Most people love the notion of wedding rings - an everlasting reminder of your wedding day and commitment to one another, accessible every time you glance down at your hand. For some they are items of great monetary value and even become family heirlooms, passed down through the generations and only increasing in value as the years tick by. For others they are modest and inexpensive, and serve a more personal purpose. Either way, I think it's safe to say that wedding rings are here to stay.
The giving of a ring is a tradition that has been traced back as far as Egyptian times, when rings were considered symbols of eternity, signifying the love between two people. The tradition of wearing the ring on the third finger of the left hand also dates back to this time, as the Egyptians believed the vein running through this finger connected directly to the heart. The tradition has been through various cycles since then: a Roman custom was for wives to wear rings attached to small keys, indicating their husband's 'ownership'; throughout the middle ages the concept of marriage was very much an economic affair, and the ring was simply a way of sealing the deal between two families. So it seems we may have come full circle in our attitudes to wedding rings.
Dual-ring ceremonies, in which both parties wear a wedding ring, were introduced by the Greek Orthodox Church in the 1300s, but this did not become mainstream until the mid-20th century. Before this it was usually a female-only tradition, but these days it has become quite a head-turner when a man decides against wearing a ring; I remember the headlines in 2011 when it emerged that Prince William was not going to adorn his finger - scandal!
But there has been a sizeable shift in recent years - not necessarily away from wedding rings, but many couples are looking for that extra something to signify their commitment to one another. One of the many benefits of having a celebrant-led wedding ceremony is that you can incorporate as few or as many symbolic actions as you like - you can even make up your own. Here are just a few that are proving very popular and can really enhance a ceremony:
'Handfasting' is a custom of Celtic origin, and is believed to be behind the phrase 'tying the knot'. When performed the traditional way it is quite an art form - you may remember the handfasting scenes from Braveheart and Game of Thrones. Some couples opt for a full handfasting ceremony, but many others like the simple tradition of having their hands joined together by a beautiful piece of cloth, which can then be removed with the tie still in place and treasured by the couple for years to come.
Lighting a candle
A couple lighting a candle together after making their vows is such a simple yet beautiful act. The idea is that each person takes a taper and lights it from their own candle, and then they both light the central candle at the same time, creating a stronger, brighter flame. This new flame symbolises their love burning brightly as they begin their marriage journey together.
Candles come in all shapes and sizes and I can provide you with plenty of options to ensure you have a candle that you both love to display on your mantelpiece as a lasting reminder of your special day.
This is one of my personal favourites. Here the couple each take a container of sand (usually of different colours) and pour it into one central container at the same time. As the grains of sand blend together it creates a lovely visual effect, and the symbolism here is that once the individual grains have been mixed together, they can never be separated. Sand ceremonies are also a great option for couples who have children - it's a lovely way to involve them and to symbolise the new family unit (you can have as many individual containers and colours of sand as you like).
As with the candles, there are many designs of sand containers to choose from so you will be sure to find one that looks perfect atop your mantelpiece!
Sharing a cup
Sharing a cup of wine is a popular Jewish tradition but has been adopted by many couples for its beautiful symbolism, representing the sharing of all that life has to offer, both bitter and sweet.
Another way of enhancing this custom is to ask a member of both your families to come forward and pour some wine into a central cup together, symbolising the blending of your two families and their blessing upon your marriage.
Of course it doesn't have to be wine that you share... why not personalise it even more by sharing a cup of your favourite drink, whatever that may be?!
So there is really no danger of the wedding ring tradition signing off any time soon - and what a beautiful symbol of love and commitment it is too - but with so many other ways to enhance your wedding ceremony and create even more lasting reminders of your special day, why not mix it up?!
Sophie Easton is a qualified, independent celebrant specialising in conducting bespoke weddings, vow renewals and naming ceremonies. She works mostly in London and Surrey, but is able to travel further afield if required.
She feels passionately that your ceremony should reflect your needs and personalities. Her role is to listen intently to your wishes, guide you and inspire you with ideas, and work closely with you at every stage to devise and deliver your perfect ceremony.
Sophie would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your big day plans and to answer any questions you may have:
Telephone: 07730 569 143