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Is giving knives as a wedding gift bad luck?

snax Jan 15, 2010 10:37 PM

I’m contemplating buying a carving set as a wedding gift for my brother-in-law.
I remember being a little confused (5 years ago) when a friend was opening up her wedding gifts and taped onto the top of a cutlery set box was 10 cents. Apparently it’s a superstition that if you receive knives, scissors, and or other cutting items as a wedding gift it will bring bad luck to your marriage. So therefore the bride and groom then give the sender back the 10 cents, and in essence ‘buys’ the knives and can then live happily ever after.

Wish I could add a poll here:

Yes, I’d love to receive a Shun carving set as my wedding gift
No, I’d rather receive another toaster

So seriously as they are having a beach wedding, should they worry more about potential wind and rain on the day instead of being doomed for receiving a knife set? Or should I just buy them a nice Boo’s wooden cutting board?

  1. a
    Atahualpa Jan 21, 2010 02:53 PM

    I have never heard of this superstition. Having been told about it here, it does not even "ring-a-bell".

    If you are confident that they don't have this superstition, then go ahead. If you don't know, include the penny. Either way, I think a carving set would be a fantastic gift.

    1. b
      browniebaker Jan 21, 2010 06:07 AM

      Some people (or some cultures) are so superstitious about knives as wedding presents that taping a coin on the box would not make a difference. I am not superstitious about knives, but I won't give them as a wedding gift unless the couple have registered for knives. There are so many other gifts you can give, why risk offending where there's a doubt?

      1. louweezy Jan 20, 2010 02:23 PM

        I think it'd be a nice idea. Just as most have said, include a coin for them to give back. I don't consider it superstitious, I feel it's just an old tradition. I have bought Wusthof knives, that came with the penny attached just in case it was a gift. I was always told pay for a knife.

        1. c
          cinnamon girl Jan 19, 2010 03:42 PM

          I give knives with a dime taped to each blade (b/c here in Cda it's the nicest and thinnest coin). You could attach a different coin to each blade. I wasn't aware the coin signified buying it from the giver. I was just told that it was to keep the friendship from being torn asunder. I'm not superstitious - just thought it looked nice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cinnamon girl
            alkapal Jan 20, 2010 04:46 AM

            yes, another edification from the chowhound boards! ;-). chowhound makes me learn the darnedest things.

          2. j
            jcattles Jan 19, 2010 09:41 AM

            The superstition goes that if you give anything that cuts (scissors, knives, etc..), the reciever should give the giver a penny or the relationship will be severed.
            My mom & I gave my neice a nice set of knives for Christmas but made her pay us each a penny of her own money. None of us looked at it as she was "buying" her present, especially considering how much the knives cost compared to 2 pennies. :)
            My Grandmother was highly superstitious & passed it on to me & my mom. It gets pretty funny when we get together to remember all the things she used to say. We have a ton of them!

            1. waytob Jan 18, 2010 10:28 PM

              Not a thread hijack, but another intersting bit of folklore: In my culture (Hindu) when you present someone with a dish (say for a potluck or a communal dinner), the hostess should never return the cleaned dish empty. So when I return cleaned dishes and pots to the owners I put in a couple of sweets or a shilling (1/75th of a $) in the dish

              1. hala Jan 18, 2010 09:39 PM

                I received a set of knives as a gift and the giver asked me to "pay" for them. A few cents were exchanged and everyone was happy. If it makes them feel better, let them pay for it. They might or might not be suprestious. If they are, the penny is a cure for the curse. if they're not, they will be happy with your awesome gift.

                1. f
                  fourunder Jan 18, 2010 06:41 AM

                  I just recently commented on this topic on another thread that I cannot seem to locate...

                  but, quality knife sets have been my default gift for business associates and friends, who I did not feel it was appropriate to give a cash gift to. I have done this well over a dozen times and everyone is still alive and still my friend.....in fact, everyone has welcomed the gift and say it is one of the best, if not the best gift received. Other gifts are tossed in the closet, but at least they use the knives.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fourunder
                    soupkitten Jan 18, 2010 09:16 AM

                    i'm assuming you have given these gifts to american business contacts, but fyi:
                    business gifting etiquette: http://www.cyborlink.com/besite/inter...

