Are guests expected to give engagement, shower and wedding gifts?

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A wedding is a joyous occasion, right? It usually is, anyway. If two people you care about have decided to take that big step, you ought to be happy for them. You should be excited about the prospect of sharing in their big day -- in person if possible -- and at least in wishing them well. But then reality starts to intrude. How much is your joy going to cost you?

Make no mistake: Weddings are one of the biggest gift-giving-and-getting occasions in our culture. Of course, the specter of the big day raises a host of questions. What sort of present do you have to give? How much should it cost? And if you're close enough to the happy couple to be included in engagement celebrations and showers as well as the wedding day festivities, must you come up with a gift for every event?

Much has changed in social customs and expectations over the recent decades. But when a wedding is involved, traditional etiquette usually comes into play. The apparel, the music, the venue -- many wedding details change from year to year. When it gets down to the essentials, however, most people -- those getting married as well as those celebrating with them -- stick with tried-and-true notions of propriety. And giving gifts is one of the big wedding essentials.

The technically correct word on wedding gifts, according to most etiquette experts, is that no one is required to give one. A wedding invitation is just that, an invitation to relatives and friends to join in the celebration. You won't need to bring a gift as the price of admission. If those who are invited feel moved to show their support and friendship with a gift, then the wedding couple should be grateful.

Custom, however, is different. According to custom, the answer to whether to give gifts for engagements, showers and weddings is: maybe, yes and yes. Keep reading, and you'll find that the present puzzle is really pretty simple -- and it doesn't have to break the bank.