So You're Engaged!
Did you get a New Year's wedding proposal? Or have you been engaged for a while? Either way, CONGRATULATIONS!
We're sure you're busy with breaking the news and starting the planning, but if you've time to take a break here are some interesting facts and trivia that you may find .... engaging! The proposal Most hopeful young men and women put a lot of thought and effort into making their proposal unique. Not so long ago the proposal would be made over a candle-lit dinner, or during a moonlit walk on a special night, but in our internet enriched world people are becoming much bolder and more elaborate, organising international treasure hunts, flash mobs, and very public demonstrations of affection. Chances are, whichever way your proposal went down, your hubby or wife-to-be also went down ... on bended knee.
The tradition of the man kneeling to propose goes back to ancient times when men would kneel to their lords to show fealty, and in the middle ages, knights in armour would kneel with a flourish to receive the favour of a pretty maiden before jousting. It's only natural that a man should continue to show his respect with the grand gesture of 'taking a knee' in a proposal tradition that continues to this day. But that's not necessarily the case in Ireland.
In Ireland a young hopeful would not be so forward as to ask "Will you marry me?" instead opting for something far more subtle to signal his intentions...
Could you imagine if your fiancé had asked "Would you like to hang your washing next to mine?"
Your 'yes' would likely be '"'Tis a lonely washing line without a man's shirt on it"! Other popular lines were "Would you like to live in my heart and pay no rent?" or the rather less enticing "Would you like to be buried with my people?"!
The ring finger
Engagement and wedding rings are worn on the third* finger of the left hand because it was thought that a vein in that finger, the Vena Amoris (vein of love), led directly to the heart.
That's the popular theory anyway, and while it's true that ancient Romans and Egyptians believed in the existence of the Vena Amoris (which modern science has debunked), Romans also thought of the left hand as inferior so would likely not have chosen it for such an important and symbolic ring. Until recent times – within the last three centuries – wedding and engagement rings were worn on the right hand in most European and Western cultures. Now this is where it gets confusing! It's only relatively recently (possibly to increase jewellery sales) that the trend for two rings - an engagement and a wedding ring - began. Before then the same one ring acted for both the betrothal and the wedding, moving from the third finger of the left hand before marriage, to the third finger of the right hand during the wedding ceremony. The left hand was considered supplicant to the right so a future bride was showing her supplication and devotion to her future husband by choosing to wear her betrothal ring on her left hand, and her move to be united as his equal in marriage when switching it to the right. In some European countries, including Denmark, Norway, Russia and Spain, this is still the common custom, though many now opt to keep an engagement ring on the left hand and have the groom slip a brand new wedding ring on the right. Best of both worlds!
There are many other cultures around the world where the left hand is considered inferior or impure. Considering that around 90% of the world's population is right-handed it's easy to understand how this idea may have originated, but if the right hand is considered to do most of the work then surely it is the most damaging to soft precious metals? With the rise in popularity of precious metals such as gold and platinum for wedding rings, it became a matter of preservation to switch the ring finger to the left hand, but whichever hand you choose to wear your ring on, most cultures agree that it be worn on the third finger. So why is that? Aside from the Vena Amoris theory above, there are a couple of other interesting theories about how this finger became the chosen ring finger... In traditional Christian weddings the priest conducting the ceremony would move the ring from the thumb along the hand, placing it on each finger in turn 'in the name of the Father (thumb), Son (first finger), and Holy Ghost (middle finger)' before landing on the ring finger, where it stayed, with 'Amen'. The Chinese have a more romantic theory as to why the third finger should be the ring finger, as each finger represents an important bond in your life. Your thumb represents the bond with your parents; your index finger is the bond with your siblings; the middle finger represents you; the ring finger is for your lover; and the little finger for your children. In life, family bonds can be stretched as you move away from your parents and siblings, or your children grow and leave home, but your lover stays by your side forever. You can test the foundation of this theory for yourself! Put your hands together, fingers straight up and aligned, and fold your middle fingers (representing you) down. Now, in turn, try to move the other fingers apart. You'll find all the fingers can be parted easily except for your ring fingers, which cling to their partner like a lover!
