It all began on Wednesday, when the Hamilton Spectator published a letter from a disgruntled wedding guest, detailing his text battle over a gift he had sent a newly married co-worker.
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Kathy Mason and her boyfriend (who chose to remain anonymous) attended the wedding of two Canadian women, and things went afoul from there. Mason's boyfriend, who sent his story, along with a hostile text exchange with the brides, to the Spectator wrote the following: "As a gift, my Girlfriend and I gave them a wicker box with a hinged lid, filled with food items, most of them PC Black Label, including: tri-color pasta, salsas, Balsamic vinegar and Olive oil, Gourmet croutons, Panko Breading, Pesto, some baking ingredients, Biscuits from Godiva and a few 'Fun' items like Marshmallow Fluff, Sour Patch Kids and Butterscotch sauce…On the card we wrote 'Life is delicious....Enjoy.'"
The following day, he received, via text, what might be the least genuine thank-you note in history.
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One of the two brides wrote: "Heyyy I just wanna say thanks for the gift but unfortunately I can't eat any of it lol I'm gluten intolerant. Do u maybe have a receipt[?]"
That was the first message, from one of the brides. The second, from the other bride, firmed up any question as to whether they felt the basket of candy and other goods made a suitable wedding gift.
"I'm not sure if it's the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding, people give envelopes," the bride/co-worker texted to the gift-givers. "I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate, and got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return. Just a heads up for the future :)"
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And that was the last smiley face exchanged between the two parties. What follows is a text exchange that sums up the growing divide between wedding thrower and wedding guest. The gift givers claim, "To ask for a receipt is unfathomable, disrespectful, inconsiderate, immature, greedy," among other things. "Not only is it wrong to have an expectation of any sort of gift, it is the ultimate insult to your family and friends to mention a gift of monetary value at all."
The brides stand by their position, even allowing the Spectator to photograph the gift with the "fluffy whip" they call out via text, placed front and center. In her response, one of the brides claims the basket cost $30— a paltry amount, in her opinion, for two people, considering the $97-per-plate fee they spent on each guest for the reception. "Weddings are to make money for your future. Not to pay for peoples meals. Do more research. People haven't [given] gifts since like 50 years ago!"(Oh, but there's more. Read the entire text correspondence here.)
After the Spectator published the initial exchange on Wednesday, the debate over proper wedding gift etiquette bubbled over into the comments section, before blowing up across the Internet.
There are defenders of the gift giver: "I got married last year in Europe and totally disagree with these 2 brides. Gifts are completely voluntary and we were happy with a simple picture frame that we received from one of our guests."
There are defenders of the brides: "If I know the couple is spending $100/plate, I make sure to give $250 or more not only to cover my and fiancees dinner but to give the newlyweds a gift as well. I am getting married in September and would be furious if this happened to me."
And then there are the people who are simply sick of reading between the lines of wedding etiquette: "If the brides/grooms expect a cash gift to cover the cost of the meal, put it on the invites and let people decide if they can afford to attend the event and/or send a gift," writes a frustrated guest of one too many weddings on the Spectator's website.
When the newspaper's managing editor, Howard Elliott, first received the letter on Monday, he knew it would spark debate, but not this much debate. "It's been a hell of a week," he told Yahoo! Shine.
Since the initial story was posted, traffic to the Ontario newspaper's site has gone up about 40 percent. It's also been picked up by national news outlets across the country. Obviously, this is a topic that people feel strongly about.
Consider the recent spate of viral exchanges between brides and their guests—from the bride-to-be who sent excruciatingly strict guidelines to her bridesmaids to the email battle between mother-in-law and bride over a wedding venue.
Just as weddings have grown more personalized and less traditional, so have cultural expectations. Couples are marrying later in life and footing the bill, same-sex couples are redefining the legal landscape, proposals are taking place on social media and with the help of flash mobs, and bridal parties are dancing down the aisle and posing in front of dinosaurs. The old-school handbook for weddings, and keeping the peace in the process, just doesn't apply the way it once did.
"In my experience, I've noticed that the expectation of having a traditional wedding is fading," Britt Hilgers, the Los Angeles-based blogger behind the indie wedding site Bowie Bride, told Yahoo! Shine. "Couples that opt for a less traditional wedding don't expect anything from their guests other than showing up with pants on." As for the matter of fundraising through wedding gifts, Hilgers said that she thinks it's "unreasonable." "If a bride or groom expected an envelope full of cash as a wedding gift from me, I'd give them an envelope full of dog s-- and a card that says, 'Have a nice life,'" she said.
"I think there's a bit of an age divide," suggested Elliott. "Older people have a different understanding of wedding etiquette … and how the landscape has changed. I think there may be a cultural factor at play. There are some cultures where cash exchange is a long-standing practice, but not everyone knows this."
So how do you avoid losing friends over a wedding gift if you're unsure of expectations? According to the wedding website hub, TheKnot.com, the standard thinking is that guests should spend $75 to $100 on a co-worker's wedding present. (That number goes up to $125 for close friends and relatives.) Factoring in the cost of shower and engagement gifts, travel and hotel fees, attending a wedding can require some serious financial planning. A recent survey of 1,500 adults claims the average guest (who isn't a member of the bridal party) spends $539 to attend a wedding— up $200 from 2012.
When wedding invitations lead to a pile of bills, it's not good for anyone. One of the brides behind the gift-basket firestorm asked the Spectator to shut down the comments after witnessing the vitriol from readers over her views on gift giving. (The Spectator instead chose to closely monitor comments.) "She felt very strongly about her viewpoint and wanted to be involved in the story at first," Elliott told Shine. "I don't think she anticipated the volume of responses from readers."
That brings us to another question of wedding etiquette: Is it acceptable to share a private wedding spat with the public in the age of viral media? That's debatable too. If only that jar of delicious marshmallow fluff could talk.