Handfasting Ceremony

Unity Ceremonies

Handfasting may be an unfamiliar term, although it is an ancient custom.

The ancient practice of handfasting gave us the phrases "Tying the knot" and "The Bonds of Matrimony".

Scotland, Ireland and other Celtic lands formerly recognized handfasting as a marriage just as binding as one performed in a church. You may have heard handfasting called "Celtic Marriage" or "hand-wrapping".

During the Middle Ages, to be seen in public holding hands was a sign that the couple was exclusive to one another. Rings were usually for the rich; a cord worked just as well for everyone else.

In modern usage, and of special interest here, handfasting can be part of the wedding ceremony to join two partners in a legal relationship.

"What is the significance of handfasting?"

Handfasting by itself does not constitute an act recognized by the government, any more than an exchange of rings would. In order to be considered legal in Connecticut, a marriage license must be obtained and the ceremony must be conducted by an authorized officiant. Authorized officiants include Justices of the Peace and ordained clergy. Please see the Frequently-Asked Wedding Questions (FAQs) Page for a list of authorized officiants.

I would be happy to legally join you by handfasting, as long as you have obtained the required marriage license (please see the FAQs Page for information about getting your marriage license in Connecticut.) If you would like a purely symbolic handfasting (that is, a union that is not legally binding), I would be happy to do that as well!

You can see the traditional Belarus wedding towel in the picture of Bernadette and Kirill. Your family traditions can be incorporated into your ceremony just as easily!

"What is the best material for Handfasting?"

Some people prefer ribbons, for delicacy, while other couples prefer cords, for symbolic strength. No matter what handfasting material you decide to use, it should be about a yard long, or a little less.

Most people prefer to have colored ribbons or cords, with the colors having symbolic meaning. For example, Gold, symbolic of wealth; White, symbolic of clean beginnings; red, symbolic of fire.

There are no rules about the number of cords or ribbons that you can have (or must have) for your handfasting. People sometimes think of the Bible quotation "A three-fold cord is not easily broken." and decide to use three cords and three cord vows for their handfasting.

Handfasting Cords

For a three-cord handfasting colored cords are often braided: White for purity, blue for fidelity, and red for passion, for instance. You may choose to use other colors; for example, green for fertility and growth, purple for spiritual strength, and gold for wisdom. The "right colors" are the colors that are right for you.

If you plan on using braided handfasting cords the material can be either natural or synthetic. In general, you should avoid waxed cord. Choose a size that let each color stand out and be seen from twenty feet away. JoAnn Fabrics and most other stores sell cord in two very different diameters.

If you would like to weave beads or other objects into your handfasting, you might want to use a smaller diameter cord. Some people have used Celtic knots, elephants, shells, flowers, and Chinese double happiness charms.

Rachel and Josam had an especially symbolic handfasting cord. Rachel makes beautiful jewelry with beads, hemp twine, and other material. Josam enjoyed parachuting. Together they braided hemp twine with a section of parachute cord and decorated the result with beads.

If you would like to dye your handfasting cords to match your wedding theme colors, natural cotton cord takes dye best. Be sure to get cord that is just cotton, not cotton blended with a synthetic.

Handfasting Ribbons

Ribbons probably provide the widest range of handfasting colors. Would you rather have solid colors or ribbons with patterns? How about a handfasting ribbon with hearts? Or would you rather have all of your ribbons the same color? What about all white handfasting ribbons?

If you would like your guests to tie your handfasting ribbons, you can either provide the ribbons and have your guests choose among them or ask each guest to bring a ribbon of their choice. (Please ask your guests to bring ribbons about a yard long.) If you have your guests choose their ribbon color you're sure to have a colorful ribbon bouquet!

You may decide to use ribbons which match the colors you have already planned for your wedding theme. Some couples have each member of the wedding party wrap a ribbon around the couple's clasped hands. (See also Involving People in Your Ceremony, below.)

In addition to the suggestions below, an Internet search for "color symbolism" plus the name of a specific color should provide much food for thought.

Weaving Wishes into Your Handfasting

Some couples choose to braid the ribbons or cords to be used in their handfasting.

While the cords or ribbons are being braided, each person can speak aloud her or his desires for the marriage. Some couples use this as a form of meditation or prayer.

