Photo: Rose Haven Designs
This weekend marks the Celtic festival of Lughnasa, a summer harvest holiday that survived the transition from pagan to Christian times on into our modern day. Lughnasa marks the ripening of grain and fruits, the time when seeds sown in the spring begin to show their full color and bounty. It has traditionally been celebrated with feasts, fairs, outdoor games, and as a special time for weddings.
It is said that in ancient and medieval Scotland, “trial marriages” were performed at Lughnasa, whereby couples were “handfasted” (joined) as temporary husband and wife for a year and a day. If after that period, the couple wished to remain together, they could be handfasted permanently. Anyone who has seen the movie Braveheart may recall the wedding scene in which Wallace and Murron are married in a secret handfasting ceremony in the woods. This tradition of weaving a decorative ribbon or cloth around the couple’s hands is popular today at Celtic and medieval-themed weddings.
The handfasting ritual is adaptable to ceremonies of any faith, and is equally meaningful in a secular setting. For those who cannot or do not wish to be legally married, it can serve as a symbol of union during a commitment ceremony. Like the unity candle, it is a beautiful representation of a couple’s vow to join together.
There are a number of website boutiques that sell ready-made or customizable handfasting cord/ribbon sets (see links at the end of this article). Alternatively, you can do-it-yourself by selecting materials from your local craft or fabric store. The colors of handfasting ribbons carry different meanings. Here are a few:
Red: Love, passion, strength
Green: Health, prosperity, fertility
White: Spirituality, peace
Pink: Love, happiness
Brown: Home, healing, the earth
Light blue: Patience, understanding
Dark blue: Safe journey
Purple: Healing, progress
Orange: Encouragement, adaptability, kindness
Black: Wisdom, strength, success
Several ribbons can be braided together, or you may want to use only one, such as a family tartan. Small silver or gold charms add a nice finishing touch, such as a hearts, crosses, claddaghs, thistles, stars, suns or moons.
Here is one example of incorporating handfasting into a wedding ceremony: