Wedding Gift Etiquette: Is your presence present enough?

Urbzen’s post “Enraged to be Married” has a few thing to say ways a bride and groom can celebrate their wedding day (wedding week?) without making their friends and family members want to smother them with an embroidered satin pillow. And in regards to gifts…

That’s precisely what they are, gifts. Marriage is an important milestone, but your particular life choices don’t mean that anybody owes you anything beyond a warm “Congratulations.” And please spare everyone the lecture on how much a head your reception is costing. You’re the one who had to have the arugula and glazed duck; we’d have been perfectly happy with mac & cheese.

She also included a link to the “single most horrifying list of wedding etiquette in history.”

The list, plus many of the comments, got me thinking about weddings and gifts. Is there really a proper gift-giving etiquette? From the bride and groom’s perspective, do the guests owe you a gift? Do you think having them at your wedding is pleasure enough? And from a guest’s perspective, are you required to “pay” for your dinner? Is buying an off-registry gift really such a terrible offense against the bride and groom? Must you spend a certain amount of money on a gift?

Monica’s list, 88 Things You Need to Know Before Attending a Wedding states the following rules under “Gifts”:

  1. If you receive an invitation you must send a gift! Even if you don’t attend.
  2. If you can’t attend the wedding, you should send your gift before the wedding with a card expressing your regrets about not being able to attend.
  3. The gift should be worth at least the # of people you’ve RSVP’ed x the cost of one person’s plate for the reception.
  4. The exception to this is when a couple chooses *really expensive* plates.
  5. *Really expensive* depends on your geographical area, not your preferences. Nice try though.
  6. If you don’t know what a wedding plate costs, call the reception hall and investigate. This will at least get you in the ballpark.
  7. The gift should be monetary or come from the bride and groom’s registry.
  8. The wedding registry will not be listed in the invitation unless the couple is very tacky. You are supposed to call the maid-of-honor (MOH)/mother of the bride (MOB) to find out where the couple is registered.
  9. Anyone in the family or wedding party is appropriate if the MOH/MOB cannot be reached.
  10. Don’t get the couple something they didn’t ask for! It’s not clever and/or original, it’s annoying.
  11. Money should come in a wedding card.
  12. Gift cards are like throwing money away, so don’t give them.
  13. If you insist on giving a gift card it should come only from a store where the couple is registered.
  14. Don’t get the couple something they didn’t ask for! It’s not clever and/or original, it’s annoying.
  15. Gifts should be removed from the registry to avoid the headaches of double gifts. Ask for help from a store assistant if you are confused.
  16. Gifts should come wrapped in wedding paper with a wedding card.
  17. Don’t get the couple something they didn’t ask for! It’s not clever and/or original, it’s annoying.
  18. It’s nice to give the couple more than what covers your dinner plates, if you can and want to.

This list is making quite a strong statement about the “proper” way to do things. As such, it garnered over 50 responses, ranging from total agreement to shock and offense.  Some comments, from both sides of the fence:

Jennifer I have never heard of wedding gifts equaling the cost of your plate at the reception. There is really no way for a guest to know what the couple is spending on thier wedding nor should they try to find out… In addition, you do not invite people in order to get a gift, their presence is all that is required.

Bethany I think three times is necessary for the original gift comment. Many of our guests stuck to the registry, some deviated in a pretty acceptable manner, but we received an atrocious candle holder. It was not cute, it was not useful, and their gift was promptly donated. It’s backfired thoughtfulness… If you want to take the time to be a thoughtful guest, these tips are a good place to start.

