Sunday, September 02, 2007

Pull My Finger

I never really thought about which finger my wedding ring should be. When I got married and we had our exchange of vows almost three years ago (Sept 18!), my wife slipped my wedding ring into my left ring finger. That's where it has stayed since. I have only ever taken it out a handful of times since then. Usually when I wash the car myself, which is less often than I should.

Since then though, other people have come up to me and asked me why my wedding ring was on my left hand. Some have asked that shouldn't it be on my right. I usually respond by telling them that that's where my wife placed it when we got married and I didn't see any reason to move it. Some have told me that traditionally, it was placed on the right ring finger. When I ask why that is, I really haven't gotten a good response on that other than "it's tradition".

So, being the inquisitive and lazy researcher that I am, I turned to the Internet for answers. Here are a few things I found. An excerpt from the Wikipedia article for Wedding Ring:

In some Western cultures (USA, UK, France, Sweden), the wedding ring is worn on the left hand. This choice of finger relates to traditions purportedly dating to classical times, from an early usage reportedly referring to the fourth finger of the left hand as containing the vena amoris or "vein of love" or veia d'amore. At least in part due to this tradition, it became acceptable to wear the wedding ring on this finger. By wearing rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette in these countries.

In other countries such as Germany, Greece, Rus
sia, Spain, India, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, however, it is worn on the right hand. Orthodox Christians and Eastern Europeans also traditionally wear the wedding band on the right hand. Jewish couples wear the wedding ring on the left hand, even though it is placed on the right hand during the marriage ceremony. In The Netherlands, Catholic people wear it on the left, all others on the right; in Austria, Catholic people wear it on the right. In Belgium, the choice of hand depends on the region of the country.

Greek people, many being Orthodox Christians, also wear the wedding rings on the right hand in keeping with Greek tradition. A traditional reason to wear the wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom. The Latin word for left is "sinister", which in addition to this sense also has the same senses as the English word. The Latin word for right is "dexter", a word that evolved into "dexterity". Hence, the left hand had a negative connotation and the right a good one.
So really, there is no universally accepted standard where to wear your wedding ring. It really depends where you are or what tradition you're following. One reason some cultures wear it on their right hand is that they consider the right hand auspicious than the left "sinister".

Here's a more academic approach to the subject and another reason why a wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger:
Aulus Gellius tells us that Appianus asserts in his Egyptian books that a very delicate nerve runs from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart, on which account this finger is used for the marriage ring. (Noctes, x. 10.)

The fact has nothing to do with the question; that the ancients believed it is all we require to know. In the Roman Catholic Church, the thumb and first two fingers represent the Trinity: thus the bridegroom says, “In the name of the Father,” and touches the thumb; “in the name of the Son,” and touches the first finger; and “in the name of the Holy Ghost” he touches the long or second finger. The next finger is the husband's, to whom the woman owes allegiance next to God. The left hand is chosen to show that the woman is to be subject to the man. In the Hereford, York, and Salisbury missals, the ring is directed to be put first on the thumb, then on the first finger, then on the long finger, and lastly on the ring-finger, quia in illo digito est quadam vena procedens usque ad cor.

The ring finger. Mr. Henry Swinburne, in his Treatise of Spousals, printed 1680 (p. 208), says: “The
finger on which this ring [the wedding-ring] is to be worn is the fourth finger of the left hand, next unto the little finger; because by the received opinion of the learned ... in ripping up and anatomising men's bodies, there is a vein of blood, called vena amoris, which passeth from that finger to the heart.” (link to article)
A little history on the use of wedding bands. Uhm, feminist beware:
There are no instances of wedding bands in the Old or New Testament. However, this is to be expected because wedding bands were a Roman invention. Traditionally, wedding bands were not wedding bands at all, but betrothal rings. In Roman times, wives were little more than a husband's property. Generally the groom's family would cut a financial deal for the bride during the betrothal ceremony (i.e., provide a dowry to the bride's family). When the deal had been made, the bride-to-be would be given a plain iron betrothal ring to wear. It is no coincidence that this is exactly the kind of ring slaves were required to wear; both were considered property of their masters!

The exchange of rings at weddings (instead of betrothal ceremonies) did not occur until the fourth century. The so-called "double-ring ceremony" is a 20th century innovation; such a ceremony would have made no sense in earlier times when the ring was a symbol of being owned by someone else. By the 20th century the true historical significance of the marital ring had been lost. (link to full article)
A few more historical tidbits:
According to some historians, the first recorded marriage rings date back to the days when early man tied plaited circlets around the Bride's wrists and ankles to keep her spirit from running away. Approximately 3,000 BC, Egyptians originated the phrase "without beginning, without end" in describing the significance of the wedding ring. These rings were made of woven hemp which constantly wore out and needed replacement. Although Romans originally used iron, gold is now used as a symbol of all that is pure. Diamonds were first used by Italians who believed that it was created from the flames of love. In some European cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. In other cultures, an engagement ring is worn on the left hand, and the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. (link to full article)
So there you go. Next person to tell me I should be wearing my wedding ring on my right is going to get an earful.

But for the hopeless romantics out there, here's a better story to tell why the wedding rings are worn where they are:
Why should the wedding ring be worn on the fourth finger?

There is a beautiful and convincing explanation given by the Chinese Legend:

- Thumb represents your Parents
- Second (Index) finger represents your Siblings
- Middle finger represents your-Self
- Fourth (Ring) finger represents your Life Partner
- The Last (Little) finger represents your children

Firstly, open your palms (face to face), bend the middle fingers and hold them together - back to back. Secondly, open and hold the remaining three fingers and the thumb - tip to tip (As shown in the figure).

Now, try to separate your thumbs (representing the parents), they will open, because your parents are not destined to live with you lifelong, and have to leave you sooner or later.

Please join your thumbs as before and separate your Index fingers (representing siblings), they will also open, because your brothers and sisters will have their own families and will have to lead their own separate lives.

Now join the Index fingers and separate your Little fingers (representing your children), they will open too, because the children also will get married and settle down on their own some day.

Finally, join your Little fingers, and try to separate your Ring fingers (representing your spouse). You will be surprised to see that you just cannot! This is because husband and wife have to remain together all their lives - through thick and thin!
(link to source)
Other Reads
- Why a wedding ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand
- Medieval and Renaissance Marriage: Theory and Customs by Kirsti S. Thomas
- Ritual of Marriage
- Wedding Traditions and Folklore
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