How to graciously decline wedding gifts

annkathrynMay 21, 2009

Here's the situation: I'm a mature (ahem...ok, middle-aged) bride who is getting married in July. Our wedding will be quite small, immediate family only, with the addition of my elderly aunts. The wedding will be on the east coast near fiance's elderly mother. We live in California but most of our family lives on the east coast, so it's a destination wedding for us, but a relatively convenient location for the rest of the family. About a month after the wedding we'll have a gathering of west coast friends at our home for a big but not fancy party to celebrate our marriage.

Fiance and I have not registered for gifts nor do we plan to. We do have accounts at and similar sites that some of our west coast friends are familiar with, but no one in our families know about these. At our age, friendships and relationships are way more important to us than any material goods.

The question is, how to communicate this to our friends. For younger brides, I realize that the question of the registry is often asked of the mother-of-the-bride, who then directs the guest to the registry or to the couples' charity choices. For older brides, this seems a little problematic.

I've already made one faux pas, and I want to avoid making more so I'm turning to the wisdom of this site. The faux pas was when I got a call from a friend of mine who said she wanted to host a shower for me. I was completely caught off guard as I never imagined having a shower, and my first words blurted out were "that's great as long as there's no gifts!". Ouch...I winced at the implied assumption that showers were all about gifts (ok, they sometimes are, but in this case the offer was more about getting together with good friends). I wish I could take that statement back.

The situation I'm faced with now is an email from an elderly aunt asking if I'd like a certain vase that she has in mind. How do I graciously phrase a response telling her that I'd really prefer no gifts? I want to avoid a repeat of my previous faux pas, and I also don't want to seem ungrateful.

I'm thinking that this situation is going to be coming up a lot, both with family who are attending the wedding and friends who'll be coming to the post-wedding party.

Suggestions from the wise ladies on this site?

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The way you put it in your post is just lovely:

"At our age, friendships and relationships are way more important to us than any material goods."

I'd come up with a few variations of that phrase and practice them until they come smoothly and sound effortless.

That said, it would also be nice to have a suggestion floated about by your closest friends that would allow those people who feel they must give you a gift or would love to host a party to do so. Is there a charity that's near and dear to your hearts? Or an activity or organization you'd love to support where typical gifts or parties could be channeled into doing something good for others? (One of the best 'company parties' we ever had was a 'fix up day' at a day care center for children with special needs.) Or you could pass the word that what you'd really like best would be a cherished family recipe, a favorite family story, or a special memory on a scrapbook page.

While it's difficult for you to do so, it's perfectly permissable for your closest friends and family to spread the word about what you'd like, so you just need to find a way to have a discrete talk with a few of them.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 2:18PM
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A shower IS all about getting gifts. The guest "shower" you with gifts.

from Web definitions
A bridal shower is a gift giving party given for a bride before her wedding. The custom originated in the United States,

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 3:04PM
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My daugher was feted at an engagement party in her then fiance's southern home town. There were no gifts except for a lovely gift that the numerous co hosts contributed to. So maybe you want an engagement party and not a shower, although I think engagement parties are coed now that I think of it. How about calling it a reception and no shower looking invitations are used?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 4:59PM
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Thanks for all your thoughts. Sweeby I used a similar line in the response back to my aunt, and I'll keep practicing!

As far as asking my friends to change the shower to a different type of party, I don't feel completely comfortable doing this because they were nice enough to come up with the idea of a shower to begin with, and I'd prefer not to dictate too many of the terms (after my initial blurting, of course). But I'll give this more thought and see how the next conversation goes when it comes up & plans are discussed.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 8:14PM
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The etiquette behind this situation is that it is rude to expect a gift for any occasion. Therefore, you can't tell people not to buy you a gift, because that is making the assumption that they are supposed to give you a gift.

Sweeby has some very good ideas. Just be aware that some people aren't going to like the charities suggested and are going to feel odd at not getting a wedding present. So if your nearest and dearest could funnel their energy into the recipe cards or the like, you would get fewer odd purple ceramic tripod vases and such.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 3:51PM
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I understand how you feel, and it's nice that you are not greedy. Still, I would advise you not to try quite so strenuously to prevent people from giving you gifts or even a shower.

