Marriage is one of the oldest social institutions in the world. Customs and wedding traditions have been evolving for centuries and vastly differ between cultures and countries. Most of the ritual is heavily steeped in social, religious and civil law that has been passed down through generations. With modern technology, the world is getting smaller and some practices are being challenged by today’s young adults who may decide they want to do something new and different. Even in this ever-changing world many wedding traditions still abound. There may be numerous approaches to matrimony, but love and marriage is still the end result. How we get there is what makes it such an interesting and diverse world.
In the U.S. and much of western civilization, a man will most often present his future bride with a diamond engagement ring and a well thought-out proposal of marriage. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the diamond industry introduced the diamond engagement ring concept. Prior to that, a poem, necklace or lock of hair was presented. Today, diamonds have become a vital part of the engagement tradition and a standard pre-requisite to marriage.
In China, wedding customs have been around for thousands of years and involve the entire family. Their engagement traditions are very specific. Before a proposal is approved, the families will consult with a fortune-teller on the compatibility the couple’s birthdates. The boy’s family present gifts of clothing, jewelry, gold and silver to the girls family. The girl's family sends back a coin bearing the word "yun" (meaning "agreed") among their gifts presented in return, to confirm the marriage. Red is the color of love and joy in China so it is a wedding tradition for the couple to drink red wine in goblets tied together with red string.
Indian wedding ceremonies have many ancient and colorful wedding traditions that go back hundreds of years. Both the bride and groom start the wedding day with fasting. The bride's father gives away his daughter to the groom amidst the sacred mantras. The bride and groom greet each other by placing garlands around their necks. The groom’s brother sprinkles flower petal’s over the couple to ward off evil.
In Chile, the engagement traditions are a bit different. It is customary for a couple to exchange rings when they announce their engagement. They wear their rings on the left hand until they marry and then switch them to the right hand.
In Italy the groom’s tie is cut into many pieces and the pieces are then sold to the guests. The money is used by the couple on their honeymoon.
Swedish women wear three wedding rings. One for engagement, one for marriage and one for motherhood.
In Egypt, the engagement tradition requires that the groom’s family propose to the bride and in Greece, the bride puts a sugar cube in her glove for good luck.
In almost every culture the month and day is very important for wedding planning. For Muslims, Friday is the best day to marry. In England, marrying on Wednesday will bring wealth, but Saturday is considered an unlucky day for nuptials. In China, the wedding tradition is to marry in the rainy month of July because it’s a common belief that a rainy wedding day brings blessings and prosperity.
It seems there are as many varied engagement and wedding traditions as there are people in the world, but one thing is certain, the institution of marriage is alive and well. Take it from me, I speak from over 40 years (and counting) of personal experience!