A Wedding Anniversary Guide: History, Themes, Gifts & Etiquette

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Wedding anniversaries are an ideal opportunity for married couples to celebrate their love for one another and remember why they decided to marry in the first place. Historians have traced the origins of silver and golden anniversaries to medieval Germanic Europe, where the husband presented silver and gold garlands to the wife to celebrate the 25th and 50th years of marriage, respectively.

Before 1937 only the first and major milestone anniversaries had materials associated with them. In 1937 the American National Retail Jewellery Association issued a more comprehensive list of representative materials for all the traditional wedding anniversaries for each year up to the 15th Anniversary and then every fifth year after that up to the 60th. Various commercial companies have continually updated this list over recent years, and today celebrants can choose between the traditional list and a contemporary list of anniversary themes (which provides alternative modern-day suggestions such as electrical appliances!)

Traditionally, gifts exchanged or given in the early years of marriage were practical household items to aid the couple in starting a new home together (an extension of the wedding gift). Luxury gifts tend to be given later when the couple has already acquired the necessary things. The more cynical-minded might see the increase in gift value over time as an incentive to stay married!

The following section outlines the main wedding anniversaries and associated themes and provides useful gift suggestions.

Wedding Anniversaries and Themes with Gift Suggestions

1st Wedding Anniversary – Paper

Traditionally the theme is paper which is supposed to symbolize the strength obtained from the interlocking fibers. The modern take on this is a clock for reasons to do with timeless, eternal love. Gold jewelry, pearls, or peridot are the precious metals/gemstones associated with the first wedding anniversary. The associated color is gold or yellow, and the relevant flower is the orange blossom or pansy.

Gift ideas include a photo album, commemorative newspaper, wedding day chart, personalized poem, share certificate, movie/concert ticket, photograph by a professional photographer, subscription to a favorite magazine, having a star named after a loved one, or a clock.

2nd wedding anniversary – Cotton

Traditionally cotton gifts are given because cotton has always been associated with prosperity and durability. The modern gift theme is china. The relevant gemstone is a Garnet, and the associated color is red.

Gift ideas relevant to the cotton theme include a (personalized) bathrobe, towel, or tee shirt, and for china, how about a (personalized) trinket box, mug, or anniversary plate?

3rd Wedding Anniversary – Leather

Traditionally leather gifts are given based on the durability of this material being analogous to the durability of your marriage! The contemporary theme is crystal or glass (not so durable!)

If you are going to give your partner jewelry, then opt for pearl or jade. The relevant color theme is white or green, and the associated flower is Fuchsia (taste).
Gift ideas for the third wedding anniversary include a leather wallet, handbag or briefcase, leather-bound book, engraved vase, perfume bottle, wine or champagne glasses, engraved glass tokens or perhaps an engraved decanter.

4th Wedding Anniversary – Fruit/Flowers

Traditionally fruit or flowers are meant to symbolize a blossoming and fruitful relationship. Less romantic modern, albeit practical thinking, suggests giving electrical appliances!

The relevant gemstone is Blue Topaz with the color theme being blue or green. If you’re planning to give flowers, then the suggested bloom is the geranium (which incidentally means folly or stupidity!)

Some gift suggestions for a fourth wedding anniversary are cut flowers, a basket of fruit, an engraved glass flower token, a rose bush, or shares in Apple Corp.

5th Wedding Anniversary – Wood

Traditionally the theme of the fifth wedding anniversary is wood which symbolizes a strong and long-lasting marriage. The modern gift theme is silverware. The relevant gemstone is sapphire, and the appropriate color theme is blue, pink, and turquoise. The flower you are supposed to give is the daisy representing innocence and love.

Suggested gift ideas include planting a tree, a personalized jigsaw, a personalized wine box, a wooden commemorative plaque, photo personalized coasters, or placemats.

