Some of our most popular gifts are purchased to celebrate wedding anniversaries. Packing up an order last week made me and my daughter wonder, why do we celebrate these marriage milestones and why are certain years associated with specific gifts?
We decided to investigate the history of wedding anniversaries and over the coming months we’ll be delving deeper and exploring the subject further, so look out for our next posts!
When were wedding anniversaries first celebrated?
It’s believed that wedding anniversaries were celebrated as far back as Ancient Rome, so it’s remarkable that we still carry on the tradition today so many years later.
Sources also suggest that significant anniversaries were celebrated in medieval Germany when it’s understood that men would gift their wives ornate garlands. These would be made from silver to celebrate 25 years of marriage and gold for 50.
By the 1800s, gift-giving had become more commonplace across Europe, but anniversaries were still very much seen as German and Dutch traditions for English-speaking nations.
Published in London in 1811, an article covering the subject appeared in Literary Panorama. It stated, ‘it is very probable that many of our readers will hardly comprehend our reason for entitling this article ‘A Golden Remarriage’’ and it goes on to tell the reader how it is customary in Holland for a couple to gather with family and friends and give a festival after living together for 25 years. It was called a silver wedding.
The piece continued to talk about 50th anniversary celebrations, saying that they were deemed much more important as a smaller number of people lived long enough to reach them. It described how wealthy people would have invited friends, connections and relations to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary and that parties had occupied whole towns.
Written by Marie Nathusius, one of the most-read novelists in the second half of the 19th century in Germany, Elizabeth: A Story which Does Not End in Marriage, was published in 1858. It was translated into English in 1860 and the translator added a note to explain what silver and golden wedding anniversaries were. This has led me to assume that some 49 years after the Literary Panorama article was published, people may still not have been celebrating anniversaries in England as the Germans and Dutch did.
More evidence from Germany may be found in a travel journal written by Miss Anna C Johnson in 1859. ‘Peasant Life in Germany’ included a chapter on ‘amusements’ that told stories of how marriages, birthdays and gold and silver weddings were celebrated.
The chapter begins, ‘There is probably not a week in the year in which some festival does not occur.’ It goes on to say that every unusual event that other countries would pass by is commemorated with a fete. That sounds like fun to me!
The author noted that all ranks celebrated anniversaries and goes on to describe how a couple celebrated their silver wedding anniversary candidly. The couple had lived together ‘pleasantly enough’ and had several children, but the man fell in love with another woman and left his family to marry her. When he reached his silver wedding anniversary with his first wife, he returned and celebrated as though they had never separated. A week later he left again, and it was all very amicable.
Look out for our next blog: So, when and why did it become the norm to celebrate all anniversaries, not just silver and gold?