Today marks the occasion of my one-year wedding anniversary (time really flies when you are having fun!). While perusing my books on the subject, I was reminded of the usual custom of marking the occasion with a celebration or gifts made from certain types of materials.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that these appear to have changed over the years, depending on the etiquette expert you are referring to and the time period of the book. I always assumed they were etiquette 101 and had always been the same. Not so!
My more modern copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), has a very long list of anniversaries 1-20, then in five-year increments until year 60, then 70 and 75 are recognized. Here are the first ten years from her list:
1: Paper or Plastics
2: Calico or Cotton
3: Leather or simulated leather
4: Silk or synthetic material
7: Copper or wool
8: Electrical appliances
10: Tin or aluminum
I dug deep into the etiquette archives to try to determine when this tradition started. Based on an informal study that consisted of me grabbing the oldest etiquette book I could find on the shelf behind me, I found mention of them in the 1877 book Decorum, by J. A. Ruth. I was surprised to find them called “Anniversary Weddings”:
Celebrating Anniversary Weddings is a very pleasant custom which is coming gradually into general favor. Special anniversaries are designated by special names, indicating the presents suitable on each occasion.
THE PAPER WEDDING
The first anniversary is called the paper wedding. The invitations to this wedding should be issued on a gray paper, representing thin cardboard. Presents from the guests are appropriate, but not by any means obligatory. These presents, if given, should be only of articles made of paper. Thus, boxes of note-paper and envelopes, books, sheets of music, engravings and delicate knickknacks of papier mache are all appropriate for this occasion.
The author has less anniversaries described but is consistent with Emily Post’s list: he jumps to the Wooden Wedding, which he says to celebrate on the fifth year. Tin is for the 10th, crystal for 15th, china for the 20th, silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamonds for 75th.
In Correct Social Usage, an etiquette book published in 1903, a suggestion is made to recognize anniversaries much later, though the concept remains the same and the earlier years are described for the benefit of those who want to celebrate sooner:
Wedding anniversaries are not generally observed until the twenty-fifth year ~ “the silver wedding.” There are people, however, who find pleasure in presenting their married friends with appropriate remembrances on some, if not all, of the established anniversaries. Such remembrances must be gifts made of material which corresponds with the same of the anniversary. These occasions have been designated in this way: first year, paper; fifth year, wooden; tenth year, tin; twelfth year, leather; fifteenth year, crystal; twentieth year, china; twenty-fifth year, silver; thirtieth year, ivory; fortieth year, woolen; forty-fifth year, silk; fiftieth year, golden; seventy-fifth year, diamond.
It looks to me like tin and wood have been fighting it out for 5th place for awhile. Hallie Erminie Rives’ The Complete Book of Etiquette, with Social Forms for All Ages and Occasions (1926) has this slightly different list (with less years represented):
Wedding anniversaries… hold a unique place in the life of a married couple. About the earlier ones there is an air of informality and fun that cannot but infect every guest. As the pair grows older, the celebrations become decidedly important events, and the “golden wedding” carries with it a sense of climax and fruition which makes its day a sacred one indeed.
Symbols of the conventional anniversaries are as follows:
First year: Paper
Second year: Cotton
Third year: Leather
Fourth year: Wood
Fifth year: Tin
Fifteenth year: Crystal
Twentieth year: China
Twenty-fifth year: Silver
Thirtieth year: Pearl
Fortieth year: Ruby
Fiftieth year: Gold
Seventy-fifth year: Diamond
The comedy possibilities of informal entertainments given on the first and second anniversaries are realized to the full by those who gather to congratulate a happy young couple. Nor do the bride and bridegroom ~ who, after the first anniversary may count themselves graduated from the newly married status ~ fail to take advantage of the amusing opportunities for table and house decorations.
The author then goes on to describe some of the party antics that could occur, including this crazy idea, for the paper anniversary: “Both hostess and women guests sometimes where entire costumes of crêpe paper.” Or, at the Leather Wedding anniversary: “as far as decorations and costumes go, is apt to be a thing of shifts and straits.” I can’t wait til that third year!