                    1. re: soupkitten
                      fourunder Jan 19, 2010 04:03 AM

                      WOW.....and duly noted......

                  2. alkapal Jan 18, 2010 06:02 AM

                    one doesn't have to be superstitious in fact to enjoy this little bit of folklore.

                    on the other hand, my MIL gave me a wallet for my birthday -- empty. http://www.made-in-england.org/images...

                    1. m
                      MiriamWoodstock Jan 17, 2010 08:35 PM

                      I love the Shun knives (the chef's knife in particular) that we got for our wedding so much that I'd be hesitant to discard the idea entirely -- any way you can investigate whether they'd be superstitious? Consult their mothers?

                      On the other hand... I often wish we'd registered for a Boo's board, since I can't seem to bring myself to splurge on that one :) That's a great idea, as well.

                      Good luck figuring this one out!

                      1. meatn3 Jan 17, 2010 04:32 PM

                        I've always heard to attach a penny to the knives to avoid bad luck - never heard about the buy back tradition. Similar tradition I grew up with is to put a coin in a wallet or purse that is being given as a gift.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: meatn3
                          Chemicalkinetics Jan 17, 2010 04:45 PM

                          Well, that is something else. That is because you don't want to give "an empty wallet".

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                            meatn3 Jan 17, 2010 07:27 PM

                            Just was always told that both were bad luck as gifts without the penny attached!

                            1. re: meatn3
                              Chemicalkinetics Jan 17, 2010 07:31 PM


                              Yeah, but the penny in the wallet is to fill the wallet, so it is not an empty wallet. Giving an empty wallet is considered rude and bad luck for the other person. However, I think that is different from putting a penny on a knife. In the knife case, the other person is supposed to use that penny to buy the knife back. He/she will come back to you and give you the penny as in he bought the knife from you. It is a purchase and not a gift.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                meatn3 Jan 18, 2010 03:55 AM

                                Yes, I get your point & understand your distinction. My point is that in some regions/cultures only part of the tradition has survived. In this case the coin remained without the specific reasons for the action - in both cases the reason passed through time as simply avoiding bad luck.

                                ie: gift of knife + penny = avoidance of bad luck
                                gift of wallet/purse + penny = avoidance of bad luck

                                Some aspects of the tradition lasted, but others faded away.

                                1. re: meatn3
                                  Chemicalkinetics Jan 18, 2010 06:38 AM

                                  If I remember right, an empty wallet symbolizes "poor" and "broke" as only a poor person has a empty wallet, so one is to avoid giving an empty wallet as a gift.

                                  Knife is a sharp object which symbolizes to cut and to severe a relationship

                                  As far as I am concern, these make more sense than "tossing rice" in wedding and "groom cannot see bride" before wedding and "breaking glassware/dishes" in wedding ....

                        2. rockandroller1 Jan 17, 2010 03:30 PM

                          I'm not Chinese, or Jewish, or any of the others mentioned in the thread, but I've been told about this since I was little. I purposely never give knives as a gift for this reason; well, I did once, but guess what? After the wedding, I never heard from the bride again, so it DID sever the friendship. And it was a pretty expensive set of knives too. Truthfully, that could be because she (obviously) only invited me to get a gift, as I hadn't talked to her in years, but I thought maybe she was rekindling a friendship. Guess not.

                          All the knives I've received have the penny or dime as well. Maybe it's regional instead of cultural? Or maybe it's both.

