Many of the traditions celebrated in the world today began in Germany. It is unsurprising to discover that a number of wedding anniversary traditions also originate in parts of Germanic Europe.
In Germany, weddings are steeped in traditions some of which, like the first dance, are commonplace across the world. There are some that are unique to Germany. When a baby girl is born the mother starts collecting pennies so that one day they can be used to pay for the brides wedding shoes. In parts of the country, the bride is, with prior consent, kidnapped and the groom has to find her. Maybe one of the most important differences is that a civil ceremony must be performed before the couple are married in a religious setting. Purely religious ceremonies are not legally binding in Germany.
The marital journey from newly-wed to a veteran couple is marked by yearly anniversary celebrations. The tradition of the silver and the golden anniversary are ingrained in the universal psyche.
Where did the notion of assigning precious materials to celebrations begin?
The consensus seems to be that the celebrations started in medieval Germany. If a couple had managed to reach twenty-five years of marriage then there would have been a great celebration. It is worth pointing out that the average life expectancy was considerably lower than it is now so two people surviving for twenty-five years was a big reason to celebrate. The friends of a couple reaching this milestone would present the woman with a silver wreath.
An enormous celebration would take place should a couple reach fifty years of marriage. It really was a cause for a lot of merrymaking. To mark the event the wife would be presented with a golden wreath. The silver and golden wreaths are where the anniversaries get their names.
Although these traditions began in medieval times, they became more prominent in the eighteenth century. As marriages which had largely happened for financial stability or position were replaced by marriages built on love it created unease within society. It was hard to imagine how couples who came together through love could stay together. It seems odd to us now but historically marriage was much more complex than simply two people being in love.
Anniversary celebrations became increasingly important as they celebrated each year a couple remained together. It was crucial to make a fuss to encourage the couple to stick together.
The German author Marie Nathusius wrote in one of her novels in the mid-nineteenth century; ‘all classes in Germany celebrated silver and golden weddings with “great festivities and rejoicings.” When her book was later translated into English the idea of celebrating anniversaries with gifts and parties began to take root elsewhere in Europe.
In Germany, couples celebrate with very specific gift materials for certain years. The first wedding anniversary is marked by paper, a somewhat flimsy material to symbolise the newness of the marriage. The fifth is wood and the tenth tin. With the progression of time, the materials become more solid which symbolises the resilience and longevity of the marriage.
Many of the traditional gifts are similar across Europe, An exception is the twelfth-and-a-half anniversary in Germany which is celebrated with a parsley bouquet. The biggest celebration is reserved for those couples who manage sixty years of marriage. Diamonds, the hardest material known to man, are given as symbols of endurance for a couple who have stuck together through life’s trials and tribulations.
In Germany each year has a material dedicated to it, however, most people only take note of those listed for major milestone anniversaries.