Etiquette: When to Give Gifts

Wedding Etiquette advice from Anna Post, great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and author of Do I Have to Wear White? and Wedding Parties

Here’s the lowdown on the different pre- and post-wedding gatherings and whether a gift is called for on the joyous occasions:

• Engagement Parties: As a general rule, gifts are not given at an engagement party. (Close friends and relatives of the bride and groom may want to give engagement gifts, in which case they should be presented to the couple in private.) This tradition is currently in a state of change, however. Depending on where you live, giving a gift at the engagement party may now be expected. Check with your host if you’re unsure what to do.

• Showers: You absolutely should bring a gift to a wedding shower (that’s the whole point of the party, after all!). If there’s a gift theme, try and stick to it—it will be more fun for the couple and the other guests that way. If you can’t attend the shower, you don’t need to send a gift, but can if you’d like.

• Bachelorette Parties: Gifts aren’t necessary at bachelorette parties, although the hosts may want to provide guests with some inexpensive token gift to remember the evening by.

• Attendants’ Parties: Although no gifts are expected at these parties, the bride and groom can use them as opportunities to give gifts to their attendants—although this may also be done at the rehearsal dinner.

• Rehearsal Dinners: Guests do not bring gifts for the rehearsal dinner. However, the bride and groom may exchange gifts with their attendants at this time.

• Wedding Receptions: Gifts are always given by invited guests to the bride and groom on the occasion of their wedding, even if a guest can’t attend. Gifts may be sent before the date to whatever address the bride and groom designate, or brought to the wedding and left wrapped with an accompanying card on the gifts table. A wedding gift also can be sent after the fact, but this should be done as soon as possible.

• Belated Receptions: There’s an important distinction to be made here: Gifts are given because of weddings, not because of receptions. If a guest is invited only to a belated reception and not to the wedding itself, then a gift doesn’t officially need to be given. In short, think about it this way: One wedding invitation, one present.

• Destination Weddings: Wedding presents are given if you’ve been invited to a destination wedding. However, since attending one can be very expensive, it’s OK to spend a bit less on the gift than you’d normally consider. Due to the expense, many couples will ask those guests who made the trip not to give them presents at all.

Q: haven’t had time to find a gift for my friends prior to their wedding. But I have up to a year after their wedding to send a gift, right?

A: No, not really. The idea that you have a year in which to send a wedding gift is a myth. While I’m not endorsing the one-year rule, the bottom line is: better late than never. I’ve heard from a lot of couples who were really hurt that one of their guests didn’t send a present. This isn’t about greed for gifts. The fact is, lack of a gift translates into a feeling that the guest must not care enough to bother. In the end, it’s always best to send a gift—no matter how late it is—along with a note apologizing for the delay.

Q: I’m asking guests not to bring gifts to my engagement party, but I’m worried that some people will anyway. What should I do if this happens?

A: The phrase “No gifts, please” really does mean no gifts. If some guests ignore this request, however, and show up with a gift in hand, you should simply smile, thank them graciously (throwing in a “You didn’t have to do that!” also is certainly in order), put the gift aside to be opened later, and then just let it go. Don’t express annoyance or refuse the gift. Do reassure (in private) any guests worried about not having brought a gift that they were perfectly in the right for not bringing one.

Q: Is there a set amount that I should spend on a wedding gift?

A: How much you choose to spend on a present is always up to you. There’s no etiquette rule or formula for figuring out how much you should spend on a gift for a shower or wedding. Instead, think about your budget and your relationship with the person. Don’t feel guilty if you want to spend more on your sister than on your second cousin.

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