                          1. s
                            sueatmo Jan 17, 2010 12:30 PM

                            Never heard this. I honestly think it is silly. However, if it makes conversation or honors an ethnic tradition, then why not do the penny thing. But if it isn't a tradition in your family, then why would you abide by it?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: sueatmo
                              queencru Jan 17, 2010 02:10 PM

                              I'm wondering the same thing as well. If I gave my sister and her husband a coin with a set of knives, she'd be perplexed and possibly offended that I would assume she's superstitious. It might be wise to be safe with someone you don't know as well, but a sibling is going to have the same superstitions as you do.

                              1. re: sueatmo
                                DGresh Jan 18, 2010 05:04 AM

                                I'll tell you, it's likely in those "wedding books" that plenty of people read so they know how things are "supposed" to be done. So even if you were never aware of the tradition before, you probably are once you start diving into this. And thus it's probably good (if silly) to be on the "tradition" side of this.

                                1. re: DGresh
                                  sueatmo Jan 19, 2010 06:43 PM

                                  I gave my son and his new wife a whole set of knives that they had registered for. They were thrilled. We are all happy with each other. Nothing was severed.

                                  If it isn't your tradition, then I wouldn't pay any attention to it. If you don't know the bride and groom well enough to know if this a tradition for them, you are spending too much money on people you don't know well. I mean good knives are expensive!

                              2. JanPrimus Jan 16, 2010 06:12 PM

                                My only concern would not be over the superstitious nature of the gift. Although I would include the coin if I was going to do it. Only because it adds another memory of endearment to the gift.

                                My concern is that knifes should fit the hand of the person that will use it. Now a carving set might be OK since it is used so rarely. Getting one of the more commonly used knifes I would not like.

                                I personally had received a top of the line Wusthof chefs knife for my wedding...it feels just wrong in my hand. I personally prefer a lighter knife and have even go so far as to replace that original knife. So now I have a $130 knife that collects dust.

                                1. Chemicalkinetics Jan 16, 2010 05:48 PM


                                  Chinese also have the same belief as well. One needs to "buy" the knives when they are given as wedding gifts. I think many cultures consider knives can be sensitive for wedding gifts.

                                  I PERSONALLY love to receive good knives as wedding gifts. Ultimately, it is not about me. It is about the reaction from your sister and your brother-in-law. Actually, really. really is about your sister. If your sister is ok, your brother-in-law is most likely ok with it.

                                  1. alkapal Jan 16, 2010 05:42 PM

                                    i find all this quite interesting. i'm a southerner, but maybe my mom's depression-era sensibilities didn't allow for such nonsense. i never thought my husband's and my gift of henckel's knives had to be "bought."

                                    1. r
                                      RGC1982 Jan 16, 2010 05:28 PM

                                      The Italian American custom I am familiar with requires that any recipient of a gift of a knife or scissors must buy them from the giver with their own money. Giving back the dime would be a loan, and a few pennies are fine. Failure to do so will cause the giver and the recipient to fight at a later time.

                                      1. nofunlatte Jan 16, 2010 04:06 PM

                                        Now that I think about it, I did once receive a chef's knife as a gift. And I've had some pretty darn good luck!

                                        1. Midlife Jan 16, 2010 03:46 PM

                                          I gave my mother a set of steak knives as a birthday gift once and didn't hear the end of it for years. You'd have thought it had been a loaded gun. It wasn't the only gift, but the rest of them might as well have been invisible.

                                          YES !!!! Some people definitely think it's bad luck.

                                          1. nofunlatte Jan 16, 2010 02:41 PM

                                            I'm a militantly single, serial monogamist, but I'd seriously give some thought to getting married if it meant someone was going to buy me a set a faboo knives!

                                            Just tape the penny (or whatever) to the box if you're feeling at all concerned. But understand that this advice is coming from someone who picks up pennies regardless of whether they are heads up or tails up.

                                            1. PeterL Jan 16, 2010 11:02 AM

                                              Definitely for the Chinese. No one ever gives knives or any other sharp objects. If you don't want duplicate gifts, that's what wedding registries are for.

