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Wedding Favors: Origins, Ideas, and Inspiration

Updated on July 11, 2010
The most favorite wedding favor in the world: Jordan Almonds.
The most favorite wedding favor in the world: Jordan Almonds.

Show Your Appreciation With Wedding Favors

It is a widely practiced custom around the globe for the bride and groom to thank their guests for attending their wedding with some sort of small gift. The little trinket, known as the wedding favor, is a symbol of gratitude that should be a part of any wedding. Much like many other wedding traditions, the giving of favors is a very old custom, dating back hundreds of years. Take a look at the origins of wedding favors, and get ideas and inspiration for your own wedding.

Today's candy buffets are descended from the original favors, such as a cube of sugar.
Today's candy buffets are descended from the original favors, such as a cube of sugar.

Favors Were A Show Of Wealth And Hospitality

It is not known who gave the first ever wedding favor, but the custom is known to go back hundreds of years in Europe. Some of the earliest favors were seen at the lavish weddings of European aristocrats. Not only were the small gifts a way to show appreciation for the wedding guests, but they were a chance for the bride's family to demonstrate their importance and wealth. The preferred favor was a tiny box created from porcelain or crystal called a bonbonniere. The box itself was impressive, to be sure, but just as important was the item contained within the exquisite package: a small sweet treat, such as a lump of sugar. A lump of sugar might not sound like much to us today, but there was a time when it was a rare imported luxury, one that could only be afforded by society's upper-crust (honey was the sweetener used by the masses).

Like most wedding traditions popular among the rich and famous, the wedding favor eventually spread throughout all tiers of society. In addition to sugar, nuts and fruits were traditional favors. Among the less well-to-do communities, the treats were sometimes given at the beginning of the celebration, rather than as parting gifts. This allowed the guests to enjoy eating their treat during the reception. By the late 19th Century, the giving of favors was widespread. Besides being a gracious show of appreciation for ones' guests, the small gifts were a way for the newlyweds to share their good luck with friends and family. It was believed at the time that the bride and groom were very lucky, and indeed blessed. Favors were often personally handed out by the newlyweds to each person in attendance, which was supposed to help spread their blessings among their guests.

Today's Jordan Almonds can be ordered in any wedding color, including elegant metallics like silver and gold.
Today's Jordan Almonds can be ordered in any wedding color, including elegant metallics like silver and gold.

Jordan Almonds Are The World's Favorite Favor

By far the most traditional wedding favor is the Jordan Almond. The origins of this timeless wedding treat date back to at least the 13th Century in Italy, where candies known as confetti were given to the female guests at a wedding. To this day, the candy coated almonds remain the most popular favor in Italy. It is also a key part of a wedding celebration in Greece, where it is called koufeta. The French often give their guests dragées, and the candy coated almonds are traditional favors in many Middle Eastern countries as well. There is a very specific symbolism which explains why candy coated almonds are a mainstay at weddings in many parts of the world. At the center is the bitter almond, surrounded by the sweet candy. The pairing of bitter and sweet represents the bittersweet nature of marriage, the “for better or for worse” of it. At the same time, it is hoped that the sweet coating will help to mitigate the bitterness of the almond, just as love can help to ease bitter times in life and marriage.

There is even more symbolism behind the Jordan Almond. They are always given in odd numbers, which is to show that the marriage will be as indivisible as the candies. The Italians give their Jordan Almonds in groups of five, which represent fertility, longevity, wealth, happiness, and health. This is a poem which explains the meaning of the set of five almonds:

Five sugared almonds for each guest to eat

To remind us that life is both bitter and sweet.

Five wishes for the new husband and wife --

Health, wealth, happiness, children, and a long life!

Brides will often include the poem in the box or pouch of Jordan Almonds, which are a customary favor among American brides, too. There is one last special thing about the Jordan Almond: it is believed that if a woman places one under her pillow at night, she will dream of her future husband. There is a lot of powerful symbolism tied up in those little pastel almonds!

Edible Wedding Favors Around the Globe

Candied almonds are not the only customary wedding favor, although they are definitely one of the top gifts. Dutch brides offer a very similar gift to their guests, the “Bridal Sugar”, which is a set of five candies. Edible favors are generally among the most popular. In Armenia, dried fruits and nuts make up the traditional gift (again, sweet and bitter), while in Japan, one of the customary favors is Kohaku Manjyu, which are steamed buns filled with bean paste. The buns are usually presented in a set of two, one white and one red. In Malaysia, the guests are presented with beautifully decorated hard boiled eggs, which are a symbol of fertility (as are many, many wedding customs worldwide!).

