Many of the symbolic meanings attributed to wedding anniversaries have their roots in ancient traditions. However, because meanings have been assigned to anniversaries which weren’t traditionally celebrated, some are more modern inventions. The 12th wedding anniversary, for example, which had no symbolic meaning in the 19th and early 20th centuries, now represents linen and silk. Regardless of their vintage, wedding anniversary traditions always symbolise the progress of love.
The tradition of assigning symbolic meanings to wedding anniversaries dates back to the time of the Holy Roman Empire when husbands crowned their wives with silver wreathes on their 25th wedding anniversary and gold wreathes to celebrate that milestone 50th anniversary. However, old traditions can be replaced by new ones to reflect cultural influences: the diamond wedding anniversary, traditionally associated with 75 years of marriage, came to be celebrated on the 60th wedding anniversary after Queen Victoria marked 60 years of being on the throne with her diamond jubilee.
Wedding anniversary symbols reflect married love and, ideally, how it grows, strengthens and matures with the passing years. Therefore, the paper symbolising the first year of married life, is replaced by cotton on 2nd wedding anniversary. If you’re lucky enough to get past your 50th golden wedding anniversary, you can look forward an emerald for your 55th and a diamond for your 60th.
The early years
Paper, cotton, leather, fruit and flowers, and wood are attributed to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th wedding anniversaries respectively. Paper, with its interlocking fibres, symbolises strength and unity ; cotton represents prosperity; leather is prized for its durability; fruit and flowers mirror your blossoming and fertile union; wood means strength, durability and longevity, which is why some people give their spouse a tree to plant on this romantic anniversary.
Silver and gold
Silver and gold are precious metals symbolising beauty, strength, purity, value and durability, and these qualities are attributed to the love between married couples celebrating their 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries. While gold and silver have always been of inherent value , a couple celebrating one of these milestone anniversaries is also giving thanks for spiritual and emotional richness – gold is an alchemic symbol of the sun, which means warmth and abundance. It’s traditional for family and friends to give appropriately symbolic presents, such as gold or silver clocks or picture frames, to couples on these anniversaries.
The meanings attributed those precious gemstone anniversaries echo the symbolism of the jewels themselves. Therefore, the pearl (30th anniversary) means faithfulness, integrity and wisdom; the ruby (40th) anniversary means dignity, happiness and true love; the 55th (emerald) anniversary means peace, hope and tranquillity; the 60th (diamond) anniversary symbolises love, faith, joy and eternity. However, flowers can say as much as gemstones on these anniversaries. The sweet pea is associated with pearls, nasturtiums symbolise rubies and violets denote gold.
Traditional versus modern
The symbolic gifts exchanged to celebrate some wedding anniversaries have changed over time and, depending on whether you are a romantic traditionalist or prefer more contemporary love tokens, you can choose been traditional and modern gifts. The 4th anniversary, for example, traditionally associated with fruit and flowers, can now be celebrated by giving your beloved an appliance! The 10th anniversary, which traditionally represented tin, can be celebrated with diamonds.