                                              1. t
                                                tzurriz Jan 16, 2010 10:32 AM

                                                Go ahead and give the knives, just tape a coin to the package as well. You don't want to end the friendship after all. :)

                                                1. b
                                                  bulavinaka Jan 16, 2010 09:52 AM

                                                  I remember getting my then-love interest (now my dear wife) a pair of nice shoes for a present. Being Chinese, she told me of the belief (superstition :)) that it was bad luck to gift a pair of shoes. In doing so, the person you present the shoes to would leave - walk away. She then immediately took a coin from her purse and "paid" me for the shoes.

                                                  Your situation reminds me of this awkward event. I've heard the same thing about knives applying to newlyweds as well as others who are close to the giver. I've even seen knife sets listed on wedding registries - and had fulfilled such a request once. I guess it really comes down to what one wants to believe.

                                                  What might quell most folks' apprehension about this gift is to do as others have mentioned - attach an envelope with a coin and a brief, fun and endearing explanation as to why you're doing it. Minimum, they'll get a laugh out of it. Who knows - maybe they'll even be touched that you added the coin as insurance to keep all relationships intact.

                                                  1. s
                                                    soupkitten Jan 16, 2010 09:49 AM

                                                    i pre-deleted my own post for the mods. hope my revision lasts more than a few minutes.

                                                    please don't give a knife w/out the penny in the packaging. just because you are not "superstious" or "traditional" does not mean the recipient of your gift isn't. some gifts actually do have symbolic meaning. for example you probably don't want to give a ring to another person if you are not making some sort of lasting proposal-- even if you don't have these intentions, the recipient may be "superstitious" or "traditional" and assume you are saying something you don't want to say.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: soupkitten
                                                      akq Jan 18, 2010 06:32 PM

                                                      If the recipients are superstitious, couldn't they just pay the donor with a penny of their own if one isn't attached to the gift?

                                                      1. re: akq
                                                        soupkitten Jan 18, 2010 07:46 PM

                                                        of course they could! but the problem is the implied symbolic meaning of the gift, problematic misinterpretation of the op's intentions, and the social faux pas. absent the coin, the recipient of the symbolic gift may misinterpret the giver's intentions (and assume that the op so disapproves of her/his sister's marriage that s/he wishes to cut them both off from the rest of the family). that could be very messy!

                                                        look, some folks have apparently never heard of this tradition. how about if we were talking about another symbolic gift: a dozen red roses. in many cultures, a person's presenting this gift to another person *might* (or probably or certainly would) be interpreted as a romantic overture. even though there is no verbal statement from the giver to the receiver, many folks would say that it's obvious that the giver is *definitely* implying something with this choice of a gift-- and that if the recipient accepts or rejects the gift, then s/he also accepts or rejects the giver's romantic overture. hopefully someone besides me is familiar with this "tradition" or "superstition" about the meaning of red roses?

                                                        so then what if we were all attending a funeral of a man who was married for many decades, and an acquaintance of the family brought a dozen red roses and presented them to the widow. i think some folks who are familiar with the cultural significance of the red roses might comment that the giver's choice of a gift was a social faux pas-- and if the widow accepted these flowers, then others might also comment that *she* committed a social faux pas. the choice of a different type of flower gift would have a completely different interpretation within the cultural context. does this analogous example make any sense?

                                                        1. re: soupkitten
                                                          snax Jan 18, 2010 10:35 PM

                                                          The only real question now is:

                                                          Will my brother-in-law and sister-in-law-to-be like a 2 slice or 4 slice toaster?

                                                          Seriously there is something to be said about the good old toaster!

                                                          1. re: soupkitten
                                                            akq Jan 19, 2010 09:27 AM

                                                            Some people would take offense at being the recipient of any cut flowers at all. I'd hope that the recipient didn't think (with no other reason to so think) that the donor intended the bad symbolic meaning of the gift, but rather just (1) didn't know of the superstition, or (2) knew of it, but didn't believe in it. There are lots of superstitions out there and there's no way to know or observe all of them, especially since some are totally in conflict (e.g. what color do you wear for a wedding? Funeral?).

