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Do People Really Buy Traditional Anniversary Gifts?

You’ve heard about the silver or gold anniversaries, but do you really want to celebrate the paper anniversary?

When it comes to proper wedding etiquette, there’s never a shortage of suggestions for all those little dos and don’ts. To some extent, the same can be said for wedding anniversary gifts. Those anonymous rule makers even created a list of gift suggestions to symbolize each year of wedded bliss, just to throw you a curve — and that list seems a little wonky. After all, there aren’t many people who would be over the moon about receiving a ream of paper for their first wedding anniversary, right?

Looking over the traditional anniversary gift list, the old adage that good things come to those who wait is apparently true — the longer you stay married, the bigger the prize! But all cynicism aside, here’s some information about the history of “the list” and how you can use it to help guide you in choosing the perfect gift to celebrate the day you said, “I do.”

There aren't many people who would be over the moon about receiving a ream of paper for their first wedding anniversary, right?

Medieval times

No one knows for sure who conjured the traditional list of giving a specific anniversary gift based on the number of years a couple has been married. Some speculate it dates back to the Middle Ages in Germanic Europe, where silver or gold garlands were given by the husband to the wife to symbolize the 25th or 50th years of marriage. Others say it was fueled by the Victorian era, when oral histories and traditions were more often cataloged.

Wedding anniversary symbols began with simple materials, like paper, and gradually increased in substance and value to reflect the investment of time spent together — a progressive strengthening of the marriage, so to speak. The passing of another year marked a deepening of the couple’s commitment to each other.

Admittedly, the original list feels very Emily Post-esque. In fact, she started filling in the blanks back in 1922. Prior to 1937, only the first, fifth, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 50th and 75th wedding anniversary had a specific material associated with it. But after that, the American National Retail Jeweler Association built upon the etiquette queen’s ideas to create a more comprehensive list, which associated a material for each anniversary year up to the 20th, and then every five years after that up to the 75th — with the head-scratching omission of the 65th.

Later on, a second, more modern list (note that the word “modern” is used loosely) was created. This new list swapped out traditional gifts for their more contemporary counterparts, with clocks being given instead of paper for the first anniversary, silverware in lieu of wood for the fifth, and so on. It is believed the thought behind this modern list was to give household items to the happy couple to help them build a new home together, an extension of a wedding gift. Luxury gifts — like diamonds and gold — were given further down the road when the couple had already acquired all the things they needed. 

Today’s interpretations

So, what exactly does all this mean for you? Are you in danger of making a major wedding anniversary faux pas and breaking tradition in the process if you steer clear from “the list?” Absolutely not! This list is totally open to interpretation and should be viewed as a starting point to inspire you to get creative with your anniversary gift giving. Some even admit that it helps take some of the guesswork out of the process.

For instance, the traditional gift for the first year is paper, which symbolizes the strength of interlocking fibers. The modern first anniversary gift is a clock, which represents endless love. Instead of offering your beloved a ream of paper, consider taking pen to paper instead and writing a love letter or poem. Or how about tickets to a dream destination? If you decide to skip tradition and make a modern move, consider a watch with an inscription on the back or a clock charm and bracelet that you can add to as you celebrate that special day each year.

Here’s another example. The traditional third anniversary gift is leather. The durability of the material is synonymous with the strength of your marriage. Ironically, the modern-day gift is crystal or glass, which can be easily shattered. Go figure. Opt for a piece of leather jewelry, like a bracelet or perhaps a wallet or leather-bound first edition from a favorite author. For a modern take, anything sparkly will do, from a diamond pendant to a crystal vase filled with flowers.

It's the thought

While symbolic gestures are lovely, it’s more about the thought you’ve put into the gift than the gift itself your significant other will appreciate. It shows you took the time to really consider what they would like and the types of things meaningful to them. And that’s a gift in and of itself; one that money just can't buy.

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