When you come down to it, it's a rejection of their kindness and generosity. Sometimes it can be hard, because we really are trying to save others expense and trouble, but I have learned from experience that often I'm in the wrong when I do that.

Let people be nice.

You certainly don't have to worry that you will be seen as fishing for gifts. You are having a tiny wedding, and only inviting people so close to you that of course they wouldn't think they were invited for the gift. If you just call your west coast party a "party" on the invitation, not a "reception," and without any mention of the wedding or the marriage, you're definitely fine there, too. You can still have toasts, corsages, and other references to your recent marriage at the party; no one would see that as a prompt for a gift.

But take your aunt, for example. She really wants to give you that vase. Can you think of it not so much as a "material good," but as her way of expressing her happiness and loving thoughts for you? Don't hurt her feelings by rejecting that. Especially if it isn't a vase she saw in a store, but one of her own treasures -- please don't deprive her of that pleasure.

Similarly, your friend's offer to give you a shower was loving and generous, and you already seem to regret handling that a bit abruptly. You were just trying to be unselfish, but you have to be careful not to make her feel like you are throwing her generosity back in her face. I like the ideas you have gotten for trying to avoid a gift shower while still letting her be nice. Would you feel comfortable saying something like, "Oh, that is so very nice of you -- thank you so much! How wonderful. You know, though, Lulu, Cuthbert and I feel a little funny about having a "shower" -- maybe it's our age, I don't know -- would it be okay if we made it a recipe shower/volunteer day/charity shower? I would really feel more comfortable with that."

If other people ask you where you are registered/what you want, you can answer that you would most appreciate a gift to their (not your -- their) favorite charity in your honor. I would avoid saying things like, "At our age, friendships and relationships are way more important to us than any material goods." I understand your point -- I, too, am at an age where I am trying to offload, not acquire, household goods -- but you don't want to seem to be implying that those who do accept wedding gifts (including, perhaps, the listener) do not value friendships and relationships over "material goods."

Bottom line: don't try to be too controlling of others' gift giving even from the un-greedy end. You definitely don't have to worry that you are pushing people for gifts, so leave it at that. If you receive gifts, don't think of them as "stuff" you didn't want, but as expressions of the givers' love for you. You can always donate the "material goods" to charity.

Congratulations on your marriage! It is so nice of you to have the marriage where it is convenient for your guests. I'm sure both the intimate ceremony and the casual party will be wonderful.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 12:42AM
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Congratulatins on your wedding. Another option in place of a shower would be to have a tea or similar non-gift event where your friends can enjoy spending time together without the expectation of gifts. If your friend really wants to have a shower, then you might opt for a lingerie shower or a recipe shower or an old fashioned pounding, where guests bring a pound (or more) of some staple. They can be lots of fun and you will get everything from a can of beans to toilet paper to a pound of nails for the groom.

Since your friends are excited for you, do allow them to celebrate with you in some way.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 2:51PM
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I've been scrolling like mad to say pretty much what Gelchom said...
Perhaps the vase your aunt wants to give you has some special meaning for her....allow her to give it to you.
One very wise person once said to me that in order to make a friend of someone you have to ALLOW that person to do you a favior, a kindness.

Perhaps you could think of a way to let relatives know that to really please you would to find a creative way to be charitable. Therea re organizations that will allow people to buy a farm animal ( or a share of an animal) or school books for those who don't have them, I can point you to charities that give "flood buckets) a bucket with bleach, sponges and cleaning supplies) to people who have experienced a flood and I can point you to someone who heads a charity which is building schools in Tanzania, like Oprah did but with out all the publicity...just a brick at a time. Maybe your friends would love a challange to find a creativew ay to be charitable in your behalf.
But please don't rebuff a kindness because you don't "need" anything. Everyone needs expressions of love and friendship.
Linda c

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 4:05PM
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Ok, more good thoughts, thanks again everyone.

I understand that giving gifts from the heart, material or otherwise, brings pleasure to the giver as well as the recipient. I think of how I'd feel if the situation were reversed, if I had a good friend who was getting married later in life, with no gift registry or indication of preferences. I'd certainly want to find something meaningful to do or give to mark the occasion.

