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Posted by Lewis on May 02, 2003

In Reply to: Handfasting and trial marriage posted by Word Camel on April 29, 2003

: : : Apology for double posting another question on the same subject, but a friend of mine is getting married next week and has been asking the origins of certain marriage rituals and sayings. To give one's hand in marriage is a commonly used phrase, but can anyone help with the origin?

: : I believe it's in reference to the old Celtic handfasting ritual.

: From Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

: Handfasting.
: A sort of marriage. A fair was at one time held in Dumfriesshire, at which a young man was allowed to pick out a female companion to live with him. They lived together for twelve months, and if they both liked the arrangement were man and wife. This was called hand-fasting or hand-fastening. 1
: This sort of contract was common among the Romans and Jews, and is not unusual in the East even now. 2
: "'Knowest thou not that rite, holy man?' said A venel . .; 'then I will tell thee. We bordermen . . take our wives for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure, [they] may call the priest to marry them for life, and this we call handfasting.'"-Sir W. Scott: The Monastery, chap. xxv.

In addition to the above Scottish "hand-fisting", sorry hand-fasting, there is of course the more widespread act of placing a ring (wedding band - don't be coarse) on the finger of the woman's hand in the ceremony of marriage.

To give a hand in marriage would then simply be to give consent. In cultures where women have few right (thank you, religious fundamentalists) the father can give over his daughters in marriage and give her hand in marriage to some young swain.