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Are Wedding Gifts Mandatory?

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Would you ever go to a wedding without bringing a gift? I’d sooner show up to a black-tie affair in a Speedo®. Yet, a few people came to my wedding metaphorically nude – without even bringing a card. And I’m not sure if I have any right to be annoyed.

This is not about wanting a new toaster. I am genuinely hurt that some people who I am close with did not think to (or worse, decided not to) give us something to help start our new lives together. That’s the point of a wedding gift. As the couple debates about kids and where to live and what shows to TiVo®, the wedding gift gives that couple one less thing to worry about. Even JDate sent us congratulatory matching t-shirts, and we didn’t invite them. Sorry JDate – it was a relatively small affair, and we just couldn’t accommodate all half a million of you.

Sara and I talked to a few married friends and relatives about our mysterious non-gifters and everyone said that they had faced the same problem. Seems that this is common; 5-10% of any given wedding will assume their presence is present enough.

People who come from far away, I can understand. If you’ve already blown $1,000 on plane fare and hotel, there’s no need to see where the happy couple has registered. And if the wedding itself is a cheapo affair, I can also understand. But we spent a great deal of money on food, drink and ambience for each of our guests, and had people who lived close enough to walk to the ceremony not bring anything—other than their appetite, of course.

I know what I sound like – call me ungrateful. But also call me honest. I believe that anyone in my situation would be as equally conflicted. This isn’t a suggested donation to a museum – this is a gift to a person who you care about on the most important day of their lives. And it says more than just “hey, here’s a toaster.” It’s the thought that counts, and they counted to zero.

Before you judge me, we’re not the type of people to bleed our friends dry with gift giving occasions. We don’t have birthday parties, and we won’t be having a housewarming. When we invite people over, we cook and tell them not to bring anything. There was no engagement party, no bridal shower and no other silly pre-wedding “I need to think of a reason to bore my friends while they give me stuff” events.

Am I wrong to expect everyone who attends a wedding to give a gift? Maybe – it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong, as those of you who like to write in to this column enjoy pointing out.

On one hand, I was thrilled to see everyone who came to the wedding; on the other, really? Not even a card? There’s a CVS around the corner, you can save on a stamp. Maybe they were just giving us a multiple of chai: 18 times zero.

I have never been one to follow etiquette rules – I put my elbows on the table, don’t care which fork I eat my salad with and would happily wear white after Labor Day (if I ever wore white). But even I know that you don’t go to a wedding without bringing a gift. Hell, I send gifts when I can’t make the wedding. Except for one occasion when someone I barely knew invited me because they knew I couldn’t make it – in that case, get your own damned toaster.

Speaking of tacky, we can’t think of a good way to handle this. Do we say something? Do we let it go? Do we casually talk about a wonderful gift someone else got us? Do I write a column and passive aggressively hope they read it? Probably not, since I know my friends only pretend they read my column.

“Steve, great column.”

“What part did you like the best?”

“Um. The part about Jews?”

We’ve decided to wait a few more weeks and then take the high road. We’ll simply send each of the non-gifters a thank you card for coming, letting them know how much their attendance meant to us. It will be kind and courteous – and maybe it will remind them to check our registry.

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been seen on VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central®, but you’re more likely to have seen him on the last Barbara Walters Special.

*Comedy Central is a registered trademark of Comedy Partners, a wholly-owned division of Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks.

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16 Comments »

  • Theresa says:

    Hi Steve! Just recently this happened to me at my Bridal Shower- I invited only my close friends and family and 4 out of the 15 guests did not bring a gift, not even a card! Fred Meyers & Dollar store are literally just down the street, and they couldn’t even stop there! PLUS, 2 of the guests were already 30 minutes late… Obviously, this has shown me WHO these friends of mine really are. The other 2 guests that didn’t bring me a gift or card was my 2 BRIDESMAIDS. Now this just blows my mind! You would think after all the decorating and handmade food that my sister (MOH) did for this party, they would at least bring something for me being that they are in the Wedding. Is that my gift- that they are in the Wedding? I guess so! I’m going to take the high road and move on because it’s not good to dwell on this, and I’m happy people came. With or without gifts.

