Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

When my first anniversary was coming up, all those long two years ago now, my wife and I had to look up what the traditional gift theme was. She had guessed it was paper, but I dismissed that. “Paper,” I scoffed incredulously. Turns out, as is so often the case, she was right and I was wrong.

paper heart tree
The roots of love | Image courtesy Etsy seller DayThreeCreations

My wife and I are not very traditional, so, paradoxically, we decided it would be fun to try to follow the spirit of the anniversary traditions. But paper is a hard one, especially in a world that is increasingly less paper-oriented.

I wanted memorable and in-theme so I had a decision to make. Should I do something with paper, but that’s original, interesting, and reflective of both our relationship and the digital times we live in, or eschew paper altogether, but still somehow try to fit the theme. 

I say you can do either. The point of these gifts is to exchange a thoughtful reminder of your love. I don’t think using the “themes” is constraining. Instead, it’s like a haiku. Sure, freeform poetry allows you to say anything you want, however you want to, but writing a haiku makes you think more about how to express yourself. The constraints, the form, force more thoughtfulness. And, like Hamlet’s nutshell—indeed, like within your heart—there is an infinite world inside those boundaries. And so, here are a few of my favorite ideas for a modern couple on their paper anniversary.

A Photo or Pushpin Map

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picture map
A celebration of where you’ve been—where you’re going | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemorableMats

One of the great joys in life is being able to see new things with the person you love. I often tell my wife she’s one of the greatest appreciators of things that I’ve ever known, which is why I love going places with her. She sees things I miss.

That’s one of the reasons I love putting pushpin or photo maps up in our house. We have pictures from the states we’ve visited, and a pushpin map of the world reminding us that we need to go out and see more together. Every time I look at the state map, I see a reminder of a great meal or an aching sunset or even that rainy night spent in a surprisingly creepy hotel on the lapping shores of Lake Erie. And every blank spot is a possibility for future memories.

Of course maps, in general, are a great anniversary gift. A vintage map of the town in which you met or were married or honeymooned in can be a visualization of that memory. They aren’t just pictures printed on paper: they’re representations. They indicate something real and solid, human and wild. People don’t have maps on the wall because they’re lost. They have them because they’ve found something.

An E-Reader (Loaded with Some Favorites)

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Even though we’re old-fashioned and partial to paper books, I’ve begun to accept that e-readers are just considerably more convenient, especially when traveling. They also make great gifts for an anniversary because you can give something very useful, that’s technologically redolent of paper, and that can contain so much in the way of thoughtfulness.

Maybe you can find books they read as children, and aren’t going to buy again, but hold a special place in their heart. Maybe you can find a collection of poems, or a reading from your wedding. Maybe you can get a subscription to that cooking magazine he’s been wanting. Whatever it is, your e-reader opens up a world of possibilities for the year ahead.

A Folded Book Art Sculpture

folded book art
Folded book art | Image courtesy Etsy seller Elysianthings

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Maybe books are still a huge part of your life, even if you have switched partially or entirely to an e-reader. In that case, a big trend now is book origami. This takes a full hardcover book and carefully folds each page to create an image, some letters, or a note.

I’ve seen a lot of couples use their initials with a heart in between. It’s a striking 3D image, jumping out at you like a personalized pop-out.

These are surprising, both as gifts and in the house. It takes a few seconds for people to appreciate the level of artistry and care. This can be a DIY, or you can have an artisan make one for you. You can select a book that might mean something to both of you (as long as it isn’t the last copy in the world) or a generic sort of Reader’s Digest compilation. What’s important is that you are using paper to create, and to celebrate, something unique.

Work on a Picture Frame Project—Together

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Gifts don’t have to be exchanged. They can be crafted together. A more handy friend of mine once built some montage-style windowpane picture frames, and she and her husband spent part of their anniversary putting in photos from their relationship. They went through albums and picked out their favorites, spending a pleasant and warm evening of reminiscing.

You can make one together. Or you can buy one. It’s sort of the inverse of the digital age, actually: sitting down with real, tangible photographs. They may not last as long, and they may fade, but there’s something less ephemeral about holding an actual picture, and putting it in a frame, and hanging it up. It’s something you’ve created together, out of paper, that can last a lifetime.

Plant a Tree in Their Honor

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plant a tree
Water with symbolism | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemoryGiftTree

As we move more fully into a paperless age, and one in which forests face unprecedented threats, you might want to move away from paper entirely. Indeed, you might want to do the opposite of using paper, which is to plant a tree. There are many services which allow you to plant a tree in someone’s name, usually in a federal forest, for a small fee.

You can do so for them, or for a cause they believe in, or in the name of someone they have lost. But no matter what you do, this is the most movingly symbolic gift.

The first year of your marriage is still a greenshot. It’s a promise and a possibility. You’re bursting out of the ground, looking for light and air, with years of growth ahead of you. You’ll grow and mature, and have lightning strikes and summers where children read beneath your spread branches. There will be darkness and falling leaves and there will be renewals. There will be long summers. There will be the full stretch of life.

You’re only a year in. You’re still so much potential energy, like that contained in the smallest seed. No matter what paper gift you choose, you’re honoring the short but life-changing past, and your life-containing future.

Paper may seem flimsy and smooth. But fold it over a few times. It may have more wrinkles, but it keeps getting stronger. It becomes nearly impossible to tear.

Tell us your anniversary ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Brian B

Brian B

Brian thinks that giving someone a gift is just about the most fun you can have, so long as you don't stress out about finding the right one. He likes helping people not stress out during the holidays. Hit him up for ways to make your Christmas more fun.
Brian B
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