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The History of Anniversary Gifts by Year

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When it comes to commemorating wedding anniversaries, married couples choose to celebrate in many ways. Sometimes observing the occasion together with an intimate dinner or date night, other times gathering together friends and family for a small celebration or a milestone party.

While the event has different significance for every couple, most people observe the custom of giving their spouse a thoughtful anniversary gift and many look to the traditional and modern lists for guidance or inspiration. As your wedding anniversary approaches you may be wondering where these traditions originated.

If you are eager to find gift ideas for a specific anniversary, then you can select the year you are celebrating from the table below to discover the traditional, modern, gemstone and flower gifts for that year.

Anniversary Gifts by Year
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
11th 12th 13th 14th 15th
20th 25th 30th 40th 50th

The Beginning of the Anniversary Gift Tradition

Detail of a tapestry circa 18th century featuring a man and woman exchanging a gift at at a water fountain with their children nearby

While the concept of giving anniversary gifts is likely centuries-old with roots in many cultures, the first recorded instance of the practice dates back to the 18th century German tradition of silberne hochzeit, a custom in which wives would receive silver wreaths from their friends or husbands on their 25th wedding anniversary. If a couple achieved 50 years of marriage then the tradition called for giving wreaths of gold.

While these wreaths were given as souvenirs of the occasion, which were also marked with festive celebrations, they were also symbolic representations of the effort required to maintain a harmonious marriage and reach such a milestone.

As the popularity of the silver and gold anniversaries grew, methods for marking other years of marriage began to develop. By 1859 an expanded gift list appeared in The Old Farmer’s Almanac: “one month from marriage makes a sugar wedding; one year makes a paper wedding…” the list continues with wood marking five years, tin at ten, then the already established silver at 25 and gold at 50, with the addition of diamond at 75.

Initially, emphasis was placed on celebrating milestone anniversaries and marking the progress of the couple’s life, from hopeful beginnings to established maturity.

…the wedding anniversary symbols begin simply, with paper and flowers, and gradually increase in substance and value. The order of gifts reflects the investment that the couple gives of themselves to each other.”

“Every anniversary celebrates a moment in the journey of marriage. The passing of another year together marks a deepening of the couple’s commitment, an accumulation of time irreplaceable. To help in celebrating these occasions are special gifts, one assigned to each anniversary and each with its own material and symbolic value,” writes Gretchen Scoble in The Meaning of Wedding Anniversaries, “…the wedding anniversary symbols begin simply, with paper and flowers, and gradually increase in substance and value. The order of gifts reflects the investment that the couple gives of themselves to each other.”

The Traditional Anniversary Gift List Develops

Statue of an enthroned Queen Victoria, part of Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace in London city, UK

The popularity of anniversary gifts continued to grow and the tradition spread through Europe at which point the list expanded and began appearing more often in print. By the 1880s the list was comprised of gifts for eight milestone years and was included in Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language. This list included the already established gifts for the 1st, 5th, 10th, 25th and 50th anniversaries, with the addition of crystal for the 15th year and china for the 20th.

Webster’s also deviated from the original list by declaring the 60th to be the diamond anniversary, likely because reaching the 75th anniversary requires remarkable longevity. When Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, honoring the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne, the tradition was solidified in Europe.

By the turn of the century the traditional list had developed to include every year from the 1st to the 15th anniversary and every five-year milestone thereafter, as published in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

The Tradition Comes to America

Black and white photo of a young couple in 1920s clothing lovingly gazing at each other.

In 1922 Emily Post published her first bestselling etiquette book, Etiquette: in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, which included Webster’s list of eight milestone anniversary gifts, leading to the popularity of the tradition in the United States. It is interesting to note that Post reverted the diamond anniversary to the 75th year, but the matter was eventually settled when the diamond theme came to be accepted for both the 60th and 75th anniversaries.

Though the tradition was growing, anniversary etiquette in the U.S. and Europe was slightly different, with Post noting that “In Germany a silver wedding is a very important event and a great celebration is made of it, but in America it is not very good form to ask any but intimate friends and family to an anniversary party—especially as those bidden are supposed to send presents.”

Despite Post’s warning against anniversary parties and the faux pas of appearing greedy for gifts, it didn’t take long for the tradition to proliferate. At this point the traditional gift lists used in the United States and Europe also began to deviate, though modern couples often look to both traditions for inspiration and the alternates are commonly included in comprehensive lists. This provides greater freedom to choose a gift theme that best fits particular tastes, needs or interests.

The Modernization of the Anniversary Gift List

Closeup of a jeweler's hands adjusting a diamond earring with professional tools.

Likely inspired by the success of Etiquette, the American National Retail Jewelers Association began discussing expanding the gift list at their annual meeting in 1922 and spent the next several years developing it. In 1937 the modern list of anniversary gifts was provided for use by jewelers across the United States.

While the traditional list is limited to the first fifteen years followed by major milestones, the modern list was developed for every year of marriage through the 50th, plus every subsequent five-year milestone. Unsurprisingly, the modern list favors precious metals and gemstones, allowing jewelry to become a prominent option for anniversary gifts. But it was also inspired by contemporary lifestyles and includes items that would have been uncommon before the turn of the century, such as appliances and desks sets.

The traditional and modern lists coincide at major milestones starting at the 25th anniversary, with the exception of the 30th anniversary where the traditional gift is pearl but diamond once again makes an appearance as the modern gift. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for opulence, diamonds make their first appearance on the modern list at the 10th anniversary which is given to diamond jewelry, for those couples that are not satisfied with the traditional tin and aluminum.

Anniversary Gemstones and Flowers

Amethyst crystals, rock crystal, rose quartz and alstroemeria flowers on a purple background.

While many look to the traditional and modern lists to guide their gift giving, there are also gemstones and flowers associated with each year of marriage. Both gemstones and flowers have held significant cultural meaning throughout world history. Gemstone symbolism began as early as 4,000 BCE with Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love who bore a necklace and rod of lapis lazuli, the universal emblem of wisdom and truth. The historical meaning and symbolism of flowers is so ancient and rich it gave rise to the field floriography.

The official list of anniversary gemstones has been compiled by the International Colored Gemstone Association. Jewelry is always an excellent anniversary gift, but you can make any special occasion memorable with a gift of jewelry that features the gemstone associated with your current year of marriage.

Before the traditional and modern gift lists were developed it was common to mark the occasion of an anniversary with flowers. The list of anniversary flowers varies by source so we’ve looked to the consensus of leading florists to guide our list.

However you decide to celebrate your anniversary we send our best wishes for a day full of joy and many happy years to come!

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