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handfasting ceremony at wedding

A Guide to the Handfasting Ceremony

There are many wedding ceremony rituals that make weddings all the more special. Below we discuss a popular wedding ritual that you’ll want to recreate at your wedding ceremony. Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about the handfasting ceremony. 

What is a Handfasting Ceremony?

bride and groom's hands tied with blue, purple, and yellow ribbons

A common wedding ritual that is performed at wedding ceremonies is the handfasting ceremony. This popular tradition involves tying the couple’s hands together with cords or ribbons to symbolize the uniting of the couple’s hearts and lives together.

You might be familiar with handfasting as it concurs with the popular wedding phrase of “tying the knot.” That’s where the “the knot” expression comes from. 

The History of Handfasting Ceremonies

bride and groom's hands tied at handfasting ceremony at wedding

Handfasting ceremonies are a Celtic tradition that dates back to ancient Ireland. Before rings we had knots. Although gold bands did exist, the Celts didn’t usually use them as engagement rings. Instead, they valued the symbolic handfasting ceremony ritual because it was more affordable.

According to Celtic, wedding rings did not become popular in the Celtic world until after Roman influence. 

Today, the handfasting ceremony is conducted at the wedding ceremony and is usually regarded as the main event. In ancient Ireland, however, the handfasting ceremony was performed one month to one year before the wedding day.

In Celtic culture, the handfasting ceremony was the equivalent of an engagement ceremony. At the handfasting ceremony, the couple was officially betrothed by getting their hands tied with cords or ropes in front of a priest. Usually, the couple’s hands would remain tied until midnight. 

Moreover, the handfasting ceremony served as a public declaration of the couple’s union. This official engagement ceremony notified other potential groom candidates that the soon-to-be-married bride was off-limits. After a year of being engaged, the couple visited the priest and expressed their desire to be or not to be married.

If the bride and groom chose not to marry each other, they were free to choose another partner. If the couple decided that they did want to get married, the handfasting ceremony was performed again on the wedding day. 

Non-Religious Handfasting Ceremony

couple's hands tied with rope at handfasting ceremony by the beach

Although handfasting ceremonies are a pagan ritual, some are also performed at non-religious wedding ceremonies. It does not require you to mention any religious figures at all. This makes it a perfect ritual for a secular wedding ceremony

Many couples use handfasting as a part of their unity ceremony, especially in non religious settings. 

Should I Have a Handfasting Ceremony at My Wedding?

couple's hands tied at wedding ceremony

That is up to the couple. If you and your partner want to add more significance to your marriage, the tying of the knot is a beautiful wedding ritual that can help make your wedding day extra special.

Also, handfasting is a perfect wedding ritual for Viking and Nordic-themed weddings.

How Long is a Handfasting Ceremony?

handfasting knot at wedding ceremony

The handfasting ceremony can be as long as you want it to be. Some couples choose to recite their vows during the handfasting ceremony, which can make the ceremony longer. 

Who Performs a Handfasting Ceremony?

priest performing handfasting ceremony

Typically, the wedding officiant conducts the handfasting ceremony. But some couples invite some family and friends to participate in the handfasting ceremony. They can help tie the knots during the ceremony to make the wedding all the more special.

While some couples tie their own knot, some don’t tie a knot at all but just wrap the handfasting cloth around their hands. 

When Should I Have the Handfasting Ceremony?

couple's hands tied with cords

As stated before, handfasting ceremonies were usually performed a year before the wedding. However, many couples today incorporate the handfasting ceremony into their wedding ceremony.

The tying of the hands can be before or after the couple gives their vows. Some couples combine it with the exchanging of the rings while some wait until the end of the ceremony to tie their hands. It is really up to every couple to decide when they want to have the handfasting ceremony. 

