John Larrysson Column: Anniversaries

English speakers often refer to wedding anniversaries by special names. After one year of marriage is the paper anniversary, going up to the diamond anniversary at sixty years. On the first wedding anniversary a husband should give his wife anything made of paper from a book to the deed to a house. However this list is not consistent and English speakers disagree. There are often different versions of what gift is proper for what anniversary.

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Long ago in medieval Germany, kings gave their queens a gift of silver or gold for anniversaries when they had been married for many years. The same tradition was later adopted by the British kings and then by ordinary people. Even later in America, people started adding some extra anniversaries. Possibly wives thought that a gift each year was better. It might have been husbands deciding that gifts made of paper were less expensive than silver or gold.

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The first few years have less expensive material, finally slowly leading up to the silver, gold and gems. Almost always the material is something that can easily be kept for years. A perishable gift such as a cake could not be kept for years.

In the later years gifts are only given every five years, but they are more expensive. Too many gifts sitting in a box would start to become less special. The first decade of gifts can be practical things that would be used. Later decades are celebrated with expensive, but less practical, gifts.

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However in different parts of America there were different versions of what gift should be given when. To clear up all the confusion, the Chicago Public Library stepped in. The librarians looked at all the different lists and created one list that overlapped the most with all the other lists. The new list was widely accepted. However out in California, people kept on using their old list for many years. Eventually California started using the Chicago list and the UK started using the Californian list.

Today we have UK and US lists. The original UK list was only the silver and gold anniversaries. The US list is the Chicago Public Library list. What is now called the UK list, is the list that used to be common in California. So in the variations listed below the “UK list” is really from California.

Here is the list of the most standard gifts and a list of the more common variations.

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By John Larrysson

[email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.