It was none other the queen of courtesy herself, Emily Post, who introduced the idea of material themes for anniversary gifts. In her 1922 book, Etiquette, she listed eight – and noted explicitly that the gifts become increasingly more serious and sacred over time, from paper for the first anniversary and tin for the 10th to silver for the 25th and gold for the 50th. Eventually, the list expanded to include materials like leather (third) and pearl (30th).
In the century since, the practice has been embraced by some and abandoned by others. Times change; Post’s notion of an anniversary gift was one given by family or friend to the couple, a custom that seems less common today. Now, some couples forgo gifts to each other entirely, choosing instead to mark the occasion with an event, such as dining at a special restaurant or taking a weekend getaway. And those who do exchange presents are likely to choose gifts that are more practical, or at least more relevant to a partner’s likes and interests.
Still, at Ten Thousand Villages, traditions intrigue us, especially when we can give them a new twist. In fact, this is one of our company’s core values – working with makers around the world to develop new designs that incorporate time-honored skills and crafting techniques. In fact, we think that the list of traditional wedding gifts provides the perfect inspiration for imaginative and meaningful, and, yes, modern anniversary gifts.
Here’s the “with a twist” approach our in-house gifting experts really like. Start with the traditional material as a theme. Plan an experience that relates (make a leap, if you have to, big points for originality here), because time spent together is where memories are really made. Then choose a physical symbol, something functional you will use or something beautiful you will display, something that will call that experience to mind. After all, for a memory to bring joy, we must actually have cause to remember it.
It’s a basic but brilliant template: experience + souvenir = memorable gift.
For your convenience, or simply your inspiration, we present our favorite ideas for really cool, kind of quirky (and completely customizable) anniversary presents.
1st Anniversary: Paper
Write your love story.
Your first year, in words
Just married (or about to be)? Start now. Use slips of paper to document the year – funny quotes, kind deeds, a road trip, that snafu with the kitchen sink, all those little everyday moments that, together, make up a life. They are simple. But they are precious. And they are fleeting. So write them down, one by one. Fold them up and drop them in a jar. You could do this together over the course of the year. Or keep it a surprise. Either way, read them on your first anniversary.
A keepsake box, to hold those memories for years to come. Or on your first anniversary, give yourselves a journal in which you’ll take turns recording the moments of your second year together. Both of these ideas could easily become traditions you continue long after your paper anniversary!
2nd Anniversary: Cotton
Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin?
Good food nourishes the body and the soul, and a home-cooked meal is an everyday way to show the people we love how much we care. If you are novices in the kitchen, find a session that covers fundamental techniques, like chopping and sautéing. If you are more advanced, maybe you’ll focus on mastering a few signature dishes.
3rd Anniversary: Leather
Get on your high horse.
From knights in shining armor astride their trusty steeds to cowboys and westerns and wide open spaces, there’s something romantic about riding a horse (at least in the movies). Go give it a try yourself. Stables and ranches around the country offer guided opportunities for beginners lasting a few hours to several days. A guided trail ride gives you a chance to see the surroundings from a different perspective.
A leather saddle bag or a horseshoe, for luck.
4th Anniversary: Fruit or Flowers
It’s wine time. (Grapes are fruit; need we say more?)
Wine is produced in each of the 50 states in the U.S., though if you live in California, Washington, Oregon or New York, you’ll have more wine to choose from. Pick a vineyard to visit and check the schedule of events. Brush up on a few basics before you go, but don’t be intimidated if you aren’t yet a connoisseur; the best way to learn what you like is by tasting. Be sure to hire a car, because all those little sips can add up. And raise your glass to love – that gets better with age!
5th Anniversary: Wood
See the forest for the trees.
The roots have taken hold, and with tender care your relationship grows stronger each year. To celebrate, donate a tree to be planted through the Arbor Day Foundation or your local parks department or conservancy. Then head outdoors and experience the shade, shelter and beauty of a tree. Pack a picnic and visit an arboretum or go camping in a National Forest.
A photo, a painting, or other piece of artwork depicting a tree.
10th Anniversary: Tin/Aluminum
Trust, not rust.
Tin and aluminum are some of the most ordinary elements on the periodic table. But for things like canned goods and cookware, they are materials that serve us every day in more ways that we realize. These materials contain more than just food—they contain the promise of never going hungry. After a decade, comfort and reliability are something to celebrate. Think about doing something together for your community: volunteer at soup kitchen or a litter clean up. Then kick back (on a beach if possible, but your backyard will do) and pop a top on a cold beverage.
20th Anniversary: China
Take a trip to China(town)
Forgo the fine porcelain. The most populous country on earth boasts some once-in-a-lifetime vistas – from mountains and waterfalls to ancient villages. But if you can’t swing a trip to the Great Wall, many U.S. cities, including San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and even Houston, have a Chinatown. Make a visit and immerse yourself in Chinese culture – from open-air live markets to authentic food – and leave your passport at home.
Chopsticks sets. And you’ll remember the trip with every stir fry and takeout.
25th Anniversary: Silver
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Hot air balloon ride
Over a quarter of century, there will have certainly been ups and downs, but this is sure to be a memorable HIGHlight. Get a bird’s eye view of a vacation destination or your hometown.
You get the idea. Turn your own imagination loose with the list. And consider these themes when it comes to others’ anniversaries. A gift to another couple likely won’t be as elaborate as the one you share with your spouse, but it’s a thoughtful gesture to recognize an occasion that is important to people who are important to you – parents, siblings and close friends, particularly if you were part of their wedding party. These themes give creativity and meaning an opportunity to outshine extravagance (which is the essence of gifting). Your sister and brother in law’s fourth (fruit or flowers) anniversary? A bottle of wine or a potted annual are simple but still significant. It’s that easy.
Need a little help? Have no fear, our gift finder is here.