On Wednesday (Feb. 20), in New York City, Meghan Markle had a baby shower. Serena Williams co-hosted and, according to the Cut, guests including Amal Clooney and Gayle King enjoyed flower-arranging lessons and desserts by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in a penthouse suite at the Mark Hotel that has four fireplaces and generally goes for about $75,000 a night. There may also have been a specially delivered orange tree and a live harpist.
But perhaps the most distinguishing factor of the duchess’s shower was what her guests were not subjected to: the tortured tradition of public gift-unwrapping. Yes, the traditional idea behind the baby shower—which became popular in the US following the midcentury baby boom when consumerism was becoming a bonafide American value—is to “shower” the arriving human with gifts. And somehow, it became protocol for those gifts to be ceremoniously unwrapped during the shower, one at a time, while everyone watches.
Anyone who has ever endured this tradition, whereby the expectant mother unwraps each parcel, announces who the gift is from, and shows it to her mimosa-buzzed guests sitting patiently in a circle around her and espousing the adorableness or practicality of every single item—”That diaper pail saved my life when we had Ella!”—can attest it’s rough. (Some consider celebrating babies at all before they’re born to be bad luck.)
While some expecting parents are upending tradition with coed showers where gifts are just left in a pile to be opened later, the tradition of public unwrapping is still alive and well. Just two months ago, the Chicago Sun Tribune published a letter from a reader wondering how on Earth to handle the injustice of buying “a really great baby gift” that was not unveiled at the shower. Dear reader, get over it.
Even the fanciest of gift-givers, several of whom I interviewed about baby-gifting in 2013, find this ritual anxiety-inducing: How much are you supposed to spend? Is a diaper pail impersonal? Can I get another half a bagel from the buffet while this is happening? It’s also awkward for the recipient, who is presumably quite pregnant and must now endure the further discomfort of continued attention while she performatively unwraps each gift and feigns surprise at the sight of an item that an email has already informed her was purchased from her registry.
Markle’s shower might have been a rare exception where this wouldn’t be so tedious. After all, who doesn’t want to know what Amal Clooney brought? Perhaps it was voyeurism, rather than tedium, that Markle sought to eliminate from the event when she eschewed this old tradition. Either way, it’s a classy California duchess move.
Or maybe, as Gayle King told her CBS This Morning cohost when discussing the shower on-air today (Feb. 21), Markle just wanted to wait to open the presents until she was with Harry. When asked what she brought to the baby, King respected the gift news blackout.
“If I told you,” she said, “I would have to kill you.”