Outside the United States, single-ring weddings with only the bride wearing the wedding ring are common. In several European nations, e. g. the Nordic countries, it is common to exchange plain engagement rings of the same form for both sexes, and typically, an additional, more precious, and bejeweled wedding ring is given to the bride. In the nuptials, the groom’s ring becomes a wedding ring also, and can be bestowed anew by the bride as a part of the wedding ceremony. The engagement is commonly a matter of agreement between the two, and the wedding rings are chosen together. Both engagement and wedding rings are worn on the left hand, the bride having both rings together. Occasionally, the groom receives a separate wedding ring. In Germany and Austria, both parties use engagement rings worn on the left hand. At the nuptials, a wedding ring is placed on the right hand, as in several east European nations, including Bulgaria, Poland, and Russia. This can be a new ring for the bride or both, or reusing the engagement rings. Any engagement rings can then remain on the left hand or be transferred to the right hand. In Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Spain both sexes also wear engagement rings, and the groom’s ring often becomes a wedding ring in the nuptial exchange ceremony.
Some cultures exchange additional rings: In some parts of India, Hindu women may wear a toe ring or “bichiya” instead of a finger ring, but the bichiya is increasingly worn in addition to a finger ring. In eastern India, primarily in West Bengal, women wear an iron bangle denominated a “loha”. Increasingly, this bangle is plated with gold or silver to improve its appearance. In Romania, spouses celebrate their silver wedding anniversary, i. e., twenty-fifth anniversary, by exchanging silver wedding rings, which are worn on the fourth finger of the left hands along with their original, and usually gold, wedding rings.
The Western traditions of wedding rings can be traced to ancient Rome and Greece, and were first associated with the marital dowry and later with a promise of fidelity. The modern exchange of rings derived from the customs of Europe in the Middle Ages as part of Christendom. In the United States, wedding rings were initially only worn by wives, but became customary for both husbands and wives during the 20th century.
Modernly, after marriage the wedding ring is worn on the hand on which it had been placed during the ceremony. By wearing rings on their fourth fingers, married spouses symbolically declare their life-long love for and fidelity to each other. This symbol has public utility, and is presently expected as a matter of tradition and etiquette, so much so that its absence is often interpreted as meaning that the person is single. Many spouses wear their wedding rings day and night. When needed because of hygiene or to avoid damage, they commonly wear their rings on a necklace.
Depending on culture, a wedding ring is typically worn on the base of the left or right ring finger. Many spouses wear their wedding rings day and night, causing an indentation in the skin that is visible even when the ring is removed. Another indication of their cultural importance is that wedding rings are among the few items that prison inmates and visitors are permitted to wear.
In Western nations, wedding rings are often forged of rose, white, or yellow gold; palladium, platinum, argentium silver, or, more recently, silicone. The perpetuity of noble metals symbolizes the permanence of the marriage. Common engravings on the inside of the ring include the name of one’s spouse, the names of both spouses, the date of the wedding, and/or a phrase of significance to the spouses. In many nations the engagement rings are plain while the bride’s wedding ring commonly is bejeweled.
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 now a betrothal ceremony is the initial part of the wedding service. 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 crowning.
It is commonly believed that the first examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt. Relics dating to 6,000 years ago, including papyrus scrolls, are evidence of the exchange of braided rings of hemp or reeds between spouses. Ancient Egypt considered the circle to be a symbol of eternity, and the ring served to signify the perpetual love of the spouses. This was also the origin of the custom of wearing the wedding ring on the ring finger of the left hand, because the ancient Egyptians believed that this finger enclosed a special vein that was connected directly to the heart, denominated in Latin the “Vena amoris”.
Some customs include the wedding ring as the final of a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present. This custom was practiced in ancient Rome and is possibly much older. In modern societies both parties often contribute to the purchase of engagement and wedding rings, choosing them together, as a modern woman is not considered a subject or dependent of her father who is to be handed over to dependency of a husband. In some nations the wedding ring is traditionally a gift from a third party to help a young couple yet to accrue sufficient wealth.
The earliest examples of wedding rings are from ancient Egypt. Western customs for wedding rings can be traced to ancient Rome and Greece, and were transmitted to the present through Christendom in Europe, which adapted the ancient customs.
The double-ring ceremony describes the exchange of wedding rings by and for both spouses. Although not without historical precedent, it is largely an American innovation of the 20th century. The American jewelry industry started a marketing campaign to encourage this practice in the late 19th century. In the 1920s, advertising campaigns tried to introduce a male engagement ring, but it failed because of the necessity of secretly appealing to women that its advertising campaigns had to make. Marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economics, and the workplace impact of World War II enabled a more successful marketing campaign for male and female wedding rings, and by the late 1940s double-ring ceremonies comprised 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression. Rising expectations of equality between the sexes in nearly all aspects of life during the 20th century cemented the trend, and double-ring ceremonies are preponderant in America in the 21st century. This trend caused some orthodox religious authorities to struggle to harmonize their single-ring customs with couples’ desire for double-ring ceremonies.
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