What Is Handfasting At A Wedding: Everything To Know

If you’re interested to know what is handfasting at a wedding, it is a Celtic tradition that can be traced back to late medieval and early modern Scotland. We will discuss how to do it and the symbolism of handfasting at weddings. 

You will also know if handfasting is the same as a wedding and if it’s a legally binding union. And if you decide to incorporate it into your wedding, you can read how to tie a wedding knot

what is handfasting at a wedding


What Is Handfasting At A Wedding: History And Meaning


Is handfasting a Scottish tradition?

Many references talk about the origins of handfasting, but its history can be traced back to late medieval and early modern Scotland. Then, it was synonymous with betrothal and was a way to show that both parties exchanged consent and agreed to the marriage. 

As an ancient marriage ritual, handfasting has likely influenced the phrase “tying the knot” when referring to a couple getting married. But compared to today, handfasting did not signify the marriage itself, but only the betrothal. 

Another way to understand the history of this Celtic tradition is it was a temporary marriage or probationary period of marriage. It lasts a year before marriage and can be interpreted as a “trial marriage.”


What does handfasting symbolize?

Handfasting symbolizes betrothal, but it is also synonymous with weddings in Neopaganism. Handfasting meant that a couple was engaged compared to how it’s incorporated in weddings. 

It symbolizes their commitment to each other and is also a way to show everyone their intention to marry with consent from both parties. However, some families do not consider it as marriage until after an actual wedding ceremony. 


How does a handfasting ceremony work?

Wedding handfasting involves the couple’s hands being bound together by a cord. Their wrists touched in this ancient marriage ritual as the cord is looped around their hands. 

Usually, they will make a declaration at each of the six loops. Then, finally, a knot is tied, and the couple can keep this knotted piece for sentimentality. 

To make handfasting more symbolic, the ribbon or cord can be made of two colors or materials to represent the couple. And speaking of symbolic marriage ceremony traditions, are you interested in other practices similar to handfasting? 

Read when do you do the sand ceremony in a wedding as it also symbolizes two individuals becoming one. 


Is handfasting the same as a wedding?

Handfasting is viewed the same as a wedding in some ceremonies. However, you want to have a recognized ceremony to ensure the legality of your union. 

Typically, couples will have a brief civil wedding ceremony to ensure a legally-recognized marriage. Then, they can have another ceremony led by a celebrant where they can incorporate different unity traditions in weddings. 


Is handfasting legal?

Handfasting was common years ago, but its legality is not the same as a traditional wedding ceremony such as a religious or civil wedding. If you’re interested in incorporating handfasting into your marriage ceremony, include it as part of your wedding day. 

Accomplish the legalities of the wedding with a civil wedding; then, you can have a more ceremonial and symbolic event. After all, some couples and families tend only to consider a marriage valid if the couple goes through a typical ceremony. 


What Did Handfasting Mean?

Handfasting used to mean a symbol for a marriage trial or a way for the couple to show their consent to getting married. Nowadays, it’s used as a unity ceremony to represent the couple being bounded for life. 

But if you want to make it more sentimental, ribbon colors represent various things. Choose the color that symbolizes the qualities you value in marriage or the traits that best describe you and your partner. 

  • Red: love, strength, passion
  • Blue: tranquility, devotion, patience
  • Green: prosperity, health
  • Yellow: joy, balance
  • Orange: kindness, attraction
  • Purple: power, sentimentality
  • Black: wisdom, success
  • White: purity, peace‍


How Long Does A Handfasting Ceremony Last?

A wedding handfasting ritual usually takes around 10 minutes. The couple may exchange vows as they make a loop so that the ceremony can be as long or as short, depending on their script. 


Who Can Perform A Handfasting Ceremony?

Since handfasting is not a legally-recognized unity ceremony, there are no rules on who can officiate it. But of course, some officiants might only agree to certain types of unity ceremonies. 

If you want, you can find a celebrant who has done handfasting before. A loved one can also conduct this ancient ritual at your wedding. 


Alternative Handfasting Unity Ceremony Ideas 

Besides handfasting, you can also do these unique but symbolic unity rituals to represent two individuals becoming one in marriage:

  • Sand ceremony
  • Candle ceremony
  • Tree planting ceremony
  • Water ceremony
  • Wine ceremony

Remember to discuss these ceremonies with your officiant, so you can also prepare the necessary items and wording when doing a unity tradition.



Was this discussion helpful? You just learned what is handfasting at a wedding, which is an ancient ritual that represents the couple’s consent to getting married.

Nowadays, handfasting also symbolizes the unity of two individuals. Overall, we hope this was an informative but enjoyable read; let us know below if you have more wedding ritual curiosities. 

Leave a Comment