Why Are Wedding Rings Worn on the Left Hand?
Have you ever wondered how certain traditions came to be? For instance, why are wedding rings worn on the left hand? Why not the right hand? And why the fourth finger? Why not the pinkie finger, or the thumb? After all, once upon a time, during medieval days, many believed left-handed people were possessed.
You earned yourself a bit of torture and possibly murder if you were caught writing with the left hand during the Spanish Inquisition, and in other cultures, like Japan, you could be divorced if you weren’t a righty, while Islamic countries forbade people from drinking and eating with their lefties. So, if the left hand has such a grim history, why are wedding rings worn on the left hand now commonplace? We’ll do our best to offer you some answers.
Ancient Rome and Greece
When did wedding rings start? It’s thought that the tradition of wedding rings worn on the left hand began centuries ago, in ancient Rome. The ancient Greeks continued with the tradition. In Roman culture, people thought that there was a vein in the fourth finger of the left hand that lead directly to the heart. A Greek scholar during the time of 2nd-century Egyptians named Appian, called it “a certain most delicate nerve.”
Romans didn’t believe it was a nerve, they believed it was a vein, called it the “vein of love” or the “lover’s vein.” By wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger, it was like symbolically connecting the hearts of couples to their other half. Of course, modern-day science has since disproved the idea of a vein or nerve running from the finger to the heart, but it hasn’t stopped the tradition or the symbolism.
Some people believe the tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the fourth finger of the hand began with Orthodox Christianity. Some say that when someone would cross themselves, they did so by joining the first three fingers together as representative of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The fourth finger represents the earthly love shared between a couple getting married, so placing a wedding ring there was fitting. Others say that during the marriage ritual, the priest would touch the first three fingers, naming them as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then touch the fourth finger and say, “Amen.” However, they didn’t wear the wedding ring on the left hand until after the 17th century. Seems the tradition stuck!
Though it’s become common in the West to see wedding rings on the left hand, there are still some small Orthodox Christian communities that continue with the right-handed ring tradition. There are also certain areas in Western Europe, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe that elect to wear their wedding rings on the right hand instead of the left. Some of them wear the wedding ring on the right permanently, while some wear it on the right and then move it to the left on their wedding day. This is very common in Jewish weddings unless they are Orthodox. In which case, they may not wear a wedding band at all.
There are also cultures where sometimes the groom is seen wearing a ring on the right hand, and the bride wears the ring on the left, such as countries like Sri Lanka. There is also a divide in Islamic cultures between the left and right hand. In Iran, it’s customary to wear a wedding ring on the left hand and in Jordan it is customary to wear a wedding band on the right hand. That’s provided they wear wedding rings at all because wedding rings are not usually customary in Islamic countries and Muslim wedding traditions.
In certain Indian cultures, rings in a marriage ceremony are not traditional either, or when they are worn, they aren’t called wedding rings, just rings. The men will wear a ring on the right hand and women will wear a ring on the left, typically as a sign they are engaged.
So, why are wedding rings worn on the left hand? The short answer is that it boils down to tradition. A tradition that depends largely on your culture and where you live. Though wearing a wedding ring on the left hand is quite common in the West, there are many countries where the opposite is true. To each their own!