From proposals on bended knee to champagne toasts and honeymoons, weddings are filled with traditions that, over the years, have somehow lost their meanings and are done simply because—well, they’ve always been done. And while some of the original reasons that these traditions were put into practice might no longer be relevant or even necessary, they have a symbolism that remains true: Marriage is a sacred covenant that should be given ceremony and respect. At the end of the day, true love is worth laying down your life for your partner.
First comes the proposal. One of the most commonly believed—though not fully proven—reasons that men traditionally take a knee for a proposal is that in the Middle Ages when couples courted and noblemen felt that the time had come to express their eternal love and servitude to the noblewoman whom they were courting, they kneeled. In times such as those, kneeling was a sign of honor and respect, Knights often kneeled before their feudal lords, so it stands to reason that this action would also be one used in show of courtly love.
There are, of course, a few religious reasons that might be behind this long-standing tradition of not standing to pop the question. Many faiths including Christianity and Islam call for worshippers to kneel in prayer as an expression of their faithful service and eternal respect for their God. In essence, then, taking a knee to ask those small—yet still so very big—words is very much a way of showing that you, as the one they love, are someone worthy of giving their honor, respect, devotion, and a love that will last for a lifetime.
While we’re on the topic of proposals, let’s wrap our fingers around the whole ring thing, shall we? Engagement rings are actually a tradition that dates back to ancient Egypt when wedded couples exchanged rings made from braided reeds. In Egyptian culture, circles were symbols of eternity, and the rings were worn on the ring finger of the left hand because this was the particular finger believed to have a vein running directly to the heart. Consequently, this very vein was later designated to be vena amoris.
Later on in second-century Rome, betrothal rings were given to the bride in lieu of giving her money or valuable objects. Unfortunately, the ring wasn’t something to be considered a romantic gesture, but as a show of ownership. The groom gave the bride a ring made of gold that would be worn during the betrothal ceremony and for special events, but an iron ring symbolizing the fact that she was legally bound to him as his property was worn at home. It’s not exactly a tradition to be looked on with fondness, but nonetheless it’s an interesting fact and a reason to rejoice that modern marriages have so greatly evolved.
Hundreds of years later, rings got blinged-out for the very first time when Austria’s Archduke Maximilian proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a ring set with thin, flat pieces of cut diamonds forming the shape of the letter “M.” From then on, European nobility began to add more sparkle by incorporating precious gemstones into their jewelry.
When diamonds were discovered in South Africa and mining them became lucrative, Cecil Rhodes founded the DeBeers Mining Company in 1880, turning diamond engagement rings into marketing ingenuity; and from then on these indestructible gems became the centerpiece of the very symbol of everlasting, eternal love.
From rings to vows and everything thereafter, the traditions of weddings are a reminder of one very important thing—that the union of two people should join their lives and their hearts. And that that bond is meant to be shared forever.