Wedding presents–thinking outside the registry

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A younger cousin of mine recently got married. I am very fond of this young man. He used to come over and play ping-pong with sons when they were younger and I was exhausted. (It is a rule of parenting that the parent will always tire of a fun activity before the child.) He and his new bride are, of course, registered. There are options from department stores and specialty stores. If I were the sort who wanted to make sure I’d bought the couple something they said they definitively wanted, I had a plethora of viable options. I, however, wanted to buy to the beat of a different drummer. I wanted to give the couple something I was sure they wouldn’t get from anyone else. And, of course, I wanted them to like it.

The latter posed no easy challenge. I was married more than twenty-odd years ago and I can still remember some baffling wedding presents. A friend of my husband’s gave us a small table where the legs were covered in medical scrubs–I married a surgeon. I had no idea what to do with that. (I’m completely willing to agree that the gift was supposed to be funny and, at the time, I missed the joke.) A neighbor of my parents gave us an elaborate, large crystal object shaped like a series of pineapples. I still don’t know what purpose it was to serve. And along with the baffling, we got many deeply appreciated house-forming gifts: china, pots and pans, silver, and glass. I still use many of those pieces regularly and am so grateful to all who helped me start out my married life with the stuff dinner parties are made of.

As I thought about the gift gauntlet, I decide I wanted to give my cousin and his wife something out of the ordinary they wouldn’t have bought for themselves but still would use. I thought back to my own wedding gifts I’d label as such. Perhaps my favorite gift of all was the small but beautiful (and worn) Oriental rug an older cousin gave me. I still use it today–I stand on it while I rinse the dishes at my kitchen sink. It’s become so worn over the years that many of the patterns are lost, but I still love it and think of my cousin while I load the dishwasher. I adore the odd but lovely antique gravy boat my aunt and uncle gave me. I only use at Thanksgiving when my family—my very large family–all descends. But I value it immensely. It doesn’t match my silver pattern and it looks as though it hails from years past, but it’s still–even in 2011–unique. I wanted to find a gift like my rug or my gravy boat–something old but handsome, something unique but not anachronistically unusable.

I found the perfect gift while wandering through an antique/junk store with my husband. It was a cut glass bowl, elaborately carved, but simple of shape. One could use it for a vast number of things: as a fruit bowl, to drop keys in at the end of the day, to store cotton balls, even to serve salad. It seemed, to me, timeless and fetchingly old. I’d guess it dates from the 1930’s or 1940’s. It cost the same as a setting of their china. I liked it so much I was a bit sad to give it away. But I did. My cousin came over to pick it up–I’d been unable to go to his wedding–and, as he turned it over in his hands, he said he thought (I think he was sincere.) his wife would love it.

So, what of wedding presents? Do you have a gift that hits the spot every time? Do you have, hidden away in your cupboards, a gift that still makes you giggle? (I will tell you both the scrubs table and the pineapple thingy are long gone here!) What was the best wedding present you received?

5 thoughts on “Wedding presents–thinking outside the registry

  1. Jane AAR

    As I’m not married, I can’t speak to my own gifts. But as I work in a gift shop, sometimes the possibilities are overwhelming. So many beautiful things!

    When a friend of mine got married a year ago, I looked on her registry to figure out her “colors’ — apparently a v. big deal — and got her something that matched- a tray painted by a local artist.

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  2. Virginia

    Technically, a registry is a good way to get something they “wouldn’t get from anyone else.” It may not be really defensible when it comes down to it (asking for gifts, ew) … but it’s really quite practical. And I think it’s so entrenched it will never go away. But there are obviously right and wrong ways to approach it (mixing bowl, yes … honeymoon fund, no (imho)).

    I like to get something small-ish off the registry, and then something else not on the registry. Could be something safe like a set of cute plastic glasses, or something interesting, like when I brought home gifts for friends who got engaged when I was in Peace Corps.

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  3. Susan/DC

    My perennial wedding present for those I am close too (family members or children of dear friends) is a sterling silver picture frame, either new or antique. It doesn’t have to be expensive, depending on size and where you buy it (as Dabney notes for her gift, it may cost less than a place setting of their china). I enclose a note saying that this gift may be useful to hold one of their small wedding photos.

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  4. Dante

    I believe that giving a gift should not only please the person who is receiving the gift but show something of the giver. Anyone can give money in an envelope and be thanked. Finding a gift to please the two people starting out together can hold a cherished memory for time.

    However, the person giving the gift must remember that the gift should be to the taste of the people receiving. Giving Arts and Crafts styled items to a sleek modern contemporary styled pair is promising that the gift will be given away later or left in a closet until divorce. This was a hard lesson learned, having given gifts to others that were greatly unappreciated.

    That said, I still cherish the grandly ostentatious ugly Gothic marble and silver candlestick holders given by an older family member at my wedding. I keep them and use them at the holidays when I remember good memories and stories about someone who is gone. My spouse also believes that if the awful things were given away that the person would haunt us.

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