Long, long ago, when I was a girl, while there were still wolves in Wales and we spent our Saturday nights watching the mastadon races, girls registered quite specifically for china, crystal, silverware, bedlinens and table linens. Note, I did not say “brides registered for…” nor did I say “girls made wedding registries for ….” In that benighted age, it was assumed that girls would become women either by marrying or by moving away from home, and that as women they would be responsible to create a well-appointed, gracious, hospitable home. So they started preparing for that responsibility before puberty, and department stores kindly offered the service of keeping track of just how many place-settings, fish-forks and damask luncheon-cloths they had collected over the intervening Christmasses and Birthdays since they first registered their choices. A girl made the registry for her own sake, to plan her own acquisitions toward that goal of a gracious home, and there was no expectation of the registry’s having been put together to evoke gifts!
Every girl of my social class had a registry, and “what’s your china pattern?” was one of those getting-to-know-you questions right along with “did you understand any of that trigonometry class?” and “have you got the latest Beatles single?” So, when weddings eventually rolled around, everybody knew you could ask at the local department store and find out what the bride needed to “finish” her collection, and that would make a good present. Some girls, even then, moved out before getting married, and their friends didn’t even need to ask at the department store; you could just take note the last time you were invited to dinner, to see that the hostess subtly snuck out before the dessert to wash the forks she had used for the salad course, to know that she could use some dedicated dessert forks. But even radical feminists of the seventies, who wore pant-suits that could be rapidly converted to mini-dresses in protest of chauvinist expectations and eschewed crystal and silverware for the same reason, tended to get all traditional and open their registry when they started contemplating marriage. Now every woman is a feminist by 1970’s standards, and few actually plan to create gracious homes where they will regularly serve dinners that need three different kinds of forks, and the only reason most brides can think of for having a registry is to get gifts. And expecting gifts, whether they are material clutter or gifts-of-experiences, is not polite behaviour.
But let’s be real: people who don’t plan to serve three-course dinners for ten, also don’t acquire dining-rooms that have room for seated dinners for ten; and people who aren’t going to entertain house-guests for a week-end, don’t have apartments with guest-suites and spare bedrooms. We live in a smaller space than did households of yesteryear, and don’t have space for extra epergnes and spare vases. Modern adults tend to value experiences over stuff; and it is rather materialistic to insist that “stuff” is inherently more proper as a gift than are experiences.
So on the matter of honeymoon registries versus gift registries, I take a balanced view: if you put together either registry purely for the sake of getting gifts like a grown-up version of a letter to Santa Clause, and if you are actively advertising the existance of your registry by including it in invitations or actively spreading it by word of mouth or a link from your wedding website, then it is not in the best of taste regardless of what kind of registry it is. On the other hand, if you put your registry together as a planning exercise, and feel solely responsible to provide for yourself all the valued memorable things-or-experiences that made your list, then you are on solid etiquette ground; and your mother or maid-of-honour may go behind your back to point out its existance to people who happen to ask.