Gifts that keep giving

WASHINGTON (CNS) - If you have ever attended a wedding, chances are you have a candle, monogrammed tin of mints, lace-wrapped Hershey's Kisses or a heart-shaped bottle opener to prove it.

Wedding favors can be a great way to thank guests for attending, and they also say a lot about the couple. When a favor is out of the ordinary, it leaves a lasting impression on guests.

"It's not mandatory, but it's a good way to thank people. It's a way for you to express yourself as a couple," said Jackie Lebowitz, assistant managing editor at Brides magazine.

Choosing an original wedding favor can also be an opportunity to give back and share a message about social justice. Fair trade, "green," recycled or repurposed gifts ensure that your guests are getting something that will not only have an impact on them, but on the world.

"I think a lot of brides are looking to reduce their footprints in their wedding; favors are for sure something you can easily have be green," said Lebowitz.

The tradition of gifting a small token of appreciation to wedding guests started in the 16th century with the European aristocratic practice of giving "bonbonniere," or small boxes made of porcelain, crystal, precious stones or metal that contained sugary treats. The custom spread and certain items became popular based on culture and geography, just as others had a widespread reach in certain eras.

The introduction of green and fair-trade initiatives into wedding planning picked up speed in 2008, and is now bigger than ever, with many celebrities adding a green touch to their big day. According to the I Do Foundation, which links engaged couples with charitable gift registries, more than 10 percent of couples incorporate philanthropy into their weddings.

Celebrity couple Kaitlin Olson and Rob McElhenny planted a tree in honor of each guest at their wedding. "Top Chef" Nikki Cascone and husband Brad Grossman gave herb plants and seed paper telling guests where to find their seats at their wedding. Another star couple, comedian Chris Kattan and model Sunshine Tutt, sent guests home with organic products in reusable canvas tote bags.

"Greening" your wedding favors is not just for celebrities, though, and can be easily incorporated into Catholic weddings.

Eco-friendly and fair-trade items also build a common ground between Catholic wedding attendees and guests from other denominations because many religions share a passion for social justice initiatives.

"We must expand our understanding of the moral responsibility of citizens to serve the common good," the U.S. Catholic bishops said in their 1986 pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All." Five years later, in their document "Renewing the Earth," the bishops said the "the fundamental relation between humanity and nature is one of caring for creation."

By supporting an environmental or economic justice initiative in even the smallest way during the course of the wedding planning process, it is a way to reflect on and express Catholic values.

"A couple can really show what they believe in and practice what they preach," said Lebowitz.

Giving eco-friendly or fair-trade wedding favors can be as easy or elaborate as the couple desires. One simple and inexpensive option is to use small tree cookies as stands to hold place cards made from recycled cardstock. For a personalized touch, add a handwritten note to each guest underneath their name on the place card. Seeds or plants also make great gifts and traditional chocolate gifts can be updated with small bamboo boxes of fair trade chocolate.

"The Knot," an online wedding planning site, recommends that couples give soy-wax or beeswax candles, which are more eco-friendly than paraffin wax candles.

Another trend is to support local businesses by sending guests home with recyclable jars of local jam or honey or custom-labeled wine from a nearby winery.

Lebowitz said that since many guests need to travel to the wedding location, it is fun to send them home with a reminder of where the wedding was such as "edible favors that speak to the local flavors or tastes or customs," that allow them to "go home and experiment and try something new."

Eco-friendly wedding plans don't have to stop at favors either.

Couples can serve local food, swap the limousine for a hybrid car, host their reception in a green hotel and ask guests to make donations to a charity instead of bringing a gift.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970