The History Of Wedding Anniversary Gift Giving

Marriage is a huge commitment and a ton of hard work. If you’re doing it right, it should also produce some of the happiest memories of your life. So it’s no surprise that, as each year together passes, couples naturally want to celebrate each and every milestone. Today’s gift-giving style is all over the map as modern couples like to give gifts based more on personal interests but the history behind traditional wedding gifts is quite fascinating and you might want to consider the challenge of coming up with future gifts that pertain in some way to these classic themes.

The Origins Of Thematic Anniversary Gifts

Pulling together an accurate history of anniversary gift-giving is more complicated than you might think. We can trace the tradition all the way back to medieval times and the ancient Romans, but it’s hard to tell exactly what types of gifts they were giving. A lot of the earliest information about wedding anniversaries we have is from 18th-century German culture where the themed gifts first seem to show up. Complicated that even farther by the fact that different regions and cultures also had their own unique traditions, you can start to see how the American rules turned out to be a blend. We are the great melting-pot, after all.

According to TIME Magazine, the idea of traditional anniversary gifts in English-speaking cultures can be traced back to the 19th century Victorian age. It was a time when marrying for love was finally coming into fashion and women were seen as the bearer of the burden when it came to making sure the marriage worked. Because that duty fell to her, she was given gifts for each year the marriage was successful. Friends and family would give the wife gifts with wood, silver, or gold for specific milestone anniversaries.

Traditional And Modern Anniversary Gift Lists

The traditional anniversary gift list matches up key natural and economic resources with milestone anniversaries. We like to celebrate by linking and combining things that we feel are important. Because of this, over time our priorities have shifted, leading to a “modern anniversary gift list” to be developed. No matter if you like to keep up with trends or enjoy sticking to traditions, these anniversary lists can give you the inspiration to find the most thoughtful gift for your spouse.

You can easily mix in personal gifts with every 5 or 10-year milestone traditional gifts, or go all-in and try to match each and every year up with the traditional gift. Here are just a few examples of traditional wedding anniversary gift themes in the US:

  • 1st Wedding Anniversary: Paper
  • 2nd Wedding Anniversary: Cotton
  • 3rd Wedding Anniversary: Leather
  • 4th Wedding Anniversary: Fruit or Flowers
  • 5th Wedding Anniversary: Wood
  • 10th Wedding Anniversary: Tin or Aluminum
  • 20th Wedding Anniversary: China
  • 25th Wedding Anniversary: Silver
  • 30th Wedding Anniversary: Pearl
  • 50th Wedding Anniversary: Gold

If you want some great 4th-anniversary gift ideas, the year of fruit and flowers, check out this list by GiftWits. Your traditional gift-giving can be subtle or creative and doesn’t always have to be on-the-nose. For example, paper is given on the first anniversary. You don’t have to give your lover a nice stationery set, the paper could be plane tickets to the Bahamas.

The traditional list is centuries old, so it’s been updated. Some people love the new categories because they fit in more with modern life. Other people say this modern list is already outdated and choose their own gift themes. You’ll notice a few of the bigger milestone years didn’t change such as gold for the 50th anniversary. Here are just a few examples of modern wedding anniversary gift themes in the US:

  • 1st Wedding Anniversary: Clocks
  • 2nd Wedding Anniversary: China
  • 3rd Wedding Anniversary: Crystal
  • 4th Wedding Anniversary: Appliances
  • 5th Wedding Anniversary: Silverware
  • 10th Wedding Anniversary: Diamond Jewelry
  • 20th Wedding Anniversary: Platinum
  • 25th Wedding Anniversary: Silver
  • 30th Wedding Anniversary: Diamonds
  • 50th Wedding Anniversary: Gold

Challenges Of Anniversary Gift Giving

Some of these traditional anniversary gifts can be challenging for a variety of reasons. First of all, the cost could be a burden. Gift-giving should be fun and not super stressful. If you can’t afford real China, rubies or jade, don’t be discouraged. Simply replace the gift with something personal that your partner will adore. Cultural differences could also throw a wrench in the traditional gift-giving list. Did you know that some cultures actually have superstitions around gifts that could lead to some unintentional offense being given along with the gift? Some of the more interesting cultural gift-giving taboos were talked about recently by The Huffington Post.

  • In some countries, giving sharp gifts is considered bad manners. So don’t give a pocket knife to your spouse if they come from Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, or Egypt.
  • If you give a purse or wallet, some cultures might expect you to put some money inside, as a symbol of good luck.
  • In China and with some other Asian cultures, mirrors are ways to attract unwanted supernatural entities, so maybe steer clear of giving them as gifts. Mirror breakage is also a huge no-no in lots of countries, including the US.

One more common complexity to anniversary gifts is finding the perfect gift for someone that seems to already have everything they want. If you’re blessed to be able to afford all that you want, or your life is already full because of family and friends, then trying to come up with a special gift can be a daunting task. Try one of these ideas from Forbes Magazine:

  • Gift them with a charming stay while on vacation. Airbnb has gift cards, and they make a great gift for someone that does a lot of traveling.
  • World Wildlife Fund or Local Zoo adoptions. Sponsor an endangered animal in the name of your loved one.
  • Fill in the family tree with a DNA testing kit. Finally figure out what percent Native American you really are, or are not. Just for fun.



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