Traditional Anniversary Gifts?

Riedel-Romance DecanterAs a married man (six happy years thus far), I’ve always wondered what the traditional milestone gifts are/were. With a quick bit of research, not only did I find the list, but the apparent rhyme attached to it. Considering I’m not a traditionalist, I’ve taken it upon myself to comment on this antiquated registry. Regardless of my personal views, I do appreciate the sense of progression, from an affordability standpoint: newlyweds were traditionally young and, more than likely, flat broke. Additionally, the list is symbolic of the strength, determination, and slow cultivation of a relationship spanning decades. It’s certainly romantic, if not considerably outdated on a number of levels. Well, if you haven’t chosen to skewer me yet for my lack of classic romanticism, let’s have a look at the list.

I guess the first fifteen years were the true trial, and thus each year had its own reward for continued cohabitation. Also, most of the gifts during these early years were pedestrian and/or relatively inexpensive (think start-up gifts, mostly).

The  1st is PAPER – on which you can write  
I assume for writing love notes and letters of endearment
The  2nd is COTTON – all crisp and white
for making clothing? Baby diapers?
The  3rd is LEATHER – a bag or some gloves   
for saddles, gloves, armor, flasks, and the like, I suppose  
The  4th is BOOKS – Lady Chatterley’s loves!  
historically, books were commodities, and greatly revered
The  5th is WOOD – a box full of dreams  
to build a home with, or hold jewelry, or build coffins. A plague was around every corner, after all            
The  6th is IRON – a golf club not steam  
at this point, the guy just needs an escape. Or, the loving wife has had enough of his whining, so she’s putting him out to pasture
The  7th is WOOL – so warm and gentile    
while he’s off golfing, she’s home knitting sweaters. Doesn’t seem very fair…
The  8th is BRONZE – a sculpture to feel      
 a sculpture? So, eight years into the communion, they have a house big enough to hold bronze sculptures?
The  9th is POTTERY – all manner of things   
after nine years, I can see the need for more storage  
The 10th is TIN – a whistle that sings
affordable plateware, cutlery, bowls and cups? Maybe a new roof for the garden shed. But, only after the bronze sculpture is in
The 11th is STEEL – so shiny and bright  
again, I’m at a loss here. Swords? A battle axe? Better armor?
The 12th is SILK – so soft and so light      
for comfy summertime bedding…? Or, more elegant dress-wear?
The 13th is LACE – a cloth you can feel       
I’m guessing it’s time to rekindle the flame.
The 14th is IVORY – just colour not real  
The color white? “I surrender”? I’ve no clue.
The 15th is CRYSTAL – cut glass at its best     
crystal is timeless, elegant and lovely. I’ve no clue why they went with a bronze sculpture or golf clubs before cut glass…

It seems that it took twenty years to get to fine dinnerware, though the happy couple already had a sculpture, golf clubs, a battle axe, and the color white.

The 20th CHINA – cups, plates and the rest          
elegant, useful and a potential heirloom
The 25th is SILVER – a true milestone to cherish         
the gift of jewelry or cutlery. After 25 years, they can afford fine silverware.
The 30th is PEARL – a necklace that won’t perish      
unlike today, pearls were rare, not aquacultured, so I can see why this would take some time and be a prized possession
The 35th is CORAL, from under the sea        
in environmental terms, this gift is more valuable {and more tragic} today than ages ago. But, back then, it would have been more difficult to acquire
The 40th is RUBY, a fire stone can it be  
technically more valuable than diamond, the ruby is certainly a fitting gift for forty years of companionship.
The 45th is SAPPHIRE – a deep precious blue   
another very precious and very beautiful stone, the sapphire befits such a long run
The 50th is GOLDEN – a nostalgic occasion so true     
I can only assume gold was considered the penultimate precious metal at the time. Thus it was perceived to be of higher value than the gems preceding it. Plus, the Germans, in ancient terms, would only celebrate the 25th and 50th anniversaries. They would place silver and gold wreaths, respectively, atop the wife’s head.
The 55th is EMERALD – so green and so pure      
I have no idea why the third of the gemstones is up here… Harder to come by?
The 60th is DIAMOND – an achievement for sure
Sure. The crown jewel of the gems. After sixty years, I would hope that there’s a diamond in there somewhere… like on the engagement ring, from day one. But, this Diamond was originally in recognition of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Poetically speaking, diamonds are the hardest of the gems, potentially signifying the unbreakable nature of the bond

After the 60th, the list goes like this:

65th: Blue Sapphire        
apparently, this anniversary requires the specific color blue in the gemstone
70th: Platinum            
historically, platinum is fairly new on the periodic table, and exceedingly rare. Just like the act of surviving seventy years together
75th: Diamonds      
plural. The loving couple would be in their nineties if they wed when they were eighteen. Seventy-five years would certainly justify a gift, or a shower, of multiple gems. Though, by that time, the gift of waking up in the morning would be far more valuable to most.

I realize the list of traditional anniversary gifts is more symbolic than literal today than in previous ages. The romantic sentiment still prevails (mostly), but it is interesting to see how different the priorities were a couple (or a few) hundred years ago. Also keep in mind, dear reader, that there is a modernized list of anniversary milestones which makes, at least, a bit more sense by today’s trends.

Regardless of which list you adhere to, if any, the idea of celebrating a loving communion is never a bad thing. Rejoice in your partner, married or not. They are a cornerstone in your life, and a gift more precious than any gem.

  1. For my daughter’s first anniversary she received a kitten which she named …. Paper.

  2. Thank you for this list! I am not sure I’ve researched past the 15th, and this was a very interesting read! Though I find myself being more of a romantic than you, apparently, and after looking at the “modern” list of milestone gifts I much prefer the traditional. Also, ivory is not white!! Ask ANY bride=)

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