Meghan Markle sashaying down the aisle at St. George’s Chapel in a minimal yet elegant Givenchy gown to greet her literal Prince Charming, Harry, unofficially marked the start of this year’s wedding season. Across the country, cash will flow freely as couples tie the knot — and not just from the bank accounts of those directly involved in the wedding, like the bride, groom or party. It is expensive to be a guest, too. But Prince Harry and Ms. Markle’s rules around not receiving physical or monetary wedding presents may have stoked an altruistic wedding trend that has been burning steadily, just below the surface, for years now.
Instead of precious China dishware picked from a registry list or envelopes stuffed with crisp bills, attendees at the most recent royal wedding were encouraged to make a donation to one of the couple’s preselected charities, including the Children’s HIV Association, and Crisis, a Britain-based organization that provides aid to the homeless, in lieu of lavish gifts.
“Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle are incredibly grateful for the goodwill shown to them since the announcement of their engagement and are keen that as many people as possible benefit from this generosity of spirit,” read an official statement by Kensington Palace on April 9. “The couple have therefore asked that anyone who might wish to mark the occasion considers making a donation to charity, rather than sending a wedding gift.”
The no-gift trend isn’t necessarily new. In 2011, when Harry’s older brother, Prince William, wed Kate Middleton, the pair made it clear: Anyone who felt compelled to send a gift should instead donate to one of their charities of choice. And earlier this year at comedian Amy Schumer’s low-key ceremony to chef Chris Fischer, guests were asked to give to Everytown, an organization that advocates for gun safety in the United States, instead of showering the couple with money. The idea of forgoing gifts is gaining popularity and is part of a bigger movement toward philanthropic weddings.
Ceremonies that give back to the community are something that Candice Chan and Alison Slight, partners at Candice&Alison Inc., a Toronto-based wedding and events group, have been watching for a while.
“It’s a nice way to demonstrate philanthropy, particularly if there is a cause that is close to home,” says Ms. Slight.
Last year, 10 per cent of couples in America opted for a charity registry, according to The Knot, an authority on all things wedding-related, which was up 7 per cent over 2016. Digital platforms like Blueprint Registry, Simple Registry, and even The Knot’s own branded registry website give Canadian couples the flexibility to ask guests for a mix of both philanthropic and physical gift options, or stick strictly to charitable donations.
In addition to couples foregoing gifts from family and friends, many are opting to pay it forward on behalf of their attendees, too; instead of a takeaway trinket, donations are made in the name of each person on the guestlist. And a quick search on Pinterest (a digital haven for brides-to-be in search of ideas for the Big Day) yields pages of results for unique philanthropic party-favour ideas, from donating to an animal shelter and sending each guest home with a thank-you note that features a photo of a dog or cat that received funding, to biodegradable paper cards containing seeds that will grow into living memories of the special event.
“In Harry & Ms. Markle’s circumstance, to receive monetary gifts would have been inappropriate,” says Ms. Chan. “This no-gift trend positions the couple as ones who give back.”
But this altruistic form of celebrating isn’t a cookie-cutter solution, and not all brides and grooms should feel compelled to say “I don’t” to a registry.
“The no-gift trend is simply that, a trend,” adds Ms. Slight. “Couples should not feel pressure to do what other couples from various economic backgrounds do, and they should certainly not feel the need to mimic royalty.”
For some, the gifting tradition is important, as it helps counteract the often astronomical cost of getting married. Ms. Slight recommends that couples avoid explicitly asking for cash over tangible items like a toaster or champagne flutes, though if the pair is planning to have a no-gift policy in play, communicating that message to guests via the invitation or wedding website is appropriate.
For Prince Harry and Ms. Markle, using their influence and public nuptials as a platform to raise awareness and funds for charity was an important wedding-day decision. And for some brides and grooms, royal or not, sharing the spotlight on the big day, by redirecting guests’ financial generosity to non-profit organizations in need, might be the boldest move a newly crowned Mr. and Mrs. can make.
Tips for wedding guests and hosts
If you are attending or hosting such an event this summer, Ms. Slight and Ms. Chan have some advice:
- If picking from a registry, choose something that is relevant and useful for the couple, but always include a gift receipt.
- If offering cash, an appropriate amount is $100 per head, which can be scaled up depending on the intimacy of the relationship to the couple.
- Always offer a token of appreciation to the hosts; something deeply personal or meaningful, like a handwritten letter or photograph that expresses joy for the newlyweds, can be appropriate.
For the bride and groom:
- There is no singular trend that suits every wedding, but if it feels appropriate to the couple, it will be appropriate for the guests.
- Step back and reflect on the opinion of the audience — they should always be kept top of mind.
- There will often be a guest who takes their own initiative to offer a gift in spite of whatever rules a couple may have established.