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No Gifts

Julian D. A. Wiseman


Abstract: the marriage instructions of a friend of the author specified “no gifts”. Some recipients seemed to have trouble accepting this, so, in the hope of being helpful, the following explanation was penned. To protect the innocent, the man has been renamed “♂”, and the woman “♀”.

Credit: If you wish your wedding guests to heed these words, you are welcome to point them to this page. Alternatively, you may re-typeset and send these words, presumably after altering the description of the event at which there are to be no gifts, but in this case please include a credit closely resembling “Derived from the rant at”.

Contents: The event at which there will be no gifts; Gifts: no need; Gifts: reasons why not; Other cultures, no excuse: no gifts; Summary: No Gifts.

No Gifts

The event at which there will be no gifts

The court musician Thomas Whythorne commissioned a ring for his prospective bride in 1569 with the words “The eye doth find, the heart doth choose, and love doth bind till death doth loose.”

My friend ♂ is to be married to a fine damsel, ♀. Mr ♂ himself is also, in many ways, very fine. However, sometimes, when a difficult message is to be delivered and must be heard, he can edge nearer to gentle politeness and further from brutal clarity. For this reason the future Mr and Mrs ♂-♀ considered asking me to explain the full meaning of “No Gifts”, but then chickened out, thinking that I might cast deferential politeness to the winds and lay thick the brutality. Nonetheless, these words are offered to the couple, in case they find the courage to distribute them. And if they do distribute them then you, the reader, should heed them—words have meaning.

Gifts: no need

It would not do to start married life hungry, or to fail to offer hospitality to guests.

Gifts play a variety of roles in society, ranging from practical to symbolic to (mostly) annoying.

Gifts to a poor recipient can be very helpful in furnishing the basic comforts of married life, or offsetting some of the inevitable costs. For example, from David Cressy’s Birth, Marriage & Death (a fascinating analysis of the records of everyday life in early modern England, and also the source of the quotations):

A minister might contribute his fee or offer the gift of a sermon before taking his place at the wedding banquet, as did Giles Moore, the Restoration-era rector of Horsted Keynes, Sussex. As an act of charity to his parishioners, Moore sometimes forgave them their wedding fees, or returned the money to them two-fold. To help those ‘newly married to begin the world’—a telling phrase—Moore would sometimes give a few shillings to a newly-married couple.

Other potential recipients are indecisive, or plain stupid. If somebody needs something, but lacks the intellectual equipment to choose and acquire it, a gift can bridge the gap. For example, if a woman needs a formal dress, but has appalling taste in such matters, a well-judged gift from a competent somebody can improve the world.

Even the most scrupulously austere religious authors accepted some secular rejoicing at weddings, while being careful to criticize festive excess. Had not Christ himself graced the wedding at Cana and contributed to the revels by turning water into wine?

There is a further type of gift, most excellent, but very rarely found. You, the giver, happen to be wondering through an antiques fair somewhere off the beaten track. You see something, costing all of fifty pence, which would hugely please somebody. By chance, only you can buy this useful thing. Buy it. Give it. But—in a rant entitled “No Gifts” there was always going to be a ‘but’—this happens very rarely, and is extremely unlikely to occur near the time of marriage. In the last decade the author has seen and bought one such gift for one person, and received one such gift. They are rare, and not a matter of money, nor of time, nor of taste: just of happenstance and luck. If you find one around the time of the wedding then delay giving it until later, so that you are seen to obey the couple’s wishes.

Gifts: reasons why not

It should be obvious that the couple’s finances do not require a few shillings, and that the gift of a sermon would be less than welcome. Further, they have enough good taste not to want somebody else’s imposed. Thus there is no need for gifts. But gifts are worse than neutral, they are harmful. Consider a potential gift. We know that the couple can afford it. If they need it, they have enough brains to know that they need it. So they would have bought it themselves. Hence, for any potential gift, either they already have it, or they won’t find it useful.

It is not looking good, but nonetheless, you have gone to time and trouble and expense acquiring it, and giving it to them in pinky paper all folded neat. Please keep the receipt. Please take it back to the shop without even bothering to show it to the couple: really, can’t people understand simple instructions? Don’t be a demonstration of the failure of modern education.

So let’s assume that, due to stupidity on the part of the giver and gentle politeness on the part of the recipient, the gift has been given. Now they have to remember who gave what, and to have those things on display, or somehow being seen to be used, when that disobedient person visits. So instead of giving a pleasant gift, the giver has given a problem.

Some people do worse: they give a gift at a time or place that creates a transportation hassle. A newly married couple should be thinking of each other and their closer uniting: not how to transport unwanted tat given by guests too rude to heed simple instructions.

Mention should also be made of the waste of paper and the wider environmental harm associated with this imposition of unwanted stuff. Parts are fabricated; these are transported; the whole is assembled and further transported; it is then sold in air-conditioned shops with open doors; it is, even more pointlessly, wrapped. But those too dense to understand the meaning of “no gifts” probably won’t care.

Other cultures, no excuse: no gifts

Some gift-givers try excuses along the lines of “giving a gift is part of our culture”, “it would be rude for somebody from Bouvet Island [or wherever] not to give a gift”, or like ill-considered nonsense. Save your cultural baggage for the nearest department of ethnology and anthropology: a Gauloises-smoking Frenchman will doubtless feign interest.

Meanwhile, consider the following. The author likes bacon butties and beer: ’tis the mark of a refined palate, some say. But if the author were, for example, invited to a wedding held under Muslim rules, bacon butties and beer would be inappropriate. Choose one: skip the non-Halaal nourishment; or skip the wedding. If I am invited to somebody else’s wedding it happens under their rules: I play by those rules; or I play elsewhere. Likewise, you have been invited to a wedding with rules including “no gifts”. If this is incompatible with your cultural hangups, that’s fine, just don’t be there. Go away: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect £200.

Summary: No Gifts

Your instructions are “No Gifts”. That means no gifts.

The number of gifts that you are to give is to be zero: Gifts = ∅; |Gifts| = 0.

No gifts.

What part of “No gifts” are you too stupid to understand? (That was rhetorical: if you have an answer, it is of no interest.)


— Julian D. A. Wiseman, as a gift for a friend
Original 20th June 2010, uploaded July 2010

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