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Gift Ideas for Special People and Special Occasions

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An old superstition, largely discarded now, suggests that clocks are not appropriate wedding gifts because they remind us that time runs out. If you are not familiar with family traditions or history, and you have any doubt about the appropriateness of a gift, check with the family.


For the most part, you will be giving gifts only on special anniversaries, such as a silver or 25-year anniversary. Remember that the recipients are probably at a stage in their lives in which they are not interested in collecting possessions, particularly household items or knickknacks. A good strategy is to get together with a group of friends or relatives and jointly purchase a vacation trip or a big-screen television.

For very close friends or relatives, you may want to give anniversary gifts more often than every 25 years. If so, you might be interested in consulting the traditional and revised lists of gifts given for different years. The origins of the traditional list are lost in antiquity. The revised list, which is in more general use these days, was created in 1948 by the Jewelry Industry Council. The traditional list has no entries for the 16th through 19th anniversaries, so the entries for those years listed below are from the revised list.

Traditional/Revised Lists of Gifts by Anniversary

1st Paper/clocks 14th Ivory/gold jewelry
2nd Cotton/china 15th Crystal/watches
3rd Leather/crystal, glass 16th Silver hollow ware
4th Books/electrical appliances 17th Furniture
5th Wood, clocks/silverware 18th Porcelain
6th Candy, iron/wood 19th Bronze
7th Copper, bronze, brass/desk sets 20th China/platinum
8th Electrical appliances/linen, lace 25th Silver/silver
9th Pottery/leather 30th Pearl/diamond
10th Tin, aluminum/diamonds 35th Coral, jade/jade
11th Steel/fashion jewelry 40th Ruby/ruby
12th Silk, linen/colored gems, pearls 45th Sapphire/sapphire
13th Lace/textiles, furs 50th Gold/gold

The only firm rules that apply to birthdays are the usual ones regarding thoughtfulness and timeliness. Remember that a birthday is a magical time for a child; a little extravagance is permissible, and a lot of creativity is recommended. In the workplace, a card and/or an invitation to lunch is appropriate.

Birthday gifts involving birthstones are always welcome. The following is a list of birthstones by month:

February Amethyst
March Bloodstone or aquamarine
April Diamond
May Emerald
June Pearl or moonstone
July Ruby
August Sardonyx or peridot
September Sapphire
October Opal or tourmaline
November Topaz
December Turquoise or zircon

Stationery with the new address, a welcome mat (the practical kind), a plant that can survive some inattention, a coffee-table book, and gift certificates to the local book store or wine merchant are all wonderful housewarming gifts.

Coming to Dinner

Don’t bring things that need immediate attention from a person who may be frantically busy in the kitchen. Cut flowers, for example, require the host or hostess to stop what he or she is doing, find a vase, and add water. Instead, try wine or an easy-care plant.

House Guests

When selecting a gift for the host and/or hostess, consider the nature of the friendship, the length of the visit, and the tastes of those being visited. If you want to bring something with you, consider a flowering plant, a wheel of Brie cheese, or an art book; or you can offer to bring along your famous chicken casserole.

Mind Your P’s and Q’s

If you are bringing wine or food to a dinner party, say something like “We thought you might enjoy this later.” This message relieves the host of the pressure of having to deal with the gift immediately, and he knows that it was not necessarily intended to be part of the meal.

Many visitors like to observe the home and, after the visit, acquire a gift that will complement both the host and the house.

For the Traveler

Gifts for the traveler should be practical and portable. For someone facing a long flight, for example, consider a compact tape player with tapes of music, poetry, or language instruction. Or you can make your own tape, mixing music with personal messages and so on. (If the occasion is a driving vacation, a tape player is probably unnecessary because most cars are equipped with them.)

Some currency of the destination country might be helpful. Other ideas include a journal in which to record the highlights of the trip, a leather passport/ticket holder, a pocket-sized plastic rain ponchos, a small travel alarm clock, and a currency converter.


Some people approach retirement with cheerful enthusiasm. Some, particularly if circumstances have forced retirement upon them, do not want to celebrate the event. Check with the retiree’s spouse or close friends before deciding on whether to give a gift.

Some ideas: a tool kit for the handyman, a home-brew starter kit for the beer lover, sporting equipment, a backyard hammock, piano lessons, a trial membership in a health club or spa.

When the party’s over and your grateful smile flickers and dims, it is time to consider returning gifts. It might be a book you have already read, clothes that don’t fit, or something you just can’t stand to have around. Remember, however, that you can’t return things made especially for you or things that the giver might expect to find on your bookshelf or coffee table during a subsequent visit. You may be able to tell a very close friend that you will exchange a shirt for another size or color or a book for another title, but never ask the giver of a gift to exchange it for you unless you are physically unable to leave the house. Common sense in this area will bring you many happy returns.

More on: Manners

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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