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Wedding Rings: A Glimpse at Cultural Traditions

Aug 20, 2008
The wedding ring - a romantic expression and symbol of fidelity and love - is an important element to today's marriage ceremony. Through the centuries, the wedding ring has symbolized many things for couples - and not always the romantic notions we hold today.

The tradition of the wedding ring goes as far back as ancient Egypt, more than 4500 years ago. The Egyptians were the first to link the symbolism of a ring with the supernatural - an unending circle representing eternal love. Egyptians used materials such as hemp or the stems of plants into circles which could be placed on the finger of the bride. Romans, on the other hand, fashioned wedding bands from iron, considered to be a symbol of strength. That was later replaced with silver and gold because of their durability against rust.

Both the Egyptians and Romans supported the belief that the "ring finger" or fourth finger on the left hand, led directly to the heart. And while science has since disproved this theory, couples still hold the belief that the wedding ring is a direct path to the heart. However, for the Romans this practice was not based in romanticism. In Roman society, wives were considered possessions of the husband. A ring simply symbolized ownership. In fact, women had no voice in this decision. Once she was "ringed," a woman became a possession of the man.

In the Far East, a man presented his wife with a "puzzle ring" that was meant to keep her faithful in his absence. The ring was designed to collapse if taken off and could only be put back together again if one knew the correct arrangement. Puzzle rings were employed especially during times of war or if a husband traveled for business.

The Irish bride has sported a "claddagh" since its creation in the 17th century. Used as both an engagement and wedding ring, the ring features a heart and two hands on the sides and is still in wide use today. Meanwhile, some Jewish brides have a wedding ring placed on their index finger, the same finger used to point to the Torah as it is read.

For the Puritans of early American colonization, the wedding ring, like other forms of jewelry, was considered wasteful and immoral. Men instead presented their wives with thimbles as a symbol of their live and fidelity. Interestingly, this tradition gave way to new brides who would cut off part of the thimble to create a makeshift ring.

Wedding rings worn by men are a fairly new innovation. For centuries, men had no need of a ring indicating their betrothal, as they were considered the dominant partner in the union. However, with the events of World War II separating men for years at a time from their wives, men began wearing a wedding band to indicate their marriage and as a sentimental reminder of the wife waiting at home. The motive was purely romantic which has been carried on in modern times.

In some cultures, the wedding ring is considered the last gift in a series of gifts presented to the bride. This has given way to newer ring traditions, which may begin with a promise ring, presented during serious courtship, followed by an engagement ring and then the wedding ring. Eternity rings are also being given as to symbolize a renewal of marriage or in honor of a special anniversary.

While many countries practice the tradition of wearing the wedding ring on the left hand, some cultures, such as Germany, Norway and Greece wear the ring on a the right hand. In other European countries, the engagement and wedding ring are the same. Their status is indicated through engraving or according to which hand the ring is worn.

Today's couples give much thought to the choice of wedding rings, choosing most often rings made of precious stones and metal. These rings represent more than simply adornment for the wedding day. Wedding rings will remain an important symbol of a couple's love throughout their lifetime.
About the Author
Lewis Jewelers is proud to carry the full line of Pandora Jewelry. Pandora bracelets, Pandora charms and Pandora beads are only a part of the collection. For more information, Lewis Jewelers, 2000 West Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48103, 877-88-LEWIS or visit the website.
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