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How to Add a Handfasting to the Wedding Ceremony

Literally "Tying the Knot"

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by Mark Allan Groleau in Ceremony Rituals
February 16, 2018

“Tying the knot.” Yep, it’s the euphemism for marriage that comes right from the handfasting ritual in a wedding ceremony.

The first time I was asked by one of my wedding couples if I would do a handfasting in their ceremony, I said yes, of course. But I was pretty intimidated by it. Handfasting sounds very formal. And there are actual logistics to consider! How do you tie the knot? What do you say? And most importantly, how can handfasting possibly not seem out of place in a fun, entertaining, and unboring wedding?

As it turns out, I had nothing to be worried about.

Now having done handfasting in quite a number of weddings, I’ve modified and adapted a style of handfasting ritual that works well in a contemporary ceremony. It might not work for your grandmother’s hardcore traditional tastes or if you need to go by-the-book. But for modern, urban millennials, it turns out beautifully.

Before we get to the sample script (you can scroll right to the end if that’s all you want), a word about the origins of handfasting and the five parts of the handfasting ritual we need to consider.

Origins: Is Handfasting Pagan or Christian? 

Some of my couples love the idea of adding a handfasting ritual because they’ve seen it in another wedding ceremony and they think it’s beautiful. Other couples come from Scottish heritage where handfasting is fairly standard in the wedding ceremony – almost expected! So we officiants will get a range of reasons why our couple might want to add a handfasting to their wedding ceremony.

But a quick Google search of handfasting often associates the ritual with the word “pagan or Wiccan,” and some couples are immediately put off or concerned. Will adding a handfasting ritual to our wedding ceremony open some witch door to a spiritual world of voodoo? Or, even for the officiating minister: will adding a handfasting mean I’m participating in some pagan rite?

As wedding officiants, we can assure our couples: handfasting is as pagan as a Christmas tree.

I mean that quite literally.

Very briefly: almost two thousand years ago, when Christians first encountered Celtic tribes, Christians took a more assimilating approach than the colonizing tendencies we associate more with missionaries. They listened to Celtic traditions. They observed the Celts’ religious rites. And rather than obliterating the Celts’ culture, Christians sought for points of similarity. For dialogue where their two faiths could meet.

One of those was the Christmas tree.

Once a year on the day before the winter solstice, the Celts would decorate their town’s central sacred tree by hanging fruit from its boughs as a symbol of life. Christians saw this, and they tied it into the Tree of Life story in their book of Genesis. Next thing you know (okay, more like after a few centuries), we’re all dragging Christmas trees into our living rooms and throwing decorations on them every December (if you’re into that sorta thing).

(If this is the first time you’re hearing about the origins of the Christmas tree, I recommend this podcast of Alexander Shaia discussing it with Rob Bell.)

So, handfasting is as pagan as a Christmas tree. That is, if we want to make it about paganism… okay! On the other hand, if we want to adopt this tradition for its beauty and richness and where it intersects our own beliefs, we can do that, too. And it’s Celtic, to boot!

Alright, here’s how to add and conduct the ritual of a handfasting to our couple’s wedding ceremony.

1. Choose where to add the handfasting ritual in the ceremony 

Because of the logistics of the couple’s hands being literally tied together, I find that the handfasting works best either just before the vows or just before the pronouncement and kiss. So either:

a) we do the handfasting and then the couple say their vows in their chosen style with their hands fastened, or

b) we do the handfasting immediately after the vows and before we pronounce the couple as married and they kiss with their hands fastened.

2. Explain the symbolism of the ritual in the ceremony

Of course, we need to set up the handfasting ritual: explain what it is and its significance to all in attendance. I’ve provided a brief introduction for the ritual you can use in the sample script at the very end of this article.

3.  Tie a ribbon or cord around the couple’s hands

This was the most intimidating part for me when I started out. But it’s not difficult at all.

Again, a Google search on handfasting will turn up all sorts of permutations on ways to do this – dozens of combinations on whether the couple cross hands, hold two hands, just use one hand each, and all the various knots and ties.

If your couple have very specific wishes around this, just ask them and they’ll take care of narrowing it down.

