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Becoming Engaged: Traditional & Modern Engagement Rituals

Updated on March 6, 2016

The rituals with which we bind up our lives are many and diverse. One such custom, the exchanging of tokens to announce the intended joining of two lives, has its roots deep in the ancient traditions of many cultures.

The ritual of engagement, the promises, the tokens, and the expectations vary in each society. We use rites to solemnize the proceedings, a very public announcement of the promise of two people to wed.

Originally intended by some for the protection of the intended bride, or by some to herald the dynastic union of two families, this custom has become ingrained in our western society as the ultimate expression of romantic love...and what could be more romantic than the pledging of two hearts and minds to become one.

The Diamond Standard
The Diamond Standard

Modern Love Tokens

A Single Red Rose
A Single Red Rose
Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend
Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend
Love Tokens
Love Tokens

Ancient Betrothal Customs

According to Jewish custom, the father would choose the bride. The bridegroom and his father would then travel from his home to the home of the bride in order to negotiate the purchase price of his bride with his prospective father-in-law.

The father, the bridegroom, the bride and all her family would sit down together at a table and offer a contract of marriage. They discuss the bride-price, or Mohar, which was required by law, legally binding, and paid by the bridegroom before the marriage ceremony could take place. The bride-price was compensation to the young woman's parents for the cost of raising her, as well an expression of young man’s love for her.

The young man understood he would have to sacrifice in order to purchase his bride. He knew that the price had to be high, for it reflected how much he really wanted the young woman, and the value he placed on her. Often, the price would be paid in land, in livestock, or in silver and gold.

The young man then had a Ketubah, a marriage contract or covenant, drawn up which he presented to the intended bride and her father. In the contract, the bride is promised that she will be provided for in every way, and that all of her needs would be fulfilled by the bridegroom.

This contract was then signed before two witnesses, and presented to the bride and her father.

In Ancient India, when the two families agreed to the marriage, the man's family sent betrothal gifts to the woman's family.

The gifts mainly included clothes, jewelry, gold, silver and money etc. In ancient times, a gilded silver coin bearing the word "qiu", which means "proposal", was among the gifts, indicating the man's proposal. The woman's family would send back another coin bearing the word "yun", meaning "agreed", to signify their consent.

Dowry was the property a young woman brought to her husband's home, usually household goods: clothes, quilts, basins and washstands, furnishings, tea sets and tableware, but rich families would sometimes include fields, mountains and forests in the dowry to show their wealth.

The Engagement Ritual was known as misri, or ring ceremony. In some parts of India it is referred to as aashirwad, and mangni. Some of the traditional ceremonies are still practiced in modern times.

The family and relative of bride and groom will gather to celebrate this first, formal party of the forth coming wedding ceremony. Both the families exchange gifts, sweets and good wishes. A formal ring ceremony solemnizes the engagement, and then the prospective bride and groom are then introduced to each other’s family. A meal is then provided for all the family members and guests present at the ceremony.

According to Gujarati custom, the engagement is called Sagaai. In a Sagaai, the bride's family arrives with a steel container known as a Matli which is full of sweets and gifts for the groom and his family.

In North India, the ceremony is usually held as soon as the marriage details are finalized. Along with the ring ceremony, the ritual of ‘Tilak', greeting the groom with auspicious vermilion paste and rice, is performed by bride's brother. Then baskets of fruits, dry fruits and sweets are exchanged by both the families. The bride is also given some traditional family jewelry by the groom's parents.

In South India, the engagement ceremony is a commitment between both the families of the would-be bride and groom, and includes the exchange of 'tattu', the 'engagement plate' of coconut, flowers, turmeric, beetle nuts and beetle leaves.

In Victorian England, engagements were known to last from six months to a year depending on the prospective couples station in life and their family circumstances. A death in either family could, of course, drag out the proceedings for another six months to two years depending on the nearness of the deceased. The relationship might not be close enough to require deep mourning (two years) but would require at least a six monthe cessation of fetes and celebrations.

Courting in those circumstances certainly required stamina The young person's behavior was hedged round with a great deal of rectitude and strict standards. Woe betide that hapless one who failed to uphold these rigid standards.

If you think it is hard to go a-wooing now, think how much more difficulty you would have had back then! Here are some pointers on courting in Victorian times:

  • A proper young woman never spoke to a gentleman without an introduction
  • A proper young single woman never “walked out” alone. Her chaperon had to be older and preferably married
  • If the young woman had reached the stage of courtship in which she walked out with a gentleman, they always walked apart. A gentleman could offer his hand over rough spots, the only contact he was allowed with a woman who was not his fiancée
  • A proper young woman would never ride alone in a closed carriage with a man who wasn't a relative, nor ever call upon an unmarried gentleman at his place of residence
  • A proper young woman would not receive a man at home if she was alone. Another family member had to be present in the room
  • No improper conversations were ever held in front of single women
  • No sexual contact was allowed before marriage

How far would you go?

