Handfasting Ceremonies: A Wedding Tradition

You might’ve seen a handfasting wedding ceremony before, possibly even on TV shows like Game of Thrones or movies like Braveheart. Have you ever wondered what the meaning is behind them or why couples choose them for their wedding day? Look no further, this blog has you covered.

So what exactly is a handfasting ceremony?

This type of wedding ceremony is actually where the phrase ‘tie the knot’ was coined; it’s the act of a husband and wife standing either side by side or face to face with a ribbon of sorts binding their hands to each others. It’s a ritual that symbolises unity; being tied together as one. While the couple have their hands bound to each other, they recite words that express their love and commitment to one another.

handfasting wedding ceremony carried out by priest with bride in wedding gown and groom in tuxedo

Where do handfasting ceremonies come from?

Handfasting ceremonies date back more than 2000 years and were originally a Pagan ritual that signified an engagement. They have since been seen in wedding ceremonies of all kinds, both religious and non-religious. Handfasting ceremonies came to be in Ireland and are still quite common in both Ireland and Scotland today while also being carried out all around the world in a number of different ways.

Originally, during ancient Celtic times, handfasting ceremonies were used to mark the beginning of a year long engagement. The couples would have their hands bound together to each other with ribbon while a druid priest would proclaim them engaged to each other. It was essentially a public way of declaring they wished to marry and were not interested in any other potential relationships with other people. After a year of living together as an engaged couple after the ceremony, they’d then be officially married (assuming they still wanted to be together!). With Celtic culture spreading around the world, so did the handfasting ceremony. They started to be carried out in places like Scotland and Britain and eventually worldwide. While they are recognised as a legally binding marriage in some parts of Ireland and Scotland, elsewhere it’s considered a ritualistic part of a ceremony and still requires a couple to do the required legal elements also.

 bride and groom having hand fasting wedding ceremony with people looking on at Brisbane church

What colour ribbon should I use for a handfasting ceremony?

The answer to this will be up to you and what you want this ritualistic practice to convey and represent at your wedding. Each colour has it’s own meaning. We’ve added a list below of each colour and what it represents when used within the ribbon at a handfasting ceremony;

Red - Strength, Passion & Fertility

Yellow - Confidence & Joy

Orange - Attraction & Kindness

Green - Prosperity & Health

Purple - Power

White - Purity & Peace

Black - Strength & Success

Blue - Tranquility, Sincerity & Devotion

Pink - Romance

Brown - A grounded nature

Gold - Energy, Wealth, Intelligence and Longevity

Silver - Creativity & Inspiration

After you’ve looked at this list, you might be wondering which colour to use. Some brides will use one specific colour to fit a theme of their wedding or put a focus on what the colour represents while other brides will mix and match colours to create the perfect combo that represents all aspects of both theirself and their partner. For example, if you want to convey and symbolise attraction, kindness, purity, peace, strength and success - you would mix Orange, White and Black together to create a tri-colour ribbon for your handfasting ceremony. Ultimately, whichever colours and their representations fit you and your partner will be the ones you’ll want to mix in for your ribbon. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to specifically be a ‘ribbon’, you can use anything similar such as a thread or type of fabric, some brides even use flax or other plant leaf style ribbons on their special day. Some couples will also add a small momento, tied at the ends of their ribbons such as keepsakes or jewellery to give it that extra bit of sentimentality while other brides may use an aspect of it as their ‘something old’ or ‘something blue’.

bride and groom kissing after wedding ceremony

Who ties the ribbon in a handfasting ceremony?

This is really up to each couple; while most couples usually use the wedding officiant they’ve chosen, others might choose to have someone special to them tie the knot for their wedding day such as a child, parent or close friend during the wedding ceremony.

One thing to remember on your wedding day is to keep the ribbon safe afterwards - it makes a nice reminder of your special day. You could have it kept in a special box or framed and placed on your wall. There are a lot of options for safekeeping after your wedding day!

How exactly does a handfasting ceremony work?

Firstly, ensure you talk it over with your celebrant or officiant prior to the wedding day, they may need to do some research in advance. Secondly, some couples will ask their celebrant to explain to the guests what’s happening and what the meaning of it is on the day too so consider that as an option.

As for the handfasting itself, the wording will always vary depending on what you and your partner are after. There are many different ways the vows and words your celebrant will say, but we’ll give you a generalised idea:

To kick things off, your officiant will ask if you’re both consenting and voluntarily there for your ceremony, to which you’ll say yes.

The celebrant will then ask you both to hold hands (you’ll be facing each other or side by side. If you’re facing each other, you’ll reach out and take each others hands. If you’re side by side, you’ll both hold hands with your arm extended out in front of you around the mid-point of your bodies)

Next, the celebrant will ask if you’ll both do certain things such as respect, love, honour or be faithful etc to one another, to which you’ll agree. This is when the first cord is placed over both of your hands.

After this, you’ll generally be asked a question pertaining to surviving some of life hardships such as “will you be there for each other through times of heartbreak, upset, pain or sorrow” etc. to which you’ll once again agree. The second cord will then be placed over your hands.

Then a question will be asked that will have some relation to consistency in a relationship, such as “will you be there and present for one another to help your union grow stronger”, to which you’ll agree and the third cord will then be draped.

For the fourth cord, a question of the upsides of life will be asked such as “will you be there for each other through all the good, the happy and fun times?” To which you’ll yet again agree as the cord is placed over your hands again for a fourth time.

The next question will deal with positive intentions for communicating with each other such as “will you always be the happiness and peace the other needs and be open to hearing the others words and understanding them?” To which you’ll both agree and the fifth cord will be placed.

For the sixth and final cord, you’ll be asked a question pertaining to the ability to get back up together if one of you should fall down to ensure your commitment to each other, to which you’ll agree before having the sixth cord placed.

Obviously for all of the questions above, the wording will be different depending on what will be meaningful to you and your partner and worded for your own specific ceremony based on conversations you’ll have with your celebrant, but hopefully the generalised run through will give you a sample of whats involved. You can have far more words and context involved or keep it short and simple, the choice is yours.


Have you considered a handfasting ceremony for your wedding day? If so, which colours do you think represent you and your partner? We’d love to know in the comments below!

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