Handfasting is an ancient Celtic marriage ritual and is thought to be where the expression ‘tying the knot’ came from. This is one of the most popular symbolic gestures, or rituals, in humanist wedding ceremonies right now, and even featured in popular movies and drama series including Braveheart, Game of Thrones and Outlander.

The history behind it?

In ancient times, a handfasting signified a couple’s intent to marry and their commitment to one another, but it later became legally binding. Of course, nowadays, handfasting is ceremonial rather than having any legal merit.

How is it done? 

It involves the wrapping of cord, ribbon or cloth around your clasped hands as a visual demonstration of your union in marriage. The knot (or knots) that are then created symbolises the binding of your union. There are various methods of handfasting to choose from. Depending on the method chosen, you can have one length of material or numerous.

TOP TIP We recommend that each length is at least 1.5 metres long, but ideally 2.

Photo credit – Harper Scott Photo 

When is it usually performed?

Handfasting is typically performed while exchanging your vows, either your personal promises to one another, or your legal declarations. You can even have your hands clasped over your rings while your hands are bound – essentially setting your vows into your rings.

How to personalise it?

The words recited as the handfasting ceremony takes place can be personal to you, and whatever material(s) you use will be personal to you. In Scotland, traditionally the clan tartan(s) would have been used, but here are some other things you could consider.

🤍 tartan to match a kilt or a piece material from a dress

🤍 adding charms or other keepsakes to the ends

🤍 using something that belongs, or belonged, to loved ones, e.g. a grandmother’s scarf or grandfather’s tie

🤍 something completely unique to you – like the couple who met in KFC who had their handfasting materials made from their uniforms, or the couple who shared a passion for martial arts and used their belts

🤍 different coloured ribbons woven together to create a cord – which could reflect your favourite colours, match your colour scheme, or each colour chosen could hold their own meaning

  • White: purity, devotion, peace
  • Red: passion, love
  • Dark Blue: strength, longevity
  • Light Blue: health, patience
  • Gray: balanced
  • Black: wisdom, empowered
  • Green: fertility, luck
  • Yellow: charm, harmony
  • Orange: plentiful, kindness
  • Purple: progress, power
  • Pink: romance, happiness
  • Gold: unity, longevity
  • Silver: protection, inspiration
  • Brown: earth, home


Can you involve other people?

Absolutely. It can just involve the two of you and your celebrant, but it can also be a lovely way of involving family members, children or friends too, whether just presenting the material(s) you’ve chosen to use, or actually tying the knot(s).


You can display your knotted material(s) in your home – in a box frame for example.

COVID-19 Advice – It is recommended that only the couple is involved, or that any others involved are considered within their household.