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A wedding ring or wedding band is a ring, often but not always made of metal, 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. In the United States, wedding rings were originally worn only by wives, but during the 20th century they became customary in that country for both husbands and wives.
Compositions and styles
In Western countries, wedding rings are often made of white or yellow gold. Common engravings on the inside of the ring include the name of the partner or the names of both parts in the relationship, and/or date of the wedding.
According to some customs, the ring forms the last in a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present. 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 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 public exchange of wedding vows.
Wedding ceremony customs
In several traditions, the best man or maid of honour has 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 (who is often part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, sometimes 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 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 in the United States. The American jewelry 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 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression. In the 21st century 80% of the ceremonies still consist of double-ring ceremonies within the United States. However this trend may have lesser prevalence outside continental United States where it is still common to find weddings with just the bride wearing the wedding ring. Global marketing efforts by jewelry industry are increasingly encouraging the trend for double-ring weddings worldwide. 
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 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: "You are consecrated to me with this ring 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: In the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with rings over the bridegroom's head while saying three times "The servant of God (Groom) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (Bride), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen". This is then followed by another three times over the bride's head with the names reversed, after which the rings are exchanged three times (either by the priest or by the best man). The Priest asks God "to bless this putting on of rings with a heavenly blessing and that an Angel of the Lord will go before these Your servants, all the days of their life." In Eastern Orthodox tradition the wedding ring is worn on the right hand rather than the left.
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- Claddagh ring
- Engagement ring
- Eternity ring
- Marriage in the Eastern Orthodox Church
- Ring finger
- Thali necklace
- Visual markers of marital status
- Wedding ring cushion
- Howard, Vicki (2003). "A 'Real Man's Ring': Gender and the Invention of Tradition". Journal of Social History 36 (4): 837–856. doi:10.1353/jsh.2003.0098.
- The Romans are also thought to have originated the custom of betrothal rings, or engagement rings, symbolizing a promise of marriage to a member of the opposite sex. Encyclopaedia Britannica, ring.
- Kunz, George Frederick (1917). Rings for the Finger. J.B. Lippincott Co.
- Stritof, Bob. "History of Wedding Anniversary Gift Lists". About.com: People & Relationships - Marriage. About.com. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
- Church of England; Keeling, William B D. (of Cambridge) (1851). Liturgiae Britannicae: Or, the Several Editions of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, from Its Compilation to the Last Revision; Together with the Liturgy Set Forth for the Use of the Church of Scotland: Arranged to Shew Their Respective Variations. William Pickering. p. 299. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- "Liturgical Texts > 1970 Missal > Rite of Marriage During Mass". Catholic Liturgical Library. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia > The Sacrament of Marriage according to the Rites of The Greek Orthodox Church". Retrieved 2013-03-11.