*We know, it's confusing as to whether the ring finger is considered the third or the fourth, and even medical dictionaries can't agree, but what we can all agree on is that when we say 'ring finger' we mean the one next to your pinky!
~ The most frequently bought size of diamond for an engagement ring is one carat, featuring in around 20% of all sales. 36% of the diamonds bought for engagement rings are even bigger than that!
~ The top three most popular diamond cuts for engagement rings are brilliant (round), princess (square), and cushion (a rounded short rectangle). ~ The first recorded diamond engagement ring was commissioned in 1477 by Archduke Maximilian of Austria for his proposal to the eminently desirable Mary of Burgundy. It was to be another 300 years before the diamond reserves in Africa were discovered, so diamonds were considered incredibly rare and valuable at the time. Mary's ring, featuring the letter M formed with oblong cut diamonds, was reportedly so expensive it cost over ten-year's worth of the Archduke's income! ~ The Archduke and Mary were the trendsetters of their time, fuelling a rise in the popularity of diamond engagement rings amongst wealthy Venetians. Diamonds were considered to be one of the most enduring substances on earth, and the perfect metaphor for an enduring marriage. ~ The growing popularity of diamond engagement rings created a demand that was hard to sustain from the rapidly depleting Indian diamond reserves, and saw prices rise way beyond the budget of all but the super-wealthy. That was until 1867 when a young man, 15-year old Erasmus Jacobs, discovered a huge diamond in a river bed in Africa. Africa proved to yield the largest known reserves of diamond in the world, and only 13 years later the De Beers company controlled 90% of the world's diamond mines. Trouble was, De Beers didn't want to see the value of diamonds fall, so they hid huge amounts in secret vaults to keep the prices as high as the demand. The truth is, diamonds aren't going to run out any time soon, and really aren't that rare at all! ~ Around 80% of brides sport a diamond in their engagement ring, and it's been that way ever since marketing agent, Frances Gerety, coined the phrase "A Diamond Is Forever" for the De Beers company in 1947. That tiny line, signifying the link between the diamond's durability and eternal love, has proved as enduring as the diamond itself, and is still used in every De Beers advert today.
~ Betrothals have long been a political way of securing alliances between royal houses. King Henry VIII's daughter, Princess Mary, was only two years old when she was betrothed to Francois, the Dauphin of France, and received a magnificent diamond engagement ring. Her 'fiancé' was less than eight-months old!
~ Pope Nicholas I decreed that the giving of an engagement ring became law under the Roman Catholic Church in 860CE. Before then engagement rings weren't commonly given. ~ Pope Nicholas I also decreed that the engagement ring should be of a precious metal, like gold, to prove the groom's ability to provide for his wife and future family. ~ A popular symbolism for engagement rings is in the three-stoned ring. The three stones signify Past, Present and Future, with the stone for 'Present' being the largest.
~ A popular engagement ring in Ireland is the Claddagh ring. This features a heart held between two hands, with a crown upon it. These symbols means "Let love and friendship reign". As an engagement ring, the point of the heart is towards the fingertip, with the crown towards the wrist, then during the wedding ceremony the ring is reversed with the point of the heart pointing to the heart. How symbolic!
Before rings, there was ...
Spoons! In Welsh tradition a prospective groom would carve a love spoon for his future bride. These spoons showed his willingness to provide for her and had intricate patterns and symbols carved into them, each with a different meaning. You can learn more here.
~ A pre-owned wedding ring, such as an antique or family heirloom, is said to carry the happiness or sorrow of its previous owner, which will then be passed on to the new. If you're the superstitious kind, then make sure your engagement ring was once owned by a bride who enjoyed a long and joyful union.
~ If you let someone else try on your engagement ring they will steal all the luck and happiness from your marriage. Now there's a good reason to keep it on your own finger!
~ If an engaged woman accidentally drop a knife it's sign that her fiancé is on his way to visit. ~ Turning your ring on your finger turns away bad luck and brings in good, but only if you turn it clockwise! ~ It's bad luck to take off your engagement ring, instead you should press the tip of another finger to your ring finger and slide the ring across if you need to remove it for any reason.
Of course, superstitions can only hold any sway over you if you believe in them, which is just as well considering our next topic!