“Wedding gifts may be practical or fanciful, inexpensive or extravagant,
but each one represents the giver’s happiness for the bride and groom.”
~ Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette – 6th Edition 2014
by Anna Post and Lizzie Post
Whether the gift is for the engagement; shower; wedding; or gifts of appreciation to the wedding attendants, party hosts, officiant or others, it is important that both recipients and givers observe the etiquette involved, underlying which are respect, consideration, kindness and empathy. Thus, I’d like to reiterate some past advice add some new thoughts.
From the Viewpoint of the Guest
- You Decide – It is up to you to decide the gift you wish to give for any wedding event, including engagement, shower, bachelor or bachelorette, and all other wedding occasions up to and including the wedding gift itself. You may or may not select something from the bridal registry, give a cash gift (always appreciated) or give a creative gift of your choosing which could include a handmade item if you are an artist or craftsman, or depending on your finances honeymoon tickets or anything that you feel is something the couple would love, appreciate and use. Your gift should also be in line with what you can comfortably afford.
- That Said, Join In – While the rules of etiquette say that no one must give a gift, social convention expects it. Thus, if invited to a wedding or related function and you accept it would be thoughtless and awkward to say the least if you fail to send or bring a gift. Aside from failing to acknowledge your inclusion in the couple’s milestone event you leave yourself open to standing out in a bad way for being a — or perhaps the — guest who did not give a gift. And although it is also a violation of etiquette standards for the bride or groom or any member of the families to ever say anything to anyone about the lack of a gift, people can and do harbor disappointment and ill will because of such an oversight. So if you accept an invitation, give a gift; if you cannot accept an invitation but are close to the bride and groom, still send a gift.
- One Gift Per Couple or Family – Couples (including guests and plus ones) or immediate family members (father, mother and children) are expected to give one gift collectively rather than individually.
- Send Wedding Gifts, Don’t Bring Them – Sending wedding gifts is much more thoughtful than bringing them to the wedding ceremony or reception. The bride and groom will appreciate your gift no matter what, but the wedding party will have their hands full enough on the wedding day without having to handle more details. If it becomes necessary to bring a gift or card with you to the wedding, ask one of the attendants, parents of the couple or wedding planner (if there is one) to whom you should give the gift. Traditionally, the father of the bride, best man or even the groom accepted cards on behalf of the couple, and that is still the case in some weddings. But a modern trend to provide a decorative box to receive cards (more about that below) has become common, and there always has been a room or table designated to place wrapped gifts brought to the reception.
- Give Your Gift Promptly – Generally, providing a gift any time before the wedding is optimal; you might want to wait until the couple publishes their registry to get some ideas what they are wishing for. But at least give your gift as soon after the wedding as possible. Someone started the rumor some time ago that a guest can wait up to a year after the wedding to give a gift, but that is not true.
- Don’t Give Cash – I mean don’t give real cash — the paper money kind (is that still around?). And although checks, gift cards and online gifts are usually the way monetary gifts are given these days it bears reminding. Tucking cash in a card can too easily be lost, misplaced or even stolen.
- When Your Gift Is Not Acknowledged – If you do not receive an acknowledgement (i.e., thank you note) that your gift has been received within a reasonable period after sending it or having it shipped — even with delivery confirmations from the store or shipper — feel free to contact the mother-of-the-bride or the bride herself. Very often packages go astray despite the tracking information, so it is both sensible and acceptable to follow up. Be very gracious and understanding if the couple confirms receipt but hasn’t yet thanked you; oversights occur and you are in a position to be gracious. On the other hand, if the gift was not received, you have at least been alerted to find out what happened and to trace the gift.
From the Viewpoint of the Wedding Couple
- Gifts Are Voluntary – Remember that wedding, engagement and other wedding-related gift-giving opportunities are all voluntary. While social convention expects guests to give gifts, wedding etiquette does not require anyone to give gifts to the wedding couple. Therefore, avoid any appearance of entitlement with regard to gifts. The one exception is the bridal or couples shower that is the one wedding event that is designed solely for the purpose of “showering” the bride or the couple with gifts.
