A friend recently spoke to me about a wedding present dilemma.  She was going to a wedding blessing (the couple having been married abroad shortly before) of the daughter of a school friend, so not someone she knew well.  She was going to the blessing and “light buffet” with a couple, also school friends of the bride’s mother.  The bride and groom, as they lived abroad, hadn’t wanted gifts, knowing it would be hard to get them home, so had asked for money.  My friend didn’t know how much to give and felt uncomfortable that the friends she was going with had suggested they mirror amounts per person, which was a suggestion of £5 each.  In the end, my friend gave £15.

I thought that was a tricky scenario as the bride wasn’t someone particularly known to the guest, and as it was a low budget event, the bride and groom had been able to invite people I suspect they wouldn’t have invited to their wedding, namely a fair few friends of the bride and groom’s parents.  So what do you give?

I don’t like giving money or vouchers as it seems crude, like leaving the price label on a gift.  But I can see that for some couples, that really is all they need as they have fully kitted-out homes and a nice chunk of money could go towards all manner of things, from the honeymoon to DIY or a new car.  Weddings are expensive and the couple pay a lot to have you at their wedding, it just sits a bit uncomfortably with me that by giving money, you sort of end up paying for your invite.  In Japan, however, guests put crisp new notes into a special envelope as the wedding gift (new notes to signify new beginnings and an odd number, often 30,000 yen, which cannot evenly be split, emphasising their union).  This money traditionally goes toward paying for the wedding.  The couple then usually give their guests a gift each, sometimes even chosen by the guest who may have been given a gift list to choose a gift from before the wedding!  But that is a tradition that we don’t have in the UK.

I chatted to another friend about wedding presents and we easily agreed that if a good friend got married and had a wedding list, we’d probably buy a present on the list and an additional gift off-list, something more personal to reflect your relationship with the one or both of the couple.  Neither of us felt comfortable about giving cash, though a compromise could be part cash and part present.  But if the couple want or need cash or, say, holiday vouchers, it’s their wedding, right, and you’re going to spend money on a present anyway so why not give them what they can and will use?

However, the main reason I like to give a present is that I love the idea that the couple will remember that the big blue vase they love so much is from me and that seeing it in use reminds them of me and of their wedding.  That sounds incredibly naff, having written it down, but I do think that.  I am also a sucker for wedding thank you cards whereby the newlyweds thank you for joining them on their happy day and for [present], which was first used when [present-usage scenario].

I also like the idea of couples who have everything being given experience presents.  Three of us did that for a friend’s wedding, knowing where they were going on their honeymoon, and we were all really happy to get a wedding thank you card in the form of a postcard from each of the sites of the two travel gifts we’d given them.

There are lots of other wedding present dilemmas, particularly if you pay a lot to travel to or stay at the location of the wedding, which is a shame, but despite any moans I’ve ever uttered about such things, it’s always worked out well and I have thoroughly enjoyed every wedding I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.


{17/05/2012}   Celebrating birthdays

It is my birthday in a matter of days.  While this does not fill me with dread, it does make me feel a little nervous, like when you were young and went to school with a new haircut; you know your friends are going to say something and you kind of want them to but don’t because you don’t want to be the centre of attention.

This year, and a few previous years, Chris has organised something for me.  This is good, though a surprise is like going into class at school and everyone noticing you’ve had your hair cut without your realising it’s been cut!  It’s ok once the dust has settled!

To be completely honest, the best things about birthdays is when friends you’re not in touch with that often write you a card, ideally accompanied by a letter, and/or text or email and contact is made.  I am also always touched by the effort good friends go to when it comes to presents or meeting up plans.  Of course I love presents, and the older you get the more thoughtful and appropriate presents seem to be, but in an ideal world – well, a semi-ideal world as opening presents is fun – I would love to see each good friend for some quality one-to-one catch up time.  The older I get, the more I appreciate my and friends’ time and time is indeed a special gift.

As for sociable birthdays, it’s lovely to see a group of friends and to be made to feel special.  It’s unusual for me to go out with groups of friends and I always get a bit of a kick out of seeing friends who don’t know each other getting on well.  But, oh, how hideous when you have a big group and you realise that either no one is talking , small groups are talking and some people are looking left out or, what I have been known to do, my becoming a blatherer, holding court!  Dreadful!

Another cool thing about birthdays is that there is usually a social/going out element to the celebration of your making it to another year and these are usually memorable.  I have had a complete surprise dinner with a load of friends, a treasure hunt, a long weekend away with a group of really good friends, dinner for two at NoPi, favourite places revisited with my mum, drunken parties, karaoke, Ethiopian food (that nearly lost me my tastebuds!) in San Francisco, friends round for Eurovision and themed food and drinks, a retro party … and there emerges the key theme: being with people you have chosen to be with, who you want to spend your precious time with.  Roll on Sunday and my surprise-but-not-really birthday party!  Oh, and how could I forget:  CAKE!  The cake completeth the birthday!  I hope my mum doesn’t think I won’t want my annual Battenberg cake anymore!

et cetera