The ultimate guide to wedding anniversaries by year

Time flies when you’re having fun, which is why your anniversary (whether it’s your first or your fiftieth) always seems to come round so quickly. Every couple has their own celebrating style to mark another year on their metaphorical marriage chalkboard. Some love to make a big fuss, jetting off to shores far away or staying somewhere special closer to home. Others keep it low-key with a quiet night in and a candlelight dinner (or takeout...). But there’s one traditional, tried and tested approach for observing a wedding anniversary milestone that the hitched and the soon-to-be-hitched generally like to pay attention to – the classic wedding anniversary list of presents.

Wedding anniversary traditions, explained

Most of us know how some of the traditions go. Silver for 25 years, gold for 50 and diamond for the big 6-0. But what about the wedding anniversary meanings that hide behind the beautifully wrapped gifts?

In a nutshell, the reason for giving a specific wedding anniversary gift by year is that it’s a symbol of the strength and worth of your marriage. So after 60 blissful years together, you’ll make it to the rock solid, bank-busting status of diamond. But if you’re in your early years, then your traditional anniversary gifts will include delicate cotton and paper. Not everybody’s on board with the idea of giving a gift as a symbol of your marriage’s fragility – understandably. The more positive way of looking at this age-old, anniversary ritual is that the materials get more robust with every extra year. Ergo, the gifts proclaim your marriage as getting stronger and stronger – definitely something to toast to!

US vs. UK traditions

Like with a lot of through-the-generations customs, there’s a bit of a muddle with what gifts go with what year. There’s the US version and the UK one, which share lots in common, but also swap a few around (for example, cotton is the traditional gift to give on your first wedding anniversary and paper for the year after. But in Britain, it’s the opposite). Sugar is number six on the UK list but in the US, you’ll receive something made from iron – two wildly different messages going on there. Later down the line at year number eight, you’ll get a bronze beauty in the US, but in the UK, it’ll be to do with salt (would fish and chips count?). So where there are differences, it would seem our British friends love their foodie things, whereas Americans are fond of heavy metals.

Traditional vs. modern wedding anniversary gifts

Countries aside, the general consensus is that there’s a specific gift for your first 15 years together, and after that, they go up in five year intervals. That is unless you’re looking at the ‘modern’ list created by the Chicago Public Library, which came about because there was a millennial outcry that the old-style list was too out of touch with today. Clocks, electrical appliances (the epitome of romance) and stationery sets (which we obviously think is a fab idea) are amongst the newcomers, and diamond slips from 60th to 30th place in the modern day list. Presumably because sixty years felt far too long to wait for a bit more bling – again, understandably.

Wedding anniversary gifts by year

Like the sound of the traditional thing? Fancy saying it with paper, cotton, leather (this is a great year for that bag, purse or wallet you’ve been eyeballing), opal (hello year number 24) or a spot of sapphire if your 45th is fast approaching? Then this is the US-style anniversary shopping list you’ll need to consult before the present-hunting begins…

Anniversary Gift
1st Cotton
2nd Paper
3rd Leather
4th Fruit and flowers
5th Wood
6th Iron
7th Wool, Copper
8th Bronze
9th Pottery
10th Tin
11th Steel
12th Silk
13th Lace
14th Ivory
15th Crystal
20th China
24th Opal
25th Silver
30th Pearl
35th Coral, jade
40th Ruby
45th Sapphire
50th Gold
55th Emerald
60th Diamond (yellow)
75th Diamond, gold
85th Moonstone

Celebrating the biggest anniversary milestones

What the traditional British and American anniversary lists agree on are the gifts for each five year milestone.

5 year wedding anniversary

At five years, wood is the winner. It’s said to represent strength, wisdom and deep roots. You’ll find couples buying anything from wooden furniture as they continue to feather the nest together to wood-engraved keepsakes. Or do away with the gifts and go for a romantic woodland walk.

10 year wedding anniversary

When you hit ten years, expect a tin-related gift. If that seems a bit of an odd one, think again. Tin is known for preservation and protection. A thoughtful tin gift might be a savings pot that you promise to both contribute to every week. Set a date for when you’ll break into your squirrelled-away stash and plan to do something lovely with it together.

15 year wedding anniversary

15 years in and it’s time for crystal, and it’s obvious where this anniversary tends to lead – straight to the crystal glassware. Bring on the impeccably etched crystal champagne flutes and fill them to the brim with a bottle of, you guessed it, Cristal – if you really want to push the anniversary boat out.

25 year wedding anniversary

More than two decades in, this is where the anniversary parties tend to kick in. 25 years together is a huge cause for celebration, so think about having a proper shindig (full of silver styling of course) with as many of the people who were there with you on your big day to really relive the magic.

50 year wedding anniversary

Double that and you’re at 50. And half a century deserves gold because you always believed in each other’s souls (get it?). If another party isn’t on the cards, this is an anniversary worthy of going for gold on the holiday front. Some place with golden sands and five golden stars so you can lap up the luxury just the two of you.

60 year wedding anniversary

Your marriage’s very own diamond jubilee might not involve encrusted crown jewels, but after sixty years by each other’s side, a diamond-encrusted something seems more than fair. Not many people get to say they’ve celebrated a diamond wedding anniversary, so what better way to mark it than with the most precious material in town?

Wedding anniversary gift ideas

It’s not all about tradition

But after all of that, tradition isn’t everything you know. There’s a whole lot of fondness surrounding these age-old anniversary gift conventions, but the best gifts are the ones that aren’t forced and just feel right.

So, if you see a pair of diamond drop earrings in the run-up to your 13th wedding anniversary, don’t step away and say to yourself, no but they need to be made of lace for this year’s gift, I’ll get a doily instead. Go for the diamonds and get what is going to suit and reflect where the two of you are at in your lives there and then.

And remember, there’s a place for paper at every stage of your marriage, not just your anniversary debut - though for more ideas on what to get for a first wedding anniversary, read on here. Paper isn’t about flimsiness or fragility. Quite the opposite, fold it over and over again, and it’s hidden strengths really get to show their stuff. It represents a clean slate, opportunity, being closely bound and writing your future together. So, say it with cards, with photo albums, with personalised stationery, with Papier…