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History of Wedding Anniversary Gift Lists

Tradition Dates Back to the Middle Ages

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Photo: Fototeca Storica Nazionale / Getty Images
Photo: Fototeca Storica Nazionale / Getty Images
We are often asked about the history of the wedding anniversary gift lists.

Although the anniversary gift lists on this website are based on the lists provided by the Chicago Public Library, the tradition of giving specific anniversary gifts based on the number of years a couple has been married dates back to the Middle Ages.

"The practice of observing the wedding anniversary, while primarily an excuse for gift-giving, probably has underlying it a belief in the correspondence of certain luck-bringing substances with a distinct number of years." Source: Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend

"The passing of another year together marks a deepening of the couple's commitment, an accumulation of time irreplaceable. To help in celebrating these occasions are special gifts, one assigned to each anniversary and each with its own material and symbolic value. In the United States, the wedding anniversary symbols begin simply, with paper and flowers, and gradually increase in substance and value. The order of gifts reflects the investment that the couple gives of themselves to each other. In Germany, by comparison, couples use a list of symbols that represent the progressive strengthening of the marriage relationship."
Source: Gretchen Scoble and Ann Field, The Meaning of Wedding Anniversaries, page 7.

Middle Ages -- Wedding Anniversary Celebrations

"According to Hallmark research, the custom of associating silver with the 25th wedding anniversary and gold with the 50th wedding anniversary appear to have originated in the Germanic region of Middle Europe. The silver anniversary included a husband giving his wife a silver garland when they had been married 25 years."
Source: Hallmark.com

"The practice of giving peculiar gifts on various wedding anniversaries originated in Central Europe. Among the medieval Germans it was customary for friends to present a wife with a wreath of silver when she had lived with her husband twenty-five years. The silver symbolized the harmony that was assumed to be necessary to make so many years of matrimony possible. On the fiftieth anniversary of a wedding the wife was presented with a wreath of gold. Hence arose 'silver wedding' and 'golden wedding.' This practice, borrowed from the Germans, has been elaborated upon in modern times."
Source: George Stimpson, Information Roundup (1948), ElegantAnniversary.com

"In the medieval times only milestone anniversaries like 25th and 50th were celebrated. To mark the occasion of Silver or 25th wedding anniversary a husband would crown his wife with a wreath of silver. Likewise, he presented her a wreath of gold on a Golden or 50th wedding anniversary."
Source: Tokenz.com

Victorian Era -- Wedding Anniversaries

"The 75th anniversary is the original diamond anniversary and the 60th was added when Queen Victoria (English Empire Monarch) celebrated her Diamond Jubilee on her 60th anniversary of accession to the throne in 1897."
Source: Hallmark.com

"The custom of celebrating what was once referred to as the "anniversary wedding" can be traced back to the Victorian era ... Although no one is certain how the traditional list of symbolic anniversary gifts originated, it is likely that the Victorians made the custom popular ... Early anniversary symbolism included only a few of the anniversaries we recognize today."
Source: Robin A. King, Happy Anniversary! A Guide to Fun and Romantic Anniversary Celebrations, page xi.

"The Victorians, so fond of cataloging and classifying, were likely the first to adapt ancient customs into a prescribed list of gifts for each wedding anniversary."
Source: Gretchen Scoble and Ann Field, The Meaning of Wedding Anniversaries, page 7.

"The earliest reference we have found other than the Silver or gold is to the 5th anniversary (Wood) which implies this became the material for that anniversary around 1875."
Source: Anniversaryideas.co.uk

20th Century -- Wedding Anniversary Gift Giving

"Emily Post listed "eight anniversaries know to all" in her 1922 Blue Book of Social Usage [listing 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 50th, and 75th anniversaries]. Mrs. Post then went on to report that "until comparatively modern times, the eight anniversaries were all that were acknowledged." She then recognized the trend toward celebrating additonal anniversaries and listed a symbolic anniversary gift for each of the first fifteen years of marriage and one for every five years after that. This is the basis for the lists we use today."
Source: Robin A. King, Happy Anniversary! A Guide to Fun and Romantic Anniversary Celebrations, page xi.

"Prior to 1937, only the 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 50th, and 75th anniversary had a material associated with it. In 1937, the American National Retail Jeweler Association issued a more comprehensive list, which associated a material for each anniversary year up to the 20th and then each fifth year after that up to the 75th, with the exception of the 65th." Source: Cookie Lee, Wedding Anniversaries: from paper to diamond, page 61.

"By middle-to-late 1930s, people began to celebrate 1st, 10th, 20th and 70th anniversary along with 25th and 50th. A gift for each of these milestone anniversary years was also decided by the society. The logic of presenting gifts was that stability deserves a reward and more the stability the greater should be the reward."
Source: Tokenz.com

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