Totally by chance, the other night we ran into our friends Michelle and Mike at an Indian restaurant, and because it turned out to be Michelle’s birthday, for a while discussion ran on birthdays and similar anniversaries, such as wedding anniversaries, and from there the notion that particular anniversaries have particular types of gifts associated with them. Except for the more significant anniversaries of particular longevity, I can’t imagine many people pay attention to those gifts, really.
But if you want to, here’s a list, both of “traditional” and “modern” anniversary gifts. What strikes me about the lists is how much less evocative, how much more boring and mundane, the “modern” list is – particularly read off in order as a sort of found poetry. (Although the combination of items from the traditional and modern lists does sometimes lead to a sort of as-is surrealism: for the first anniversary, buy your partner a paper clock!) For example: the traditional fourth anniversary lists a gift of fruit or flowers; the modern list says “appliances.” Appliances…wow, that’s exciting, and romantic, too. What sort of appliances? An electric pencil sharpener, perhaps? (Amusingly, the first item that comes up when you click on the link the site provides for “appliances” leads to the Drink-O-Matic Soda Machine: that’s right, now your spouse can guzzle Dr. Pepper to his/her heart’s content, all without leaving the comfort of home!) Leather has received an upgrade: formerly the third anniversary gift, it is now suggested as the ninth anniversary gift. (Yes, yes, I know: some of you are chomping at the bit to make a joke here. I suggest that bit be tightened.) What does leather replace as a ninth anniversary gift? This page says “Pottery/Willow.” (Sorrow, guys: I don’t think Allyson Hannigan is available.) Willow! While it may not be practical, there’s a hell of lot more poetry, romance, and intrigue in the notion of a gift made from willow than “appliances” or “desk sets” (seventh anniversary, modern).
Eccentric musician, cartoonist, and “amateur” Peter Blegvad is, I think, onto something with his concept of “numinosity.” Blegvad writes that “A numinous object is one in which matter, form and situation combine to ‘haunt’ or otherwise fascinate the imagination.” While I’m pretty sure Blegvad’s tongue is lodged firmly in his cheek for parts of this essay, taken from certain angles (as a poetics, for example), he quite clearly is correct. The objects he describes (real and hypothetical) fascinate in a way that other objects do not. Why does the notion that the eleventh anniversary gift should be “steel” intrigue more than that it should be “fashion jewelry” (why not just name a jeweler – hell, provide a link to its URL and a fill-in box for your credit card number and be done with it)? And why does the heart fail utterly to leap to any discernible degree at the thought of a gift of “textiles” (modern thirteenth – although admittedly, the juxtaposition of “textiles and furs” improves it dramatically)? Those juxtapositions – gathered, one presumes, from alternate lists or traditions – are themselves among the more interesting aspects of this list: wool and copper (the seventh) or, my favorite, candy and iron (the sixth). Candy and iron!
You’ll note that the gifts remain largely unchanged from the twenty-fifth anniversary onward…except for poor coral, replaced with the louder and quasi-exotic jade, and “pearl,” replaced with an initial instance of “diamond” (now both thirtieth and sixtieth. “Pearl,” by the way, is in fact wholly different from “pearls”: the latter is a set of objects, the former is a material.}. I’m not sure why this is, or why the older gifts were replaced for the earlier anniversaries…probably because the newer items are almost entirely things you’d buy at major department stores (which probably don’t do much business in willow or candy).
We’re well past the more interesting, earlier-year gifts on the old list – but I almost wish we’d used them, just to see what sorts of things we might have come up with. And maybe that’s why the newer list utterly fails to involve me: it is, essentially, a shopping list, assigning a gift-value to your relationship, demonstrating your ability to consume as a well-adjusted cog in the great capitalist machinery. It looks, for the most part, like a listing of some items on an unimaginative wealthy person’s estate sale.