The time between saying “Yes” and saying “I do” is filled with thrills and happiness for couples and their families, but for everyone else, it’s usually a time that’s brimming with questions: What’s the etiquette for this? Should I ask if I can wear that? Can I help in this way or make suggestions for that option? While engagements and weddings follow a lot of strictly-choreographed phases, the etiquette for some elements of a wedding season is a little unclear—and perhaps growing murkier by the year as traditions change and couples adapt.
Traditional wedding protocol states that guests should bring a gift to any event, but you may not have to depending on the formality of the get-together, who’s hosting it, and where it is—and also when it is, if other events might happen, and the preferences of the couple. Confused yet? It’s hard not to be. Let’s look at a few scenarios that can hopefully illuminate when you should purchase a gift and when maybe something a little more sentimental (and perhaps free) is appropriate.
Should I bring a gift to an engagement party?
No, engagement parties are really just joyous occasions to celebrate the newly betrothed couple and kick off their wedding season. In fact, they’re usually so early in the timeline that couples have not even started a registry.
If you feel inclined to bring something—and really, it is up to you and your closeness with the couple—something small would be a nice gesture. A bottle of wine, a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, or even a sentimental token like a Christmas ornament with their engagement date on it would be warmly appreciated.
Do I bring a gift to every tea or party?
Unless you’re a close family member or part of the bridal party, you should not be invited to more than one celebration. Brides and grooms should be attentive to how many times they invite a guest so as not to overburden them with events or costs. Even people who are invited to more than one event are owed a little notice from the couple that they aren’t expected to bring a gift to each one. Bridesmaids and groomsmen, for example, may be invited to multiple events because they share a lot of common friends with the couple and would welcome the opportunity to celebrate with them. A gift, in this case, is not necessary unless you just want to offer one. After all, attending weddings is expensive. Being in a wedding is costly, too. A gift is a way to honor the couple, but your presence and time does that, too.
If you’d prefer to give one gift for the many wedding festivities, you can let the couple know you’ve decided to “splurge” on one gift. But of course, do it in a proper way. Let them know how much you know they wanted this larger gift—“It was important to me to get you something I know you two will use a lot and enjoy together”—so you chose to wrap up all your offerings into one larger gift.
That being said, it’s always acceptable to bring a small gift to all events if you want. For example, you could purchase one piece of a place setting for every event or a few towels, if you want the bride to have something from you to open. But don’t feel pressured. The rule of not showing up empty handed just doesn’t always apply in wedding scenarios.
Do I have to buy a bridal shower gift and a wedding gift?
Tradition would tell you yes—you buy smaller gifts for parties, teas, and showers. Then, you buy another, larger gift for the wedding itself. But we have to be honest, this is a bit outdated. Most wedding guests now buy one larger item and either bring it to a party or shower or have it delivered before a wedding. The pre-wedding events are in celebration of the impending marriage, not stand-alone events for an entirely separate reason.
Ultimately, this decision is up to you. Most couples will not expect gifts at both a shower and a wedding. It’s commonly understood one gift from a wedding guest is adequate, so don’t put yourself in a tough spot trying to buy multiple gifts if your budget doesn’t allow.
When do I give a wedding gift?
Classic etiquette would tell you not to purchase a gift for a soon-to-be-wed couple until you’ve received an invitation to the wedding. That typically comes about six to eight weeks before they walk down the aisle. But if you know for a fact you will be invited, you can certainly give a gift at any point during the engagement.
For example, you can bring a gift to any pre-wedding events, like a shower or tea. You can also order a gift and have it delivered to the couple before the wedding day. In some cities and cultures, day-of wedding gifts are also common. Really, it’s up to you.
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Should I bring the gift to the wedding?
If the couple did not have any pre-wedding events or you were unable to attend, you can give their gift to them the day of the wedding. However, this is becoming less common. To make things easier for the newlyweds (and probably their parents, who are likely the ones handling the gifts), it’s advisable that you send a gift before the wedding.
Many larger stores offer registries for guests to shop from the comfort of your home or even in a brick-and-mortar store. When you’ve picked an item, they will ship (often for free) anything you buy right to the couple’s front door. Likewise, many small gift shops are aware of a couple’s wedding date and even their pre-wedding events, and they will collect gifts from guests and deliver them directly to the couple.
At the wedding, you can bring a small gift if you want, but nothing is necessary if you’ve already given the bride and groom a gift. If you want to express your thoughts and warm wishes on the special day, a card is a lovely gesture.