Dear Engaged Couples- Last week, I wrote about letter boxes as part of a wedding service. This week I would like to write to you about handfasting, which is another ceremony that you may want to consider as part of your wedding service. Handfasting was originally a secular, Celtic marriage tradition that developed in the very early centuries AD—at the latest, meaning that there is some conjecture that the tradition may have preceded Christianity. The couple and village people would meet at the village anvil, or out in a field, or in a town’s square somewhere in Ireland or in Scotland. The couple would have with them a cord, a ribbon, a vine or some decorative piece of long fabric. The couple would face each other and hold hands—right to right, left to left, creating a figure eight pattern—representing eternity. The officiant would most likely be a mayor or respected individual in the village. Instead of the couple exchanging vows, the officiant would ask the couple a series of questions : “Do you promise to love and care for each other in sickness and in health, do you promise to love each other….” And the answer to each question, of course, since we are talking Celtic here, would be a resounding “Aye.” Usually today and in this country, the answer is a simple “Yes.” After each affirmative answer the cord, vine, or ribbon was wrapped around the couples’ clasped hands.
I have used this ceremony effectively in several weddings over the years. Usually it comes toward the end of the service and replaces the exchange of vows, but not necessarily so. The couple can still exchange vows they have written, or make some statement of love, and then move into the Celtic Handfasting Ceremony.
If the bride and groom have Scottish or Irish ancestry and use other Scottish or Irish elements in their service, that makes the ceremony all the more meaningful—an Irish Blessing to close the service, for example or the exchange of Claddagh rings—that is, rings with the symbol of two hands clasping a heart.
Note, your officiant does not have to do the hand wrapping,. In fact, I found this to be nearly impossible to do. All the handfasting ceremonies with which I have been involved, have been outside. I always have my service book with me and it usually takes both hands to hold it—one for balancing and the other to keep the pages from ruffling in the wind. I therefore suggest that a family member or close friend do the honors.
Here is the text I used for a Handfasting Ceremony several months ago. Some of this service was borrowed from the traditional Christian vows used in marriage services, some of the text was borrowed from other officiants. Some of this is mine alone.
If the theme of the reading or message (i.e. friendship or family) can be woven into the handfasting ceremony so much the better:
The couple is asked to hold hands in the figure eight pattern. “These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, for a lifetime of happiness. These are the hands that will wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy. These are the hands that will comfort you in illness and in grief. These are the hands that will hold you tight as you struggle through difficult times. These are the hands that will give you support as you chase your dreams. “
Are you ready now to exchange your promises?”
First promise: “Adam will you be Jessica’s faithful partner for life?Jessica, will you be Adam’s faithful partner for life? Will you be each other’s constant friend and one true love?”(Yes) Binding
Second promise: “Jessica do you promise to love Adam willing and without hesitation? Adam, do you promise to love Jessica willing and without hesitation? Will both of you stand by one another in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want?” (Yes) binding
Third Promise: “Jessica, will you stand together with Adam in times of joy and sorrow? Adam, will you stand together with Jessica in times of joy and sorrow? Will you share the burdens of each so that your spirits may grow in this union?” (Yes) Binding.
“Adam will you always be open and honest with Jessica, for as long as you both shall live? Jessica, will you always be open and honest with Adam for as long as you both shall live? Will you dream together to create new realities and hopes for this marriage?” (Yes) binding
“As you promise to each other to walk in faith and to honor the Lord in all that you do, remember that together your faith can move mountains Even though ____will now take your bindings off, may your promises remain for always.”
The couple then exchanges rings, and then I offer a final prayer (or not) and announce that the couple is now husband and wife. The groom kisses his bride. Everyone cheers. I present the newly married couple as either Mr. and Mrs. Whatever or as the “Happy Couple” and the party begins!
Happy Wedding Planning!
Your Wedding Preacher for Hire