What is a Handfasting Ceremony? (And How To Do It!)

Your essential guide to this sweet Celtic ritual

When planning your wedding ceremony, there are so many different elements to choose from to personalise your wedding. From music, to readings and rituals, the hardest part will be narrowing down the ones you feel express who you are as a couple. From the reading of vows and ring exchange, to sand pouring and tree planting, rituals are a huge part of what makes a wedding ceremony special (we have a list of them here!).

If you're having a religious ceremony, these rituals will likely be dictated by your religion but for a secular or symbolic ceremony, you really are spoiled for choice. Handfasting is a very popular ritual, so we've put together a easy how-to, with everything from the meaning behind handfasting and what you need, to how to have a handfasting ceremony in your wedding.

What is Handfasting?

Hand-fasting is a symbolic unity ritual in which a couple stand face to face as their hands are tied together - hence the phrase, tying the knot! As your hands are bound, you can recite words that express your commitment to one another. Handfasting rituals are associated with Pagan ceremonies, but are now often seen in secular, spiritual, and even some Christian ceremonies.

Handfasting Wedding Ceremony Ritual | See more at Onefabday.com
Photo by Louise Scott Photography via One Fab Day

What Does Handfasting Symbolise?

Handfasting ceremonies date back over 2000 years. An ancient Celtic tradition, it was originally used to symbolise a betrothal, during which a druid priest would declare that the couple would be bound together. This engagement would last a year, as a sort of 'trial marriage', after which you'd decide to opt in or opt out. In later times, it was used in a marriage ceremony, in lieu of the presence of a priest. Today,

Celtic handfasting rituals are particularly common among couples from overseas getting married in Ireland and Scotland. But more and more Irish and British couples are featuring them in their own ceremonies too to symbolise the binding together of their separate lives and the commitment they're making together.

Photo by DK Photo via One Fab Day

What's a Handfasting Cord?

A handfasting cord is a ribbon, or long piece of fabric used to bind your hands. Some couples use one or two cords, others use several. You can use simple lengths of lace or ribbon, but some couples take fabric that's significant to them, whether it's from a family heirloom, made or gifted from family members, or cord in colours or patterns that have a significance. Couples with children often choose a ribbons to represent each child. You can also buy handfasting ribbons online. A single handfasting cord should be about one to two metres long, so it can loop around your wrists and hands.

Photo by Simple Tapestry via One Fab Day

How Do You Do a Handfasting?

  • You can chose to bind with one hand each or two. For one hand, stand side-by-side and hold out your arms together. If you choose two, stand face-to-face and clasp each other by the hands (or wrists for a more secure grasp!) - many couples will cross their arms, with one's left hand linking the other's right, which looks like an infinity knot from above. There are no hard or fast rules, try it out beforehand and see what's comfortable to you!
  • Ask either your celebrant or chosen family members or friends to do the fasting - some couples ask lots of different guests to come and place a ribbon over their hands.
  • There are several ways to tie the ribbon, from a simple knot to a more elaborate wrapping of the wrists that results in an impressive infinity knot. The video above will show you how it's done!
  • However you choose to tie it, it shouldn't be so tight that you can't pull yourselves loose afterwards.
  • As the knots are tied, some couples will plan to recite vows of commitment to one another (more on that below!).
  • After the ceremony, you'll have your cord as a keepsake of your vows.
Handfasting Wedding Ceremony Ritual | See more at Onefabday.com
Photo by DK Photo via One Fab Day

What Do You Say During a Handfasting?

It's a good idea to introduce the handfasting ritual at the ceremony, explain the meaning behind it, and why you've chosen it for your wedding. This can be done either by your celebrant, or in your ceremony booklet. Depending on your celebrant, they may have a tried and tested handfasting ritual structure that they'll be able to share. If you're creating your own ceremony, play around, and see what works for you. You can say a few lines to eachother before the ritual begins, or if you have several cords, exchange a different vow for each one. You could also leave your vows altogether until later in the ceremony.

There are lots of handfasting vows online, but to be honest, most of them are pretty cheesy! You'll probably better off writing something yourself that will feel more authentic and natural when you recite it on the day. We have a great post on How to Write your Own Wedding Vows here!

See our list of recommended celebrants here, our essential list of wedding readings, and we have great ideas for how to make your ceremony unique here!

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