Typically the braiding would be done by the couple in private, perhaps a day or two before the ceremony. Other people could also take part, or the braiding could be done immediately before the ceremony so that everyone could see the whole sequence. If other people join in the braiding, each speaks his or her best wishes for the couple.

Some couples chose a three-cord handfasting, sometimes called a Cord of Three Strands Ceremony.

Based on the verse from Ecclesiastes "Though one may prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.", three cords are braided during the wedding ceremony. Usually either the couple braids the cords themselves while the officiant explains the significance of the three cords, or the couple speaks their handfasting vows while braiding the cords. Most often the three cords are of three different colors, chosen by the couple for the colors' symbolic meanings to them.

Involving People in Your Handfasting Ceremony

Handfasting gives you an opportunity to involve more people in your ceremony. People could read aloud a passage that is especially important to you, sing a special song, or play musical instruments while the ribbons or cords were being fastened. These are just a few examples of how to include guests in handfasting.

Would you like to have several people join in your ceremony by tying the ribbons or cords? Would you like to have a happily-married couple bestow good wishes on you by wrapping your clasped hands? Your parents could bring the handfasting ribbons or cords to you. It is not unusual to have four parents bring four colored handfasting ribbons for their children's handfasting. Your parents could tie the handfasting knots if that is what you would like.

Younger children could feel important and involved in your special day if they helped in your ceremony by presenting the ribbons or cords, and older children could help fasten them. This might be especially helpful if you are blending families: "You are bound with yellow, white, and pink, symbolic of the light of love that shines forth from all of you today as you become one united family."

Jamie and John had Chandler, Tyler, and Vaughn (the three of their sons who were present at their wedding) tie ribbons around their clasped hands; I tied the last ribbon on behalf of Justin and Amy (Jamie's son and daughter-in-law) who could not attend.

After people took pictures, Jamie and John slipped off the ribbons and put them over their Unity Candle, which they then lit.

Special hint: If you would like each of your guests to tie a ribbon for your handfasting, you might want to have music playing gently in the background. Ribbon in the sky, Stevie Wonder's hit from the 1980s, would be one appropriate choice. You can find it on iTunes, YouTube, and elsewhere.

Sample Handfasting Vows

Most couples like to have vows during their handfasting. Your handfasting vows can either replace your wedding vows or be in addition to them. The following sample handfasting vows are just one of many possible styles. Together we will create your unique handfasting vows, using your choice of colors. If you are looking for examples of handfasting wording, please remember that each couple is unique and your handfasting unity ceremony will be yours alone.

"Will you share yourselves freely and generously with each other, making time to be together?"

"We will."

"The first binding is thus made with dark blue, symbolic of Water, that your love may flow and fill you to your depths." [The dark blue cord is draped over the couple's hands.]

"Will you each seek to ease the other's pain and suffering, sharing laughter and joy?"

"We will."

"The second binding is thus made with green, symbolic of Earth, that your love may be wise and nurturing, and your happiness abundant." [The green cord is draped over the couple's hands.]

"Will you strive to keep your romance alive through daily actions and words of encouragement?"

"We will."

"The third binding is thus made with red, symbolic of Fire, that your love may be bright and passionate." [The red cord is draped over the couple's hands.]

"Will you both help each other to grow in spirit and wisdom?"

"We will."

"The fourth binding is thus made with light blue, symbolic of Air, that your love may be as limitless as the sky, and filled with spirit." [The light blue cord is draped over the couple's hands. All four cords are tied together.]

"You are now bound together, your two lives joined by love and trust into one life."

"When Do We Untie Our Handfasting Cords?"

Generally, you don't.

Usually the ribbons or cords are tied in such a way that you can keep them tied and carefully slip them off. If it is not possible to slip them off, then the knots are left tied and the ribbons or cords are cut on the opposite side from the knots. For display purposes (and symbolically), the bonds are still firmly tied.

Most couples put the bonds in a place of honor, such as on a mantle. Some people drape the ribbons around their Unity Candle as Jamie and John did. (You can see a series of pictures of Jamie and John's wedding on both the Unity Candle Page and the Home Wedding Page.) Other people save their cake topper and place it in the center of their cords (as seen above).

Bernadette and Kirill had both a Handfasting and a Sand Ceremony as parts of their wedding. After their wedding, the cords were wrapped around the base of their sand container and put on their head table at their reception. Notice the table-top water fountain with small rocks, lighted candles, and glass pebbles, again echoing the Four Elements. More information about sand ceremonies is available on the Sand Ceremony Page.