Fragrant orange blossoms are a traditional wedding favor in Spain.
Fragrant orange blossoms are a traditional wedding favor in Spain.

Floral Wedding Favors

Floral favors are another traditional category. In Elizabethan England, small flower corsages were a popular gift for guests. The Victorians also gave a favor from the garden. Their society devised an elaborate secret language of flowers, and the herb rosemary, which symbolized remembrance, was a customary favor. This would be an easy idea for a current bride to adopt for her wedding by using tiny pots of fresh rosemary for the wedding favors. The brides of Spain traditionally present their guests with orange blossoms in a bud vase. Orange blossoms are, you guessed it, another customary wedding fertility symbol.

Origami cranes are a customary favor in Japan.
Origami cranes are a customary favor in Japan.

Handkerchiefs, Paper Cranes, Elephants, and Catalogs

There are also some traditional favors which do not originate in the kitchen or the garden. Guests at a Swiss wedding might find themselves thanked for attending with red handkerchiefs. An Indian-American bride might well select a favor which incorporates an elephant theme, due to the auspicious symbolic meanings of that lucky animal in India: power, strength, long life, patience, wisdom, energy, and good fortune. Besides the Kohaku Manjyu, there are several other customary favors at Japanese weddings. Elegant origami paper cranes are revered for their association with good fortune, fidelity, and longevity. It is said that 1000 paper cranes can make any wish come true, so many Japanese brides and grooms will display the necessary 1000 cranes at their weddings. Passing along a bit of that good luck to their guests in the form of a crane favor is a natural outgrowth of that custom.

Something else that takes place at many Japanese weddings is the giving of hikidemono, which is like the wedding favor writ large. Instead of a small trinket or token, the hikidemono consists of a costly gift for each guest in attendance. Luxurious items such as fancy silverware are among the commonly given hikidemono. Each gift can easily cost upwards of $50, which would probably make the Japanese favors among the most costly outside of royal and celebrity circles. However, the showy favors are balanced out by the fact that a cash gift in the neighborhood of $300 is the usual wedding present to the bride and groom. In an interesting modern twist on an old custom, some couples now give out specialized wedding catalogs, which allow their guests to select their own choice of hikidemono from items such as fine cuts of meat and fish, pocketwatches, and household goods.

Catherine Zeta-Jones chose Welsh love spoons as wedding favors in honor of her Welsh heritage.
Catherine Zeta-Jones chose Welsh love spoons as wedding favors in honor of her Welsh heritage.
Bring out your inner rock star with personalized guitar picks like Avril Lavigne's.
Bring out your inner rock star with personalized guitar picks like Avril Lavigne's.

Welsh Love Spoons

Speaking of celebrity weddings, the wedding favors given by the rich and famous are always a source of interest to the average bride. They typically fall into categories such as edible, personalized, sentimental, or sometimes just plain extravagant. One of the most charming celebrity wedding favors would have to be the Welsh love spoons at the marriage of Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones to Michael Douglas. The handcarved wooden spoons are a very old Welsh custom. The tradition dates back centuries to the time when people made things by hand. A young man would lovingly carve a solid piece of wood into an intricately designed spoon to present to the young lady he fancied. If she accepted his labor of love, a relationship was officially started. The Welsh love spoons are now a more general symbol of love to the people of Wales, and would make a charming wedding favor for any bride or groom with Welsh heritage.

When money is no object, spoil your guests with lavish favors like Eva Longoria and Tony Parker did.
When money is no object, spoil your guests with lavish favors like Eva Longoria and Tony Parker did.

Celebrity Wedding Favors From Whimsical To Extravagant

When Trista Rehn of Bachelorette fame married her bachelor Ryan Sutter, they presented guests with personalized leather journals embossed with the word “Dream” and a picture of the lovebirds. While this type of gift might fall outside the average bride's favor budget, a small leather notebook (perhaps minus the costly customization) could make a stylish wedding favor for a literary crowd. Not all personalized wedding favors have to be super-expensive. Any music lover could take their inspiration from the personalized guitar picks which were the favors at the wedding of Avril Lavigne and Deryck Whibley. The guests were given pairs of guitar picks which read “Avril picked Deryck” and “Deryck picked Avril”. This would be a cute idea for any newlyweds who share a love of music, whether or not they happen to be rock stars.

