Rules of Engagement
An engagement or betrothal, is a promise to wed, and also the period of time between a marriage proposal and a marriage. During this period, a couple is said to be betrothed, ‘intended’, affianced, engaged to be married, or simply engaged.
The exact duration of a betrothal varies according to culture and the participants’ needs and wishes. For adults, it may be anywhere from several hours (when the betrothal is incorporated into the wedding day itself) to a period of several years. In the case of child marriage, betrothal might last from infancy until the age of marriage.
Customs for engagement rings vary according to time, place, and culture. An engagement ring has historically been uncommon, and when such a gift was given, it was separate from the wedding ring. The modern Western form of the practice of giving or exchanging engagement rings is traditionally thought to have begun in 1477 when Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, gave Mary of Burgundy a diamond ring as an engagement present.
Romantic rings from the time of the Roman Empire sometimes bore clasped hands symbolising a contract, from which the later Celtic Claddagh symbol (two hands clasping a heart) may have evolved as a symbol of love and commitment between two people. Romans believed the circle was a bond between the two people who were to be married and signified eternity, but was first practised on the fourth ring finger by the Romans, who believed this finger to be the beginning of the vena amoris ("vein of love"), the vein that leads to the heart.
Traditionally, engagement parties were normal parties at which a surprise announcement of the engagement was made by the father of the bride to his guests. Therefore, it is not a traditional gift-giving occasion since no guests were supposed to be aware of the engagement until after their arrival.
In modern times, engagement parties often celebrate a previously publicised engagement. Whether presents are given at these engagement parties varies from culture to culture.