October 31st, 2020

Wedding gifts dilemma


By Submitted Article on June 22, 2020.

Standing united with a happy couple who are making a commitment to spend their lives together is a joyful event to witness. However, this beautiful experience also comes with a challenging task that can be quite baffling: gift giving. Choosing the perfect gift can be, albeit an act of love, a trying task on its own. In what was, and still is, an expression of love and support, gift giving can sometimes be a worrisome expectation.

It may be helpful for us to review how the tradition of wedding gifts began. Wedding gifts are said to have originated from the notion of a bride price, or dowry, that was paid to the bride’s family. It usually included land, animals, money and other forms of historical wealth. It has been suggested that the first recorded dowry was exchanged in 3,000 BC. With the elaborate dowry exchange, it wasn’t unusual for wedding guests to attend without bringing gifts.

Millennia later, during the Renaissance period, the idea of a marriage chest was introduced. The chest held the bride’s goods constituting of linens, towels, quilts and sometimes dishware, which she would take with her to her new home.

Fast-forward to 1924: Marshall Fields, now known as Macy’s, invented the gift registry. Because of its popularity, it wasn’t long before other stores followed suit. The early gift registries featured mostly china, crystal and silverware. Now, in the 21st century, gift registries have evolved to include big appliances, home entertainment systems, and even adventurous honeymoon funds.

Gift registries take away the stress of trying to figure out what to get the couple. In cases where it may be difficult to transport the gift, there is also the advantage of having the gift delivered to the couple’s doorstep.

With some weddings being cancelled or postponed, I have received some questions on how to navigate gift giving in our current reality. Here are three sample questions and responses that I have engaged in lately:

Q: “I was invited to a friend’s wedding and now that it has been postponed indefinitely due to today’s climate, should I give my friends a small gift now and then when they finally tie the knot give them a bigger gift then?”

A: Given the fact that you don’t know if or when your friends will set a new wedding date, it wouldn’t make much sense to give them a gift now. Gifts are usually presented to the couple at their wedding. Why not wait and see what happens?

Q: “A family member who has been living with her partner for the past six years had finally decided to get married this July. After sending out invitations, booking a reception venue, COVID-19 hit, which meant they had to cancel their wedding plans. They have decided not to pursue with the wedding after all. Am I expected to give them a wedding gift despite them deciding against having a wedding?”

A: If the couple has decided not to bother with the wedding and have been living together for that amount of time, I don’t think a wedding gift would be necessary. One would assume that within the last six years they have acquired most, if not all of the necessary items needed for their home.

Q: “A young man from my neighbourhood got married in the middle of the pandemic. I didn’t know that he was getting married until I noticed people blowing celebratory horns as they drove past his parents’ house. Is it the right thing to get him and his new wife a gift? I’m conflicted because I sense that some people were invited or at least were alerted of the nuptials and I wasn’t. What shall I do?”

A: It might well be that relatives and some close friends knew about the wedding celebrations. As always, not everyone gets invited to a wedding, and it would be awkward for you to show up with a gift. Imagine for a moment that the situation was different. There was no COVID-19, and there was a big celebration. Would you have shown up with a gift, without any invitation extended to you?

Gift giving has always been a way for us to show our love and support for a newly married couple. Let us not allow the present climate to take away this expression of love and support. Instead, we can use the rules that have always guided us as a tool to create new ways to champion them as they enter this new phase in their lives.

Mable Stewart is a Lethbridge-based etiquette and image consultant. She can be contacted by email at helpfuletiquette@gmail.com.

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