Consider this Celtic tradition for your own big day.

By Laura Miller
September 11, 2019

A tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years, the Irish handfasting ceremony is a Celtic ritual that can be easily incorporated into any modern wedding. In ancient times, two people who wanted to be married were brought together. Standing shoulder to shoulder or facing each other, they would extend their arms and clasp hands. A braided cord or ribbon was wrapped loosely around their hands while the priest proclaimed them engaged for a full year, during which they lived together and tried out marriage, so to speak. At the end of that year, they would return to the priest and he would officially declare them married. Their lives were symbolically tied together, and those bonds were so strong they would not be broken.

As the years passed, the popularity of the handfasting ceremony grew; before long, other cultures and religions adopted the practice. Today, the Irish handfasting ceremony is primarily performed during Scottish and Irish weddings, but brides and grooms anywhere can make this symbolic tradition part of their own celebrations. Couples choose to add this ceremony to their own nuptials because of what it represents—tying the knot in front of their family and friends.

Related: Creative Wedding Rituals That Symbolize Unity

If you want to integrate a handfasting ceremony into your big day, it couldn't be simpler. All you need are several yards of rope, cord, or ribbon—essentially, anything that can be looped around the couple's hands. Materials range from silk ribbons from a local craft stores to pieces of meaningful tartan or a family wedding dress; there are no hard and fast rules.

The chosen cord is traditionally tied by the officiant, but many couples decide to bring in someone from the audience to participate, whether it be parents, their children, or an important individual to the couple's lives. Whoever is chosen to perform the ceremony should first explain the history behind handfasting and why the couple is choosing to do it.

The cord is tied loosely around the couples clasped hands while a reading is performed. At the end of the ceremony the couple should be able to slip the knot off and save it, whether on their mantle at home or in a keepsake box. You can incorporate traditional vows into the ceremony or do them separately, but most couples love the symbolism that the cords represent and choose to say the vows as they are tied to their beloved.

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