Where Logic Meets Love

The Wedding Gift Tradition Has Stopped Making Sense

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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The Wedding Gift Tradition Has Stopped Making Sense | Faith Permeating Life

When we first moved into our new apartment, many of the other hall directors came over to introduce themselves. We did the rounds of each other's apartments, comparing and commenting, and served each other drinks and snacks as we got to know each other.

Inevitably another hall director -- almost all of whom are single -- would comment on something or other in our kitchen.

"I love this spice rack."

"Thanks. It was a wedding present."

"You own a cheese slicer?"

"Yeah. Wedding present."

It soon became embarrassingly clear that just about everything filling the drawers and cabinets of our kitchen and lining our counters was a wedding present.

"Man," they would say, "I want to get married, just so I can get all this stuff."

It's a sentiment I've since heard echoed by my single Twitter friends and others, and I've come to the conclusion that the tradition of giving wedding gifts is completely outdated.

In a time when people often didn't move out of their parents' home until they were married (which tended to be at a relatively young age), I can see how it made sense to equate the occasion of one's wedding with the bestowing of gifts to equip one's home. It was the first time in one's life that necessitated furnishing an entire home, and gifts from friends and family helped offset the cost of starting this "new life" -- not just as a couple but as primary owners or renters of a residence.

But in today's day and age, moving into a home of one's own and getting married often do not coincide. For us, they happened to, since Mike lived with my parents for his first year of grad school while I was still in university housing, and then we both lived with my parents for a short time before finding an apartment a few weeks before our wedding. It seems pretty rare that the timing works out this exactly, and even in our case I had to borrow a bunch of stuff from my mom to be able to cook meals for myself in the few weeks before my new husband -- and all of our wedding gifts -- moved in.

Most people I know got a place of their own either during or after college without having a spouse or significant other living with them. They may have shared with a roommate, but they had to buy a lot of things out of their own pocket -- pots and pans, silverware, towels, lamps, you name it. Then, those who did end up marrying and/or moving in together with another person already had two sets of most things and didn't have a whole lot to fill a wedding registry.

This system, this tradition, that we've had for so long has ceased to make sense in the modern world.

If I could wave a magic wand and change our cultural expectations about the way things are done, this is what I would propose:

We should throw a shower not for brides but for anyone moving into their own place for the first time. It's already customary to bring a "housewarming gift" to someone's new home; why not go a step further and throw an all-out celebration when it's someone's very first new home? Let's replace marriage as some kind of rite of passage into adulthood and instead focus on living independently as the time to bring everyone together to celebrate. This, after all, is the most logical moment at which someone would need a slew of household gifts -- when they are starting their own household. If this does happen to coincide with a marriage, then gifts could be given to the couple together, but that wouldn't be the expectation.

We should give cash gifts (if any) to couples on the occasion of their wedding. I don't want to do away with the tradition of wedding gift-giving altogether. After all, we often give people cards and sometimes gifts in celebration of the anniversary of their birth, so why not give a gift to commemorate this milestone in their relationship? But I think the customary wedding gift should be money, not household items. Couples who need to buy household items could do so, but those who already have one or two sets of household items could put the money toward paying for the wedding or their honeymoon, or building their savings for their life together. This would simplify things by eliminating the issues of duplicate and unwanted gifts, something a couple leaving for a honeymoon doesn't want to have to worry about.

What do you think? If you like this idea, I invite you to share this post -- maybe we can start a revolution!

23 comments:

  1. I've often thought that it makes so much more sense to give people more gifts when they graduate from college. At my high school graduation I remember thinking it was really dumb for me to get all this money right as I was about to go off to college, but when I graduated college and would theoretically be starting out on my own...nothing. For some people, who do not have the support of their parents, getting money for high school graduation is good, but for many others, it makes so much more sense to give these kinds of gifts upon college graduation instead.

    As for the wedding gifts specifically, I think it kind of depends on the couple. When my older sister and her husband got married, they'd both been on their own for a couple of years, so they had a good number of things for their kitchen and stuff, but there were a lot of things that my sister wanted to upgrade or replace, so that's what they requested on their registry.

