This week my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We are both determined to take the day off work and celebrate together – even though due to the pandemic we will not be on our planned romantic European trip.
Apparently, the traditional gift for a 20th anniversary is porcelain or china although the modern gift list recommends platinum or the gemstone emerald (which seem a bit more hopeful to me as it opens up lots of jewelry options!). As we are clearly settled in Coastal Georgia and my husband is American through and through, he has (as usual) ignored tradition and selected a special shotgun as his gift.
I have been wondering how the years have passed by so quickly and, in spite of the ups and downs experienced by every truthful married couple, I am thankful for my spouse and look forward to the next 20 years with him. I have also been thinking about how the tradition of celebrating wedding anniversaries and giving and receiving specific gifts evolved.
There is some evidence that gift giving to celebrate wedding anniversaries began in ancient Rome, and was further developed in medieval Europe, Germany in particular. German culture and history is full of many traditions and records which demonstrate that by the 18th century, married couples were given a silver wreath to commemorate 25 years of marriage and, if the couple lived long enough to celebrate 50 years together, a gold wreath. Large and elaborate celebrations of these occasions with family and friends became traditional in Germanic countries, and silver and gold gifts are still associated with the milestones of 25 and 50 years today. In Great Britain and other English-speaking countries gifts celebrating wedding anniversaries only really took off in the 19th century – the Victorian era. At this time, there was a feeling that sustaining a long and harmonious marriage was more due to the hard work of the wife, and that she definitely needed to be given gifts on these milestones. I am going to avoid controversy by not commenting on this sentiment!
As the years passed, the commercial opportunities of extending the wedding anniversary tradition were becoming clear and, by 1900, there were lists of standardized appropriate gifts being published for different milestones. A one-year anniversary makes “paper” the traditional gift, then wood at five, tin for ten, china at 20, silver at 25, gold at 50, and diamond at 60. I am not really sure about the one-month anniversary being celebrated with sugar but whatever works for each couple is OK by me.
In the 1920s, the oldest and largest greeting card company in America, Hallmark Cards, started really pushing the importance of celebrating wedding anniversaries, and the idea of celebrating wedding anniversaries with parties was also becoming more and more popular. About the same time, The American National Retail Jewellers Association discussed supplementing standardized anniversary lists with, you guessed it, jewellery. At their 1922 meeting, they called attention to the fact that jewellers derived very little profit since jewellery-related items were so far down these lists. Over the next decade or so, this trade body worked hard to place more emphasis on precious metals and stones. The efforts of jewellers became more aggressive in their marketing as the century progressed, and today gifts of emerald (20), pearl (30), coral (35) and ruby (40) are established traditions.
Today such lists proliferate, but the effort to find a suitable gift for every single year up to 50 has sometimes resulted in less obviously thrilling presents. Personally, I am not looking forward to celebrating 44 years of marriage with the gift of groceries – unless someone is going to shop, pay, put them away and cook them for me! I am also relieved that my husband did not present me with salt for our 8th wedding anniversary. I didn’t see shotguns on the list anywhere, but oh well. There is a lot more information at www.history.com
I will leave you with an amusing quote this week by the American comedian and author of the book I Still Have It; I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It, Rita Rudner: “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life”.
God Bless America. Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.
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Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com