29 Apr 2021

Marital milestones: how to celebrate a wedding anniversary

Today the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary and at Debrett’s we are pondering the significance of wedding anniversaries. These marital milestones are reassuring rites, and also offer a timely excuse for indulgent gifts and enjoyable celebrations.

Anniversaries are an excellent reminder of the solidity of a marriage, its growing longevity commemorated and celebrated on an annual basis. They offer a valuable opportunity to pause and take stock of the previous year, review the whole span of married life, and rejoice.

The tradition of celebrating wedding anniversaries is rooted in the Middle Ages, when the milestones of 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries – comparatively rare events when life expectancy was short  – were celebrated with silver and gold wreaths, which the husband bestowed on his wife. For those unable to afford such precious metals, symbolic gifts had to suffice. Gradually, more significant dates were added to the anniversary calendar; Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrated 60 years on the throne, and diamonds became associated with 60th wedding anniversaries. It was also during the Victorian era that wood came to represent the fifth wedding anniversary, and it was common for husbands to hand-carve mementoes for their wives.

A detailed list of wedding anniversary symbols (see below) is now recognised, but it is important to bear in mind that the list is merely a suggestion, not a prescriptive set of instructions. Many people will enjoy the challenge of taking an unpromising material, for example tin, and finding a creative way of utilising it in an anniversary gift. But it is a rare person who will eschew a diamond eternity ring or engraved watch as an anniversary gift just because, strictly speaking, their present should have been made of china or wood.

The important thing is to remember the anniversary, without hints or prompting, and to make arrangements to celebrate it – a card, a gift, a special dinner, an outing. No spouse will appreciate his or her anniversary morning being greeted with obliviousness, followed by a last-minute dash to the florist or off-licence. While some people are stalwart agnostics when it comes to ‘manufactured’ celebrations, most people will respect the tradition of marking another year of connubial bliss, and will be disappointed if it is forgotten or ignored.

British Wedding Anniversaries

1. Paper

2. Cotton

3. Leather

4. Flowers, fruit

5. Wood

6. Sugar

7. Wool, copper

8. Bronze, pottery

9. Willow, pottery

10. Tin

11. Steel

12. Silk, linen

13. Lace

14. Ivory

15. Crystal

20. China

25. Silver

30. Pearl

35. Coral

40. Ruby

45. Sapphire

50. Gold

55. Emerald

60. Diamond

70. Platinum

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