    Something else I've seen a bit more recently is honeymoon type gifts. Like, if the couple were going to some beach resort, you could buy them a surfing lesson or a special night at a restaurant or something like that, which I think is a neat way to still give gifts for the wedding, even if they don't need the traditional household goods and such.

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    1. That's what my sister is doing for some of her wedding registry. Yes, she and her fiance need some of the basic household needs. However, they are going to Disney for their honey moon. Apparently Disney has this awesome wedding registry where guests can help pay for parts of their trip. They could pay for a meal pass or two, or part of a park ticket, dinner at a fancy restaurant, etc. I think it's an awesome idea!

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    2. As I mentioned in my first post on wedding gifts, we also had a honeymoon registry in addition to our household-items registry. We went on a cruise and asked people to put money toward shore excursions and a couple's massage. Those were some of the first gifts to get bought.

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  2. I think this should be a personal thing. I love the idea of housewarming showers, but as far as the wedding goes, it seems to me like the registry is the place for individual couples to specify what they need and want. If you don't put a lot of household items on your registry, than I doubt people will buy them for you. As Sarah mentioned, there are honeymoon registries and even charitable gift registries. I think with how technological the wedding process is these days there are plenty of opportunities for couples to politely lay out what they want and need.

    As for me, I got married straight out of college and had never lived on my own, so had nothing household-y. And to me, the registry was an opportunity to pick things I might not pay for otherwise. If I had gotten cash, I likely would have scrimped on what I bought with it because I would feel guilty not being frugal. But every gift I received is special to me, and I got so much excitement the first few months of marriage every time I got to use a wedding gift and think about the precious person who gave it to me.

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    1. It's definitely true that a couple can choose what they want to put on a wedding registry, and it doesn't have to be household items. I'm more concerned for the people who aren't married, that they have the opportunity to receive those gifts if they want/need them for furnishing a new home.

      I agree that if we'd only received cash for our wedding, I probably wouldn't have bought as nice things as we registered for. That's why I suggest that there still be a registry of gifts and a shower, but associated with moving into one's own home -- whether coinciding with a marriage or not. Then at a wedding, if people wanted to give a card with some money, the way you might to celebrate someone's birthday or anniversary, the couple could decide whether they needed to replace or add any household items, but they would still have some nice things from their housewarming shower(s).

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  3. Great point!

    My high school graduation served this function to some extent: Among my gifts were towels, blankets, mugs, a manicure set, and a battery tester. (I wasn't sure how I was going to use that last one until I was facing an 8-hour bus trip for my first Thanksgiving in college and decided to buy--oh, I'm dating myself here--a portable cassette player with headphones. You want to check your battery life before you set out with one of those.) I also got a lot of cash--and Sarah, I don't know how you avoided having expenses when you were in college, but I spent most of that money on textbooks, stuff for my dorm room like an electric hotpot and a few utensils and bowls, sheets (dorm beds were longer than at home), and clothes (since I moved to a different climate).

    I moved off-campus midway through college. The place had furniture (the landlords lived downstairs and brought their unwanted furniture up to our apartment) but no kitchen equipment, so my housemates and I each provided some. After college, I began living with my boyfriend and housemates, who had furniture but not enough for a whole house, and our new place didn't come with a refrigerator so we had to buy one. Both times, I got some gifts of household items or cash from relatives, mostly presented as birthday gifts since my birthday happens to be at that same time of year. But I also had to buy a lot of things, and because of my limited budget I often bought really cheap stuff and struggled to make it do.

    In some ways it would've been nice to get a housewarming shower. But it's also nice to have things that I remember buying for myself at a time when furnishing my own home was an exciting novelty and my home was so sparse that any new thing seemed like a big luxury. Also, because there was never a point at which I was given a full set of home stuff, I've always been able to ask for practical things for gifts because I always need something--and spreading it out makes it easier to remember who gave me what and think fondly of the person when I use the thing.

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    1. I can see what you mean about buying things for yourself -- we brought our dining room table out to Whoville with us because it was the one piece of furniture we'd bought new when we moved into our apartment; everything else was hand-me-downs and garage sale stuff that we donated or sold before moving.

