[Updated editor's note: I don't think I explained myself well enough the first time around, but my beef with presentation is not the concept of giving money as a wedding gift, which in my books is just fine. It's the term "presentation" itself, and how it is used in these parts. Read on!]
Okay, a couple weeks ago I looked at wedding socials, those ubiquitous Manitoba nuptial fundraisers. Today I want to talk about another strange wedding-related tradition that is so common here in the Keystone province: presentation.
Before I moved to Manitoba, I received an invitation to a wedding that would be held in Winnipeg. The invitation was beautiful – on heavy, creamy cardstock with engraved lettering, wrapped in a silky ribbon – all the stuff girls care about. Beneath the usual day-time-place details was a single word on its own line: presentation. I had no idea what this meant! I asked around, to see if anyone had ever encountered such wording on a wedding invitation. One friend thought maybe it was something to do with a dress code. Another thought maybe it meant there would be a formal receiving line. And then I called my mum, and she laughed and said, “It means they want money, not gifts”.
I’m not going to say I was flabbergasted (this was before I knew about socials, after all!) but I was quite taken aback. What had the world come to? First, it was bad enough that people started printing their registry information on their invitations. Now they were just asking for money flat-out?
Well, it turns out that this is a totally common practice in Manitoba. In fact, there is a whole spectrum of ways to stipulate that you don’t want gifts, you want cold hard cash – and you can do it right on the invitation. For instance, you might see one of the following tucked away neatly, in a wedding-y font, at the bottom of the invite [snarky comments mine]:
- Presentation Optional [So nice of you to give me a choice!]
- Presentation Preferred [Good to know.]
- Presentation Accepted [Phew!]
- Presentation Only [I KNOW!!!]
You’ve got to admit, if it weren’t so totally against even the laxest of etiquette guidelines, it would be totally genius. I mean, one little word cuts through all the awkwardness and tiptoeing around the subject. Guests are of course, not obliged to bring gifts to a wedding, but almost all do. And often they like to give something the couple needs or wants, which sometimes is money. It’s crude for a couple to say “we prefer cash”, but “presentation” elegantly does the dirty work for them. But that’s just it… it’s awfully mucky in that territory.
Back in the olden days, if you wanted to know what the couple wanted, you’d ask a family member or close friend for a suggestion. When registries (still considered distasteful by some) came along, same thing – you’d ask someone close to the couple where they were registered. I don’t know why this policy doesn’t still work when a couple wants cash, as many who are joining established households or saving for a major purchase such as house, understandably do. I guess people have decided that any oral discussion of money is taboo… but putting it in writing isn’t. I don’t know.
I find the whole idea of presentation strange, as the word itself indicates that you would be physically presenting the money to the couple, when as far as I know, most people just drop their card stuffed with cash into a basket or box at the gift table. I’m sure that’s how the term originated, but from what I understand, it’s not done anymore, except in certain cultures where cash gifts are traditional. Speaking of gift tables – I went to a local wedding, for which the invitation specified presentation preferred, but I brought a gift. (I realize that bringing a gift to the reception is considered bad form too – hey, I’m not perfect!) When I gave it to the people manning the table with the card basket and guest book, their body language made it clear that a physical gift was very inconvenient and that they hadn’t really planned a spot to put gifts! Serves me right, I suppose.
I’m not the only person who is intrigued by this whole concept. As I was doing a little research for this post, I came across a recent article from the Journal of Folklore Research, by two researchers at the U of W, Pauline Greenhill and Kendra Magnusson. “Your Presence at Our Wedding Is Present Enough”: Lies, Coding, Maintaining Personal Face, and the Cash Gift” goes into great detail on presentation practices of Winnipeggers. (You can access it online through EbscoHost on WPL’s electronic resources, if you’re a nerd like me and just have to read the whole thing!) The abstract of the paper reads:
“In the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the word presentation-signifying a cash wedding gift as an alternative to material objects, and usually stated on the lower right-hand corner of the wedding invitation-has become recognized, if somewhat controversial, across class, linguistic, and ethnocultural boundaries. Both implicit and complicit coding methods overshadow or disguise the transactional nature of the cash gift in order to make the request more polite. Presentation is echoed in such forms as rhymed cash requests and themed receptacles, which likewise disrupt the economistic undertones of the cash gift while maintaining the personal face of the wedded couple and their guests. We argue that such customs offer layered codes that not only reinforce the taboo on requesting cash, but critique capitalism’s invasion of this rite of passage and its associated events”
The term “presentation wedding” is used throughout, and that just makes me shudder. As if the defining characteristic of the wedding is the type of gifts the couple is demanding they receive. I personally have never heard someone describe a wedding as such, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I do.
Now, even if you do want to give the couple money — because after all, it is a totally appropriate and welcome gift — how much do you give? I noticed a plea from Ace Burpee on Twitter a few months ago, asking what the going rate is for presentation these days. Several people responded and all used a formula based in part on what they were “getting” at the reception. One person based her amount on the price of the meal, plus an extra $10-20. Another said if it was open bar and dinner, $150 a head. Yet another said “pay for your plate then $100 or more”. Again, I find the idea that you somehow must pay your way at the reception, which is essentially a gift from the wedding’s hosts to their guests, extremely unsavoury. Ick… another horrible aspect of presentation.
I’ve only experienced the tip of the presentation iceberg, I’m sure. To reiterate, I’m not against giving money as a gift at weddings, nor am I against couples discreetly letting it be known that if anyone is interested in what they want or need, it’s money. Most guests are hoping not to give the clichéd 4th toaster, and are glad for a little guidance coming from the right source. But for goodness’ sake, that source should not be the couple themselves, and it definitely should not the invitation.
What do you think? Is “presentation” evil or genius? Or both?