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A handfasting is a commitment ceremony in which two people pledge a relationship to one another. The practice of handfasting, which originated in pre-Christian Celtic times, has been in use for several hundreds of years. Today, a handfasting can be used by people of any religious denomination - some use it as an alternative to a wedding, and other couples incorporate it into their wedding ceremony as a symbolic gesture.
Handfasting does not always indicate that the couple are becoming legally married. In some cultures, such as in the Scottish Highlands, it was used like a "trial period" for the couple; if they found they were incompatible at the end of the year and a day, then they were free to part without moral or religious repercussion. Otherwise, they would remain together and the marriage would be an official lifelong bond. Some modern couples choose to have a handfasting a year and a day before the day that they plan to legally or officially marry.
During the simple, but beautiful ceremony, the couple will typically have their hands bound with colored cords, ribbons, or cloth to represent their own new bond to one another. As a matter of fact, this thought to be where the modern expression "tying the knot" originated. The cords are loosely tied over the hands in an infinity symbol, or simply draped, while the couple speak their vows or a third person (priest, priestess, or officiant) recites poetry, passages from religious texts, or sings. Some couples choose this time to take a moment of silent reflection.
There are as many variations on the handfasting ceremony as there are couples who choose to undergo it. Each is unique and tailored to the needs and wants of the two people pledging their commitment to one another.