Wedding gifts: looking at the history, etiquette

Weddings and bridal showers seem to come in waves. All at once, you are invited to a number of these events in one summer. Or maybe you are an engaged couple (or the engaged couples’ parents) and it’s your turn to tie the knot. July and August are the traditional wedding months, however nuptials are now held any time of the year.

Part of the planning of a wedding is considering a gift registry. Why would you do this? Isn’t it like asking for gifts? Here’s some background on the registry tradition.

It’s taken thousands of years to evolve to gift registries. The year 3000 BC saw the beginning of the dowry tradition. A dowry was a financial transaction, where the bride’s family received gifts of land, animals, precious jewels or money as part of the business of building family alliances through marriage. It may seem strange and emotionally cold to us now, but that’s just how things were done in many countries for many years.

The next stage in the marriage gift evolution was during the Renaissance, when eligible young women collected all the linens and housekeeping goods they would need in the marriage at home in a marriage chest. The chests were works of art, beautifully carved and painted. They were the early ‘hope chests.’ The women of the household spent years weaving, sewing, embroidering and collecting the linens and other items a new bride would need in her home. It was often a labour of love from mothers and aunts to their daughters and nieces, and a necessity for the times.

In the 1920s, Macy’s, the famous department store, promoted the first bridal registry. It caught on like wildfire with both brides and other stores. The tradition of collecting china, crystal and linens expanded beyond the hope chest and the bride was in control of what she wanted for her new home. The patterns she chose would be hers for life so it was a process of great deliberation. The groom had little input, but his mother might have had some…

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