Continuing our blog posts on the history of anniversaries, why and when did it become the norm to celebrate with gifts and not just those of silver and gold?
It’s believed that shopkeepers were keen to cash in on the tradition, so wedding anniversaries became more commercialised. Retailers devised a list of gift ideas that would encourage married couples to celebrate their anniversary every year rather than only marking milestones, though gifts for the landmark anniversaries were much higher in value. Other industries followed suit and devised further lists for flowers, gemstones and colours. This could explain why there isn’t one list that every country recognises, as there are variations throughout the world still today.
Published in 1859, The (Old) Farmer’s Almanac stated that one month from the date of marriage was a sugar wedding, one year paper, five years wood and 75 years diamond, in addition to silver and golden anniversaries. Sugar is now considered to be the 6th wedding anniversary in the UK.
I also found evidence that by 1886 other, less significant anniversaries were being acknowledged in Chicago. The Inter Ocean Curiosity Shop for the Year 1886 answered a reader’s question about the ‘origins of tin, china, silver etc. weddings’.
Their answer was centred around traditions that began in medieval Germany. Interestingly, they also said that gift giving was partly in congratulations and partly to recognise that the couple must have known a ‘harmonious existence’ otherwise one or more would have been ‘long before worried into the grave’. It goes on to say that the harmony of the household typically depends on the wife, so she receives the award.
That may explain why I’ve found references to women receiving far more elaborate gifts than men. Peasant Life in Germany explained how women wore a silver wreath for the 25th anniversary and men a silver buckle. For the 50th anniversary women wore a golden crown, and the men still wore a buckle, but a gold one instead. It’s an interesting insight into gender roles in the household, but that’s a subject for another time.
The reader’s question regarding the origins of the various anniversaries was answered in one sentence. They were told that they were adopted afterwards in the imitation of others and with ‘purely arbitrary signification’.
For the remainder of the late 1800s, various publications including society manuals and dictionaries listed anniversary gifts, but some said diamonds were for 60 years and others said they were for 75 years. By 1900, the average life expectancy for a man was 47 and a woman 50, so it seems unlikely that many couples reached either milestone.
Nowadays, diamonds are associated with celebrating a 60th anniversary (and 30th too, according to the modern list), possibly since Queen Victoria celebrated 60 years on the throne with a Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Traditional and modern anniversary gifts
The Victorian era sparked huge change with couples now marrying for love. Some were shocked by the idea and questioned how marriages would last under such circumstances, so growing long-term commitment became a priority. By the early 1900s, anniversary celebrations became more popular, and the lists began to be amalgamated.
Many of the gifts enjoyed by the Victorians are still favoured today, but over time newer ideas have been added and we now have two separate lists: traditional and modern. Not all years are different though and silver and gold remain the symbols for 25 and 50 years on both. Traditional gifts include paper, cotton and pottery, and modern gifts are more practical and include clocks, electrical appliances and watches.
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Keep a look out for our next blog: 1st Anniversary Traditional to Modern Gift Ideas