Celebrities like edible wedding favors as much as the rest of us. For Ashlee Simpson's Alice in Wonderland themed wedding to Pete Wentz, guests were given flower shaped sugar cookies with the phrase “Eat me” on them. Any bride using the trendy Alice in Wonderland theme could steal that cute favor idea. The rich and famous also like candy stations, just like the rest of the brides. Jaime King and Kyle Newman featured a bar set up with clear vases filled with chocolates, so that guests could scoop the sweets into little bags to take home (or to eat on the spot!). At Jason Priestly's wedding to Naomi Lowde, the favors gave a nod to the bride's British roots; elegant tins of Fortnum and Mason royal blend tea were the parting gifts for their guests.

Then there are the types of wedding favors one is only likely to find at a celebrity wedding, such as the Tiffany and Co. clocks engraved with the motto “A Moment in Time”, which were the parting gifts for the lucky guests at Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban's reception. Or how about the wedding jewelry favors which were handed out to the ladies at the marriage celebration of Eva Longoria and Tony Parker: Van Cleef and Arpels 18kt gold bracelets in their signature “Sweet Alahambra” design with mother of pearl clover charms. Now that is a wedding favor that will not end up gathering dust in the back of a closet somewhere!

Trees to plant are excellent "green" wedding favors.
Trees to plant are excellent "green" wedding favors.

Eco-Friendly Wedding Favors To Eat Or Grow

While traditional favors still reign supreme, there is an up-and-coming trend in wedding favors for brides from all walks of life. Eco-friendly or “green” favors are becoming increasingly popular among couples who wish to have weddings which are as kind to the Earth as they are fun for their guests. Many of the eco-friendly favors follow along the lines of some of the oldest and most traditional gifts for guests: from the kitchen or from the garden. For edible favors with a green twist, consider organic tea, fair trade chocolates, or splits of organic wine. Naturally the packaging should be as Earth-friendly as the treat contained within, so use recycled paper products and recycled glass bottles (for the wine) whenever possible, and encourage your guests to recycle the package when they have finished the edible favor inside.

Garden theme favors are right in keeping with an ecological focus for a wedding. A really fun favor idea is a tiny tree in a tube from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Tiny trees are placed into tubes with personalized labels. Guests can take them home and plant them for a permanent memento from your wedding that may well last for generations. Heirloom seed packets are another green wedding favor, and are charming for a garden theme celebration. Speaking of flowers, consider using beautiful eco-friendly wrappings like mulberry paper with embedded flower petals, whatever type of favor you select.

Other "Green" Favor Ideas

Candles are a perennial favorite for wedding favors, and the best option for an eco-friendly wedding is a soy wax candle. Unlike the regular paraffin candles, soy is a renewable resource and it produces a cleaner flame with less soot. As a bonus, soy candles can burn up to 50% longer than petroleum based ones, so not only are they better for the environment, they make a more enjoyable gift for your guests. And of course, you will want lead-free wicks, so the only thing that your wedding favors release into the air is a pleasing aroma of an essential oil.

One more idea for a green wedding favor is a donation instead of an object. Donate to a charity or organization which supports your environmentally friendly beliefs. Each guest can be given a note (on recycled paper of course!) which thanks them for attending the wedding and informing them that a donation has been made in their name to______ organization. If you do not have a favorite group in mind, check out a site like the I Do Foundation, which helps brides and grooms to organize charitable wedding donations. While you are at it, consider buying carbon offsets to reduce the overall environmental footprint of your marriage celebration. What's good for the guests is good for the bride and groom, after all.

Say It With Favors!

Whether you are a traditionalist, an environmentalist, or simply want to find a gracious way to show your appreciation, wedding favors are a must. A marriage celebration is always more meaningful when the bride and groom take steps to make their guests feel welcome and appreciated. Besides, if the newlyweds in the 19th Century were right, your gifts of wedding favors can help to spread your good fortune and love among all of your family and friends. Now that is truly a gift from the heart!


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice! Here is a great site that has online favors. It is very stylish!


    • LilacLilly profile image


      8 years ago from Colwyn Pennsylvania

      very informative!!!


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