September 21st, 2018

Wedding gift etiquette

This post is a bit off-brand, but I read a really egregious wedding-gift-etiquette post this morning–it very strongly implied you should attempt to “cover” the cost of whatever wedding catering you eat with the cost of the gift you give, with the kind of caveat “Of course you don’t have to but c’mon everyone knows you should.” Um, no. Also, I was chatting with a newly engaged woman on the weekend and threw out some random wedding etiquette facts from when I was researching weddings in 2012 when I got married, and I got some looks–I know a LOT. When I research, I really research, and since I don’t intend to get married again, all that info is just sitting in my head, going to waste. So here it all is–wedding gift etiquette! Everything I know!

1. You never have to give a wedding gift. It’s not a rule of etiquette by any respected authority I’ve ever seen. In fact, of all the occasions commonly celebrated in North America where there are often gifts given–birthdays, engagements, retirements, etc., etc., etc.,–the only ones I’m aware of where a gift is an obligation of attending are showers, wedding and baby. Shower is a short form of shower with gifts, and gifts are the point of those events–if you don’t want to/can’t give a gift, send regrets and that gets you out of the obligation. For everything else, gifts are optional. Pretty often, we WANT to give gifts because we want to celebrate the people involved and gift-giving is one way that a lot of people do that, but everything from the whether to the when to the how much is up to us.

2. While not a regulation, gifts are certainly a norm. Most people do give and expect gifts as most weddings. Etiquette experts have been talking for years about how weddings are celebrations of love with one’s nearest and dearest and not a transaction, but if the culture in your family say you owe your cousin at least a dust-buster to cover your chicken cordon-bleu, then that’s the culture in your family and your cousin won’t be less mad if you tell her no dust buster and also she’s wrong. Also many cultural groups consider money the only acceptable gift and some consider it a terrible gift; some hate registries and some hate people who don’t have registries. I don’t know what to tell you except know who you are dealing with.

3. Wedding gift-giving is not affected by attendance. Unlike the showers mentioned above, which are really in-person-only affairs, whether you attend a wedding or not should not affect whether you give a gift. In fact, some people will give a nicer gift if they don’t go because they have more space in their budget due to not having to pay for travel, hotel, party clothes. That’s certainly not an expectation though. Basically, if you don’t go, you just send the gift you would have given anyway. If you weren’t going to give a gift, I would strongly encourage a card–in all cases, but especially if you’re not going. A lot of people (myself included) feel their weddings are a really important day in their lives and if your only response is “not coming” and then silence, that is easy to think that you are trying to end the friendship.

4. Wedding registries are suggestions not requirements. Registries of any type are supposed to be helpful ways to feel confident you have bought the couple a gift they will like and use. Thoughtful couples will select items in a wide range of price points, and thoughtful guests who wish to spend on the high end will not simply buy up a bunch of the low-priced items because that is a dick move. Other ways to feel confident you given the couple a gift they will like and use include giving money, giving gift cards to a store or restaurant or other place you know they like, or knowing them so well you can figure out a non-registry, non-cash/card gift that you feel confident they will enjoy. There is no hierarchy among these choices.

5. There is no minimum amount to spend on wedding gifts. You just give what you can afford and want to give, period. This was actually a lot easier when I was broke, as there was a hard upper limit, the end. I once gave a pair of newlyweds a $15 board game and felt proud of myself because it was on sale and I wrapped it nicely, so it seemed slightly more expensive. For weddings during periods of financial turmoil where I’ve had to travel to be there, folks have gotten a pretty card with nothing inside but my heartfelt good wishes–by strict budgetary standards, I probably shouldn’t have even been there, so a gift was out of the question. Once I was making a decent living it got more confusing because what I could “afford” was relative. Basically I try to find a nice present on the registry that I feel good about giving. Also getting married myself was useful, as people gave us gifts and I learned what those people consider a nice gift!

6. Don’t bring gifts to the ceremony or reception. Even fairly etiquette-savvy people don’t seem to know this one and thus there will usually be a card box and gift table at most receptions (not at the ceremony–no one is ready for gifts at the ceremony and you’ll wind up having to hold the boxed dust-buster in your lap) but it’s really not ideal. If the reception is in a banquet hall where the public or even just guests at other events have access, someone will need to watch the gift table and card box to make sure nothing is stolen and as the night wears on and drinks flow, that’s harder to do. Everyone has heard a story about a wedding-gift robbery–those are both awkward and depressing. Also, at the end of the night the gifts need to be taken somewhere–challenging if they are big, extra-challenging if gifts are fragile and whoever is doing the loading is drunk. Stemware gets broken, gifts get separated from their cards and no one ever knows who gave the dust buster, and if the couple is leaving immediately on their honeymoon or even just is driving a smaller car, now it’s a storage concern for someone. Send the gifts to their home before or after the wedding.

7. Be ok with not receiving a thank you note. The etiquette rules are pretty clear on this–wedding thank you notes should be sent within a few months and they should be a personal note about the thing you actually gave, not a pre-printed “Thanks for giving a thing!” But etiquette isn’t a contest and so many people don’t send wedding thank you notes that it’s wise to check yourself ahead of time for how much resentment you might harbour if you don’t get one and if it’s “tonnes” just don’t give a gift. And relying on thank you notes to confirm that the gift even made it to the recipient is not a great plan–per #6, have it sent to their home with a tracking number or use the registry to track.

8. If it’s driving you crazy, stop. One of the worst things about etiquette is that it can sometimes feels like we serve it and have to do whatever etiquette says, instead of the truth, that etiquette was created to help us maintain good relationships. If etiquette drives people to not like each other, they’re doing it wrong. If you are hunting for a wedding gift and angrily thinking/talking about how much you don’t want to buy anything for these people who you barely know/you don’t like/don’t deserve it/have lots of stuff, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t go to the wedding at all and step back from the friendship. Or if it’s just a stress reaction, and actually you do like them, could you just skip the gift and enjoy the wedding with lots of love? Or could you chat with them and mention that you’re stressed/broke right now, but since you’ll be friends forever, there will be a chance down the road for you to get them a nice gift? If you can neither comfortably skip the gift nor comfortably talk to them about it, I’d be back to looking at the relationship itself.

9. My favourite thing I got for my wedding is people coming to my wedding, though they could have been doing anything else that Saturday. My second favourite is towels. Seriously, even if they don’t seem like “fancy bath linens” people, we all have to shower eventually and few of us are that into shopping for towels. Even if they have some nice ones already, time comes for us all and eventually they will get around to using yours. I registered for cheap ones because I felt guilty and also like it didn’t matter, but then Mark’s aunt got us Vera Wang towels somehow (!!!) and when I am buried I want my shroud to be Vera Wang towels. That is all.

2 Responses to “Wedding gift etiquette”

  • Kerry says:

    “If etiquette drives people to not like each other, they’re doing it wrong. ” GENIUS. Though I still have strong feelings about thank you notes…


  • Rebecca Rosenblum says:

    Oh for sure, I think saying thank you for kindness, in material or other form, is super important and also also really not that hard. But also, a lot of people don’t write thank you notes–I’m not wild about it, but absent other evils, I try not to hold it against them.


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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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