot of times the wedding party just becomes total pushovers.

Victoria: Yeah (and trust us, this is hard for us too!!!). I’d love to see more brides sitting down with their maids and being like, look. “My wedding is out of town for all of you, so I don’t want you to plan any kind of out of town bachelorette or shower or anything.”

And grooms, too, I guess.

Jaya: Right. I think half of this is people not even knowing that their expectations are out of line, just because they see what everyone else has. Like, blogs show you fun bachelorette parties in Vegas, and you assume a bachelorette party in Vegas is the standard. When that might not work for your circumstances.

Victoria: Yesss, like, maybe I should create some kind of spreadsheet? Like with formulas of: your friends estimated incomes, the estimated expense of the dress/shoes, estimated expense of travel/lodging for the wedding, and the total shouldn’t be more than like .25% of the bridesmaids estimated income?

Jaya: Victoria, why are your solutions always spreadsheets?

Victoria: Lol, because I am a neeeeerd.

Jaya: I think just better communication can help, and more understanding if your bridesmaids just aren’t the type to be able to afford/want to pay for a big trip or a designer dress.

Victoria: And really listen to what they are saying! If they seem less than enthusiastic, back down, way way down!

Jaya: Yes! If you’re the one getting married, they probably want to make you happy, but you don’t want that to make them go into debt.

Victoria: Or from the beginning, ask them what they think a reasonable price for the BM dress is (and stick to it!!)

And like, everyone’s always saying “oh tradition…”

But TRADITIONALLY, the brides family was supposed to either let the bridal party stay in their home or pay

for their lodging. And no one does that anymore. And yet now brides get showers AND bachelorette parties.

Jaya: Right, and TRADITIONALLY the bridesmaids planned the bachelorette party without the bride saying “hey let’s all go to the Bahamas”

Victoria: Haha yeah. Or the one super rich bridesmaid suggesting that.

Jaya: I always think of the movie Bridesmaids with that, where everyone else can afford Vegas and first class and Kristen Wiig is stuck in the back.

Victoria: Yeaaaaah, that’s no bueno.

Jaya: And I liked a lot of that movie, but also I just wanted to be like MAYA RUDOLPH, YOU KNOW YOUR FRIEND IS GOING THROUGH HARD TIMES, GET EVERYONE TO TONE IT DOWN.

Victoria: Seriously!

I mean, things should be toned down anyway, probably.

Like do you really need to spend an entire weekend?

Like, how about a nice dinner and some drinks?

Especially the older you are…its just not as fun to go clubbing and wear penis hats as when you were 23.

Jaya: So, back to the issue at hand. Let’s say the LW takes our advice and sends a nice card and then, worst case scenario, the couple is like “where is our gift?”

What do you say?

Besides “fuck off”

Victoria: You could passive aggressively send them an uncommon courtesy link!

But also I would say “Sally, I went to considerable time and effort and spent a very large amount of money

being in your wedding, planning and attending your bachelorette and shower, and buying gifts for those parties. I would have hoped that you realized that that WAS my gift to you and frankly, I am a little hurt that you don’t consider it to be enough.”

Jaya: Just to wrap it up, you’re not obligated to get a gift, especially if you’ve spent your money/time on doing other wedding stuff, and anyone who tries to make you feel guilty for that can shove it.