Wedding rings are exchanged by partners entering into marriage, as a sign of lifelong commitment and fidelity. They are usually bands of precious metal, such as gold or platinum, and can be either plain metal rings or more ornate creations, sometimes even incorporating gemstones into the designs. The custom of exchanging wedding rings to seal a marriage is thought to originate from the Romans, and although regarded as a European tradition, it has, over time, been absorbed widely by other cultures.
The specific details that define the wedding ring traditon in different countries varies substantially, and so in many countries – especially in the West – the ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand (on the ring finger). Until fairly recently, people in parts of Asia preferred to wear it on the right hand, as the left was considered inauspicious. These days though, it is becoming more common to see the left hand adorn the wedding ring, breaking with tradition.
The reason for wearing wedding bands on the ring finger of the left hand dates back to Roman times when people thought the vein in that finger was connected directly to the heart. And the left hand was chosen because the heart is on the left side of the body, so the reasons all fall within the rich symbology of love, but that symbolism was flavored by religious beliefs also. It is noteworthy that in a traditional Jewish ceremony the wedding ring is put on the bride’s index finger, not the fourth finger. This is because Jewish beliefs asserted that it was the index finger that was connected with the heart, whereas Christians believed it was the ring finger.
Whereas these days the giving of wedding rings is a sign of love, in the past it was seen as linked with the exchange of wealth – a promise that the groom will provide for his bride. In fact, an earlier version of the wedding vows specifically added the phrase, “This gold and silver I give thee” at which point in the ceremony the groom was expected to hand a small purse containing gold and silver coins to the bride! No such luck these days, eh, girls?!
In the West – particularly the UK- it is the job of the best man to safeguard the rings, and to produce them at the correct time during the marriage ceremony. Sometimes a younger male member of the bride or groom’s family will bring the rings into the place of the wedding on a special cushion.
Although it is common for engagement rings to be given to brides-to-be, different countries have various customs – sometimes left to the individual bride herself – about what to do with the engagement ring on the day of the wedding. Some keep it on the left ring finger and the wedding ring is placed on top; others move the engagement ring to the right hand ring finger; and sometimes the engagement ring is removed for the wedding ceremony, and then replaced afterwards.
But wedding rings are, of course, the most important – and romantic – of rings because of the symbolism of love and lifelong devotion they are imbued with.