- Be Clear About What You Want – People will give you gifts whether they have been given guidance or not, so it is to the advantage of both the bride and groom and their wedding guests to provide such guidance through wedding gift registries, word of mouth via the parents of the wedding couple and members of the wedding party.
- Receiving Gifts – Unless otherwise indicated on your wedsite and / or gift registry where you wish to have wedding gifts sent, guests typically will send them to the return address on your wedding invitation or the address on your reply envelope, so make sure that’s where you want gifts to be sent. For gifts that are brought to the wedding designate someone to receive cards and gifts and have a place set aside for wrapped gifts to be stored until they can be removed and kept safely for the bride and groom to collect later.
- Acknowledge Gifts With Grace and Gratitude – Upon receiving a wedding, engagement or other gift in connection with your wedding, acknowledge it immediately with a quick and gracious phone call, email or — if it is from a close friend or family member — a text. (Texts are very informal, so use them appropriately; if in doubt, leave them out and go the phone or email route.) Follow up the immediate “thank you” with a handwritten note or card within a few weeks (not a few months as some advise). Keeping on top of handwritten thank-you notes as gifts arrive will prevent having to write out dozens or hundreds after the honeymoon!
A Few Words About the Wedding Gift/Greeting Box
Traditionally cards, usually with cash or checks enclosed, that were brought to a wedding were given to the father of the bride, the best man or even the groom, although the latter usually has had his hands full just getting through the day! Wrapped gifts were received by the bridesmaids and placed in a separate room to be taken home by the parents of the bride to hold for the bride and groom. Such gifts were always received graciously and with sincere thanks by the designees in a low-key and discreet manner, for just as one does when receiving a hostess gift, quiet thanks are given and then the gift is put aside to open later in order not to make other guests uncomfortable. Gifts come in all sizes, creative and monetary value and aside from the bridal shower they should not be paraded or shown off. An old custom when a wedding was held in the home of the bride, generally a woman of personal or family means, involved all the wedding gifts received to date being isplayed lavishly for all the guests to survey; I find this custom very materialistic and in opposition of the essence of a wedding celebration, which is the joyful commemoration of two people making the most important commitments of their lives to each other.
This brings me to the modern trend of having a box at the cocktail hour or reception to collect cash wedding from guests who chose to bring them to the wedding instead of sending them directly to the bride and groom. In many cultures, this is the custom and it is expected that guests will bring monetary gifts to the wedding reception; in that case, the bride and groom might choose to have a central repository for such gifts rather than designate members of the family or wedding party to receive them and place them in a designated safe place. Italian weddings, for example, often have a Busta Box on a table at the end of the receiving line.
However, wedding receptions are not banks and shouldn’t give that appearance. And to add to the feeling that a reception is a bank, the theft of wedding card boxes apparently is fairly widespread considering the number of websites that contain personal accounts of such thefts as well as advice on how to avoid them! But as the wedding card box has caught on and now come in various attractive and creative styles, brides want them and we need to decide how to present and protect them properly.
I believe that one way to add more grace to the box, and make it appear less like a bank repository, is to present it as a multi-purpose box, as many couples have done. I especially like signage along the lines of, “Marriage Advice, Good Wishes and Other Messages,” for example, with a stack of small cards (without envelopes) and pens on the table beside it for guests to write such advice and personal notes. In many cases, the wedding card box has replaced the traditional guest book in which guests sign and write a personal message to the newlyweds.
And, of course, arrangement should be made to have the box watched by a responsible person and removed to a safe place once the cocktail reception is over and before the reception gets into full swing.
Give Them What They Want
Newlyweds starting out together, no matter what their age, know what material things they need to establish the life they want. This could be buying a house, traveling, furnishing their home or supplementing their own items they already have merged. And knowing that family and friends will want to present them with gifts they will register for the things they want, or drop hints or have their parents spread the word. Thus, it is the thoughtful giver that gives the couple what they want and balances sentiment with practicality. I certainly want to know that my gift is being put to good use rather than collecting dust somewhere on a shelf out of site. And the bride and groom will think of you fondly if you give them something for which they have been wishing and dreaming.
With some thought and careful planning gift giving and receiving can achieve long-lasting enjoyment, loving memories and deep appreciation.
Until next time,