Gift-giving etiquette at weddings

There have been a few stories about wedding gift etiquette in the news lately and each time I read one of these stories, I was aghast. Why is gift-giving so controversial these days?

DSC03575Pictured here is one of my mom’s creations — a wishing well. She had a carpenter create this little well-shaped box, complete with a way to padlock the whole thing, and decorated it so that it would fit into a wedding. What goes inside? Well, you can slip the happy couple a card or note, wishing them well, but it was especially perfect for folks who wanted to give the couple some cash — call it “starting out” money. Of course, I think this is a practice common in communities where living together before marriage is frowned upon, so a couple really does need some “starting out” money. More and more couples these days do live together before marriage, so I would think that starting out money would be moot.

First, let’s get into the recent news stories that are evidently proving gift-giving to be fraught with drama. In early June, a letter was sent to the editor of the Hamilton Spectator, a newspaper in Ontario, Canada. Long story short — the letter writer wanted to know who was in the right: he had given a gift of food, candy and other treats in a picnic basket to couple as a wedding gift, and the brides asked for a receipt and admonished him for being cheap when he and his date had been treated to a $200 meal ($100 per person). The story made it on to Jezebel, and proceeded to go viral from there.

This month, the Huffington Post published a note from a reader who had been reprimanded by the bride for giving $100 cash as a wedding gift. Apparently, the bride believed that the wedding gifts were supposed to cover the cost of the reception.

What’s my take? I wonder if you can imagine me with a pained expression on my face. I didn’t realize weddings were about gifts; gosh, I thought they were about celebrating the union and love of the happy couple. I guess I am old fashioned that way.

Stock photo

Stock photo

I imagine there are several causes for the “gimme, gimme” attitude of people today. One could be popular culture; I bet no one can forget the scene in the movie “Goodfellas,” where the bride and groom were given envelope after envelope stuffed with cash. There’s also the belief that a wedding gift should cost at least as much as the reception meal, which never made much sense to me — are people advertising the cost of each meal in the invitation? I think, bottom line, there is simply an overarching sense of entitlement that people seem to have, and a wedding — a life event famous for fueling bridezillas, groomzillas and monsters-in-laws — just elevates that sense of entitlement to astronomical levels.

(I think what makes me cringe most is that the Canadian brides felt so strongly they were right that their guest — whom they invited to their special day! — bought a “cheap gift,” they allowed the newspaper to photograph it. Of the gift, they told the newspaper:

She says Mason’s gift was the laughingstock of the wedding. At a post-wedding pool party the next day, friends and family stopped by the living room to get a look at the basket that’s still on display in their home.

How does anyone, anywhere, think that its OK to put a gift you don’t like on display so that others can laugh at it? This is unfathomable to me.)

Bottom line — a gift is a gift. I personally have been the recipient of some major duds. I also confess that I once went to a wedding and never got a chance to send a wedding gift — but I did later give the bride (still a friend!) a large number of gifts from her baby registry when she had her first baby, spending equal the amount I would have spent for a wedding gift. But gifts are gifts! defines “gift” as:

1. something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.
2. the act of giving.
3. something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned: Those extra points he got in the game were a total gift.

If you’re looking for your wedding gifts to cover the cost of your reception, you’re paying too much. You also might as well just charge admission, because when you either ask for gifts or have an expectation of a gift (and with all the holidays we have now where there’s an expectation of a gift, that’s a whole other issue), then its really no longer a gift.

For a little perspective and direction, by all means, consult with Emily Post. She has an entire section devoted to weddings.

Leave a Reply