Handfasting:  An Old Tradition with a New Twist

“Handfasting” is an older tradition becoming more and more mainstream. It tends to have a magical romantic vibe and adds a visual component to yourceremony. Couples choose this ritual as a way to show they are connected or bound to one another through time and space and will remain devoted to each other.  The cord itself makes a great memento of the occasion.

Couples blending a family will sometimes use this ritual to symbolize how they will each remain individual personalities as they come together to become a united, beautiful team.       

Let’s find out more about this tradition, where it came from and some possible ways you can incorporate it in your ceremony.  I will also go over some common questions you might have.


Handfasting is often tied to an ancient Celtic ritual, dating as far back as 7000 B.C.,  where two people choosing to be married would have their hands tied in the presence of a priest.  This was more of an “engagement” ceremony, symbolizing the couple’s intent to marry within a year.  This was also a great way to let other potential suitors she was off the market. 

Today, this tradition is used a little differently where the couple’s hands are tied together to signify the binding of their lives.  It’s incorporated into the wedding ceremony just before the couple exchanges vows.


Who usually performs the handfasting ceremony?  There are some people who specialize in handfasting; however, usually the person officiating your wedding can conduct it.   Sometimes couples will have a member of the family perform it as a way to “tie the family together.”  This is a great tradition for blended families where one cord represents each member of the family.  If you choose to braid the cords, you can have one for each partner and one cord that represents all the children.  It makes a great memento.  

If you have a specific faith tradition, you might ask someone in the clergy for advice on how to best go about it in your realm so that your own spiritual beliefs are included.

How should the hands be tied?

Sometimes you can cross hands, where your partner’s right hand is in your right hand; sometimes you can hold hands like you are shaking hands; and sometimes you can cross hands left hand to left hand on the bottom and right hand to right hand on top.  One couple I married, one partner was left-handed and the other right handed, so they just held out their dominant hand and went palm to palm.  There is no wrong way.

Ribbons can draped over the hands with a knot tied at the top. Or “wrapped” many times around the wrists with some ribbons handing down.  

Here is one way, and I will collect a few more ways to share with you.

When in the ceremony does the handfasting take place?   Handfasting can take place anytime during the wedding ceremony, before, during or after you recite your vows.  Again, there is no wrong way.  Be comfortable.

What do the colors of handfasting cords mean?

Because handfasting is so versatile, you can use different colors to represent your own meanings as a couple to make your ceremony more uniquely you.  Here are some ways people incorporate colors:

  • Uniting – Each partner chooses their own color and then a third color that is a uniting color and braid them together.  Sometimes the third color can be what their color would be blended.  For example, one couple I married, the bride had black, the groom had white and their third cord was silver (instead of gray because it sparkles!) 
  • Past, present, future – Each color represents a different phase of your lives together.  If you are using this tradition for renewing vows, you  might choose black, silver and gold to represent each five years or each ten years.
  • Symbolism – Each color might represent something you want more of in your marriage like yellow could mean joy; red for more passion, pink for more love, etc.
  • Special people – Each of you could have your own color and a different color for the children.  I’ve seen it where if there are a lot of children, you braid the children’s cord together as one and then each of the parents cords are braided with the children’s cord.  It looks super cool.
  • Wedding colors – You might just want to do your wedding colors to keep things color coordinated.

However, YOU two make meaning is how you should decide what colors and what type of cords to use. These are just some ideas to play with!

How do you personalize a handfasting ceremony?

  • Color code the cords (see above)
  • Have family members come up and take turns wrapping the cord over the couple’s hands offering a blessing. 
  • Create a decorative display.  You can tie the cord into a Celtic knot; or create a board that represents what the couple wants in the wedding and tie the knot onto a ring on the board.
  • Add charm, laces or decorations to make the cords more personalized
  • Add components of the Celtic tradition like Celtic poetry or readings or have someone play a harp of a lute.
  • Add the four elements.  You can include the four elements like a fire or candle for warmth and energy, water for ease and flow, a feather to represent air, etc.   I will do more on adding these elements to your ceremony later.   

Handfasting continues to bring more surprises as each couple finds their way of making the ceremony special to them.  Remember this, there is no wrong way to do it.  It’s a ritual you can build upon.  Your wedding should represent your unique personality as a couple and have signs and symbols to make this just for you.  After all, it’s a memory of a lifetime which holds you fast through the downs and ups.

Enjoy! And happy tying! 

If you have further questions, please feel free to email me:  Marie@MariesGold.com.  I love helping you create!

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