      I do remember who bought many of our different wedding gifts, though, and will mention them when talking about a particular item. And if there were to be such things as housewarming showers rather than bridal showers, I would still think people should be able to register for the gifts they want so they can decide how they want to furnish their home.

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  4. I've been saying this for FOREVER! Granted - I was very fortunate and nearly all of my furniture I didn't have to pay for. Then when I moved to Cape, they had a "pounding" for me. Where everyone in the congregation gave a pound of something, but it was mainly food items. I know when I've talked about this, older women have said "well that's why you have a housewarming party." Which is a good point. But if you are moving to a new town - you can't really give yourself a housewarming party because you don't know anyone! Sigh. I just want a shower because I graduated college with good grades and got a full time job after. Is that so much to ask?

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    1. I've never heard of a "pounding," but that's a cool idea. I agree that you can't throw yourself a housewarming party in a place you don't know anyone, and that's why I'm pushing for this as a cultural change -- not to suggest that an individual would decide on their own to register for things they want when moving into their own place, but that as a community we would take it upon ourselves to celebrate a person moving into their own place by offering to throw them a party and give household gifts.

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  5. While I agree that most couples have the house-hold stuff they need when they get married these days, I just can't help but feel that giving money/asking for money is kind of tasteless. Perhaps because as a poor grad student I can make the dollar value of my gift go further by finding something on sale to give, but I also feel like giving straight cash or a cheque is like assigning a monetary value to a)how much effort you put into thinking about it, and b) how you feel about the relationship. Gift certificates are okay, or the unique registries that people mentioned. Maybe I'm just old fashioned.

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    1. I understand there are a lot of etiquette / tradition issues around the idea of wanting money for one's wedding, and that's why I wish that as an entire culture we would change this tradition to have new home=household gifts and wedding=cash gifts as the norm. There are many couples getting married later in life than in previous generations who don't need "things," but could very much use money, yet etiquette bars them from asking for what they actually need, and I think that's unfortunate.

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    2. I think there's more of a worry than just tradition here. Cash gifts are just so much more easily comparable, even by people who wouldn't intend to. And some of us have so little money to give...I can make and give a $5 handmade necklace that will be very pretty and last a long time, or a few spruced-up second-hand table linens that I found by scouring thrift stores for a month or two, but I just can't give very much money.

      As far as that sort of thing goes, I'm much more comfortable with giving to a fund where no one sees how much I gave, than with giving money directly to someone.

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  6. I think it needs to be a personal preference - I had some time between college and getting married, but I was living with my parents or renting a small apartment, so it wouldn't have made sense for me to have a "registry" when I didn't have a home to put it in, and I much would have preferred money. While I think the tradition of giving gifts at a wedding doesn't make sense for people who a) need things for their home but aren't getting married, or b) are getting married but already have a lot of things, it can still serve a very functional purpose for people who c) are getting married and need things. Also, for me, I was so glad to get new things because even though my husband had a home and a "furnished" kitchen, his things had been used and abused so much by college roommates that most of the cookware and utensils were absolutely disgusting! lol Ultimately, like most cultural expectations, it doesn't make sense for everyone and should be adapted to the individual. :) No surprise there!
    -Missy

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    1. Mike said something similar to me, that I'm typically championing individual decisions and personal preferences and this post makes it sound like I'm not. So let me try to clarify. There already exist cultural traditions that impose expectations upon individuals -- for example, I did not want to have a bridal shower and people repeatedly tried to force one on me. What I would like to change are the cultural traditions and expectations so that an individual can make a choice about what they need, when they need it.

      So rather than tying the giving of household gifts to the act of getting married, I'd love to see an expectation that once in each person's life their community will come together to support them starting out living on their own. Then rather than that time being assumed to coincide with marriage, it would be up to the individual to say, "This is the time I am moving into my own place," (or for a couple to say, "We are moving into our own place together") and it would be expected and not strange for that person or couple to create a registry of items to furnish their household. This way there would be more flexibility for each person to determine what makes the most sense for their life situation.

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  7. Word.

    A co-worker is getting married this week, and his registry consists of helping pay for his European honeymoon. They have been living together for several years, so their house is pretty much settled at this point. However, neither one of them make much, certainly not enough to take the sort of honeymoon they desired. So to fund their honeymoon, they chose that option. It really makes a lot of sense, and it was nice to be able to get them an experience instead of a piece of kitchen equipment that will be stuffed in the back of a cupboard and never seen again. I thought it was a novel idea, but apparently not so much!

