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Unity Ritual Spotlight: Handfasting

Handfasting: Susan and Tom's wedding at Pomme at Radnor. Emily Wren Photography
One of the most beautiful and accessible unity rituals, handfasting, is making a big come back. Some say that the Celtic tradition of ceremonially binding a new couple’s hands together as a symbol of their public commitment to each other, is the most ancient wedding ritual. When I introduce it in wedding ceremonies, I point out that long ago, when only the rich could afford to exchange rings, handfasting is what ordinary people would do to express their consent.

Historically, handfastings were used as people entered into relationships of all different lengths— “a year and day”, “a lifetime”, “for as long as love should last”, or ”for all of eternity”. Most of my couples have the intention for their bond to be one that lasts forever, or at least a lifetime, so I choose language to support more permanent hopes for the future.

Because it’s traditionally a ritual to support the declared intent of the couple entering into the marriage, usually (but not all the time) I place the handfasting in the ceremony right before the “I dos”. The “I do’s” in today’s modern ceremony is the part where the couple consents to the marital relationship understood by local civil laws. The couple would remain fasted together through this section and often up until they exchange rings.

Handfasting is quickly becoming the most requested element in the ceremonies I create with my couples. People are drawn to it, because it can and has been adapted by many cultures and faiths. And because of the universal nature of this ritual, and easy to understand symbolism, many couples delight in expressing their own individuality and style through handfasting.

How it works: The couple faces each other and holds hands so that their arms form a figure eight...“for all eternity”
Something of significance is wrapped around their clasped hands and tied into a knot.
Bianca and Matt used an heirloom double rosary for their handfasting at the Scranton Hilton, Christina Zen Photography
Here are just a few other examples of how some of my couples have chosen to incorporate a handfasting ritual within their own wedding days.
Laura and Jeremy used a garland of greens and wheat at their vintage Oktoberfest-themed wedding. The wheat added an extra layer of symbolism--hearth, home and prosperity--all of which the couple desired in their married life. With Love & Embers Photography
Amanda and Tim promise each other "forever" at Philadelphia's Fairmount Park Horticultural Center. Peter Van Beever Photography
Tim and Amanda's beautiful and elegant handfasting garland was made as gift from the bride's sister, Caitlin. I was so impressed with this garland, I asked Caitlin if she would consider making handfasting garlands for other couples too. She's since created an online shop on Etsy Peter Van Beever Photography
Since she was in college, Melissa has always thought that, “a strong balanced relationship would feel like a DNA strand, where the two edges are connected, and though it is moving, growing, and changing, it is always bound together to support its whole.” She imagined the two people as the edges and that love is what holds them together. Inspired by the double helix, Melissa and Steven had their hands fasted together with four cords, each signifying one of the four core building blocks of their love and relationship. Tho Nguyen Photographer
Ying-Lee and Chad are bond together with ivy and beautiful gold ribbons. Ivy, the symbol of fidelity was just the perfect touch for this kismet couple. Terrain at Styers wedding at the Temple. Oleander Florals. We Laugh We Love Photography.
At Carly and Branden's Cescaphe Vie wedding, the importance of family was the theme. They invited four family members, all of whom had attributes they admired and wanted in their new life together, to each participate in their handfasting. Heather Fowler Photography
As each honored family member placed their braided handfasting ribbon cord over Branden and Carly's clasped hands, they said aloud the gift or skill that they wanted to bless the couple with. Heather Fowler Photography.
Close friendships were the most important to Lauren and Mark when they tied the knot late summer. They invited each person in their wedding party to contribute to and build their handfasting garland during the ceremony. Groomsmen and Bridesmaids took turns each placing one of these gold, pink or delicate white cords over the couple's joined hands before I brought them all together in a knot. Moonstone Manor. Harper Parker Photography
Moonstone Manor. Harper Parker Photography
Moonstone Manor, Harper Parker Photography.
Nikki and Sue were married on the North Shore of Maui, and in Hawaii the handfasting is done with a maile lei. Here's an example of a time where the handfasting was placed later in the ceremony. Kaua Photography
A bonus to placing a handfasting after the ring exchange (and toward the end of a ceremony) is that the regal green living garland (or lei) can be a part of the first kiss and recessional. Kaua Photography
Kaua Photography

Bobby + Javi, Already Married in Their Hearts

Javi and Bobby have been building a life together over the past 24 years and this May, in the presence of the many generations of their families and closest friends, they became husbands to each other at a bright and colorful wedding at Philadelphia’s pet-friendly and chic Hotel Monaco.
The grooms’ two pups, Bodhi + Bailey, put on their most dapper outfits and were walked up the aisle by Maggie and Yvette (their best friends and next door neighbors) to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” just before Bobby entered-nestled between his two parents- and Javi holding the hand of his mother.
Javi and Bobby wanted to make sure that their guests knew just how important they were, so we included a Passing of the Peace ritual where everyone gets up from their seats and greets the people around them and across the aisle with a hand shake, hug or a kiss. As I watched the people Bobby and Javi cherish most greet and embrace each other, I started to giggle when the love fest just kept going—-no one wanted to stop, there were people crossing the room to embrace new friends and family. This was truly, one of the most special moments I had the pleasure of witnessing during Javi and Bobby’s nuptials.

