To Gift or not to Gift – a brief history

Wedding gifts have been around for a long time, and are thought to have roots in the ‘bride price’ or dowry that was paid to the bride’s family. That usually included land, animals, money, or other forms of what is called ‘historic wealth’ – not exactly a gift, more of a negotiation. The first recorded dowry was thought to be given in 3,000 B.C.

A few thousand years passed and the marriage chest shows up – this was to hold a women’s worldly goods, the things she would bring with her when she marries, adding, one presumes, to her value.

Skipping ahead quite a bit, because I need to get there, we come to the 1920’s when Macy’s Department Store cleverly thought up the gift registry. Crystal, silver, and china were common things to include, and picking out the right china pattern, and other tableware, was essential for brides of yesteryear.

The registry is still popular, but increasingly common is for guests to stray from the registry, expressing their individuality through their gift. I know I do. And also, very commonly, just gifting money. You can’t go wrong with money. With many couples already living together before marriage, all those classic items, such tableware or the toaster, are not needed.

Gift giving has expanded, with gifts for the wedding party, from the couple –  giving attendants a token of thanks. I get that, although it isn’t completely necessary. And taking it even further, couples getting married now sometimes give each other gifts. This is done either on the eve of the wedding or on their wedding day. When did this become a thing? Isn’t there enough expense?

The exchange of gifts between the couple is not, as one blog put it, a ‘time honored’ tradition, even though gift giving itself clearly has a long history.

And there is a potential downside to this. I would not want either partner feeling bad about a gift whether given or received. A gift should make you feel good, but sometimes it disappoints and that is worse than no gift.

Couples really need to talk this over and if they do, perhaps they will decide to forgo it completely. It can be a set up for disappointment. One partner may expect something extravagant, romantic or very personal and the other choose something practical, even humorous, or inexpensive, and even if still meaningful, might be a let-down. Maybe together a couple can choose a charity to donate to as their first gift as a married couple.

Don’t get me wrong – if you do decide to exchange gifts, it certainly can be a tender moment. I’m only saying don’t feel pressured to do this ‘new tradition.’

The way couples might go about this is to send someone to deliver the gift, not exchanging it directly. That’s pretty cool. Some of the gifts suggested for a bride or groom to exchange are keepsake boxes, jewelry, (for men – cufflinks, watches) a monogramed handkerchief for those tears, or something engraved, and of course the exchange of letters, or cards, which I don’t really count in the same way.

Writing a note, letter or getting a card from your soon-to-be spouse, can be meaningful and even cathartic. The art of letter writing is being lost and I, for one, think letters are wonderful. Letters are great to exchange if you are doing the ‘first look.’

There is so much gift giving for a wedding, it can get out of hand. I’m told even parents sometimes give their children gifts on their wedding day.

But one gift that should be given, always, is from a guest to the couple. That we cannot leave out. All the rest of it, please talk it over, it’s not really required.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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