There are certain things that all weddings, large or small, have in common. Flowers, for instance, though actually, there are probably a few extreme-hay-fever-suffering couples out there to disprove that one… So, um... cake then. Oh, hang on. Allergies… Special diets… maybe not.
I'll start again.
There's one thing that all weddings, large or small, have in common. Gifts!
The giving of wedding presents is a tradition as old as the institution of marriage itself. The payment of a dowry to the bride's family in ancient times had, by the time we reach Renaissance Italy, morphed into the presentation of ornate wedding chests. But it wasn't until the age of 20th century commercialism that the practice really took off.
Ever since Macy's department store in New York City opened its first wedding list service back in the roaring twenties, it's been the done thing to shower the happy couple with the bric-a-brac that will fill up their new home; everything from dinner services to white goods, bed linen, cooking pots, and the inevitable, much parodied toaster.
Some couples write out exhaustively long lists of specific requests. Others plump for vouchers or cash. The truly brave leave it up to their guests. Next time you're at a friends house, check the top of their kitchen cabinets. If you see three pristine, boxed fondue sets and two or more vegetable spiralizers, you'll know they were one of the foolhardy.
The point is, gift giving is one of the points of common experience that everyone in a wedding crowd will share, and as such, it's the perfect hook for your wedding speech jokes. Finding common ground is the secret to winning over a diverse audience and everyone in the room will have dipped into their pockets to provide a gift for the big day, so they'll all get the gag when you use the opportunity to poke fun at the tradition, or take a playful sideways swipe at your friends.
Here are a handful of examples from the archives that show you how:
When Andy asked me to be his Best Man, I'd never felt so proud. I told him it was the greatest gift he could ever give me… In return, he told me that if that was my idea of a great gift, I'd better ignore the wedding list altogether and just get him vouchers.
It's touching to see how overwhelmed Paul and Linda are with your choice of gifts today. They've been wandering around clutching the receipts all afternoon!
You know, some men get cold feet as their wedding day approaches, but not Paul, oh no… He's been chomping at the bit to get married ever since he found out he could trade a tenner's worth of John Lewis vouchers for eight scratch-cards or a lapdance from Big Tina round the back of the bookies.
The happy couple have asked me to give a huge thank you to everyone for all the gifts. They can't tell you what your kindness and generosity is worth to them… but they should have an accurate figure in a few days once the ebay bids start coming.
I couldn't decide what gift to give to Paul and Linda myself. I was toying with the idea of paying for a city break to get them away from the all the stress of their wedding preparations for a few days. So I sneakily asked Paul what sort of place he'd stay if money was no object. "Oh, I don't know," he said, "The sort of place it's difficult to get into, with a real international crowd." So I booked them in for a long weekend at the Calais migrant camp. I was gutted when they tore it down. I lost my deposit!