  • Ruthie says:

    I agree 100%! If you’re a guest and you’re eating on someone’s dime, you should bring something nice for them. End of story. Here’s another article that agrees with you: http://weddings.gatheringguide.com/ac/wedding-etiquette/wedding-presents-hardly-a-scourge

  • Tatsiana says:

    5-10%??… how about entire groom’s family, about 15 ppl, who gave nothing, not even a card…. I (mother of the bride) was in shock as were my friends and relatives…. that was the reason I started googling this subject… to understand, to find any reasoning for that decision, because it did seem like a unanimous decision for his family. It was a destination wedding and it wasn’t traditional but it was what bride and groom wanted. So all the guests had to fly there and pay for hotels but does it really mean that it’s ok not to give any gifts to their son/grandson/nephew? My family and friends sure didn’t think so. I like my new family – they are sweet and nice people, very frieny too…. BUT I can’t get over the fact that none of them gave anything to the newlywed couple. ..

  • Mackenzie says:

    I’ve only been to a few weddings as an adult, and for the ones that involved students or where I was a student, I did the calligraphy and declared that the gift. The others…you’ve been living together in an established household for years now. Doesn’t make sense.

    You know what does make sense? Divorce showers. Couples getting married don’t need more junk. They already had to go through and throw out the second blender, mixer, and toaster when they moved in together several years ago. Divorcees? They need gifts. Only one of them is getting custody of the pre-existing toaster after all!

  • Stephanie says:

    Totally agree!! Never show up without a gift. We recently had a wedding and about 25% of the people didnt bring something – not even a card. We also had guest that we had recently attended their wedding and gave the standard $200 (from my now husband and myself) and they came to ours and gave nothing– they didn’t have to get us a $200 gift in return (that is def not my point), but no gift–come on?! It didn’t matter the amount, but I’m def questioning these 25%. The ones from our of town I can understand, but it town people – and people making well over $250k per year makes me scratch my head.

  • emily says:

    We just got married and had 1/3 of our guests not bring a card or gift. I am – to be frank – outraged. 5-10% would have been a much happier figure for me from where i’m standing. 33% is just…unbelivable.

  • Derick Smith says:

    Honestly, I wouldn’t say anything at all. It’s funny, the reason that I stumbled across this post is because I am soon to be a guest at a distant friend’s wedding and, quite frankly, I really don’t want to buy a gift. Before you jump to conclusions let me explain. Over the past 7 or so years, I have attended a number of weddings, baby showers, and bridal showers, all of which I gave a gift in the $50 and higher range. Since I myself eloped for my wedding and have yet to have a child, I have not received gifts from any of these people. To top it off, I never will because I have moved around quite a bit and no longer speak with any of them. So, suffice it to say, the last thing I want to do is give this “friend” a gift that a. won’t be returned and b. probably won’t really speak to us in the future again. It sucks. If you’re wondering why I’m even going… truth be told, my husband is eager to see many of his old friends. I don’t really know what to say or do other that try to convince him that the baby that will be trying for this fall will receive nothing from this “friend”, nor the house that we are saving for. Everyone is in the same boat. You should think about that. Gift be damned. Just be happy people came.

  • XD says:

    Gift giving is problematic to me. Once you are invited to a wedding, it’s like you are expected to give a gift, just because they paid money, you have to pay money, or you can’t go. Same for birthdays party, Christmas, and so on. So, the bottom line is, you have to spend money to be social, and isn’t this buying people? I personnally do not like the whole idea of gifts, especially when they are mandatory, so I don’t mind other people not giving gifts.
    Not everybody thinks like this. For instance, I think nothing about cards, and if I receive one, I will probably just put it somewhere and ultimately lose it, or I will have to consciously think about a place to put these kind of stuff and this will only annoy me. But some people like to look at them I guess, well I’m not sure what they can do with those cards but anyway.
    So the rationale to me is this: please people be tolerant. If you resent them not giving gifts, just don’t give any gift the next time you see them. People that do not like gifts are in the minority, and as such, they are most happy when they find people that can understand their views. Your just making their life psychologically more difficult by asking for gifts, and by giving them gifts.

  • Claire says:

    I went to a friends wedding on the weekend and offered to drive a couple of my friends. All of us but one bought gifts. As we crammed in my car for the 45 minute drive to the reception it got me thinking, what could her excuse possibly be? At the engagement party and hen’s night, when discussing gifts she kept bringing up how she would love to have bought a gift but only works party time so she can’t afford to. Understandable, Hens and engagement parties are more of a mandatory thing. But no wedding gift?! I didn’t bring it up with her, too much of an akward car ride home. But not even a card? I’m sorry that you’re inbetween jobs at the moment. But if you can afford a drink at the pub before the wedding, can’t you at least buy a card!?! You can get them for $1 at Red Dot! Why not get a photo frame from there for $5??? I thought it was so rude that this couple had invited her and paid (food and drink was amazing, so A LOT) for her place and she couldn’t even bring a crummy card. Really really rude. Thanks for the article to reassure me!

