Wedding anniversaries mark the number of years since two people decided to make things officially official. Back in the day, these relationship milestones carried even more emotional significance: spouses in Medieval Germany would adorn partners with golden wreaths on their 50th anniversary. And while an extravagant AF headband may not be the most timely gift for 2019 couples, you can still do something a bit more meaningful than dinner out on the celebratory occasion.
Since coming up with a unique gift idea every year is a tall order, looking into the symbolism of traditional wedding anniversaries is one good place for inspiration. Amber Harrison, a style and etiquette expert at Wedding Paper Divas, is here to take a deep dive into the symbolism of the first twenty years of married life — like what a paper anniversary really means — and cool gift ideas stemming from the cultural analogy. Now you'll be able to offer a super rad and thoughtful explanation while your S.O. unwraps the surprise.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
1 of 13
1st Anniversary: Paper
The old Victorian age tradition of giving paper on your first anniversary might seem like an inconsequential gift, paper actually has a pretty deep symbolization: A new beginning, the fragility of marriage and the potential for growth. "A beautiful set of personalized stationery can be a great way to incorporate paper," says Harrison. Other fun paper gifts include a rare first edition of your partner’s favorite book or a gorgeous art print for your home.
2 of 13
2nd Anniversary: Cotton
Cotton is a material that's light, flexible and adaptable — similar to a second year marriage. Monogrammed pillows or towels are always a nice way to go, but a soft and luxurious cotton blankets or loungewear will also come in handy for future Netflix marathons.
3 of 13
3rd Anniversary: Leather
Leather is durable, supple, and can change over time. There may be imperfections, but it's beautiful nonetheless. Harrison recommends celebrates this milestone with leather passport holders, perfect for honoring all the new adventures a couple has still in store.
4 of 13
4th Anniversary: Fruit & Flowers
"Fruit and flowers represent a budding relationship, with deep nourishment and constant renewal and beauty," says Harrison. You don't have to think literal here with the gifts, gifts ideas that include floral prints and a relaxing, fruity scent would do the trick.
5 of 13
5th Anniversary: Wood
"Trees are stable and enduring, with deep roots that are always connected — a great model for a healthy, fulfilling relationship," says Harrison. Five years is a pretty big milestone, so why not commemorate it with a bottle of fine wine in an engraved wooden box, and unbox the wine together on your tenth anniversary.
6 of 13
6th Anniversary: Sugar
The symbolic material for the sixth wedding anniversary used to be iron, but sugar has largely replaced the old tradition in recent years. "Sugar represents the sweetness of your relationship and the feeling when you met for the first time," says Harrison. "Candy and chocolate may be the obvious choices, but why not make it more experiential and take a dessert-making class together?"
7 of 13
7th Anniversary: Copper & Wool
Both copper and wool are known to generate heat — they represent the safety, warmth, and comfort of a relationship. The combination of a wool blanket and Moscow mule glass will keep you and your S.O. warm and cosy for a perfect night in.
8 of 13
8th Anniversary: Pottery
Pottery is nothing but raw material before it gets molded and then fortified in a kiln to create a sturdy and useful object. It tells the story of transformation and strength, a befitting symbolism for love. A pottery class is a fun date night idea to celebrate and your very own Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore moment. (The romantic part at the beginning of the Ghost, not so much the rest of the movie.)
9 of 13
9th Anniversary: Willow
Willow represents nature and flexibility, and after nine years of marriage, you’ve already demonstrated that being flexible and adapting can lead to harmony. "Planting a weeping willow tree together can serve as a beautiful reminder of your blossoming relationship," says Harrison. A more whimsical way to celebrate the anniversary is to install a tree swing in your backyard — you'll be getting lots of romantic memories from this little apparatus.
10 of 13
10th Anniversary: Tin
"Tins are traditionally used to preserve something precious and protect whatever is held inside from outside elements," says Harrison. Customized martini shakers are a fun gift that will liven up any bar cart.
11 of 13
11th Anniversary: Steel
Steel is durable material, representing the strength of you two even when times are trying. If your S.O. loves spending time in the kitchen, this stainless steel knife and cheeseboard set also makes a great present.
12 of 13
15th Anniversary: Crystal
"Crystal is a representation of the sacrifice and investment the couple has made over the years," says Harrison. For this special milestone in your relationship, a crystal bowl seems like a bit predictable: These crystal candlestick votives are a much more modern choice.
13 of 13
20th Anniversary: China
China symbolizes the elegant and fragile nature of love. Uncover an old photo from your wedding day and gift it in a porcelain frame as a reminder of where your relationship started and where you are now as a couple.