As a wedding guest, what sort of meaningful gift can you get for people who already have so much?
Where I live in New York, it is almost unthinkable for a wedding guest to give the newlywed couple a gift that is not money. Priests and nuns are allowed to give blessings or religious items for the home, but for the rest of us, a simple check will do, please and thank you, particularly one large enough to cover the cost of one’s plate at the reception. Typically that can mean you are writing a check for somewhere between $100 and $250.
Of course, people are not ridiculous — couples know that some friends or family are in school or struggling; they do understand if all one can manage is a pretty card. But for the healthy who are reasonably employed? Yeah, double that gift if you’re bringing your plus-one. Ka-ching!
It gets expensive, especially when you’re at the age where all of your friends are finally buying rings and memorizing vows. This is where I am, right now, and yes, I’ll be writing checks for my friends, and leaving them in nicely-decorated boxes or cages so the bride doesn’t have to lug around a satin bag full of money all night (I did mention I live in New York, right?). But I’m going to be including something else in their gift: a baby goat.
Let me explain. When my brother and his wife were marrying, I was just out of college, with a kitchen job that paid peanuts per hour. Because they are level-headed people — and because my brother has blessed himself with a wife who is unbelievably shrewd about getting the most bang for the buck — I could manage to cover my plate, and of course wanted to, but I also wanted to give them something more meaningful and memorable than a crisp $100 bill.
It was about that time when I received a flier in the mail from Food For the Poor, a Christian organization that provides food, medicine, shelter and other services to impoverished people in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was actually a gift catalog, and as I looked through it I couldn’t resist.
I bought a goat for my brother and sister-in-law for their wedding.
In truth, what I’d done was donated $90 to buy a goat for an impoverished family, in their name, in honor of their marriage.
And they loved it.
Why a goat? Well, to tell the truth, I couldn’t afford a donkey or a water pump, but my $100 budget (which also allowed me to purchase a fruit tree) gave a source of milk and cheese and nutrition to a poor family somewhere, while honoring a couple who both work for non-profits and are always looking out for others. My sister-in-law’s whole life is about service to others, so I knew they’d take it in a right spirit, and they did.
More than this, it spread the joy of their new union beyond just their family and friends, and it helped begin their marriage on a charitable note: giving a goat to others reflects the notion that marriage calls forth a selflessness from a couple — one that both parties must adopt as they cease to be individuals and become one flesh.
Also, what’s cuter than a baby goat?
This year three of my friends are getting married. I’ll do my best to cover my plate. But they’re getting goats, too.