How to add Handfasting to your Wedding Ceremony
23rd February 2022
The history of handfastingHandfasting has been observed for centuries, before wedding rings and engagement rings were commonplace. Handfasting was a custom to literally “tie the knot” for all to see. As a community, people would gather to witness two people become binded with a cord or ribbon, which was tied around their hands to symbolise a lifelong commitment to each other. Originally, the act was a symbol of engagement rather than the marriage itself but was considered legally binding. The cord was likely not beautiful, and may have just been a piece of string or rope.
Who created handfasting?It is unclear who invented the handfasting tradition, but it may have originated from the Celtics. Handfasting spread across the British isles in mediaeval times as a way to have a marriage ceremony without the presence of an officiant and the banns being read beforehand. After these irregular marriages were made illegal in England, the tradition remained in Scotland which is why it was a popular destination for elopements. Over time, handfasting evolved to be done alongside the wedding ceremony, which is where it is most commonly seen today. These days, handfasting is done with embellished and decorative ribbon and is usually featured while the couple say their vows or just before. Some speculate that it is a pre-Christian tradition, and it has therefore become a popular custom among Neopagan and Wiccan groups in the last century to represent a couple’s union.
Handfasting meaningThe meaning of handfasting signifies two people being joined together for life, just like a traditional religious marriage. Before standard Christian weddings were as common as they are now, handfasting would involve binding your hand to your lover in a promise of a lifelong romance. In other words, literally tying the knot! Nowadays, it is a beautiful ritual that can be part of any wedding if the couple so chooses.
How does handfasting work?As with all wedding traditions, people can pick and choose which parts they love, and tailor the ritual to their liking. If you’re new to the idea of handfasting, it can be hard to know how to carry it out. Use this handy guide to understand each step.
Explaining the ritualPrior to starting the ritual, the officiant or couple may like to say a few words to introduce this part of their ceremony. If you’ve got Celtic or Irish heritage, your guests may know about handfasting already, but if you’re not in a Celtic area you might need to explain the ritual.
Joining handsThis can be an emotional moment and one in which the hands are joined to represent unity. Joined hands are symbolic of loyalty and love in Celtic tradition and feature on the Irish Claddagh ring.
Reading the vowsOften people will choose to read their vows and say “I do” before handfasting, while some will choose to say their vows as the handfasting occurs. Some couples will have separate vows for handfasting compared to the religious wedding ceremony, while others will incorporate handfasting into their formal wedding vows. It is entirely up to the couple!
Hand binding is carried out by the officiantIn traditional handfasting ceremonies, the hands would be tied by the officiant or priest a year in advance. These days, many people will ask the priest or officiant to tie their hands while the vows are being read out on their wedding day instead. While getting the priest or officiant to carry out the handfasting ritual is the more common option, handfasting can also be a lovely opportunity to involve family members in your service. Parents, children, friends – all can tie a ribbon to represent their Irish wedding blessing. It is a tradition that is adaptable, and can add a communal element to your big day.
The ritual is closed with further vowsThis step is optional, as often the “I do” and kiss come before the handfasting. However, if you’ve chosen to place the handfasting before the official vows, then you’ll say “I do” here. After the handfasting has occurred the ritual will be closed, and the officiant may announce your commitment to each other as solidified by the ribbons.
The happy couple walk off together, ideally with hands still tiedLegend has it, the tradition dictates that the hands were tied until midnight that night! This is very rarely carried out today, because it’s just too difficult. Today, couples tend to loosely tie the ribbons so that they can fall off naturally, or they can untie them. That said, some people prefer to keep the hands tied until the ribbon naturally falls off, which is likely by the time the couple walks out of the church if the ribbon is tied loosely. One of the most beautiful things about handfasting is that you can keep the ribbon as a memento. Some couples choose to frame them, or have them incorporated into jewellery.
Handfasting cords colours meaning
These days, any colours can be used (normally the ones that best suit the colour palate of the wedding). But traditionally, different ribbon or cord colours have specific meanings: