Engagement rings are a centuries-old tradition representing everlasting love and lifelong commitment. When you wear an engagement ring, you’re partaking in a cherished tradition of publicly announcing your intent to marry. Wearing an engagement ring signifies to your betrothed and the world that you’re vowing to spend your life together. Seems straightforward, right?
Right! Except for that tiny matter of which hand (and finger) to wear your engagement ring on. Wait, it’s gotta be the left ring finger, right? Well, that entirely depends on where you’re from and what your values are. Truth is, wearing an engagement ring on left ring finger is not a universal or international tradition. In fact, in many countries it’s tradition to wear the engagement ring on the right hand.
Which is it, then: left or right? Let’s explore how location, culture, history and tradition influence where people wear their engagement rings.
Before we get to the great debate of engagement ring fingers, here’s a brief overview of the history of engagement rings.
Engagement rings are the modern standard, but this wasn’t always the case. The tradition of wearing fine jewelry to denote pending nuptials wasn’t made a standard until the last few hundred years.
Furthermore, diamonds didn’t enter the engagement ring arena until the 15th century. Even then, diamonds and precious stones were reserved for royalty. How did the diamond work its way into the homes of common folk? Once diamonds were discovered in South Africa in the late 1800s, miners optimized production and by the mid 20th century, diamond engagement rings populated department stores. So, where did it all begin?
Ancient Egyptians believed circles were symbolic of eternity. Accordingly, couples handcrafted braided plants and reeds to exchange and wear as a symbol of love and marriage. Which hand and finger did the ancient Egyptians wear it on? The left hand ring finger.
Does everyone wear their engagement rings on the left ring finger? Certainly not. However, this is the standard in most English speaking countries. The United States, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and Great Britain are among countries whose people prefer to wear engagement rings on the left ring finger. However, non-english speaking countries including Italy, Mexico and Egypt also favor the left ring finger.
Where did it all start? As previously mentioned: Ancient Egypt, and also Rome. What influenced them to choose the left ring finger? Attribute it to good ol’ mythology. Prior to modern science, the ancients believed in a vein called “vena amoris.” They also believed that this “vein of love” connected the fourth finger on the left hand with the heart. Alas, the left ring finger became the delegated spot for engagement rings.
This sentimental origin was centuries before engagement rings became a booming and lucrative industry. Vena Amoris isn’t actually real, however it’s a romantic, time-honored ritual meaningful enough to retain its tradition.
Unfortunately, the Romans weren’t so romantic. A betrothal ring signified a binding agreement of ownership over a future bride. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since ancient Rome!
We’ve covered the left ring finger. Now, what about wearing an engagement ring on the right hand?
In many cultures and countries, wearing an engagement ring on the right hand is preferred. Just like the left hand, people wear their engagement rings on the fourth finger, or ring finger, of the right hand.
This is typical in India, Russia, Germany, Norway and some Eastern European and South American countries. Catholics also commonly wear their engagement and wedding rings on the right ring finger.
Why? Call it religious folklore, but the latin origin of the word ‘left’ means sinister or evil. This is why for centuries, left-handed children were forced to learn to write with their right hand. If the negative connotation of the word left is enough to manipulate a person’s left-hand orientation, it’s no surprise that engagement rings are worn on the right hand.
As with many ancient religious rituals, what began as superstition is now tradition.
In some countries, women aren’t the only ones who wear engagement rings. In fact, in Chile and Sweden, men wear engagement rings on their right hand until they’re married. Following the wedding ceremony, men transfer the ring from the right ring finger to the left.
It isn’t just Sweden and Chile that practices ring swapping. Some Jewish and Brazilian cultures also switch ring hands following the wedding ceremony. During many western wedding ceremonies, the engagement ring initially worn on the left ring finger gets switched to the right ring finger to make space for the wedding band. After the ceremony, the engagement ring gets paired with the wedding band on the left ring finger.
Which hand and finger you choose to wear your engagement ring on is subjective. Many cultures don’t even place emphasis on which hand the engagement ring should be worn. In some European cultures, the ring finger on both the right and left hands are interchangeable, and there’s no distinction between the two.
It ultimately depends on your cultural background and social values. Religion, spiritual or cultural values may influence one person to wear their engagement ring on the right hand, and another to favor the left hand.
Ultimately, which hand you choose to wear your engagement ring on is entirely up to you. Afterall, the most important factor regarding your engagement is the lifelong union you’re forming with the one you love. A circle symbolizes everlasting love, and an engagement ring is a beautiful token of the underlying promise of love and marriage.
Whether you choose to wear your engagement ring on the right or left hand, what’s important is to have a ring that compliments your sacred union.
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