Wedding Gifts 101

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about that white elephant in the room, wedding gifts.

I know the thought causes an amazing range of emotions from absolute joy to abject terror to… well… whatever it happens to stir up in you. Some people think gifts are the best part of getting married, while others would rather discuss having public rectal surgery than consider the possibility of more stuff in their lives.

Honestly, I don’t care which camp you’re in or whether you’re somewhere in between. This is not my concern. After all, I did my thing. It’s done. This isn’t about how you should feel about wedding gifts or whether it’s okay to want or not want them. This is about the practical aspects of handling this particular part of getting married. If you want pressies, that’s great. If you don’t want them, that’s great, too. But the fact is you will have to deal with the question, and with people who make choices that don’t necessarily match your wishes.

Here’s the deal.

1: You may express your wishes… but there’s a proper way to do it, and then there are not so proper ways. Never, ever, ever mention gifts on your wedding invitation. Even if what you want to print on them is that you don’t want presents, it’s not the right way to do it. You see, even though many of us think of wedding gifts as an obligation, they are not actually required. To put anything about them on your invitation is to assume that people are getting you gifts, and to make them feel obligated even more than they are by expectation. This is profoundly rude.

So how do you correctly get across the idea that you’d rather not get more stuff? How do you explain that you’d prefer a gift to your favorite charity in your name? Or even that you prefer cold, hard cash to china settings? First off, you don’t register for gifts anywhere. Then you tell everyone in your wedding party what your preferences are. If anyone asks you directly or asks a member of your family or wedding party, you/they can then say ‘Oh, Jared and Pansy already have so much, they’d really prefer a donation be sent to greyhound rescue in their name’ or ‘You know, Joe and Penny are in the market for a house and they could really use help scraping up a down payment’ or ‘Really, Jeff and Patty consider your attendance and support the most precious gift they could receive.’ As for registry information, it is passed the same way: by word of mouth.

2: Of course expressing your wishes does not actually obligate anyone to follow them. Sure, you told people not to give you gifts, but then stuff starts arriving anyway. It happens. As I said, gifts are not obligatory, but many people would no more consider arriving at a wedding sans a gift than they would think of skydiving without a parachute. That means you need to be ready to accept a few gifts even if you didn’t want them in the first place. Be gracious, send a thank you note, and if you really, really hate it, quietly sell it at your first garage sale or exchange it for something you can use. This goes for things that weren’t on the registry list you made, too.

3: If you do want gifts and choose to register, think about what is convenient for your guests as well as what you want. More and more of us have our friends and family scattered all over the country, or even all over the world. Consider registering online or at a place that has stores everywhere you have guests coming from. You can even register in more than one place… just try to register for different things at the different places so you don’t wind up with three times the towels you need!

Also make sure you have things in a variety of price points. Putting a few small kitchen gadgets or a couple terra cotta pots for your herb garden offers a welcome option to financially strapped friends and relatives. On the other hand, I consider putting a really pricey thing or two on the list something along the lines of that pony I kept asking Santa to bring. Don’t expect it to happen… but there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’d like a 3-D TV or some sterling silver. And you never know, a group of your buddies might just decide to band together to give you something you really didn’t expect.

After all, while I never did, some little girl out there got her Christmas pony.

4: While gifts are properly sent to the bride before the wedding, guests will bring gifts to the wedding reception itself. You see, the happy couple shouldn’t have to deal with the logistics of carting home piles of gifts when they may be in a hurry to catch a flight… or even just catch some Zs after the big event, and that’s why gifts are best given before the wedding. But goodness knows I’ve been That Person carrying a carefully wrapped gift into the reception. Someone will bring a check or a cookware set or a garden gnome with them.