How to Tie a Handfasting Knot

woman tying couple's hands with a silver cord at wedding

There are many ways of tying a handfasting knot. Here are some popular ways to tie a handfasting knot at your wedding:

  • “The Gift” Handfasting Knot- The couple should face each other with both of their hands on top of each other with both palms facing down while the wedding officiant wraps the cord or ribbon and ties the knot the way they would tie a ribbon on a gift. 
  • “The Drape” Handfasting Knot- This method doesn’t involve making a knot. The couples should face each other and hold each other’s wrists or palms while the wedding officiant wraps the cord around their hands and part of their arms. 
  • “The Wrap” Handfasting knot- This is another handfasting technique that does not involve making a knot. The couple can recreate this handfasting method by clasping their hands, the bride’s hands on top of the groom’s hands, while someone wraps the cord around their hands.  
  • “The Side by Side” Handfasting Knot- This handfasting method involves the couple standing side by side with their hands clasped together while someone ties their hands together with a cord. This way, the couple can walk down the aisle at the wedding in front of their friends and family while their hands remained tied to each other.
  • “The Loose” Handfasting Knot- To recreate the loose handfasting knot, the couple can hold each other’s left hand or one holds their partner’s right hand while the other holds the other’s left hand. Then someone wraps a long ribbon around their wrists and lets the rest of the cord hang. 
  • “Infinity Knot” (Unity Knot)- Tie a knot around the couple’s clasped hands and then the couple should slide their hands free from the knot while pulling the ends of the cord to form the infinity symbol. 

Make sure that whoever is going to make the handfasting knot knows how to make the knot during the handfasting ceremony. 

How Many Cords or Ribbons Do I Need at The Handfasting Ceremony?

couple's hands being tied with purple cord at wedding

Typically, the couple needs three cords or ribbons to braid the pieces together and to symbolize their lives coming together as one.

One cord can represent the bride and her family. Another cord can represent the groom and his family. Lastly, the third cord can represent the joining of their lives together as well as the joining of the two families through their marriage.

But feel free to use as many handfasting cords as you’d like. Remember that there are no set rules or guidelines for handfasting ceremonies. 

How Long Should Handfasting Cloths Be? 

couple's hands tied with velvet material

The happy couple should use handfasting cords, ribbons, or ropes that are long enough to wrap or loop around their hands several times. It should also be long enough to make the knots. One to two meters is a recommended length for handfasting ribbons.

What Colors Do the Cords Have to Be?

Couple's hands tied with red ribbon

It is up to the couple to decide what colors they want to use for their handfasting ceremony. Some might choose colors that are meaningful to them while others might opt for colors that go with the theme of their wedding.

Here are some colors you can include in the handfasting ceremony for a memorable wedding celebration:

  • White: stands for purity, concentration, devotion, meditation, and peace
  • Red: signifies passion, love, strength, lust, and fertility
  • Blue: represents health, sincerity, serenity, tranquility, and patience 
  • Yellow: symbolizes joy, hope, happiness, positivity, charm, and harmony
  • Green: a sign for renewal, growth, safety, fertility, luck, and prosperity
  • Gold: means unity, longevity, energy, intelligence, and wealth
  • Silver: represents inspiration, protection, treasure, values, and creativity 

Handfasting Script

bride and groom's hands tied with white ribbons

Here is a general breakdown of the handfasting ceremony script that some couples use for their wedding ceremony:

  • The wedding officiant begins the ceremony by explaining the meaning of the handfasting ceremony ritual.
  • The couple will then hold each other’s wrists or hands while the officiant, a friend, or a relative ties the couple’s hands together with a handfasting cord. The officiant reads the vows while someone ties the couple’s hands together.
  • Next, the wedding officiant might say some final words about the binding of the hands and what it means for the couple’s relationship.
  • Then, the couple can recite any other vows of their own that they wish to exchange during the ceremony. 
  • After the handfasting ceremony is complete, the couple can move on to the exchanging of the wedding rings. 

There is no need to stress out about the handfasting ceremony script. You don’t need to follow the exact script above for your handfasting ceremony. The handfasting ceremony can be in any order that you want it to be in.

In other words, it is up to you, the happy couple, to decide how you want to incorporate this tradition into your wedding. 

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