Many couples ask for a handfasting ceremony to be included in their wedding blessing or vow renewal. What exactly is a handfasting ceremony and where does it come from? Most importantly, is it right for you at your celebration?

What is a handfasting ceremony?

As part of their ceremony, the couple will have their hands tied together to show unity. This is a series of individual ribbons or ropes, or a set of them plaited to form one rope. They are likely to be in a range of colours, that might be significant to the couple in some way.

The couple may decide to recite their vows during the handfasting. The Celebrant or Officiant may read a passage chosen for its significance to the couple. After the hands are tied, they will either be left that way for the couple to unbind later, or removed as part of the ceremony.

Where does handfasting originate?

Traditional Celtic hand tying, ‘tying the knot’ comes from an old Irish tradition that symbolizes the bond of marriage in the same way that the exchanging of rings does in most ceremonies today

There are several claims on the origins of handfasting. The most likely seem to be the Celt and Nordic traditions. As far back as 7,000 BC the Celts refer to ‘tying the knot’. In Wales, Scotland and parts of Ireland it was the recognised ceremony for marriage.

In Tudor England, handfasting was used as a sign that a couple was betrothed, or promised to each other. Again, the term ‘tying the knot’ was often used. Today, couples sometimes ask for a handfasting to celebrate an engagement, rather than at their wedding. However, I have performed them at weddings, engagements and vow renewals. Also for non-traditional relationships who do not want a traditional marriage.

How do you perform a handfasting?

Much like the origins, there are several ways of tying the hands, or handfasting. All use either ribbons or ropes (fine enough to plait) and all use at least three. Many are now done with pre-plaited ribbons. I have seen up to 8 used and then plaited together after the ceremony by the couple.

The couple will often now recite their vows. The Celebrant or Officiant will stand them next to each other, to allow their right hands to be tied together.

A handfasting is an excellent way to include kids in the ceremony

As the hands are tied, members of the family might be asked to come and tie one of the ribbons. This can be a wonderful way to include children as they are part of the bond.

The Celebrant will usually end the handfasting part of the ceremony by explaining to everyone what it signifies. They will then present the couple with the ribbons to keep. If you want photos of the handfasting, you should make sure your Celebrant knows.

After the service is complete, the couple will keep the ribbons or ropes. They often choose to re-use them to have another handfasting on an anniversary or birth of a child.

There are no rules – you and your Celebrant can create your own unique ceremony

There is no right or wrong way to carry out a handfasting. What is important is that you and your Celebrant talk about how you want it done. Make sure you are really clear and, if possible, allow time for a rehearsal of the ceremony so that you both feel comfortable on your big day.

If you’d like to talk about how you might include a handfasting, or another unity ceremony in the plans for your day, let’s have a chat. You can book a conversation on zoom with me here (it’s free of charge) and we can see if I’m the Celebrant you want to have at your celebration,

From my heart to yours


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