Monthly Archives: June 2015

It’s All In Your Hands…

I have attended several weddings in recent years where a handfasting was incorporated into the ceremony. It’s a tradition which has travelled through so many incarnations and meanings that I’ve come to consider it something that can be either part of a ceremony or a ceremony in itself.

Depending on who you speak to, handfasting can trace several historical strands back to its origin. It was a way for couples to pledge to marry (ie an early form of engagement), a medieval way of making a legal commitment in the absence of a church official, a secret bond between young lovers whose family didn’t approve of the match, or a pagan form of marriage or sacred commitment. It originated in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany – essentially it has as many stories as couples these days have ways of honouring the tradition!

One of my favourite handfasting traditions involves couples in pre-Medieval Ireland, who would come together at harvest time to clasp hands through a hole in a hedge or door. Often they would not know whose hand they had taken, but they were pledged to stay together for a year and a day. Once the time was up they could either part without penalty or hold another ceremony to make their marriage permanent.

Regardless of the way it is presented, the basic outline of a handfasting is the same – the couple hold hands, their hands are bound in some way and words are said which express the symbol of the bound hands as a bond not to be broken. The focus of a wedding or commitment ceremony as a whole is this bond, but the handfasting brings into the mix a physical connection between the couple, which can be a very powerful moment.

Some ways in which a handfasting can be made unique include:

– The couple’s hands are bound by an item which is special to them or their family. Traditionally it is a cord plaited from ribbons in colours which represent different aspects of a good marriage, but you could also use pieces of family heirlooms such as yarn or fabric provided by older relatives.

– The cord can also be replaced by another item of significance. For example, a couple who have met through an interest in horses could use a set of reins, symbolising their willingness to share the guiding of the marriage.

– Handfasting is a lovely way to include children, or elderly family members, in the ceremony. Instead of the celebrant binding their hands, they can approach or call up that special person to place the binding and give their blessing.

– Couples who have set a wedding date a year or more in the future could celebrate their engagement with a handfasting a year and a day before the wedding.

If you’re planning a handfasting, consider doing some research on what colours and symbols have meaning to your cultural heritage, and incorporate these into your handfasting cord and ceremony.

This teeny weeny video shows one way handfasting cords can be created – the traditional Irish crios:



The Queen’s “Birthday”, and a question…

Over this past weekend we’ve seen another “life marker” come and go which for most people in modern Australian society is simply a long (albeit for some also an idealogically-debated) weekend.

The Queen’s Official Birthday is a date which, since the mid-18th century, has been chosen as an official celebration of the birthday of the Commonwealth monarch. These days it seems to be a date which is adopted by local parliaments in countries within the Commonwealth, and rarely coincides with the monarch’s actual birthday. The date is different from place to place, even within Australia! Makes you wonder what the point is really, doesn’t it?

In fact, the idea of the “chosen” date originates from the English weather. The annual Trooping the Colour parade, a display of ceremonial pomp held to officially celebrate the birthday, is of course much nicer in the summer when the weather is kinder. Those countries which celebrate the Queen’s Birthday with a public holiday make choices that are also based on local convenience.

Being in Queensland I had a little chuckle when I read Wikipedia’s assertion that the celebration of the event in October in 2012 was a one-off to do with the Diamond Jubilee. That may be the official version, but as locals saw it the October date was an attempt by the government to “spread out the public holidays”, and the reversion to June was more to do with the impact on the numerous events (including weddings) traditionally held on that June long weekend! Such is tradition…

The Queen’s Birthday, like Australia Day, is also a commemoration which brings up questions of inclusiveness and the modern relevance of such customs. Questions of republic sentiment, indigenous recognition and the relevance of monarchy as a whole become a more public matter of debate which if you really think about it boils down to a single question – “Why should we celebrate X if it doesn’t include/recognise Y?”

Because I see the basic idea of celebration as one that fundamentally unifies human beings, it’s not a debate I tend to get into. I’m too prone to playing devil’s advocate on the one hand, and saying “why can’t we all just get along?” on the other. Instead I’ll leave the question above in the air as one for you to consider, as in itself it’s actually a deeply philosophical one:

Why DO you celebrate one thing, and not another? What does that say about what’s important to you, your family, your culture?

This fortnight’s video, courtesy of the BBC, shows the Queen presiding over her first Trooping of the Colour.