But if they don’t have any preference and it’s up to you… well, let’s keep it simple. Here’s what I do. And there’s lots of time to iron out the kinks in the wedding rehearsal.

  1. Ask the couple to hold one of each other’s hands – the hands farthest away from the officiant as they face each other. The arms closest to the officiant can relax by their sides.
  2. Drape the ribbon or cord over their clasped hands.
  3. Say a few words (see the sample below).
  4. Loop each end of the ribbon or cord over their hands once, then tie a knot underneath their hands.

Simple, actually!

4. Pronounce a blessing, prayer, or admonishment, and/or lead the couple in their vows

With their hands now fastened, we want to really lean into the symbolism we’ve created here by drawing out the moment a bit.

So here’s what typically happens after their hands are tied:

a) we can have the couple exchange vows, and/or

b) we can take a moment to say a prayer, blessing, or brief admonishment about their marriage, and/or

c) we can pronounce them married and invite them to share their first married kiss.

5. Get our couple untied afterwards

Just a heads up: you can make sure the knot is tight, but just make their hands aren’t too tight.

If we’re doing the handfasting right before the pronouncement and the kiss, then the couple can worry about untying themselves at the signing table under less scrutiny by the guests.

However, if we’re doing the handfasting as part of the vows, then what comes next is the ring exchange. Which means that right in the ceremony, under the watchful gaze of everybody there, the couple will have to unfasten their hands. We’ll want to make sure they can do this as easily as possible, slipping out of the ribbon or cord without trouble so we can move on to the next element of the ceremony.

Either way, it’s a best practice: “yes” to a tight knot, “no” to a tight ribbon/cord. Keep it on the looser side so they can simply slip it off.

A Sample Handfasting Script

Here is a sample of the handfasting script that I use. It’s worked really beautifully, and it’s yours to swipe. The first iteration of the script, Option A, happens before the vows. The other iteration, Option B, happens after the vows and before the pronouncement and kiss. The only difference between the two is what happens after I fasten the hands.

Option A: Handfasting before the vows

A wedding is largely about symbols; symbols are important and helpful, because they make an idea and a value concrete and physical – something we can see and touch. They’re helpful because they serve as a powerful reminder of a time and a place and a memory – a feeling and even a promise – that may have faded over time.

  • Officiant drapes the ribbon over their hands with the ends hanging down

Handfasting is a symbol like this. It’s one of the world’s oldest wedding traditions and it’s found in cultures all over the world. In joining hands, [Partner A] and [Partner B] symbolize how they freely offer their lives to one another. And in fastening their hands together, the ribbon symbolizes how [Partner A] and [Partner B] leave this place today with lives now bound up together. How after today, an idea of two stories come together and two sets of hopes and desires for the future are joined in commitment and intention.

[Partner A] and [Partner B], as I fasten your hands together and tie the knot, I invite you to reflect on the joy and responsibility that awaits you. From today, being bound together in the commitment and intention of marriage means that each of you is a lifelong, safe place to love and be deeply loved by the other.

  • Officiant loops the ribbon over twice and ties the knot underneath the hands

[Partner A] and [Partner B] will now make promises to each other we traditionally call “vows….”

Option B: Handfasting before the pronouncement and kiss

A wedding is largely about symbols; symbols are important and helpful, because they make an idea and a value concrete and physical – something we can see and touch. They’re helpful because they serve as a powerful reminder of a time and a place and a memory – a feeling and even a promise – that may have faded over time.

  • Officiant drapes the ribbon over their hands with the ends hanging down

Handfasting is a symbol like this. It’s one of the world’s oldest wedding traditions and it’s found in cultures all over the world. In joining hands, [Partner A] and [Partner B] symbolize how they freely offer their lives to one another. And in fastening their hands together, the ribbon symbolizes how [Partner A] and [Partner B] leave this place today with lives now bound up together. How after today, an idea of two stories come together and two sets of hopes and desires for the future are joined in commitment and intention.

[Partner A] and [Partner B], as I fasten your hands together and tie the knot, I invite you to reflect on the joy and responsibility that awaits you. From today, being bound together in the commitment and intention of marriage means that each of you is a lifelong, safe place to love and be deeply loved by the other.

