Handfasting and Commitment Ceremonies
For different reasons, some couples do not wish to get married or are unable to do so. They can still have a ceremony in which they declare their love and their commitment before family and friends and, although it does not have the legal implications of the marriage ceremony, it can be equally as binding in the emotional and spiritual sense.
The Celtic tradition of handfasting is a commitment ceremony (can also be incorporated into a marriage ceremony) which involves binding the couple together with a chord or a ribbon tied around their wrists – literally ‘tying the knot’. Some people use the handfasting to make a commitment for a year and a day, and at the end of that time decide whether to renew their vows for another similar period, or make it a permanent commitment, or go their separate ways. In Ireland, this ritual took effect at the autumnal harvest feast, then called Lughnasadh, when eligible young people chose someone with whom they would like to share the winter months – which could be a true test of their relationship. In modern days, it is often done at the start of the summer months, as a time when love is ripening.
Some people prefer a ceremony that is very simple while others like to include many layers of symbolism. It’s a very personal choice. Whatever is right for you. Consider:
Where would you like your commitment to be held?
Options include a private home, the backyard, public parks and gardens, national parks and wildlife reserves, community halls, reception centres, temples, wineries, in hot air balloons or on a boat out to sea.
A commitment can be held anywhere.
What readings would you like?
- Poetry can say things that we find hard to express.
- Do you have any favorite poems or readings that speak to you, or which you have heard and liked?
- Could someone write a poem for you?
- Any meditations or reflections you would like included?
- Or the celebrant can help you choose from her own collection of readings.
What music would you like to be played?
Music is usually played as people gather at the start, as the couple approach the circle (either together or singly), during the signing of certificates, and at the end. But it can be played at any time you choose.
- Do you have favorite music?
- Are there songs with special meaning for you?
- Would you like somebody singing rather than recorded music?
- Is there somebody in your family or among your friends who can contribute their own music?
Who would you like to be involved?
There are many different roles people can take in a commitment. These include attendants, and there are special roles for the parents, and for any children of the couple, but there is also room for others to decorate the venue and prepare the space, drive cars, welcome guests, hand out booklets, read poems, write poems, manage the music, lead dancing and movement, bring gifts, bring forward symbols, collect items, light candles, keep a track of the rings as they are passed around for blessing, bestow the blessings. A hundred jobs for a hundred guests!
Are there symbolic ceremonies you would like included?
These are likely to include the exchange of rings but might also include honouring the traditional people and the spirits of place, smudging, circle casting, invocations to the elements and the deities, candle-lighting, hand-fasting, flowers, wishing stones, tree planting, giving of gifts, breaking of the glass, jumping the broom or any of a range of cultural customs.
If you ascribe to a particular tradition such as Wiccan, Faerie, Celtic or Asatru, then this can be incorporated.
Or you might like a theme such as medieval, theatrical, or using a favorite story, or even a movie such as Shrek or Star Trek.
The Exchange of Vows
This is the most important part of the ceremony, where you tell each other how you feel and make your promises.
- You can write the vows yourselves, use other words for inspiration, or draw from the celebrant’s resource file.
- You might like to use the same words as each other, or different ones. You might choose a poem and take the verses in turn.
- You can read the vows from cards that you hold, or memorise them (and provide the celebrant with a copy so she can prompt you when needed), or follow the celebrant’s lead.
It’s entirely up to you!
Roxanne has a background in nursing, welfare work and professional writing, as well as a life-long interest in different cultures and religions. She has completed formal studies in all of the above and has gained a post-grad Certificate of Civil Ceremonies through Monash University. All of this has equipped her with the skills, knowledge and experience to help you develop your perfect ceremony.
Schedule of Fees
The basic fee for a commitment ceremony is $500 for a commitment ceremony. For wedding costs see wedding page.
- Three meetings
- Resources for readings and music
- Design of a personalised ceremony in ongoing consultation with the couple
- Delivery of personalised ceremony
- Use of PA equipment
There are additional costs for travel over 300km and travel expenses such as air fares, accommodation, meals and taxi fares. Also for costume hire, additional ceremonies such as a name-giving, and unusual activities such as rock climbing or ballooning, and for paperwork involved in legally registering the relationship with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.