  • rose says:

    we just got married and some folks gave nothing, not even a card. Now these are decent folks who could afford a card, i would never go to any function i was invited to without a small gift. again don’t care about the gift, but now we are wondering, did it get stolen or lost? . do we ask them. very awkward, do we send a thank you anyway. what if they lost it or it is still in their suit pocket. again, we don’t want them to think us rude for not sending a thank you.

  • Marc J says:

    I just got married a few weeks ago. I think it’s rude not to show up with anything, and by anything, even just a card. If times are tough, make your own card on the computer. It’s free. Grab some crayons and make one. You can make up coupons as a gift. One of our friends made up coupons to babysit our dog. It was really clever and much appreciated. At least acknowledge the celebration of the wedding. It’s not about the big check or the fancy gift, it’s about acknowledging the celebration of the marriage. If someone was nice enough to include you in their wedding, the celebration of two people finding each other, that means that you are important to them. The least you could do is bring something as simple as a card. I think to not even do that is classless and in really poor taste. We have some people that have not given even a card and I am in the same position as to what to do, if anything. My guess is let it go and realize who your friends really are.

  • Louise says:

    I’m without a job, have no income and savings almost depleted and yet I’m planning on going to an upcoming wedding. I’m dreading going without a present for the first time in my life (I’m 62). This is a wonderful couple, they’ve been living together for 2 years, without kids (not planning any) and both have very good jobs.
    I, on the other hand, have been looking for a job for 8 months, have moved 3 times and my car’s desperately in need of a new muffler system.
    I will check Salvation Army and a consignment shop to see what treasure I can find for $10, just so I don’t go empty handed.
    Not all of us can afford to give nearly affluent, nearly middle aged couples a wedding gift.
    I don’t want to feel guilty, I was hoping for a little easier advice but I’ll go elsewhere.

  • What? says:

    Are you serious dude? Get off your high horse!! A wedding in itself is an optional thing. You are not entitled to any gift whatsoever…1. Because it was YOUR decision to spend the ___ thousand dollars on a wedding 2. YOU invited people to come and share in the experience that you put together. That’s like someone throwing a birthday party and charging their guests a cover charge. A wedding gift has always been optional not mandatory and it’s sad that people would ever see it as a means to get free stuff. That is what’s wrong with American culture. So focused on the event rather than what is most important. A wedding is not something to celebrate itself..it’s to celebrate a marriage. The marriage comes first and is what is most important. The wedding itself shouldn’t have too much emphasis put on it. Don’t put yourself in debt by spending thousands of dollars on a wedding so you won’t HAVE to worry about people not giving you gifts, you’ll be able to get your own toaster.

  • Max says:

    Looks to me like this is beyond etiquette, more about offense. There are millions of reasons to get offended – for the occasion of a wedding or not. There doesn’t seem to be so many kind of reactions though, and one may be tempted to let the hurt retaliate. Do we know everything ? No. Anger always goes away, this can actually be a very good opportunity to deepen an otherwise shallow relationship.

  • ari says:

    If you were invited to a wedding but cannot attend, proper etiquette dictates you send a gift anyway. This can be sent at any time before the wedding, but it’s considered bad form to send the gift any later than three months after. There’s an exception, however, if you haven’t been in touch with the bride and groom for years and don’t live close by. You’re not required to send a gift. Gifts sent before the wedding should be sent to the home of the bride or the bride’s parents.

  • Kris Ruby says:

    Steve! I love your post and you are spot on. I think it is the RUDEST, TACKIEST thing in the world to go to a wedding and not bring a present! Honestly, I don’t even show up at friends birthdays empty handed. I recently went to a Birthday and went above and beyond in terms of the expected gift for someone in my age group because it is the right thing to do! You either have manners or you don’t. If someone showed up to my wedding empty handed, our friendship would probably be over. It is unforgivable. Granted I am not engaged yet- but still, it is just plain wrong. Thanks for calling people out in the post who do that!!!

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