Proposal and engagement traditions around the world

The act of asking for someone’s hand in marriage can be surprisingly diverse. While some cultures involve elaborate ceremonies to celebrate the occasion, others encourage the seeking of parental approval. 

In the UK, we’re familiar with the classic down-on-one knee with a diamond ring approach, which can be done privately or publicly, depending on what your partner might prefer. There are also more unusual approaches, such as planning a wedding due to take place just days after the proposal, although this is definitely a rarity…

Before you pop the question, you might find it insightful to get a glimpse into the varied world of marriage proposals to see how others approach this milestone.

Asking for their hand in marriage

According to some beliefs, seeking parental approval is key. Often, the father of the bride’s blessing carries the most weight in this tradition. This might involve formal introductions and discussions between relatives beforehand. In Japan, a formal meeting takes place, where the groom-to-be officially asks the bride’s father for permission. 

In the Philippines, ‘Pamamanhikan’ is a long-standing custom that symbolises the next step before a wedding takes places. The groom and their parents will visit the bride’s parent’s home and ask for their consent to marry. Gifts such as food or alcohol are usually brought along as a gift. It’s also an opportunity for both families to speak about wedding logistics and begin the planning process together.

In contrast, many Western cultures place an emphasis on the element of surprise. Here, the proposal is often a private affair between two lovers without the need to seek their parents’ blessing beforehand. Although parental permission isn’t a necessity as such, many prefer to speak with their partner’s parents beforehand out of respect. It may also be beneficial to loop them in so you can pull off a more complex proposal. 

Symbolic gestures

The exchange of gifts and tokens of love is a common occurrence across cultures during engagements. The diamond ring represents commitment and eternity that remains a popular choice in many parts of the world, including in the UK, Germany and the USA. 

In some Slavic countries, the engagement ring is worn on the right hand before the wedding, before being switched to the left hand during the ceremony. Elsewhere, much of the population in India follows Hindu traditions, where instead of a diamond ring, the woman receives a toe ring, also known as a bichya.

In Egypt and other African cultures, a dowry is usually paid to the bride’s family – this is a traditional bride price paid by the groom’s family. Gift-giving is also common in many cultures across Asia, where symbolic foods or lucky charms that represent blessings for the couple’s future happiness are passed between families.

Marking the occasion with celebrations

The way engagements are celebrated also varies. In China, a ‘Ting Hun’ is a formal engagement ceremony that marks the official joining of the families. This might involve an exchange of gifts, blessings from elders and a celebratory banquet. 

In countries like the UK, the celebration might be a more intimate affair involving a small gathering of close family and friends to share the happy news.


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