Engagement Gifts From Be Personal
The History Of Engagements
The period between a marriage proposal and the marriage ceremony has several names. The couple may be regarded as being betrothed, intended, affianced, engaged to be married or just simply engaged. The length of the engagement varies hugely, dependent upon the wishes of the couple but also different cultures. When it was common for marriages to be arranged, long engagements were sometimes inevitable because parents would often betroth their children before they were old enough to marry.
It is in the Jewish Torah where we can discover the origins of the practice of engagement because, in Jewish law, marriage consists of two separate acts. Erusin or kiddushin, meaning sanctification, is the betrothal and nissu’in or chupah is the ceremony of marriage. The first stage changes the couple’s interpersonal status whilst the latter brings about the legal consequences of the change.
These rituals were adopted by the ancient Greeks as the gamos and engeysis although, unlike in Judaism, the contract given in front of witness was only a verbal one. It was the Romans who borrowed from Judaism the idea of the giving of a ring, with the fiance presenting it after swearing the oath of marriage intent.
Betrothal was a formal state of engagement in the Jewish Church and the ceremony usually took place up to a year before the marriage. The bride would live with her parents until the actual marriage, which would have taken place in a private room set up by the groom. Since the Middle Ages the two ceremonies have taken place at the same time and in public and today the betrothal is still celebrated at the wedding, the betrothal being completely different from an engagement. The breaking of a betrothal requires a divorce.
The Biblical references to it being prohibited for a man to take his brother’s wife as his own have had significant historical consequences when viewed from the standpoint of a betrothal being as binding as a marriage. For example, King Richard III had the children of his older brother declared illegitimate on the grounds that their father had been betrothed to another woman when he married their mother.
It may well have been Pope Innocent III who gave official standing to the practice of engagement. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council, which he headed, decided that it was necessary to publicly announce marriages in advance in the church to provide an opportunity for any opposition to be heard. This ‘reading of the banns’ gave couples a fixed time during which they were considered to be engaged before the marriage ceremony and it became customary to give a ring as a declaration of the intent to marry. An engagement was then an official concept in the church and the couple would sign a registering form in front of witnesses.
The giving of engagement rings, separately to the wedding ring, can be traced back to biblical times, with a reference in the book of Genesis to Eliezer of Damascus presenting Rebecca with a golden nose ring. In Judaism there are three ways in which a betrothal can be established and one of those is by the groom giving the bride-to-be a gift of more than nominal value. It has become common practice for this to be a ring.
In the times of the Roman Empire rings had special meanings. The circle of the ring represented eternity and many bore the symbol of two clasped hands. This denoted the contract between the couple. This may have been the design from which the Celtic Claddagh symbol of two hands clasping a heart evolved. The Claddagh style ring is topped by a crown and is full of history and meaning. It is a symbol for marriage because the hands are representative of friendship and the heart of love. The crown is a symbol of loyalty. As an engagement ring it is worn on the left hand with the tip of the heart pointing towards the fingertips. On the wedding day, the ring is turned around so that the heart points to the wrist.
Whilst in many European countries the tradition is to wear an engagement ring on the right hand, in some cultures, including the Romans, the ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand. This is because physicians in ancient Egypt thought that a nerve from that finger led straight to the heart.
It was traditional for a man to ask the father of the bride-to-be permission to marry his daughter, dating back to the times of a marriage contract being drawn up between the two families. An engagement was considered to be a very serious matter and this was reflected in the law. It was well into the twentieth century before the crime of ‘breach of promise’ was abolished. Prior to that it was possible to sue for recompense when one side decided to end an engagement.
Traditionally, the man gets down on one knee to propose marriage before presenting the ring he has bought. However, it is becoming increasingly common for a temporary ring to be purchased for this occasion so that the couple can then go shopping together at a later date. There is, of course, one tradition that completely breaks with this practice; on the 29th of February, a woman may ask a man to marry her. It is thought that this practice dates from the Fifth Century in Ireland, when Saint Bridget became frustrated at how long women had to wait for a proposal. She discussed the matter with Saint Patrick who then announced that women could do the asking in a leap year. The first recorded instance of a leap-year proposal from a woman to a man is in Thirteenth Century Scotland. A law was passed stating that any man who turned down a proposal had to pay a fine, ranging from a kiss to a pair of gloves.
