A Handfasting is a traditional Celtic Wedding Ceremony or a traditional Celtic Commitment Ceremony. It is the ceremony from which we get the phrases "Tying the Knot" and "Getting Hitched,"
During a Handfasting, the bride and groom's hands are loosely bound with a Handfasting cord. Often, these cords are elaborately created using soft rope, generally in several different colors, which are intricately knotted into a traditional Celtic design. However, any soft cord or rope will do nicely! The choice of Handfasting cord is entirely up to the bride and groom., and gorgeous ones can be purchased at various stores on Etsy. Even today, however, in parts of Scotland, there are strict rules for binding the hands, and the resulting knot work around the hands of the couple is stunning!
Handfasting ceremonies often include a ritual called "Jumping the Broom." This is a fun and meaningful ritual wherein the couple jumps over a broom (often called a "besom"), which is generally held by the Maid of Honor and Best Man (if these roles are included in the ceremony). The act of jumping over the broom together symbolizes the transition that the couple is making from their former lives as two separate individuals to their new life as one, unified whole.
Handfastings can, and often do, include other rituals, as well. Common additions to a Handfasting include a Unity Candle or a Sand Ceremony, for example. In fact, just about any ritual can be included in a Handfasting, and such rituals are often based on the historical, familial, cultural, and/or spiritual traditions of the couple. Likewise, any of the traditional or modern rituals--such as an Elemental Ceremony--can be included in a Handfasting.
During the ceremony, the couple speaks vows that they have either written or chosen, and these vows can include wording that ranges from the traditional promise of "'til death do us part" to a promise that runs along the lines of "for as long as our love shall last."
A Handfasting can be a legal marriage, as well. If a couple provides a valid marriage license, and brings at least two witnesses to the ceremony, then Susan will provide a Certificate of Marraige, in addition to the Certificate of Handfasting, and she will file the appropriate paperwork with the county in which the ceremony takes place that makes the Handfasting a legal marriage.
Alternatively, a Handfasting can be a Ceremony of Commitment that lasts for a lifetime, or for one year only, or until the couple chooses to have a Handparting, which is the equivalent of a divorce (only, generally, much friendlier and more cooperative than a divorce).
In ancient times, a Handfasting often took place twice, with the first ceremony lasting for one year only, which gave the couple the opportunity to try making a commitment to one another without having to make a promise that was meant to last a lifetime. This both made and makes a great deal of sense, especially if the couple is quite young.
If the couple then chooses, a second ceremony takes place anytime after a year and a day later, and this ceremony includes a more lasting commitment. The vows in this second Handfasting can be the traditional "'til death do us part," or they can be something along the lines of "for as long as our love shall last." The vows are entirely up to the couple, and the couple is free to write or choose them.
However, if a couple has chosen to divide their Handfasting into two ceremonies, but decides at some point during their first year as a committed couple that they would be better off going their separate ways, no ceremony or legal paperwork is necessary to dissolve the bond. Rather, one year and one day following the ceremony, the bond dissolves in and of itself. This is the reason why a second ceremony is necessary for couples who have chosen this form of Handfasting, and who want to make their commitment to one another more permanent.
While having two ceremonies is no longer required, couples can still choose to have two Handfasting ceremonies. Conversely, couples can now choose to have one Handfasting ceremony that includes the necessary wording and paperwork to make it a legal marriage, or to have a ceremony that is one of lasting commitment, but that is not a legal marriage. Such a commitment can be dissolved, if the couple so chooses, by having a Handparting ceremony. If the Handfasting includes a legal marriage, however, then the marriage can be dissolved only by way of a divorce, just like any other type of legal marriage ceremony.
Handfastings are a beautiful way to solemnize a couple's commitment to one another, and they give each couple the freedom to choose the vows, the readings, the additional rituals, the music, and the type of dress with fewer expectations and traditional aspects than are often a part of a wedding ceremony. For example, if the couple wishes to ride to the ceremony on horseback, dressed as Medieval royalty, these choices can be easily and readily integrated into a Handfasting! So, in other words, Handfastings can be as fun and fabulous as they are meaningful, magical, and memorable!
Also, any couple who has had a traditional wedding ceremony, but who wishes to have a Handfasting, as well, is more than welcome to do so! Such a ceremony can be performed as a traditional Handfasting or as a Renewal of Vows. Indeed, my husband of 18 years (at the time) and I decided to have a Handfasting in December of 2018. It was a wonderful and meaningful ceremony, and we are both extremely happy that we had a traditional Celtic Handfasting in addition to our more traditional American wedding service!