While the tradition of observing a wedding anniversary by presenting a specific gift category has been popular only since the mid-1900s, the roots of this custom actually extend much father back.
In fact, the practice of giving an item related to the years of marriage began during the Middle Ages in Germany. These rituals were tied to symbols believed to bring luck and strength to the couple's relationship as it grew through the years. The tradition began with a husband who would present his wife with a wreath of silver in recognition of 25 years of marriage. Silver represented the harmony believed essential for living together 25 years. Other sources cite that friends of the couple would present the wife with a wreath of silver.
In observance of 50 years of marriage, the husband gave his wife a wreath of gold. The idea behind the giving of precious metals was that as the number of years increased in a couple's marriage, so did the rarity of the item given.
Historically, the 75th anniversary is considered the diamond anniversary. However, the 60th was introduced in 1897 when Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, or 60 years as England reigning monarch. The longest reigning monarch in British history, the event was marked with celebrations throughout the Empire.
Inspired by this splendid observance and already enamored with ancient symbols and meanings, it is most likely the Victorians who made the traditional list of anniversary gifts popular; elaborating on the original which only included a few hallmark years. One source states that other than the 25th and 50th anniversaries, a reference for the giving of wood on the fifth anniversary appears around 1875.
In 1922, Emily Post wrote her first book of etiquette in which she suggested traditional anniversary gifts for the first, fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth, and fiftieth wedding anniversaries. Afterward, recognizing the trend toward families who wished to celebrate additional anniversaries, she expanded the list, ascribing a symbolic anniversary gift for each of the first 15 years of marriage, as well as one for every five years after.
Following that, the American National Retail Jeweler Association issued a more comprehensive list in 1937, assigning a gift to each anniversary through the 20th year and every five years following. Adhering to the historic idea of gift giving, the idea behind the presents was that the increasing constancy required in marriage called for a greater reward.
Therefore, the traditional gifts for the early years of marriage are inexpensive and more practical than the later years. Couples celebrating 50 and 60 years together are less likely to desire knick-knacks that add to their household possessions. Instead, a more precious gift of real significance should mark the later years. For those who have been married 50 or more years, a greeting from the White House is a special gift in honor of the occasion. Typically, the greetings are sent from the White House two weeks prior to the anniversary. Requirements include advance notice of at least six weeks and the receiver's address, as well as a contact name and phone number. The tradition was originally begun in the United Kingdom following and inspired by Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Couples celebrating 50 or more years of marriage could receive congratulations from England's monarch. The practice continues today.
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