Wedding Planning Q&A

Hand Fasting Tradition in Wedding Ceremonies! A Weducation Presentation


What is a traditional hand fasting ceremony and how does it fit into your wedding ceremony? Susan from Celebrate With Sue shares the history and meanings.

Listen to Susan on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…


Susan Denton from Celebrate with Sue


Susan: [00:00:05]

Right so what I’m talking about is hand-fasting. Hand-fasting is something that’s been happening for well over I’d say definitely over a thousand years.

But it’s something that’s become more fashionable over the last few years due to all sorts of things. It was actually used in Kate and William’s Wedding. The priest there performed a hand-fasting in their Wedding ceremony. Also because lots of people are looking at different types of ceremonies. They’re starting to look at Celtic types and hand-fasting has come from that. So it was taken and put into the Christian Ceremony, but now that they’re having celebrant ceremonies which are maybe on a farm, or in a historical venue or whatever and it is non-religious, then we can take that. Take this part and actually use it and actually sort of extend it and embellish it. 

Susan: [00:01:11] So as you can see in this photo, this particular couple had asked for the full hand-fasting ceremony, which actually is about 45 plus minutes long, depending on how things go. With the group they had well over a hundred people here at their wedding. What they had wanted to do was to have a version of the pagan hand-fasting with not just the ribbons in it, but also a candle ceremony. And also they were going to have their making of promises, which we did. And then after the hand-fasting, when the full hand-fasting ceremony was done they actually did some jumping of the broom. 

Susan: [00:01:51]

But just talking about the ribbon element, because that’s what a lot people do call hand-fasting. That’s where there’s a little misunderstanding.

So what you have is ribbons with 13 different colours that all have a meaning. So you can use as many or as few ribbons as you want. Some couples use one ribbon, normally it’s well over two metres long and this would be tied around their hands as if they’re shaking hands together. And then, as you can see in the picture, this particular couple wanted to use as many ribbons as possible. So we actually had thin ribbons, we had wide ribbons, we had all different colours and all of the guests there really went for it. Children took part, families took part. So in fact the whole of their arms, that were holding hands together, were all covered in ribbons. But I just started it off by doing a particular very loose knot across their hands as the first hand-fasting, and everything else was tied on to that. Then at the end of it they actually were able to take their hands back out of it without any problems. So there you can see some of their guests are really going for it, they’re tying it on. And then you can see there closer, so that was later on. And this is why as I said, these sorts of things can take quite long to do if you’ve got quite a lot of people involved. And as you can see there, they had absolutely loads, and I think we ended up with well over 60 ribbons… 50, 60 ribbons being tied on. You can see little thin ones, you can see the thick ones and all the different colours. 

Susan: [00:03:40] So for example you’ve got things like red is for passion. So I talked about all the different colours. When we first started out the hand-fasting, we talked about red being passion, green being for good finances, but also for fertility, white being for purity. Then also you’ve got things like purple for passion and so on and so forth. So you can choose as we said as many ribbons as you like. Some people have roots in Scotland or Wales, they might be interested in having some tartan to match up with their family for example, so there’s all these sorts of things that you can get involved with. 

Susan: [00:04:25]

If you don’t want to have everybody involved like this, a whole group of people coming over taking part, you could just ask specific members of the family.

So for example I’ve had ceremonies where the two mothers have come up and they’ve tied a ribbon on, and that’s been a more paired down version of a hand-fasting. It’s been just what that couple wanted because it represented their two mothers, and their love for their mothers. And they wanted them to be more closely involved in their wedding ceremony. So there’s all sorts of permutations. 

Susan: [00:05:02] This particular couple were very happy with everything, and then when everybody moved away I went back and stood a little way away as we carried on the ceremony. You can see that they were very happy there and I carried on reading through. Then we went full pelt into the jumping of the broom after that. And they actually were quite happy to still be tied together. Even when they were jumping the broom. So that absolutely worked for them. You can see them standing there in the circle. That was a lovely circle that the groom actually made himself. But of course, that was when it was really, really hot weather. So the lovely circle which was made out of wood etc, was starting to dry out. Normally all of that, that you can see, would have been extremely green, but because this summer was so hot, it was getting a little bit on the dried out side. I was also dressed up there to go with the theme. On their testimonial that they gave me they were really pleased with this. They said “thank you for all your help in planning our hand-fasting ceremony. You were very professional and helpful and everyone enjoyed the ceremony and said how “us” it was.” Because that’s the crucial part because you’re doing it for the couple, and it suited them down to the ground. They were very, very pleased with how the ceremony went. So that’s how happy they were, really happy with the outcome of how that ceremony went for them, in that particular venue, with their gathering of family and friends. 

