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Gifts and Gift Registries

wedding gifts by cwmgaryOne of the nice things about getting married is partaking in the generosity of family and friends in regards to gifts. As we near the wedding some people have begun delivering early gifts which we will excitedly open upon the return from our honeymoon. However one of the ongoing questions we have had is about our gift registry…the reason being because we do not have a gift registry. Why not you may ask?

Well apart from writing this column, I also write a separate fortnightly column called ‘Foolish Wisdom’ which looks at issues in news and culture, and earlier in the year (before being engaged) I wrote an article on the subject of gift registries and why I thought that they were utilitarian in nature. Instead of paraphrasing, allow me to include some sections from the article that explain my thoughts.

I admit I am not a fan of gift registries; I do not like them, I rarely follow them and I would never use them. In my mind an invitation to a wedding is (or at least should be) an invitation to witness and share in the joy-filled marriage of a particular couple with whom I share some degree of friendship. When a registry card is inserted the invitation has a clause attached which is, “We like gifts, we would like you to bring a gift, and here is a list of gifts you can choose from”. 

It is not that I think any less of those who opt for the registry and I understand that it makes a lot of practical sense (obviously no one wants to receive five toasters or seven dinner sets) but when a person expresses the expectation of a gift and then proceeds to put conditions on the gift to be given, the very idea of a gift is undermined! 

Of its very nature a gift can only be a gift when it is freely chosen and given. One cannot ask for a gift because then it ceases to be a gift, it becomes simply an item purchased under some form of mild duress, such as possible social exclusion. A gift is something that has to be decided upon and given out of love for another, out of a desire to express to the other an affection for them.

One would hope that those whom one invites to their wedding, knows the couple to some degree so as to be able to thoughtfully choose a gift (if they are going to give one). If an invitee is so completely lost for an idea, then they could simply take the novel approach of asking the couple what sort of gift they would appreciate. That is very different to the couple issuing their wish list before the invitee has even responded to the invitation.

What would a parent say to a six year old who wanted to include with each invitation to his birthday party a list of the toys he wanted the other children to give him? My guess is that the parent would talk to the child about the nature of friendship and why a party is a time to celebrate with good friends, not an opportunity to build up one’s toy cupboard.

What is logical for a six year old should also be logical for two young adults. Practicality aside, friendship is too precious a commodity to be infiltrated by something as base and utilitarian as the gift registry.

I know that Jane would have found life much easier if we had a gift registry and admittedly there were some times in the past weeks where I certainly understood the benefit of having such a registry but I am still glad we went without one. The invitations to our wedding have been just that, invitations, not expectations of specific gifts. What we did do instead was think about the sort of items we might need and provide a little list to our parents in case guests asked them when giving their RSVP. Of course it may indeed turn out that we end up with five toasters and seven dinner sets but I am sure that will not be the case. Whatever it is we receive, all the gifts will be gratefully received because they are signs of the love and support of those who in some way have walked with us on our journey.

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2 responses

  1. I have to disagree with you on this one mate.

    Not everything that is of utility is utilitarian. It is of utility to e.g. produce on a large scale to reap economies of scale, car pool to reduce our carbon footprint (and because it’s fun), and rent a single home with a number of friends. All of these actions have utility, but none of them are intrinsically utilitarian. A utilitarian ‘intention’ can make the ‘action’ utilitarian (e.g. befriending someone for the sole purpose of getting a lift off them to work).

    Likewise, there is utility in choosing a gift registry, as there is utility in choosing one reception center over another. An intention to have a reception to get gifts (whether from a registry or not) renders the reception utilitarian. But not otherwise, and the same goes for a gift registry. A gift registry and reception properly opted for can be good choices.

    The Church capitalises on matters of utility too. She can only undertake so many of her good works because generous Catholics have donated money e.g. via requests for the Charitable Works Fund (collected during Mass) and even by donating directly to His Holiness Pope Benedict via “Peter’s Pence” (American Express accepted) on vatican.va.

    Sure, we must guard against a utilitarian mentality, but we must also be efficient operators in this world. A gift registry allows a guest to purchase the engaged couple a gift they know will be of utility to them, and yes, it saves the guest time in an increasingly busy world. Every one of us would love to save time where possible.

    It may be that the idea outlined above is alluded to in this parable: “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8) We must be as innocent as doves, but we must also be as shrewd as wolves.

  2. I agree that inserting a registry card in the invite seems to say, “we expect a gift and here is what you may purchase for us.” very gauche. However, I don’t think it is quite so gauche to create a registry and allow a close friend or family member to reveal its existence to any enquiring guests. I enjoy shopping from a registry as it allows me to choose something I know the couple actually want, particularly if I’m not particularly familiar with the pair, i.e. the children of friends.

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