                                                            I've given knives as wedding presents, and I've never included the coin. In fact, the last time I gave knives as a wedding present, one of the reasons I gave knives (which were on the registry of a particular couple) was because I figured that there was a good chance they wouldn't get them otherwise (due to this superstition). If they were concerned about the gift, they shouldn't put it on their registry and if they want to give me a coin to buy them, they can do so on their own. I, however, don't believe in the superstition and am not going to go out of my way to comply with something I don't believe in. On the flip side, if I know or have reason to know that the recipient holds these beliefs, I'd certainly take that into account and certainly not go out of my way offend the recipient. I just think this is a bit silly and being taken way too seriously.

                                                            1. re: akq
                                                              soupkitten Jan 19, 2010 10:41 PM

                                                              something tells me i should not participate further in this discussion.

                                                              however, it was my impression that the op wanted to avoid giving possible offense to her/his future in-laws (not just the brother-in-law, but the entire brand-new, in-law family, including parents and other relatives who may or may not be "ethnic," "foreign," older," "minority," "english-as-second-language," "orthodox," "old-religion," "old-wives," etc.). such is marriage, in our "multicultural" world, and this is the reason why i weighed in with everyone else who has ever encountered this tradition--to say yes, there are many ethnic and cultural groups on planet earth who may be sensitive to this "superstition"-- for some examples: chinese folks, japanese folks, south american folks, jewish folks, mediterranean folks, many other folks of european descent. . . it just happens to be a very widespread tradition or "superstition," for some reason, that people tend to sometimes feel strongly about.

                                                              main points for consideration, very sorry if you find it all beneath you, or "silly": 1) some folks' "superstitions" are other folks' deep rooted cultural traditions, ethnic identity symbols, and even religious conventions. many "dominant culture" folks' response would be that the minority cultures are simply irrelevant, and these folks should assimilate, or else-- but these minorities would counter that the dominant society folks are cultural imperialists. 2) in many traditions, it's not really about how the giver feels about a gift, it's all about the receiver. particularly at an important life stage ceremony, such as: birth, naming, coming-of age, marriage/commitment, childbirth/adoption, religious title/role, retirement, dying, etc--the receiver should not have to adjust her/his behavior to respond to the giver's gift-- instead, the *giver* should anticipate and tailor the gift in a thoughtful way to the receiver-- in these societies, this is considered good etiquette. 3) never mind, i'll just pre-delete point #3.

                                                              1. re: soupkitten
                                                                akq Jan 20, 2010 10:22 AM

                                                                Yikes - clearly you take this very seriously. I do think it's silly to assume, in this multicultural world, that if someone gives red roses or knives they mean the gesture to carry a negative meaning. If I were the recipient, I'd give the donor the benefit of the doubt - either that he/she didn't hold these beliefs or didn't know I did. Once we start integrating cultures and traditions there's always the potential for misunderstanding and offense, but I'd hope that anyone I cared about enough to give a present to would care about me enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. What about other wedding presents? Should one give cash? Depending on the couple's (or their family's) traditions and culture a cash gift may be very rude or expected. Obviously if I knew the couple's culture/traditions say cash is rude, I wouldn't give it, but if I knew the couple's culture/traditions say cash is expected but MINE says cash is rude, I might still opt for a non-cash gift. If they saw the stemware from me and were offended that it wasn't a couple of crisp bills, I'd be disappointed.

                                                                On another thread about giving welcome to the neighborhood food to a new neighbor one poster said their neighbor gave them pea and ham soup. The poster is Jewish and doesn't eat ham, however the poster was appreciative of the kind gesture, didn't take offense at the ham (neighbor didn't know, after all) and gave the soup to a friend who did eat pork. That is the attitude I'm arguing for.