Set up a table off in a corner to hold the gifts, and then make sure someone is keeping an eye on it at all times. The more public your wedding reception site, the more important that pair of eyes becomes. Our wedding was held in private on a spot that took some work to find, so our gift table was pretty safe. But if your reception is being held in a hotel or a restaurant, then safety first! It’s not the most common thing, but people have been known to come into someone’s large reception held in a public place and help themselves to some of those packages… particularly the slender envelope kind.

Oh, and resist the temptation to open your gifts publicly. Duplicate gifts (and these will happen, even with a registry and careful monitoring) will be opened in front of the people who gave them, and sometimes it’s hard to reign in a look of horror at a really, really unwelcome gift. There’s just too much chance of embarrassment for all involved.

After the party is over, make sure you’ve designated someone to cart all the gifts to a place where they’ll be safe and sound until you have a chance to open them at your leisure.

5: Yes, you have to send thank you notes. Even if you weren’t expecting it, even if you hate it with the fury of a thousand raging Pamplonan bulls, even if you opened it in front of the giver and squealed in delight, you still have to send thank you notes. Just get some pretty cards, make sure you have plenty of stamps on hand, use your nicest pen, and don’t let your new spouse off the hook. After all, these are wedding presents and two of you got married.

Keep it simple, mention how you intend to use the gift (or get appropriately vague if you’re ditching it at the earliest possible convenience), and do your best to appreciate the sentiment and effort, even if the outcome isn’t what you’d hoped for.

5 Responses to “Wedding Gifts 101”

  1. Lisa says:

    I was in a wedding a few years ago where one of the wedding-weekend “events” was watching the bride and groom open their gifts. Oh my gosh, was that awkward! I was a poor grad student living in a shithole apartment at the time, so attending the “gift opening” felt like (a) being called out for bringing a tiny gift, and (b) purposely being made to feel really envious, then miserable for being so envious. Yikes. My fellow and I will definitely be opening our gifts privately and thanking people individually.

  2. Katie says:

    We registered with a company that had a physical store, as well as online purchasing. Our younger guests loved it. We also left a list with Mum, which was mainly used by older guests.
    We put a $600 telescope on the registry, and broke it up in to shares, thinking we might get a couple of contributions, but not really expecting to get it. My husband’s bosses bought it! You never know who is going to be insanely generous!

  3. Ravna says:

    We are going half traditional with this one. In my husbands home country they don’t give gifts. At the wedding reception people from the bridal party dance solo dances and guests toss money on the floor all evening. Then you have two people who sit at a table and if you want a thank you card you donate any amount of money. The only thing shown will be that you donated and never the amount. At the end of the feast someone (often the parent or siblings) gather the money on the floor and add that to the “Guest book” money and later put it into the account of the couple after paying the wedding vendor. The wedding vendor never demands payment before the feast but a week after when they have calculated the cost. Since most weddings have over 200 guests almost always you can pay off the entire wedding feast, clothing, rings and sometimes even furniture for your future home with that money. We will not expect someone to throw money whilst dancing but we will have a treasure chest where people will be able to donate money instead of gifts. We have enough trinkets as it is, what I really want is a 7 day cruise on a small yacht in Turkey.

  4. lali says:

    Different strokes for different folks. In my home country, gifts — which are expected — are often brought to the reception venue where they are piled on a table (gifts from immediate family and friends may have been given earlier). Depending on which part of the country you are in, you may expect the gifts to be opened during the reception with the contents and givers announced over the sound system — and guests may try to top what someone else gave by adding cash to the pot. (“On top of the refrigerator she is giving, Tita Lila also giving the happy couple 10,000 Pesos!”) In other parts of the country the couple perform a “money dance” in which money is pinned on the couple — sometimes long strings of notes and foreign currency — as they dance their first dance. It can come up to a tidy sum.

  5. bridal girl says:

    Well, I love gifts and I also like giving one if I attend weddings. I do remember my own wedding and when we had to open few gifts for some pictures. We just took the two of the biggest ones so that we can open the rest later. It doesn’t matter what we get as long as they remembered us, then that’s fine.