Wedding and Engagement Rings: Customs From Around the World
By Debi Wexler , Friday, February 18, 2011 9:30 AM
1. Most people in the United States, England, France and Canada wear their engagement rings on their left hand, because of the old tradition that a vein in the fourth finger of the right hand ran directly to the heart. But in plenty of other countries, including Germany, Russia, India and Norway, brides wear their engagement rings and wedding bands on the right hand instead.
2. In years gone by, the exchange of the wedding ring at the wedding ceremony was a part of an economic commitment, not a symbol of love and devotion. Men gave their brides engagement rings to show her family that they were financially able to support her. In fact, the wedding ring was initially given along with a purse full of gold coins, a visible sign of the groom’s commitment to support his bride and provide for her needs.
3. Although the sight of a man wearing a wedding ring is common these days, the popularity of double-ring ceremonies traces back only until the Great Depression of the 1930’s. When World War Two broke out, women gave their husbands wedding rings to symbolize their unbroken connection even as the men went off to war. By the late 1940’s, 80% of men wore wedding rings, although no male version of the engagement ring ever became popular in the US.
4. Engagement rings don’t always have to be worn on the finger. In the Hindu tradition, women are given toe rings, called bichiya, as engagement rings. In West Bengal, women are given iron bangle bracelets, often plated in silver or gold. These untraditional engagement rings can be quite beautiful and ornately decorated, much like the Western style of engagement ring. However, in modern days, many Hindu men give their brides both the traditional engagement ring and a Western-style one.
5. In Romania, there is a beautiful custom that celebrates long-lasting marriages. On their silver anniversary, the twenty-fifth, couples exchange silver anniversary bands that they wear along with their gold wedding rings. It is a simple but lovely way to commemorate not only the commitment to the marriage, but the beauty of having spent their lives together.
6. Although the tradition of exchanging engagement rings and wedding bands seems like just a tradition, it is actually referred to in the wedding ceremonies of several religions. The ceremonial statements of the marriage ceremony in the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Church of England marriage liturgies all refer to the wedding ring, while the Eastern Orthodox ceremony indicates that the groom gestures with the ring before placing on the bride’s hand.
7. The Claddagh is a uniquely Irish ring that can be used as an engagement ring, a wedding ring, or just as a gesture of friendship. The way in which it is worn, whether it is worn on the right or left hand, and which direction it faces, lets people know whether it is an engagement ring or wedding band. Its design, featuring a pair of clasped hands, a heart and a crown, represents friendship, love and loyalty, making it perfect for an engagement ring with real symbolic value. The Claddagh ring was first produced in Ireland in the 17th century, and legends about its mysterious origins and protective powers.
8. The last decade or two has seen the rise of a new form of engagement ring in American culture: the promise ring. Often exchanged by couples who are serious about each other but too young for marriage, this pre-engagement ring traces its roots back to the poesy and scribbling rings of the 16th and 17th century, which were also used by young couples to show their love and devotion to each other. Unlike engagement rings, promise rings usually do not have large center diamonds, but are often set with smaller stones.
9. Legally speaking, in the United States an engagement ring is considered a conditional gift, making it an exception to the general rule that gifts cannot be taken back by the giver. Regardless of who initiates the break-up, in the US a man is allowed to take the engagement ring back in the case of a broken engagement, unless it was given on a nationally-recognized gift-giving occasion, such as Valentine’s Day. In England, however, if the man initiates the break-up, he may not be able to take back the ring.
10. In the Nordic tradition, both men and women exchange and wear engagement rings. These engagement rings generally take the form of simple gold bands. More recently, however, more women have begun to initiate proposals, leading to a drastic increase in the popularity of men’s wedding bands. These bands are more ornate and complex, featuring loose diamonds, gemstones and other design elements, although they tend to have a lower profile and a more subtle look than women’s engagement rings.
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