LOVE STORY (an excerpt from their ceremony)
When Love brought these two together, your typical OCD meets ADD story ensued. 24 years ago, this month, Javier—who was painfully shy and reserved--had challenged himself to go out once a week to his neighborhood club in New Brunswick, he’d have a couple drinks, listen to music and hopefully meet people.

It was on one of these nights that Javier first noticed Bobby, dancing by himself on the dance floor, he was enthralled. Bobby noticed Javier’s gaze too, and remembers that, “Javi followed me around that night, but I turned the tables and said ‘Hi’ first.” Conversation came naturally, and Robert and Javier spent the rest of the night talking “like two old friends who had been reunited again.”
It didn’t take very long for these two to realize they were spending more time together than apart, and that what was starting between them was something special. A few weeks in, Javi remembers trying to think of the perfect birthday gift for Bobby, he says, “I wanted to get him something meaningful but something that wasn’t over the top since we had just met.” On a business trip to Boston, Javi found two t-shirts with animal prints on them, and remembering that Bobby loved nature, he felt confident that he had found the perfect present.

And he was right, Bobby loved the t-shirts but Javier noticed that Bobby seemed to always be wearing just one of them. Concerned that Robert wasn’t pleased with his gift, Javier bravely asked, “didn’t you like the other shirt I got you?” Bobby quickly allayed Javi’s fear. He reassured Javier that he did in fact “love both shirts”, but so did his brother Michael… and Michael was now wearing the other shirt full-time.

Javi says they were just getting to know each other. He says he started to understand what it meant that Bobby was from a big family, with different boundaries and expectations and in this case, communal property.
A few weeks later, these two had another opportunity to learn more about each other when Javier was traveling to Las Vegas for his brother Hugo’s wedding. Kind of head over heels already, Bobby asked to accompany Javi to the airport. In those last precious moments together in the terminal, Javier wanted to make sure to leave Bobby with instructions for contacting him while he was away, he asked Robert to hold his boarding pass and toss a used gum wrapper for him while he wrote down his Las Vegas contact numbers. When it was time to board, Javi and Bobby embraced and said their goodbyes, and Javier asked Bobby for his ticket.

“What ticket?” Bobby asked confused.

“The one I asked you to hold for me…” Javier replied.

“Oh, that? I tossed it in the garbage!”

Upon this confession, Bobby then got to witness a very germaphobic Javi franticly going through the garbage can in search for his ticket.

This was one of the first and most memorable moments in Javier and Bobby’s relationship where they realized that not only did they have so much in common, but that their differences could serve as a complement to each other.

Javier says, “We complement each other, it’s not so much that opposites attract, more like filling the gaps to make each other whole. Our lives are fulfilled and we are better people because we have each other.”

And Bobby agrees, when I asked him what it is he loves about Javier, he said, “He’s adorable. I’m not kidding he really is. His accent is perfect. His way of thinking is different, smart, strange and complements mine. He’s orderly when I am chaotic. He’s courageous and proud in wanting a good life for us when I’m a “just happy to be here” sort of person. I would be fairly lost without him. He’s neurotic and I am pretty easy going and he’s more relaxed now, because of me...”

Over the past 24 years, Bobby and Javier have made each other more courageous as they create a relationship built on trust, appreciation and acceptance of each other. Through it all, Bobby says, the secret to their relationship, is they continue to choose each other every day.
"Your perfect partner and complement, these are the hands of the man who treats you like a prince and chooses to build a life with you everyday."--Alisa Tongg, Celebrant
Sand Ceremony- Javier and Bobby selected the sand ceremony to demonstrate their unique partnership and commitment for a lifetime.
Sand, a symbol of time is used to honor the time they have already spent together as well as the times they look forward to sharing in the future.
Then it was time for Bobby and Javi to sign their marriage certificate, making their lifelong commitment one recognized by law as well. When I asked Bobby and Javier what message they wanted conveyed during their wedding ceremony, Bobby didn’t hesitate to say “Love Wins.” 
As Javi and Bobby took their first steps into married life together, seven guests bestowed one blessing each on the newlyweds who were showered with beautiful fragrant rose petals.
The newly married, life partners and husbands to each other, Javier and Bobby!!! (iPhone photo up on the roof deck just after their ceremony)
venue| Hotel Monaco Philadelphia
photographer| Elaine Zelker Photography
celebrant officiant| Alisa Tongg, Celebrant