Ashly I think some of the comments also rely on variables…  I actually showed this list to two of the brides whose weddings I’m attending this year, and they both were a bit appalled at the tone of the article, in addition to some of the comments. For them, while presents are nice, they aren’t going to begrudge a financially straddled friend who can’t afford a gift; because they believe their weddings are about celebrating the union with the people in their life they love, not expecting gifts over an X value…

Mardi Gifts are part of getting married, and there is an etiquette to them, just like everything else surrounding a wedding… Kudos to you for putting together a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines for guests! Thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish I could share this with some of my guests who chose to ignore the “rules.” (There are people who CAME to the wedding who never sent a gift – not to mention those who DIDN’T come to the wedding and didn’t send a gift.)
Harper I am getting married in 12 days. I found the gift giving section offensive as well, although I see that it wasn’t intended to be… having friends and family celebrate their union is what matters. In place of a gift a card of congratulations would be a nice alternative, and only a few bucks. It is also a nice way for the couple to look back on their day and remember everyone who was there if they forgot to sign the guest book… In weddings that I was involved in, my gift was doing everything from making favors to stuffing envelopes along with watching the couples dogs while they vacationed. Be creative people, it doesn’t have to be a material gift!!

Nikki I did NOT find the tone of this article to be inappropriate. It is well written and everything on there is accurate. I think people are a little confused. This is ettiquette for the guests not the bride and groom. The bride and groom should never expect gifts. That is not what the day is about. But a guest should never attend without a gift unless financial situations warrant this (in that case, I’m sure the bride and groom are aware anyways). As for the price of the gift, I have ALWAYS been taught that it should be at least the cost of your plate. Maybe this is one of those things that changes from region to region.

Jay My fiancee and I found your gift-giving section so offensive that it has inspired us to insert explicit directions within our invitation that we do not expect or want gifts; the gift is the person’s presence at the wedding. We are inviting 150 people, and feel this is the right thing to do. We already have plenty, and getting gifts would just be greedy.

Personally, I think that to expect a gift from each person equalling or surpassing the price a meal is silly and a bit immature.  At my own wedding 4 years ago, I was thrilled to have the chance to celebrate the occasion with all my friends and family. I had no expectations regarding gifts. The fact that I DID receive gifts was fantastic and I was grateful for each one, regardless of whether or not it was on my registry, or whether it was something I really wanted or needed. (You can always regift something, or give it away to a charity or to someone else who will appreciate it.) And I certainly wasn’t calculating how much the gift cost, or taking offence if it wasn’t on my registry (or not wrapped properly, etc)! In my opinion, every gift is a bonus. I invited people to my wedding because I really wanted them to be there!

Having said that, as a guest, it is proper to find out what’s expected of you, and in general giving a gift is the proper thing to do. It seems that in some circles, there is a very strong gift-giving ettiquete, as stated in 88 Things You Need to Know Before Attending a Wedding. A guest should do their best to be senstive and not offend the bride and groom.

I am curious to know what YOU think about wedding gift etiquette!

photo from janeandphilipswedding


  1. This whole hoopla has me reading wedding blogs. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

    I was just heartened to see in the comments on the snooty bride’s site that I wasn’t the only person that thought she should be ashamed (and probably shot).

  2. Sooo glad to see that I’m not the only one who thought that list was way out of line.

    If you want to read part two of the post referenced above, you can find it here: Matrimonial Olympics–Closing Ceremonies.


  3. Carmen Harris says:

    What if you gave a gift from the bridal registry at the bride’s shower? What do you give at the wedding, just a card of congratulations?

  4. I actually fall toward the side of the fence that agrees with this article. While it’s absurd for couples to expect gifts from each invitee, I do think it’s a custom that has merit and it’s dying off with our parents and grandparents. A wedding is a major celebration and turning point in a couple’s life and if you’re invited to attend, that means they want you to be a part of it. Think of the gift not as payment, but as thanks for being included.

    I do not agree that it needs to equal the cost of a plate of food, and it is the thought that counts. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be thoughtful. My fiance and I went to a wedding a few years ago that cost us a boatload to attend…and we were left pretty strapped as a result. We knew the couple because we had met them on a camping trip, and they were registered at REI. We chose a new lantern off their registry that was about $50. About $150 less than we normally would have spent, but it was special to us as friends and I genuinely believe them that they think of us every time they use it. The flip side of this was the best man at a friend’s wedding that gave two hand towels…about $20.

    While it’s not keeping score, you notice! You can’t help it…even if you hate yourself for it. If you truly can’t afford a thoughtful gift, don’t send one at all, but DO send a thoughtful note that thanks the couple for including you in their celebration and calls out one favorite memory.