If your handfasting cords or ribbons come apart accidentally, or get untied by someone else, don't panic! It doesn't mean that your marriage is doomed.

One couple had had a handfasting as part of their ceremony and their daughter was fascinated by the cords. In order to have peace in the family van, they let their daughter play with the cords. Sure enough, when they got home they found that she had untied the cords. The couple is still happily married. They even developed a tradition of having their daughter untie the cords on each anniversary, then they tie the knot again.

Handfasting with Symbolic Objects

You may decide that you would like to be handfasted with something other than ribbons or cords. For example, if you wear a crown of blossoms in your hair, you might like to be handfasted with a garland of the same blossoms.

"I bind you with white blossoms, symbolic of tranquility and completion, that your union may be blissful."

"You are bound with pink blossoms, symbolic of soothing and healing of the heart."

"I bind you with ivy, symbol of endless love."

"The grapevine now binding you represents the green of growth combined with the purple of soul-searching. The grapes of today become the wine of tomorrow, but only through the pressure placed upon them. May your love, like exceptional wine, evolve and mature with each passing year."

Please keep in mind that it is your day, and that your wishes are paramount. Your colors are your choices. Your colors' meaning to you overrides anyone else's interpretation.

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Tying the last handfasting cord after the handfasting vows Handfasting cords. Handfasting cords around the bride and groom. Hemp and parachute cord handfasting cord. Handfasting by Ernest Adams Arna and Greg's handfasting by their guests Jamie and John's handfasting. Handfasting ribbons around a Unity Candle. Handfasting ribbons

Sample Handfasting Colors and Sample Handfasting Vows

Your handfasting will be as unique as you are. The following are just suggestions.

You will probably want to choose from one to six colors, each of which has special significance to you. The same color will mean different things to different people.

As with all of the ceremony suggestions on this Site, please feel free to modify the wording to suit your desires! "I bind you with ..." and "You are bound with ..." are just two suggested handfasting vows. Likewise, you could replace "union" with "marriage" or some word more appropriate to your personalities.

Sample Handfasting Colors
"You are bound with ...
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Black, symbolic of water, that your union may flow and fill you to your depths. Brown, symbolic of the Earth, that your union may be dependable and grounded in reality. Brown, symbolic of tradition and nature, that you may impart your way of life and your love of the Earth to future generations.
Red, symbolic of fire, that your union may be passionate. Orange, symbolic of warmth, that your union may be cheerful. Orange, symbolic of social energy, that your conversations may be lively and playful.
Yellow, symbolic of the sun, that your union may be warm. Yellow, symbolic of light, that your love may be a beacon of hope to those in sorrow. Green and Yellow, symbolic colors of luck and optimism, that you may look forward to only happy accidents.
Green, symbolic of charity and generosity, that you may share of yourselves freely. Green, symbolic of growth, that your union may be fruitful and your happiness abundant. Green, symbolic of new beginnings, that your union may be nourishing and healing.
Blue, symbolic of fidelity, that you may be steadfast and your union unbroken. Blue, symbolic of unity and harmony, that you may always be at one in your desires. Blue, symbolic of calm and confidence, that you may be at peace and believe in each other.
Light Blue and Dark Blue, symbolic of trust and truthfulness, that you may always honor your vows. Light Blue, symbolic of study and learning, that you may always learn from each other. Light Blue and White, symbolic colors of sky and clouds, that you may have no limits on your happiness.
White, symbolic of clean beginnings, that your union may grow anew. White, symbolic of purity in word, thought, and deed. White, symbolic of air, that your union may be filled with spirit.
Gray, symbolic of clouds, that your union may weather every storm of life. Gray, symbolic of humility and respect, that you may serve each other and your community. Violet, symbolic of mystery and romance, that you may always have more to discover about each other.
Gold, symbolic of wisdom, that as you grow in age you may grow in insight. Gold, symbolic of wealth, that your union may be a treasure of happiness and a joy to you always. Silver, symbolic of wisdom, that your union may be filled with wise choices.
Purple, symbolic of royalty, that your union may be worthy of respect and loyalty. Lavender, symbolic of cleansing and spiritual healing. Pink, symbolic of love, that your union may be filled with love eternal.

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Version 7.00   12 May 2015