See results
A Romantic Restaurant
A Romantic Restaurant
An Old Fashioned Carriage Ride Through the Park
An Old Fashioned Carriage Ride Through the Park
A Stroll Through Winter's Wonderland
A Stroll Through Winter's Wonderland
Candles By The Beach
Candles By The Beach
A Romantic Get-Away In The tropics
A Romantic Get-Away In The tropics

...and you think you have it tough now, fellas.

Let's look at your options. You have courted your fair damsel and won her heart. You know you want to spend the rest of your life with her, barring all those pesky complications that so often plague our lives. Now - what to do?

Well, there are more answers to that than grains of sand on the beach...and it entirely depends on the amount of time and ingenuity you are willing to put into it.

As one who has never had lashings of money poured out for her amusement, I would have to opt for the time and ingenuity angle. Don't let me discourage you if you do wish to pour out a pot or two of folding green, or, in these times, pin-chip protected plastic. Far be it from me to rain on your parade if the sky is the limit when it comes to pleasing your poppet.

…and if you do have the “readies” ready, where better to start than an event planner? There are lots of talented, reputable, stylish folk only too ready to separate you from a bit of your cash. Seriously, having worked as an events planner for a large, arts and crafts chain, I can attest to the long hours of planning and research, and the hundreds of miles traveled in search of that perfect piece, as well as the sheer, backbreaking labor of transport and assembly these talented folk endure to make your fête absolutely perfect.

On second thought, do hire one – hire me!

As I am happily retired from that stream of endeavors, perhaps best not, dears…

The real trick here, and the only trick, is that there isn’t one. If you know her at all, you will already know what she likes. If you are actually planning to marry someone and you can’t think how to please and impress them right this very moment, perhaps you might want to rethink your current plans.

So - what would she like?

Perhaps you lady's idea of heaven on toast would be a perfect meal in a beautifully appointed restaurant, followed by a romantic stroll through the park. Pausing by a perfectly situated park bench, you stop to admire the view. Seating her solicitously, you drop to one knee (Careful not to kneel in anything messy, or fall over like a klutz) , you reach into your coat pocket (Oh, God, I know I've checked a thousand times already, but please don't let me have forgotten the ring!) , producing "the box", offering it to her with your best open, honest, dead-sexy, I-love-you smile.

Please don't let me have any spinach in my teeth - I know I didn't eat spinach, but please don't let there be anything in my teeth!

Oh, God, she's opening the box! She's smiling! I can't feel my feet...She's saying something - what is she saying? Oh, God, I've gone deaf!

No, dear, you haven't gone deaf, she was just so overcome with the sheer perfection of the evening culminating in the absolutely dazzling moment, that she could barely get the words out.

OK - so maybe that isn't quite the way it worked, nor quite what you were thinking, but from a simple walk down a snow covered path to the most expensive and romantic get-away imaginable, there is really only one thing to keep in you love her?

...and does she love you?

OK - that's two things...

Fun Quick Quiz - How Romantic Are You?

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    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Awww, was he romantically challenged? jk :D:D Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

    • VeronicaFarkas profile image

      Veronica Roberts 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

      VERY interesting hub. I laughed at times, and dropped my jaw at others.

      My fiancé didn't appreciate the last quiz. hehe

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping to comment, dusy7969 - so glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • dusy7969 profile image

      dusy7969 6 years ago from San Diego, California

      I am unmarried but I am going to wedding of my cousin.I enjoy a lot of this wedding.So thanks a lot for this informative and wonderful sharing.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much - I like yours, too ;)

    • ciidoctor profile image

      ciidoctor 8 years ago

      nice avatar

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Greetings, Carmen. So glad you enjoyed the hub. I really appreciate your comments. Thanks so much.

      Always a pleasure, Enelle. Nice to be surprised, hey? I had a lot of fun with that myself!

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Another great, well researched hub! As for the poll at the end...guess I'm better than I thought LOL

    • Carmen Borthwick profile image

      Carmen Borthwick 8 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      I haven't read many of your hubs (haven't been around long enough) but I do like this one very much. Great sense of fun and humour.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, emohealer. It was a lot of fun to write - glad you enjoyed it.

      You are most welcome, dohn. I am a big fan also. One of my recent favorites is written by Anne Perry - a detective series set in Victorian England. You might enjoy them as well.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Looks like you did your homework RedElf. I liked the part about customs and traditions, especially of Victorian England. As an England major, I've covered more than my share reading Henry James, Jane Austen and even the Brontes. Thanks!

    • emohealer profile image

      Sioux Ramos 8 years ago from South Carolina

      Nice!!! The traditions and where they came from what they meant and how things were all ended with one bottom line...Your writing is something I truly enjoy!