Anniversaries are the "black sheep
" of the rites of passage: men
forget them, women
insist on them, and no one is quite sure as to how to celebrate, what to give, and who should give it. The only rule anyone seems to agree on is No Blenders
. Actually, there are only eight "real" anniversaries: the first, every five years through the twenty-fifth, and the fiftieth and seventy-fifth respectively, and the rest are simply optional. As a general rule, the first twenty-five years, the gifts are largely given by friends and relations. After that, it's more a case of the couple's gifts to each other, or (a possibility here) group gifts, with the friends and relations contributing to a fund
and the gift chosen by consensus
The traditional list has a certain logic: add-ons to the household starter set given as wedding and shower presents, shading off into knicknacks and curios, and thence to jewelry, climaxing with the golden fiftieth or even seventy-fifth diamond anniversary, where the aged couple, surrounded by adoring generations, re-exchange rings, and declare that they'd gladly do it all over again. (The fact that the gifts for the curio and precious-mineral anniversaries make a nice nest egg for the adoring generations is a factor, too.)
However, this list makes certain assumptions: that you run a late 19th to mid-20th century upscale household, that you use linen sheets, towels, tablecloths, and napkins, wool blankets and carpets, and leather luggage, that you entertain formally with engraved invitations, silver, crystal, and china, and you aspire towards a curio cabinet filled with bits of stone and bone artfully carved into semi-useful doodads, and a safe filled with fine jewelry. You married in your mid-20's, after living mostly at home, and will stay married, or at worst, not remarry, ever.
However, nowadays, sheets are usually cotton, formal entertaining is not often seen outside official circles, ivory is illegal, coral and leather are shunned by the sensitive, and there are better investments today than jewelry that you can't wear and can't sell. A couple might consider stereo equipment a must, or OS updates for their computer, or sails for the catamaran. They may collect the old masters, or vintage vinyl, or Beanie Babies. They may have come to marriage with extensive bachelor households of their own, or previous marriages, and may well have gotten through Paper, Linen and Tin on their own, and crave a few of the Crystal or China presents instead.
Jewelers, ever ready to spend money for you in the name of etiquette, have devised an alternate "modern" list that skips the notion of nest-feathering entirely in favor of a headlong dive into clocks, china, and plate, recommending fine jewelry not once, but several times in graduated sizes. There is also the triple diamond "Eternity" ring, that subs for an engagement/wedding ring, that they are quick to assure you is appropriate at any anniversary.
While these ideas are not without merit, I find them vaguely unsettling, and not really satisfactory. For one thing, they limit the creative possibilities offered by say, a pottery or willow anniversary. Also, jewelry is expensive, and if you thought the engagement-ring tantrum was bad -- well, the possibilities for a gem-inspired tiff are legion when she can get some practice in it.
Martha Stewart, ever inventive, suggests usuing the trad list as suggested themes for parties and experiences, instead of or as well as gifts. This also has its merits, but dilutes the keepsake factor -- truthfully, I'd like a little more out of my Ivory anniversary than a trip to a piano bar, elephants be damned, even if he does play "our" song, and after thirty-five years of marriage I might not feel up to a coral reef snorkeling ecotour. (However, Ivory suggests dice or billiards, and other games as well, which is a nice thought. Or a casino weekend! And Jade is as traditional as Coral.) On the other hand, if you feel like planting a lace hydrangia for your thirteenth instead of collecting doilies (or lingerie), so be it.
My advice? It's a judgment call. Certainly if you're part of the couple, and you both agree to it, you can declare adherence to any list you choose. If you're a friend of the couple, the trad list gets you off the hook relatively cheaply for quite a few years, and after twenty-five, you can opt for thoughtful notes instead. The alt/modern list is good if you decide to use the collective gift idea, and you can always have jewelry items engraved or otherwise personalized for an extra touch.
The toughest anniversary to shop for? The first, by far, according to many surveys. Simplicity itself: stationery, bound journals, decks of cards, boxes of holiday cards, magazine subscriptions, even coffee table books of their favorite subject. Toss in a nice pen, if it doesn't seem like much. Home free.
At least it isn't a blender.