Rachel: [00:06:52] Yeah. We had a hand-fasting ceremony but we had two ribbons. It was nowhere near as complex as yours, and I didn’t have a clue about any colour reasons. We had green and white. So is that fertility and what was the other one you said for white? 

Susan: [00:07:21] Purity and also peace. Also all of these colours have got more than one meaning. I mean they’re similar sometimes, they’re a little bit different from each other. That makes it all more interesting. So while you’re helping to tie them on, it makes it more interesting because you’re telling people about the colours that that particular couple have chosen, or if they’ve chosen tartan, then about that family link that they might have chosen. So it makes it very much more personal to them. And then what they can do is they can take that ribbon and keep it, like you said, you’ve kept yours in your keepsake box. People could keep it. With mine they had a lovely candle, it was part of their ceremony so they could take the candle and tie the ribbons, at least a couple of the ribbons, around it. And keep those there. And then the idea is if let’s say, they had a little disagreement, they could take the candle with the ribbons tied around it and use it as a symbol of the really good time they had at their ceremony. And say, well let’s just sit down and have a little chat and get ourselves back on track again. So there’s all sorts of ways that you could utilise or include ideas of what these ceremonies are doing, which is you know, supporting the couple and giving them the best outcome on that day, that they can possibly have. 

Rachel: [00:08:48] Yes.

The other thing that we had at our wedding was, because it was up in Scotland, our celebrant suggested we might want to get a Quaich. Nik have I pronounced that right? Quaich? 

Susan: [00:09:02] There’s all sorts of different pronunciations. I don’t know if Nik knows if we’re pronouncing it as well as we could be doing? It’s Q-U-A-I-C-H isn’t it? So again yes you can have that, it’s like a loving cup in a sense because you can put the whisky in it or put in whatever drink you like, and then you could you know, turn it round with each other’s hands and drink from it like that or whatever you want to. Supporting each other, then that is like drinking to their future together, but also drinking from one cup because they’ve got one path together. So there’s all sorts of connotations. I’m going to be doing one for a couple where their favourite drink is Port, so they’re using a bottle of port. And some glasses for that. I’ve also got a lovely couple who want to do a mead ceremony which probably will involve using goblets. There’s all sorts of variations on what people come up with and have ideas themselves, and always also it’s to do with what’s on the telly, and all the different television programs that people like to watch, that they’ve got involved with. They want to sort of get that involved and represented in their lives. A wedding ceremony is a superb way of doing that. 

Rachel: [00:10:33] Yes. It’s all about showing your personality isn’t it? We had Whisky in ours, and ugh! I don’t like Whisky, there’s a picture of me swigging it and going “urgh!”. 

Susan: [00:10:50] These things happen don’t they! 

Rachel: [00:10:54] So Nik do you have any questions for Sue about what Brides should be asking when they’re trying to book a celebrant? 

Nik: [00:11:01]

I was wondering what your most popular service was and how long it takes, the average time it takes? 

Susan: [00:11:14] OK yeah, the most popular one individually? It’s about 50 mins, probably… Still the shorter ones at the moment tend to be about 20 minutes or so. The more modern type is so minimal. I’m getting more and more of the more individual type of ones like the hand-fasting. And also more outdoor ceremonies this year. I’ve done more outdoor ceremonies, which is becoming more popular as well. 

Nik: [00:12:04] Especially after the Summer we’ve just had! 

Susan: [00:12:11] Yeah yeah. Well it’s worked hasn’t it. It’s been too hot for some ceremonies, but it was amazing, yeah. But yes they take about 20 minutes, 25 minutes mainly. But you know again, we can work with people who want shorter ones and much longer ones. That’s all part of what people have asked for and how it works for them. Yeah that’s all very positive. 

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  • Reply Susan Denton Celebrant December 10, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    It was great to chat with Rachel and Nik! I did enjoy talking about the Ribbon Handfasting ceremony as it is one of my favourite symbolic ceremonies!

    • Reply James Pearson December 11, 2018 at 12:26 pm

      Brill! Thanks so much for sharing the info about the Ribbon Handfasting Ceremony with us Susan 🙂 Can’t wait for the next one!!!

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