                                                                My points, although not stated clearly, were: (1) we should give people the benefit of the doubt, and (2) respect for traditions, superstitions, culture, etc. goes two ways - while the giver should endeavor not to offend a recipient (otherwise, what's the point of the gift?) the giver does not have to accede to the culture/superstitions/traditions of the recipient at the expense of his/her own.

                                                      2. c
                                                        Cathy Jan 16, 2010 09:29 AM

                                                        Hm. My parents asked us what we really wanted as a wedding gift and we asked for "good knives". Husband's dad was a professional chef and that was the only thing we really wanted. We also got a great set from his brother. Still have both sets 30 years later.

                                                        ...and I'm so glad. Do you see all the items they sell in the produce section for people who don't own or know how to use knives?

                                                        {I don't believe in superstitions nor astrology: The mass cultural delusion that the sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.}

                                                        1. Withnail42 Jan 16, 2010 09:08 AM

                                                          This superstition doesn't only apply to weddings but to any time you give a knife as a gift. It will 'cut' the friendship. So you then 'buy' it for a token amount.

                                                          1. JerryMe Jan 16, 2010 08:58 AM

                                                            I've never heard of that rumor. My mom always gave a nice paring knife to all the new brides that she bought gifts for. I thot it was funny at the time, as in - why give it to the bride and not the groom? Will the groom never be tasked with preparing food??

                                                            Either way, a gift is a gift.

                                                            1. mrbigshotno.1 Jan 16, 2010 08:41 AM

                                                              What ethnic backround did this stuff come from?

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: mrbigshotno.1
                                                                Aimee Jan 16, 2010 03:46 PM

                                                                My Jewish nana gave me some knives for my engagement and made me give her a penny to "buy" it from her.

                                                                1. re: Aimee
                                                                  GirlyQ Jan 19, 2010 08:13 AM

                                                                  And I'm Jewish and have never heard of it. I think it might be generational, rather than ethnic? But I really have no clue.

                                                                  And people can give me expensive knives anytime they want to.

                                                                2. re: mrbigshotno.1
                                                                  ceekskat Jan 18, 2010 09:08 AM

                                                                  I've heard this from Indian friends as well.

                                                                3. b
                                                                  beevod Jan 16, 2010 07:58 AM

                                                                  I'll check with my swami, whose specialty is cutlery, and get back to you.

                                                                  1. h
                                                                    hsk Jan 16, 2010 06:57 AM

                                                                    I think you should buy the cutting board (not another toaster). There are so many potential very appreciated wedding gifts, why give something that has issues associated with it?

                                                                    1. Sooeygun Jan 16, 2010 01:22 AM

                                                                      The superstition is that it is bad luck for the friendship of the giver and receiver, not bad luck for the married couple. And yes, I did give knives as a gift once and gave the money taped to the gift for the receiver to 'buy' it from me. Not because I believed it, but because it was a fun conversation starter at the wedding shower. Got us talking about other superstitions and whether the bride was going to follow them.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Sooeygun
                                                                        Dave MP Jan 16, 2010 02:07 AM

                                                                        I'm generally not superstitious, but I like Sooeygun's proposal.

                                                                        I was in China this summer, and brought back some big cleavers to give as gifts to friends and family back in the USA. When I gave my friends the knives, I asked them to pay me one penny each, so the knife gifting wouldn't sever our friendship.

                                                                        So to answer the OP's question, Yes I would love to receive a carving set as my wedding gift, and I would be happy to pay $0.01 for it :)

                                                                      2. alkapal Jan 15, 2010 10:59 PM

                                                                        we got a nice set of henckel's for a wedding gift. i don't recall any money to "buy them" enclosed (i'm not sure the male gifter would have known about the old wives' tale, though).

                                                                        now, let me assess whether it mattered.

                                                                        hmmmm, i don't think we've had "extra" strife over what we would've had anyway.

                                                                        "KNIFE: crossing two knives is bad luck. If you are given a present of a knife, give a coin in return to avoid 'cutting' the friendship." http://www.whimsy.org.uk/superstition...

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