Image of a couple being handfasted and the title, "Handfasting"

Of all the wedding traditions that have fallen by the wayside, I think handfasting is the one with the most potential. Then again, it wouldn’t have that potential if it had not fallen away in the first place.

Handfasting is a Scottish practice that was intended more as an act of betrothal than of binding. A couple could perform it without any witnesses in any situation in which they could not reasonably get to a minister to marry them. They still needed to be married by a minister or a ship’s captain or a mayor at a later date, but could be considered married for most legal purposes in the meantime once the handfasting had been performed.

It has been revived in modern Scottish weddings outside Scotland, but as part of the ceremony itself. And because it has no legal significance, it can be used in very creative ways.

I have written a handfasting ceremony for our wedding, which was to happen last May, but will go ahead this May, as long as we keep the ’rona at bay! In our ceremony, it is a way of having the attendants bless the marriage. My children will each ask for our commitment to each other, and if they are satisfied with our answer, they will pass the ribbon over our arms. Then my partner’s attendants will each affirm our vows by passing the ribbon over the other way.

This is, by no means a conventional handfasting, but it’s an example of how readily old traditions can be adapted for meaning in a modern ceremony. Adapting old customs is one of my favourite aspects of celebrancy, especially for LGBTIQA+ couples.

I am always open to hearing ideas like this from couples, and hope that I will be as supportive as our celebrant has been!

Published by Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver

Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver is an authorised celebrant, a playwright, a teacher and quite a few other things!

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