  • Officiant loops the ribbon over twice and ties the knot underneath the hands

[Partner A] and [Partner B], may you know and feel and remember always that together in this marriage, you are each deeply known and deeply loved.

Now, with great joy in front of all your closest friends and family, by the authority given to me by the province, I pronounce you husband and wife…!


A handfasting ceremony is nothing to be intimidated by. In fact, it’s a privilege to facilitate one of the world’s oldest and best-known wedding rituals in a moving and contemporary way.

Now get out there and tie some knots!

15 Comments
  1. Derek Bly says:

    Hey, Mark.
    I’m a marriage commissioner in Lethbridge, Alberta. I’ve done one handfasting a few months ago and I’ve got another coming up on Friday, July 13! Thanks for sharing this info. It definitely helps.

    1. Awesome, Derek – I’m so glad to hear it, and hope it went really well last weekend. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  2. Angela Brenna says:

    When are the I do’s?

    1. I like to do vows before the rings, because rings are a physical symbol of the vows. And I like to do rings before the handfasting so that the couple don’t have to shake out of the cord or ribbon to do the ring exchange. So for me, it works best when we do vows, then rings, then the handfasting, then pronounce them married and they kiss!

  3. Carla says:

    Hello Mark, I am doing a hand fastening ceremony for my wedding coming up in October. I really got a lot out of your article about handfasting and I appreciate it. I like what it symbolizes and I totally believe in it. Years ago I went to a Wicca wedding and they didn’t incorporate the hand fastening and I’m surprised they didn’t. They had the circle in the different aspects of Earth and I thought it was interesting. So basically a handfasting is very simple correct? There is no correct way of doing it as long as it’s done.

    1. I would agree with that, Carla – 99% of the people in attendance will not even know what “protocol” is, and the other 1% would likely say, “Well, I guess they’re doing it a bit differently nowadays.” 🙂 If there is a protocol issue for your couple, they will tell you when they see the script (which is an example of why it’s always a good idea to share the script with the couple!), and then you can adjust and ask them exactly what to change.

      It’s more about the symbolism. And new twists on old traditions keep things, as you said… interesting! Cheers!

  4. Karen Rice says:

    Hi Mark,
    I am a new wedding officiant and really excited about the handfasting ceremony. You have given me so much useful information. Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad to hear it, Karen! Don’t hesitate to email me with any questions.

  5. Jack Hill says:

    I don’t perform many wedding, but I have 2 sons getting married in the next few months, and I’ll be officiating at both of those ceremonies, and both brides want handfasting as part of the ceremony. I did a quick Youtube search, watched a couple, and the one included the following poem as part of it. Found that easily in a quick search as well. Sharing it here, ’cause I really liked it!

    These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever.
    These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.
    These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other.
    These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind.
    These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.
    These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children.
    These are the hands that will help you to hold your family as one.
    These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it.
    And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

    1. Awesome, Jack! Thanks for sharing that – and all the best officiating for your sons! What an honour!

  6. John K says:

    Quick question, how best do you incorporate the exchange of rings with the hand fasting ritual? They have similar symbolic undertones, but my couple wants to do both.

    1. Hi John! I like to do the rings before the handfasting so we don’t have to get them untied for the ring exchange. Logistically, it’s better if their rings are already on, and so that means I usually do vows -> rings -> handfasting. Cheers!

  7. Helen Fortune says:

    Hi Mark, great ideas, thank you very much. My husband and I are renewing our vows for our 30th wedding anniversary on Sept 1st this year and we were wondering if there are ways in which we can incorporate the hand fasting into the small backyard ceremony we are having. We are going to read our own vows and we may or may not have an officiant as we are already married and didn’t think it necessary. Thank you for any suggestions you can give us.

  8. deborah suess says:

    Thanks for this clear explanation. I am a interfaith pastor and I am getting more requests for these. So appreciate your work.

    1. You’re welcome, Deborah! Yes – handfastings seem to be getting more common. But now we’re ready for them! 🙂

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