The modern practice of giving an engagement ring can be traced to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, who gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. This idea certainly caught on and in Italy the stone was popularised by wealthy Venetians. Expensive engagement rings are now very big business. It was the diamond trading company De Beers who very successfully marketed the idea that engagement rings should contain diamonds, but any gemstone can be given. In France diamond rings are not popular, with women much preferring different gemstones such as rubies and sapphires. Indeed, the different stones all have special meanings which can make an engagement ring both individual and symbolic.
Amethysts represent protection whilst an aquamarine in an engagement ring would symbolise a hope for peace. Carnelians are the stones of vitality and sexuality and the traditional diamond represents purpose and clarity. A ring with emeralds would express love and compassion and a garnet would be a symbol of self-worth. A jade stone would hold a hope for well-being whilst lapis lazuli in a ring would carry truth and awareness. Pearls in an engagement ring denote self-care, nurturing and emotional healing whilst a peridot would be a sign of abundance, positivity and creation. Rose quartz is a sign of love and trust and fiery rubies display courage and passion. Sapphires in an engagement ring represent focus and discipline whilst a topaz shows clarity. The message of a tourmaline is joy and love and turquoise are a sign of truth and communication.
In different parts of the world, engagements are celebrated in different ways. For example, in Japan a couple is not considered to be engaged until there has been a ‘yunio’, an official meeting between their families where nine symbolic gifts wrapped in rice paper are exchanged. Each of the gifts represents a wish for the couple, such as longevity, health and children. The Chinese also have the tradition of exchanging gifts, usually items for the home and money, but more recently, the exchanging of rings has become more common.
There is a tradition in Chile where both parties wear a ring on their right hand to show that they are engaged. These rings are moved to the third finger of the left hand at their wedding. In India an engagement may only be considered after the bride’s family has accepted the proposal of the groom’s family, after which there will be an elaborate party. Women will often be given bangles instead of rings. There is a tradition in Ghana where, a week before the wedding is due to take place, the groom and some of his family will knock on the door of the bride’s family’s home to announce his intentions.
Not every engagement ceremony involves a ring. In Thai culture a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage during a ‘thong mun’ which means ‘gold engagement’. Gifts made from gold will be presented to the bride-to-be. These gifts are considered to be part of the dowry negotiations between the groom and the bride’s family.
Traditional Greek culture insists that once a man has asked the father of the bride for permission to marry, the couple must attend three counselling sessions to receive marriage advice from a priest. Only then will a party be held for the engagement which is then official.
Armenian engagements are celebrated as much as the weddings themselves. Just like traditional Greeks, Armenians will have attended counselling sessions and a priest will attend the engagement party. There he will bless the engagement ring and call upon the couple to publicly declare their love and devotion to each other.
In some Latin American countries, the rings presented to mark an engagement will also serve as wedding rings. This is often the case in Argentina and in Brazil the rings will be made of gold and transferred from the right to the left hands to mark the change from engagement to marriage.
African countries such as Kenya are places where women wear elaborate beading as part of their culture and heritage. Here it is traditional to present jewellery of this kind to mark an engagement, rather than a ring.
There are also many strange rituals that can accompany an engagement. In the Chinese Daur district a couple should dissect a chicken. If the liver of the chicken is healthy then they can set a date for their wedding. If it isn’t considered to be healthy then they must keep looking until a healthy liver is found.
The Kenyan Rendille tribe have a tradition whereby the groom sends the woman he would like to marry a set of beads. If she wishes to marry him then the beads are accepted and her family will add an ornament from her own family. The colours of the beads will denote an engagement.
Before a man in Fiji can ask a woman to marry him, he must first seek permission from her father. It is traditional that he also presents his future father-in-law with the tooth of a whale. Presumably he doesn’t have to remove the tooth from the whale by himself!
There are gifts to mark an engagement for the couple to present to each other and engagement presents for family and friends to give to them both. The former include items such as watches and personalised jewellery, for both men and women, or keepsake boxes. There is a huge range of household items to start the couple’s collection for their future home together such as personalised candles and lamps and glassware can be personalised with the couple’s initials. Chopping boards and cheese boards can likewise be bought with personal messages marked on them, or how about a personalised clock made especially for the couple’s new home? Very popular items are personalised photo frames to mark the occasion of the engagement with a special picture of the couple.