A lot of crazy talk happens around weddings. One of the places where the talk gets craziest is about gifts. I’ll be the first to admit that gifts are tricky, sometimes. We’ve all given gifts that bombed, received gifts that made us cringe inside, and watched people open gifts that made us hold our collective breaths while we wait to see how the insult inside that pretty box is handled. But all in all, gift giving and gift receiving oughtn’t to be such a mine field. After all, most people genuinely hope the gifts they give will be enjoyable and useful to the recipient, and most gift receivers honestly want to be able to enjoy what’s under the wrapping. When it comes right down to it, we remember the horrible gift mistakes so much precisely because they’re fairly rare.
But because we’re human, we seem to have an innate need to complicate simple things. So let’s take a look at a couple myths about gifts that tend to complicate our lives and see what baggage we can unload right here and now to reduce bridal (and guestal!) stress.
Myth 1: Your Gift Should Cover Your Plate. This is probably the single most annoying myth going. It’s the kudzu of etiquette mythology. It’s a completely crap thing that nobody wants and is nearly impossible to eradicate. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of etiquette.
How the myth got started, I have no idea, but simply put this is the concept that you should spend at least as much on your gift to the happy couple as they spent on feeding and entertaining you. Because of this myth, many a person has missed the wedding of someone they love dearly or gone into debt to come up with a gift ‘grand’ enough to suit the purpose. This is horrible.
The reality is that etiquette requires no gift at all from wedding guests. A guest who arrives bearing nothing more than a heartfelt congratulatory note is being absolutely polite. What’s more, ‘cover your plate’ is an etiquette nightmare on more than one front. After all, it’s amazingly rude to try to sit down and calculate the precise amount of money someone spent on entertaining you! Miss Manners would have a very quiet fit about that, and rightly so.
Myth 2: It’s Rude To Put Expensive Things On Your Gift Registry. Funny, that, since one of the reasons gift registries got started in the first place was so that guests had a handy idea of what china and silver patterns the happy couple wanted. These things never came cheap.
Look, registries fall under the category of useful things etiquette turns a (mostly) blind eye toward so long as you don’t make a public spectacle of yourself about it. It’s along the lines of the letters to Santa you may have written as a child: it’s a wish list, not marching orders. And yes, it’s fine to put that big screen TV or professional grade stand mixer on your wish list… so long as you also remember that casserole dishes and washcloths and wooden spoons are good things to have, too. You know, sort of like how that letter to Santa included a box of new crayons as well as the pony you probably never got. But some kid out there did get a pony for Christmas, and you never know when several people will get together and chip in for that HD3-D TV!
Myth 3: It’s Rude To Give Things That Aren’t On the Registry. To this I can only say poppycock! With a side of balderdash! Remember where I said gift registries are like letters to Santa? Yeah, I bet you didn’t complain too badly when you got toys, games, and so on that you didn’t ask Santa to bring you. Sometimes the best gifts are the things you couldn’t have asked for because they weren’t in a catalogue or sitting on the shelf of a store.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the pots, pans, towels, sheets, and gadgets Mr. Twistie and I registered for and got. There are people I think of and thank silently every time I use the knife or pan they gave us. But I’m touched that there were also people who gave us their time and talents. One friend did a lovely counted cross stitch picture for us. She has since died, unfortunately, and it’s the only piece of her needlework I have. But because of it, she’s with me every day. Another good friend made us a fabulous original quilt with the story of our lives and our love on it. It’s absolutely unique and keeps us snuggly warm on winter nights. Yet another friend gave us one of his original paintings. You can’t register for stuff like that.
Myth 4: If You Don’t Want Gifts, Print a Note On Your Invitation. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Remember what I said in Myth 1 about how it’s perfectly polite to show up at a wedding with nothing but congratulations to offer? Yeah, that’s because wedding gifts – while popular and more than acceptable – are not required. Putting something in writing on your invitation tells everyone that you are expecting gifts, which is not terribly polite. Yes, I know you are expecting gifts, but this is one of those cases where it’s considered a little greedy looking to say so, even if what you’re saying is ‘look, I know you’re planning on giving me things, but I’d really rather you saved your money and forgot about it.’ Why? Because gifts are not actually required. They are an optional extra that the guest may choose to give. Saying ‘don’t give me one’ assumes that the optional is required until you release people from their obligation.
But what if you really don’t want gifts? Well, you get that word out the same way you do about where you’re registered: by word of mouth, sans a big announcement. Let everyone in your family and bridal party know that you really don’t need gifts, and let them quietly pass the word around your circle for you. This is also the proper way to let it be known that what you really want is cold, hard cash or donations to your favorite charity, too.
Myth 5: You Have a Year To Write Your Thank You Notes. Actually, the guests have a year to choose to give you a wedding gift… and that’s really not a terribly hard and fast rule, either. That quilt I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it didn’t actually wind up on our bed for about thirteen years. Long story, but we weren’t going to kick it out of bed for being a little late.
But thank you notes should be written as soon as possible. In fact, wedding gifts are most properly delivered to the bride’s home before the wedding. The old tradition was to display the wedding gifts at the wedding, though that has – thankfully! – fallen into disfavor and mostly disappeared over the last few decades. Still, since the idea behind wedding gifts is to help the couple set up their new home with everything they need, the idea is still also that they ought to arrive before the wedding day so that when the happy couple return from their honeymoon, they can go straight to their already stocked home.
That means that if anyone follows that aspect of wedding etiquette, you should stand at the ready with stationery, stamps, and your best penmanship to send out those thank you notes before the wedding day. Any gifts that arrive the day of the wedding or after your return from your honeymoon… do your best to get those thanks out within the first two or three months of your marriage. And always remember, two people got married, so unless your new spouse broke a dominant wrist while rock climbing… you can share that particular load freely.