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The Wedding Ring
Saturday, November 26th, 2011
A wedding ring or wedding band is a metal ring indicating the wearer is married. Depending on the local culture, it is worn on the base of the right or the left ring finger. The custom of wearing such a ring has spread widely beyond its origin in Europe. Originally worn by wives only, wedding rings became customary for both husbands and wives during the 20th century.
According to some customs, the wedding ring forms the last in a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothalpresent. This tradition was already in use in Ancient Rome and is possibly much older.
Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, but rather are exchanged at the betrothal. It is always a two-ring set given to her by the priest or by the best man. The orthodox Christian Church of Greece has recently stopped performing betrothal blessings separately, as these were often non-committing, and a betrothal ceremony is the initial part of the wedding service anyway. In many families an informal blessing is now performed by the betrothed ones’ parents in a family dinner that formalizes the betrothal. The ceremony of betrothal is now possibly performed immediately before the wedding (or “crowning” as it is more properly called), and the actual symbolic act of marriage is not the exchange of rings, but the public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader.
The future bridegroom may also give his future bride a jeweled ring (in North America since the 1930s, most commonly set with a diamond (see Engagement Ring) upon proposing to her. After the wedding the wedding band is worn on the ring finger, closest to the hand, and the engagement ring is worn in front of it. The rings usually match and sometimes interlock or are fused together to form one ring.
Wedding ceremony customs
In several traditions, the best man or maid of honour may have the duty of keeping track of a couple’s wedding rings and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (that is, part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, often on a special cushion.
In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love, but were also linked to the bestowal of ‘earnest money’. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words ‘with this ring I thee wed’ follow the words ‘This gold and silver I give thee’, at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.
Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economic safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: ‘I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers’.
The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The American jewelery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century. In the 1920s, ad campaigns tried introducing a male engagement ring, but it failed due to the necessity that its advertising campaigns make secret appeals to women. Marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the impact of World War II led to a more successful marketing campaign for male and female wedding bands, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up for 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression.
After marriage, the ring is worn on the hand it had been placed on during the ceremony. By wearing rings on the fourth finger, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette.
Some cultures exchange additional rings: In some parts of India, Hindus may use a toe ring or bichiya which is worn instead of a ring on a finger; although this is only for women, and increasingly worn along with a finger ring. In the eastern parts of India, primarily West Bengal, an iron bangle, or ‘loha,’ is worn by women. Increasingly, this bangle is given a gold or silver coating to improve its appearance. In Romania spouses celebrate their silver wedding anniversary (25 years of marriage) by exchanging silver wedding rings, which are worn on the 4th finger of the left hand along with the original (usually gold) wedding ring.
Wedding ceremonies that reference rings
- Church of England (1662 Book of Common Prayer) – “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
- Jewish - “With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” – Said in Hebrew by the groom at an Orthodox Jewish wedding and by both the bride and groom at a Reform Jewish wedding
- Roman Catholic - “N., take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
- Eastern Orthodox - “The servant of God (N.) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (N.), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” – from the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, part of the Mysterion of Holy Matrimony (“crowning”), said three times while the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with the bride’s ring over the bridegroom’s head, he then places the bride’s ring on the groom’s hand. The same words are said three times over the bride, reversing the names of the bride and groom, placing the groom’s ring on the bride’s hand. The rings are then exchanged three times (either by the priest or by the best man), so that the bride and the groom end up with their own rings. In Eastern Orthodox the wedding ring is worn on the right hand rather than the left.