10th Wedding Anniversary – Tin/Aluminium

Traditional materials are tin or aluminum, symbolizing a good relationship’s flexibility and malleability. The contemporary theme and gemstone is diamond. The relevant color is silver or blue, and the appropriate flower is the daffodil (trumpet-shaped daffodils represent joy, cheerfulness, and happiness).

Gift ideas include – a personalized number plate, an engraved brushed aluminum frame, or a personalized teddy in a tin.

15th Wedding Anniversary – Crystal

Traditional gift material is crystal, and the contemporary theme is watches. The relevant gemstone is ruby. Gift ideas include engraved crystal tankards, champagne flutes, and wine glasses. The appropriate color theme is ruby red. If flowers are to be given, Roses are the appropriate choice.

20th Wedding Anniversary – China

The traditional theme is china, and the modern theme is platinum, with the emerald gemstone. Recommended gift ideas include a personalized anniversary plate, personalized trinket box, or dinner service. If the relevant color theme is emerald green or white, then you should get Lillies.

25th Wedding Anniversary – Silver

Silver gifts are given to celebrate this important milestone wedding anniversary. The appropriate flower is the Iris. Suggestions for gifts include a silver anniversary candle, engraved silver picture frame, or silver plated champagne flutes.

30th Wedding Anniversary – Pearl

The traditional material associated with this one is pearls, and the relevant flower is the Sweet Pea with a green color scheme. Ideal gifts include a pearl necklace or engraved mother of pearl trinket box.

40th Wedding Anniversary – Ruby

Ruby is the theme for this wedding anniversary, and the appropriate flower is the nasturtium. Gift ideas include ruby jewelry or a bottle of port.

50th Wedding Anniversary – Gold

One of the big ones! Gold is the order of the day and the relevant flower is violet. Gift ideas include any gold jewelry or perhaps a gold hearts wedding anniversary album.

60th Wedding Anniversary – Diamond

Now it starts to get expensive – Diamonds! This is the first of two diamond anniversaries, the other being 75 years.

75th Wedding Anniversary

The 75th anniversary is the original traditional diamond anniversary, with the 60th being added when Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee on her 60th anniversary of accession to the throne in 1897.

Anniversary Celebration Etiquette

In the early years (say less than 15) the anniversary celebrations normally only involve the couple themselves and often include an overnight trip or ‘second honeymoon’. However, in the later years, any children they might have may decide to organize an anniversary celebration for their parents. For milestone anniversaries, a party is usually the order of the day. It is not recommended to throw a surprise party for a couple on their anniversary because not all couples will appreciate the gesture; it is always better to discuss any plans with the couple before the event, especially as they may already have plans of their own.
Invitations to an anniversary party should be sent out at least four weeks before the celebration. An invitation does not imply the need for a gift. Indeed many couples are uncomfortable about receiving gifts and often request that no gifts are given by the guests at their anniversary, perhaps they feel they don’t really need anything or they may not want their guests to feel obliged. You must try and respect their choice, but if you insist on giving a gift, it is advisable to do so after the event not to embarrass the hosts or the other guests who did not bring a gift.

Generally, it is not deemed good etiquette to ask for a monetary gift, although asking for a small contribution towards a commemorative gift such as a tree or sundial is a nice way of getting around this.

If traditional gifts are given, it is normal for the couple to open them later rather than during the celebration, although again, this is down to personal choice. Personalized gifts make great anniversary gift ideas as the personal touch makes the present much more meaningful. If a personalized gift is to be given, it is often more usual to include the number of years married plus the couples’ names rather than the date of marriage.

The seating of guests at an anniversary party is down to personal taste, although traditionally, the oldest son sits beside his mother and the eldest daughter beside her father with the best man or maid of honor from the couple’s wedding day and with their respective spouses also seated at the main table.
Typically a short speech of some type is expected even at a very informal affair. Often one of the children says a few complimentary words about their parents, which is followed by a response by one or both members of the couple to thanks the organizers etc.

Above all, any wedding anniversary celebration is a celebration of a couple’s love for one another and can be as large or small, formal or informal, and private or shared as you want it to be.