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Modern Takes on Traditional Anniversary Gifts

The practice of exchanging anniversary gifts dates back to the middle ages, with traditional gifts such as silver for the 25th anniversary originating in the Germanic region, when a husband gave his wife a silver garland. The source on this is Hallmark, one of many businesses with a stake in making sure we keep celebrating milestones with gifts and cards. I suspect business interests have played a part in keeping some of the more obscure traditions going as well as adding “modern” gift alternatives.


My ninth wedding anniversary is coming up, and when my husband asked me what I wanted, I came up blank. There’s a lot of stuff I need, such as a food processor and a new laptop, but he doesn’t do practical gifts. Stumped, I checked to see what tradition dictates I should receive this year.  Pottery and willow.  Willow? 

Lists vary somewhat depending on the source, but these traditional anniversary gifts are generally recognized as the gifts to give. 

First anniversary, paper: This symbolizes the strength derived from interlocking fibers.
Traditional suggestions: Newspaper or magazine subscription, personalized stationery, concert ticket, a book.
Modern suggestion: A photo book highlighting memories of your first year of marriage. 

Second anniversary, cotton: This is associated with durability, which is a good thing in a marriage (and a t-shirt).
Traditional suggestion: A bathrobe.
Modern suggestion: A bathrobe accompanied by a gift certificate to a spa. 

Third anniversary, leather: On some lists, leather makes an appearance on the ninth anniversary. It’s associated with prosperity, luxury, and durability. Not appropriate for serious vegetarians.
Traditional suggestion: Leather jacket, purse, belt, or briefcase.
Modern suggestion: Leather laptop sleeve. 

Fourth anniversary, fruit and flowers: It’s the easiest tradition to comply with. Fruit and flowers symbolize the blossoming of a young marriage.
Traditional suggestion: Flowers and a fruit basket are always welcome, or you can get the best of both worlds in an edible arrangement.
Modern suggestion: Interpret the fruit concept more literally and go with an Apple product, such as an iPhone or an iPod. 

Fifth anniversary, wood: Symbolizes strength and a long-lasting marriage.
Traditional suggestion: Antique desk, chest, or keepsake box.
Modern suggestion: A tree planted in each of your names. Or, firewood for a romantic evening by the fire. 

Sixth anniversary, sugar: Like the flowers and fruit, this is a no-brainer. Every marriage needs sweetness.
Traditional suggestion: Chocolate.
Modern suggestion: A cake topped with sentimental childhood candy like Circus Peanuts, Smarties, or Lik-a-maid. 

Seventh anniversary, copper and wool: The symbolism is a bit of a mystery, but these items seem to reflect the practicality in a marriage.
Traditional suggestion: Copper cookware or a wool sweater.
Modern suggestion: Take a cooking class together or give her some wool yarn, knitting needles, and a how-to book. 

Eight anniversary, bronze and pottery: Again, the history of this tradition is elusive, but bronze is known for revolutionizing war by creating a harder metal than copper, which made for good body armor. I’m just sayin’.
Traditional suggestion: There are some lame bronze plaques on the market, but you might want to opt instead for …
Modern suggestion: Pottery made by a local artisan or … yourself. 

Ninth anniversary, pottery and willow: I searched far and wide and could not find any information on the history or meaning behind this odd pairing.
Traditional suggestion: If you have room in your yard, a weeping willow tree.
Modern suggestion: Take a pottery class together or find a pottery piece to compliment last year’s gift. 

Tenth anniversary, tin or aluminum: For such a major milestone, this tradition is a bit of a letdown. You would think the tenth anniversary would be worthy of diamonds or rubies or … something better than tin or aluminum. Here, the traditional gift symbolizes flexibility and malleability.
Traditional suggestion: The gift marketplace is awash in tin frames, trays, and other tenth-anniversary items.
Modern suggestion: Deviate from tradition altogether and get your partner something he or she will love that has nothing to do with tin. 

Fifteenth anniversary, crystal: Fragile but beautiful, crystal represents sparkle and elegance.
Traditional suggestion: Crystal champagne flutes and a bottle of the good stuff.
Modern suggestion: Healing crystals along with a massage for two. 

Twentieth anniversary, china: Symbolizes family and the joy of dining together.
Traditional suggestion: Replace broken, chipped, and missing pieces of your china collection. If you haven’t used your china since you got married, you could unpack it and enjoy a nice dinner at home.
Modern suggestion: Take a vacation to China. 

Twenty-fifth anniversary, silver: Traditionally couples were given a silver wreath, which symbolized radiance and brilliance, by their friends and neighbors in recognition of a long-lasting marriage.
Traditional suggestion: Jewelry, a vase, a platter, or a frame. Engraving adds a personal touch.
Modern suggestion: A trip to a casino with a few rolls of quarters for gambling. 

Fiftieth anniversary, gold: Finally, the good stuff. It’s about time. You’ve made it to the golden anniversary, you’ve won the gold.
Traditional suggestion: Traditionally, couples received a gold wreath.
Modern suggestion: A big, honkin’ gold ring or a piece of gold jewelry with a gemstone might get a more enthusiastic reception. 

Don’t let traditional suggestions interfere with your creativity when it comes to anniversary gift giving. If you put your mind to it, there are plenty of ways to surprise and delight your partner with thoughtful gifts that aren’t appliances.

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