Much like a circle, which has no beginning or end, a wedding ring is meant to symbolize the eternal bond between two individuals. For generations, man and wife have bestowed upon each other the time-honored tradition of exchanging wedding bands as recognition of their unity and commitment to one another. For centuries, brides and grooms have stated their vows while placing a ring on the fourth finger of the hand, signifying their promise to a marriage that will stand the test of time. While the reasons behind this tradition are embedded in history and culture, all seem to point to the same idea, that marriage is meant to last forever.
Vena amoris and the fourth finger
It is believed that the tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the fourth finger began in Ancient Greece and Rome, when it was believed that there was a vein that ran straight to one’s heart from this finger. The ‘vena amoris,’ as it was called back then, was a symbol of the connection between one’s vows and the eternal love amongst couples. While modern day science has proved this vein to be non-existent, the tradition has held strong in almost every culture around the world.
Marriage – An eternal bond
From one continent to another, married couples wear rings on the fourth finger to represent their undying commitment to one another, but their reasons are not always the same. One theory, developed in China, attempts to explain the fourth finger choice in a more complex way. The Chinese believe that each finger represents an integral part of an individual’s life. The thumb is symbolic of your parents. The index finger represents your siblings. The middle finger signifies you as an individual. The fourth finger is emblematic of your lover and the pinky is your children. When you place your hands together and bend your middle fingers down so that your knuckles are touching, all the other fingers lay flat against one another. As you go through your life, your relationships change. If you begin to pull your hands apart, keeping the tips together as long as you can, you will notice your thumbs and pinky separate first. According to Chinese tradition, this is because you are meant to separate from your parents, and your children from you, in order to fulfill your life’s mission. As you continue to change, your index fingers will eventually separate as well, representing your movement away from your siblings. The pair that always remains connected is that of the fourth fingers, symbolizing the inseparable bond between lovers. It is for this reason that the Chinese wear their wedding bands on the fourth finger.
A matter of convenience
In western civilizations, the tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand became common because so many people are right handed. As a matter of convenience, couples use the left hand so as not to damage rings by the constant use of their dominant hand and because, like the pinky, the fourth finger is the least used of the five. In other cultures, such as those in Spain, Peru, India, Norway and Denmark, couples wear their wedding rings on the right hand, precisely because it is the dominant hand. They believe that the strength of a marriage should be represented by the strength of the hand it is worn upon. Regardless of the reason, wearing a wedding band on the fourth finger seems to be a tradition that won’t soon be changed.