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Need to Know: Cultural Wedding Gift Traditions

02/20/2013 04:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2013

The world is getting more global by the minute which means when it comes to cultures outside of our own, there's a lot we need to know. One of the occasions where you don't want to get someone's cultural traditions wrong is their wedding day. So, what do you get the happy couple for their Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Muslim wedding? Of course, it's always fine to get something off of the happy couple's registry. If they registered for it, all rules go out the window. But, if you want to go the traditional route and know that the couple is religious, I've put together a list of some customs, dos, and don'ts for the major traditions out there.

Jewish
There are three major denominations in Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, and numerous small denominations, as well, but lucky for you, most Jewish wedding traditions are consistent among the denominations. One gift that's common at a Jewish wedding is money, but not just any money -- money in multiples of the number 18, which is the numerical equivalent to the Hebrew word chai (pronounced "hai" with the "h" as a sort of gurgle in the back of your throat). Chai means "life" in English. Depending on your relationship to the couple at hand, you might want to give $144, which is eight times chai, or 11 times chai, which is $198, or any other variation you feel comfortable with. If you're not feeling a monetary gift, try a mezuzah. Mezuzahs are pieces of parchment containing a verse from the Torah that are created by qualified scribes and often put in decorative cases for display in doorways. Some believe that every door in the home must have one, so you don't have to feel bad if the couple gets several. You may even want to get the case engraved with the couple's initials. A few more ideas are Shabbat candlesticks (Shabbat candles are lit on Friday evenings to usher in the Jewish day of rest), a Seder plate to use for Passover, and a set of kosher cookbooks for their new home.

Hindu
Money is also a common gift at a Hindu wedding, and as with a Jewish wedding, there is a particular number theme in Hindu culture. Numbers ending in one are considered lucky, so it is best to give money in these denominations; for example, a gift of $101, $151 or $201. Cash is preferable when giving money, but a check is also acceptable. If you are giving cash, look for a nice, handmade gift envelope to put it in, easy to find anywhere that sells Indian goods. If you'd prefer to give something other than money, a great traditional gift is a small gold or silver religious statue. A statue of Hindu God Ganesha, the lord of beginnings is a good idea, as is a statue of Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity, fortune and fertility. You might even try pairing the two statues together for the ultimate wedding gift. At a Hindu wedding, perhaps even more important than what you should get is what you shouldn't get. Never give a gift made of leather! Hindus believe the skin of a dead animal, particularly a cow, to be sacrilegious.

Buddhist
Buddhist wedding traditions have a lot in common with Hindu customs. Giving money in denominations ending in one is also a Buddhist tradition for the same reason as in Hindu culture, that monetary gifts are believed to carry good luck. If you can find a traditional red envelope with gold and black lettering to tuck the money inside, even better. (Asian groceries or New Age stores usually carry them.) A statue is also a thoughtful gift for a Buddhist couple. A statue of Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of prosperity would be well received. And you can never go wrong with the traditional Maitreya Buddha, who brings luck, or the Kwan Yin statue, which inspires compassion and peace in the home. One last idea for your Buddhist newlywed friends is a leather-bound Buddhist bible, perfect for their new beginning together.

Catholic
For especially devout Catholics in particular, but for all Catholics, religious-based wedding gifts are quite popular. A crucifix is a great universal wedding gift. Crucifixes come in many different styles, so you can use this to your advantage and choose something reminiscent of the lucky couple. Or, made specifically for weddings are gold and silver crucifixes with two wedding bands on the front. It'd be hard to go wrong with that! A Bible is always an appropriate gift for a Catholic wedding, as well; you can even get a Bible inscribed with the couple's names or initials and their wedding date, making it that much more special. Another great idea is a nativity set, which is a central element of Catholic Christmas décor, or a statue of Mary and rose plants so the new couple can plant both in their garden. If you aren't yourself religious, it might feel weird to give a crucifix. In that case, a softer purchase of angel candle holders or etched vases are a great option.

Muslim
With a Muslim wedding, what not to get as a wedding gift is almost, if not more, important than what to get. Mainly, do not get gifts of alcohol or anything to do with alcohol; this includes champagne glasses, wine glass sets and 60-year-old aged whiskey as lovely as it might seem. Those following the Islamic religion refrain from drinking alcohol. A wedding gift "do," however, that should be at the top of your list is Islamic artwork to decorate their new home with. This makes a great gift because it helps to tell the story of their religion. Another popular idea for an Islamic wedding gift is a customized name canvas of Islamic calligraphy. These are personalized with the names of the bride and groom, and meant to last a lifetime, like their marriage.

Next time you get invited to a wedding of someone with a different cultural background than your own, hopefully this guide can be of assistance. Otherwise, start your research! Again, this is not the kind of thing you want to get wrong. Happy gifting!

Do you have any tips or stories about wedding gift traditions? Share them with us!