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    1. I linked to it above as well, but on my first post about wedding registries I suggested that people be creative in what they ask for, since not everyone needs the same things.

      It's frustrating to me how many wedding traditions seem to be for people other than the couple getting married. Some people (friends' mothers, in particular) were really upset that I was not having a bridal shower. It didn't matter that I didn't want one; they wanted the experience of sitting around and eating food and watching me open kitchen appliances. I really try to urge people getting married to make the experience what they want it to be rather than trying to appease everyone's different expectations.

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  8. The only two weddings I've ever been to, both couples have specified on the invitation that in lieu of gifts, they'd prefer money - the first couple had a "help us buy our first house" wishing well, while the second couple had a "help us pay for our honeymoon" thing.

    In both cases, they were in their late 20s and had been living together for quite some time, so had no need of material possessions. I'm pretty sure there were (in both cases) some older relatives who got all "Asking for money is disgusting. Here, have a punch bowl you'll never ever use" about it. But from my perspective? It makes much more sense to ask for assistance with the big things, like buying a house, which is far more meaningful than getting twenty toasters. Especially when the cost of an average Australian wedding is now over $40,000!! O.o

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    1. I don't know if I've written about this before, but I'm a big fan in general of wishlists and registries. If you want to give someone a gift, the gift is not for the purpose of making you happy, but the person you're giving it to. So the more information you can have (and use) about what that person would most appreciate, the better, in my opinion. But then my logic tends to trample on people's etiquette and tradition sometimes.

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  9. You make a very good point about registries being connected to housewarming. In the scheme of a wedding, that's also an awesome way to make it a co-ed event if people want to do a shower of some sort. (Personally, I also shudder at the thought of a bridal shower.) It's also a good reminder that I have a friend who recently moved, and this is a great idea.

    I don't like wedding registries in that I've seen people go overboard and ask for a lot of stuff they don't need and will not use. I try to stay away from those gifts.

    On the other hand, talking to older couples or even friends who more recently got married, I love seeing them point to wedding gifts they received and you can hear in their voice how much this particular gift from that person meant to them. I think that's a very cool part of the tradition, and one that wouldn't go away with housewarming gifts.

    I've been living on my own for about 5 years. I like to cook, so I've focused on acquiring decent kitchen stuff for myself. If I got married, we might not need kitchen stuff, but maybe we'd need a furniture fund or a vacation fund. Furniture would last a long time and funding vacation memories would last forever. I think those are cool stories to pass on as well. I would also hope that having something specific to connect the money gift to would make the naysayers a little more comfortable (though I say this without having been through it).

    I think what's important to me is trying to make the gift meaningful.

    I'll also say that in the past, I've given money to couples where I'm not in to what I see left on the registry, I can't think of anything that would be special to the couple, and I know they'll make the best decision of what's most necessary with their money gifts.

    Anyway, good call. My friends who are moving/have recently moved thank you.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don't think this idea of mine will be implemented anytime soon, and in the meantime I agree about making the gifts you do give meaningful. A lot of what you said is similar to my previous tips on wedding gifts, so I definitely agree!

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  10. All of this, so much. I wonder if it couldn't be applied to more personal gifts as well. There's a set of rings from my grandmother that my mother's been holding onto for my wedding. They're the only thing we have from her. It would be a sweet gift...except I'm seriously considering a commitment to celibacy, and in any case I'm not showing any signs of wanting to get married anything soon at all. I wonder how much of our old etiquette is from the days when the wedding was (especially for a young woman) the start of her life as an independent adult, and when it was just assumed that every young adult was setting out to get married and start a family.

    It's worth considering, not just how it plays into older couples, but what it might be like for those of us who never marry.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story. It does seem silly to tie the passing of heirlooms to marriage when, as you said, not everyone will get married. Why should that be a prerequisite?

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  11. Looking for a creative gift idea for the bride and groom? These unique gift suggestions are far from ordinary and bound to leave a lasting impression. a jar of cake

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