Celtic Wedding Ceremony

A Celtic Wedding (August, 2002)

Last year when my fiancée and I became engaged, it was important to both of us to incorporate his Irish heritage in our wedding ceremony. Shunning the traditional, we decided to be married at sunset in a Celtic handfasting ritual.

Handfasting is an ancient Celtic custom in which a man and woman came together at the start of their marriage relationship. Their hands, or more accurately, their wrists, were literally tied together. This practice gave way to the expression “tying the knot” which has come to mean getting married.

The handfasting ritual was recognized as one of the many forms of marriages permitted under ancient Irish law. The man and woman who came together for the handfasting ritual agreed to stay together for a specific period of time, usually a year-and-a-day. At the end of the year the couple faced a choice. They could enter into a longer-term “permanent” marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.

The custom hails from the pre-Christian era but continued after Christianity was well established because it was not ordinary for either the Church or government to play a role in witnessing marriages during this period. It wasn’t until the Council of Trent, which began in 1537, that the Church required that the Church witness marriages. Government registration of marriages in Ireland only began in the middle of the 19th century.

At our wedding, guests gathered in a circle. The circle is considered a sacred place as its energy has been purified. Within this circle is perfect love and trust. After my fiancée and I entered the circle, in the presence of a minister, we expressed our commitment to each other. After making our vows, our guests witnessed the handfasting tradition by the minister tying five different colors of ribbon on our wrists. Each color represented a different aspect of the marriage and pledge to the other.

Green: Represents the physical and material.
Yellow: Represents the intellectual and mental.
Red: Represents the power and passion.
Blue: Represents the emotional and love.
White: Represents the spiritual and philosophical.

Upon the tying of the ribbons, we exchanged traditional Irish Claddagh wedding bands. After being pronounced husband and wife, our guests were provided with blessing stones. They followed us to the lake to make a blessing and to cast the stone in the water. The ripples that are made represent the love and good wishes not only for us, the happy couple, but for all the world … as our ripples cross and re-cross one another so do our love and good wishes touch and retouch all around us.

Guest article provided by Mrs. Sean (Debra Lee) Kelley, Electrical Engineer.