Tying the knot: Why do we say we tie the knot when we get married?

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You hear your cousin gush about finally going to “tie the knot” with her boyfriend, and as you hear this, you automatically substitute “tie the knot” with “getting married” in your head. But if you pause for a minute, you think to yourself, it’s quite an interesting thing to say. Why would tying a knot have anything to do with getting married?

There are several theories as to the tying the knot origin, but perhaps the most likely theory is that the phrase originates from the ancient wedding tradition of binding the hands together in the ceremony of “handfasting”.

It is unclear when the tradition of handfasting began. Some say it dates back to Ancient Greece or Rome but it was particularly prevalent in the Celtic tradition practised in Ireland and Scotland in Medieval times. Handfasting was even included in the movie Braveheart, a movie set in the 13th century, which is precisely around the time when the term “tying the knot” was first seen in textual records, specifically in the 1225 text, The Legend of St. Katherine.

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Traditionally there were two handfasting ceremonies done to celebrate a couple getting together. The first handfasting ceremony was done to signify betrothal and a second handfasting was done traditionally “a year and a day” later, only if the couple had gotten on throughout the engagement, and it was this second handfasting that marked the official marriage.

Handfasting, not too unlike the premise behind a handshake, involves “giving a pledge by joining hands” where the deal in this case is of course to get married and everything that entails. This joining of the hands as part of the ceremony may also be responsible for the phrase “taking your hand in marriage”.

Following the joining of the hands, a ribbon or several ribbons would be used to fasten the hands together, and the ribbons would be tied with a knot. The tying of the hands together is symbolic of the couple coming together as one in a lasting, strong, unbreakable bond. In some practices both the hands of the soon-to-be husband and wife are tied together in a figure eight that denotes the sign for infinity.

Some Eastern Orthodox Christians, New Age people, and Pagans still carry out handfasting today.

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