Wedding list tips and customs

Published date: 14th August 2019

Wedding gifts probably predate weddings, crazy though that sounds. When that nice cave-girl-next-door set up home with Mr and Mrs Ug’s young lad, the rest of the tribe doubtless gave them gifts of stone tools, skins, and some dried food. Inevitably the happy couple would end up saying thanks for their fourth stone axe, and wish somebody had given them the mortar and pestle they really wanted. That’s the reason we have the wedding list.

It used to be that in most cases couples getting married lived with their parents until the big day, so they needed a hand setting up home – they would possess next to nothing in terms of household goods. Thus their wedding list would be filled with the necessities of life from rolling pin to plates to pillows. What’s more, nearly all of their family and friends would be local to the couple, making it pretty easy to communicate and coordinate the list.

Modern life is more complicated: couples may have been living together for years; it may be second-time around for one or both; they may be getting married later than used to be the norm, their home or homes full of every knick-knack, electronic device and furnishing known to man. Happily we have developed ways to cope with that complexity.

The store-based wedding list has been around since 1924, when Chicago-based Marshall Field and Company thought of the idea. The couple goes around a department store, often with an attendant assistant, long-listing items of interest and use and pricing them up, before settling on a final selection. The list is circulated to friends and relatives, or kept at the store for them to refer to, and as items are bought they are removed from the list to prevent duplication (or worse, most families have a three-toaster tale).

In the internet age a web-based version of that idea makes it even easier for families, able to see items online so there’s no need to visit the shop.

That problem of what to give the couple that already has everything has seen other approaches evolve. How about contributing a day, an upgrade, a flight or a meal to the honeymoon? Or guests giving money towards a major item like a new kitchen? Some offer a service whereby monetary gifts are turned into store vouchers, so you have the option to choose presents with a pot of money behind you, maybe going for a few big-ticket items rather than the many smaller ones you would get otherwise. Charity giving is another option, many couples from the goodness of their heart, or maybe with a tiny pang of guilt, opting to give part or all of their familial largesse to a particular cause.

There are a few rules and customs that you need to bear in mind. First and foremost both bride and groom should be involved in choosing things for the list. All presents should be for both, rather than individual items like jewellery or clothing. Even if you are not superstitious the giver may be, so if you receive any knives remember to give a coin back in return, or risk your friendship being cut. It is traditional for bed-linen to be a parental gift (there’s probably some sexual symbolism in there, it is normally her parents who do this).

Wedding list etiquette is not as strict as some other aspects of the event, but here are a few pointers you need to know. Sending out the list before invitations is good; and invitations are not automatically ‘bought’ by present giving. Items that even the most impecunious cousin can afford should feature on the list, which is one of the reasons why in the past a dinner-service has often featured – Cousin Tim can buy a cream-jug.

If you receive gifts before the wedding, write your thank-you letter or card (not a form-letter with handwritten name at the top) as quickly as possible afterwards. Even if you hate the present, unless it is downright hateful do say how much you love it, and do mention what the present is. Where guests at the wedding come with a gift, don’t open it until the reception, and delegate a trusted person to keep a list for you if you want to avoid the family feud that would result from thanking someone for the wrong gift, or worse still not thanking them at all. Don’t rely on memory; don’t imagine that either bride or groom will have time or focus enough to keep such a list.

At the reception it is customary though not obligatory to have a display of gifts. If you choose to do this, make sure it is at once visible and in a place where it will not be bumped by kids sliding on their knees, or by Uncle Bill who enjoys a glass too many. Ask whoever sets up the display to make it random, rather than ranked in some way by value! And if there are presents too big to include (wardrobes, tables, jet-skis…) have cards written that name gift and giver. If people give money when others have gone for goods, a card stating something like: “Kind gift of money from Aunty Bee,” is in order – don’t say how much! And do remember that someone needs to collect the gifts afterwards, or ensure the venue takes care of storage until they are collected.

Those gifts given on the day need thank-you notes too, within a couple of weeks if you are not off on honeymoon at once, or immediately on your return if you are jetting away.

As regards tips, you can do worse than chat with recently married friends and acquaintances about how they handled their list, if there were any problems they can help you avoid, if they would recommend the service provider used. If you are dealing with a store or other service, don’t be afraid to ask them questions: do they charge for delivery? Are there any fees? What insurance cover is provided (it would not be good to start married life with presents stuck in a bankruptcy case)? Last but not least, in this day and age do you want or need a super-fancy ultra-expensive dinner service? Many go straight into the display cabinet never to be used. You may be better off choosing a very good quality everyday set, or even a pots and pans set out of which you’ll get real use.

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