The Gift of Your Presence? What About the Presents?

Depending on your age or the economic realities of your social circle, it may come to pass that you find yourself invited to a wedding where the couple is older, well-established, and successful. In other words, they have everything they want and can easily buy anything they want but don’t yet have. You may receive a wedding invitation with a note like “May your presence at our wedding be your only gift to us” or hear through the grapevine that the bride and groom have stated that they really, truly, for real this time do not want any gifts.


Now we all know by now that traditional etiquette frowns upon any mention of gifts in an invitation, because it’s simply not nice to tell people how they should spend or not spend their money and the guests of honor should be focusing on the presence of guests rather than the presence of presents. So let’s just say that our hypothetical bride and groom have let family members or the bridal party spread the word that they’d rather not get wedding gifts.

What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!

You could abide by the bride and groom’s wishes, though we all know that’s not going to happen. Because, yeah, showing up for a wedding empty handed or knowing that you’ve bought nothing ahead of time (other than a snazzy new dress) to mark the occasion can feel a little weird. Guilt-inducing, even. My suggestion will always be skip the tea towels or the candle stand. In fact, skip anything that’s not either consumable or small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. Why? Because a lot of brides and grooms who specifically ask that their wedding guests not give them wedding gifts do so because they’d rather not deal with more stuff in their lives.

So think small or edible or drinkable if you simply must buy our hypothetical couple a gift… try a nice bottle of champagne or wine of some meaningful vintage or chocolates — but do be sure the recipients will enjoy consuming your gift — or an ornament marking the year they are marrying or gift certificates to local restaurants or hotspots so their honeymoon can last that much longer. It’s win-win this way. You can satisfy your overwhelming urge to give and the bride and groom won’t have to sift through that much more stuff.

(On the flip side, if you ARE the bride or the groom and don’t want wedding presents, spread the word in a mannerly way by asking your mom, dad, sister, brother, best friend, maid of honor, and bridesmaids to let everyone know that you’d prefer other guests not give gifts. And when the inevitable gifts do roll in, be a sweetie-pie and accept them graciously and with gratitude.)

7 Responses to “The Gift of Your Presence? What About the Presents?”

  1. Anne says:

    Or give what you would spend on a gift to a charity you know is important to the bride and groom! My fiance and I are one of the older couples who do not want or need more stuff. We plan to register with the charity Heifer, which provides people in developing nations with livestock and training in animal husbandry.

  2. Stephanie says:

    We tried to be adamant about no gifts because we move so often we really, really didn’t want more stuff. But we also really, really enjoyed the champagne, chocolates, and restaurant gift certificates people ended up giving us, which continuously reminded us of the celebration for weeks afterward.

  3. bobbie-sue says:

    We have a number of charities listed at the TOP of our registries page on the wedsite, and whenever someone asks where we’re registered I mention this first, then complain about how much stuff we had to get rid of when we combined our households to help get the point across that we don’t need stuff. We were also very selective when we did a department store registry, since we know some people will feel the need to buy us stuff. Towels and bed linens are always in need, but we didn’t register for china, since already have great dishes.

    The great thing about charitable donations as gifts is that the giver can give as much or as little as they like, and the card that the charity sends out typically doesn’t say the amount, so it truly can be a token.

    Our one engagement gift was a donation to the local Humane Society, and it was very touching because my finacé and I, and the gift giver, all love cats very much. It was definitely more special to us than a place setting could ever be.

  4. daisyj says:

    As much as I love picking out presents, if someone says they don’t want any I am just fine with respecting their wishes. Why shouldn’t I be? After all, gifts are never obligatory, and I would think that goes double if the giftee is happier going without.

  5. Twistie says:

    As daisyj so correctly points out, gifts are never, ever obligatory, and it’s always nicer to respect the wishes of the people you love.

    That said, I’m one of those people who – while I know it is perfectly polite not to bring a gift – just hates the thought of not giving some sort of gift.

    According to etiquette, it is perfectly proper to send nothing but a congratulatory note…but nothing says that note has to be a Hallmark card with your signature attached. If a couple I knew truly didn’t want to receive traditional wedding gifts, I think I would write them a letter full of congratulations and memories of good times and bad we’d spent together.

    And I must admit if I had the cash to spare, I might well throw in a couple passes to their favorite movie theater or a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, or send a donation to a charity I know means a great deal to them both, or even include a gift card to a grocery store that carries gourmet treats. Why? Because it’s something they’ll enjoy but don’t have to dust. And because if I’m invited to a wedding, it’s most likely because the couple is someone important in my life. I know it’s perfectly correct not to give a gift whether or not the couple quietly lets everyone know they don’t want anything…but I really, really have difficulty practicing the restraint involved.

    Of course, the impulse to give could also be channeled into an invitation to a really great homemade dinner when the happy couple returns from their honeymoon, too.

    Just as not giving a wedding gift is never incorrect, offering up a gift of some sort is nearly never incorrect. Base your decision on the needs, desires, and circumstances of everyone involved, and you really can’t go too far wrong.

  6. I had friends in their 40’s who were getting married and had, in their combined households, just about everything and anything you’d find on a “new” bride’s registry.

    I got creative. I went to a local wine store and spent some time with one of their knowledgeable sales folks. I knew my friends were big wine drinkers, so I wanted something that would appeal now… or later. I ended up plunking down $100 for a bottle of good Tawny Port.

    The card attached read, “Like your relationship now, this wine is sweet and wonderful; like your relationship, it will become richer and mellower with time. Drink it now in good health, or save it for your 0th or 20th anniversary, savor its complexity and depth, and remember the friend who had faith you’d make it that long and longer still.”

  7. That’s lovely, Omnius Driver!