I actually asked my mother this same question, as it was her sister who had asked whether I'd like a vase (from a gift store, not one that had been in the family, btw). My mother is 78, a plain-spoken midwesterner, and her advice was to say something along the lines of having received such generous gifts from everyone the first time around (my first marriage was 27 years ago) that I no longer needed anything. I winced, thanked my mother for her advice and let it drop.

I've never heard of a pounding - what a fun tradition. I'll have to do some more research on that.

lindac I think you're referring to and a couple of other charities I'm familiar with. My friends here on the west coast know about the ones I support, so the more web-savvy ones might buy gift certificates or donate in our names. My east coast family and that of my fiance might be interested to learn more. I'll bring them up if the occasion arises.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 1:16AM
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I do love organizations like, but I repeat my advice to tell people who ask about gifts that you would love it if they would make a gift to THEIR favorite charity, not yours, or more generally to "a good cause." I know it's the opposite for funerals, but there it is.

It's not greedy to ask for gifts to a specific charity, but it's still directing their generosity. Even if you pick something that you're sure no one would find contrary to their own values, your wedding is not a fundraiser for your favorite cause. Most of your friends and relatives will try to choose a charity that would please you anyway, including your own favorite -- they probably will even ask what it is, in which case you can tell them.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 10:44AM
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hi gellchom,
Yes, I do understand the difference between suggesting a gift to "my" charities vs letting the giver select his or her own favorite charity. I'm actually acutely aware that the values of my aunt and her family are quite different from my own and that she would be disapproving of some of my views. We don't discuss religion or politics :) So naturally I wouldn't impose my own social choices on her with respect to gift-giving. A contribution to a charity of the giver's own choice is welcomed.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 12:33PM
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Why do you refuse taking gifts from your friends? It's a natural gesture from their part and I thinl you shouldn't be confused about that!

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    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 6:17AM
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For those who like to shop for gifts (rather than making a donation online), maybe you could ask for goods for an animal shelter, battered women's shelter or a crisis pregnancy center?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 11:11AM
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Just to follow up with the end of the story, our wedding was perfect and we're still in post-wedding bliss. We knew that having a small wedding with family only was important, but what we didn't realize was that because the wedding was so small (and maybe because the wine was so good?) the 2 families really came together and had many long and interesting conversations, really getting to know each other. Since they'd never met, we really didn't have any expectations of how well they'd mingle. As it turned out, they all got along famously. Some of the in-town relatives had so much fun that they decided to join us again at the breakfast for out-of-town relatives the morning after the wedding.

On the subject of gifts, only a couple people attending the wedding asked us if we were registered anywhere. I told them we didn't really want gifts, but if they wanted to give a donation in our name to their favorite charity then that would be welcome. They ended up donating at one of our online charities. The other guests didn't ask, but gave gift certificates to online stores. One couple gave a nice cookbook.

After the wedding, we had a month to prepare for our west coast celebration which was held on our back patio. We'd spent months fixing up our yard, planting over 200 plants and installing a fountain (a great Craig's List find). I did all the cooking myself, and we hired a bartender. It was a blast! The party was about twice as large as the wedding (60 vs 30 people) and the guests from different areas of our lives didn't mingle quite as well as our families did, but everyone seemed to have had a good time.

Gifts ran the gamut. A couple of my friends asked if we'd registered anywhere and we gave them our standard line. One group of friends got together and bought a beautiful bench for our patio. Some gave gift cards. Only a few didn't give anything. Most brought a bottle of wine or champagne. Some that couldn't attend contributed to their favorite charity. One of the most meaningful gifts was a homemade card that my friend created from one of our favorite wedding photos that I'd posted on my Facebook page. She'd had it printed and then wrote a beautiful message on the card.

I had read on other wedding sites about how difficult it is for brides to opt out of the whole gift registry hoopla, but I didn't find that to be a problem at all. Perhaps because this is a second marriage and because we're older. As it turned out, I'm glad we didn't register anywhere and that gifts weren't a focus of the wedding.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 1:46PM
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It all sounds wonderful. I'm so glad that everything came together just as you hoped.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 11:05AM
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It sounds like a perfect wedding and reception.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 5:35PM
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