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Handfasting

When my husband and I got married, we thought about planning all sorts of ceremonies, from the traditional church wedding for our families, to handfasting. In the end, we eloped, because we're sissies and didn't want to try and explain to people why we were doing one thing and not another.

Some of the things we thought of for our handfasting included choosing a theme (if any), finding someone appropriate to perform the ceremony (again, if any), how many people to invite, where to hold it, what to serve, yada yada yada.



A Theme?

We thought that some of our more conservative relatives would be more comfortable at a handfasting if we presented it as a costume party/re-creation wedding. Such as, the marriage of Maid Marian to Robin Hood...if we were trying to re-create this, it would be appropriate to have an outdoor wedding, with robes and medieval symbolism as opposed to a church wedding. Also, our younger relatives would love us forever for giving them an excuse to dress up like fairy princesses. Our conservative relatives might think we were a little nuts, but better weird than evil blasphemers.

If you don't have to worry about making relatives uncomfortable (lucky you!), themes can be done just for fun. Since traditional handfasting binds people only for a year and a day, every year and a day you can renew your vows in a new and interesting way. The first one can be all serious and sober, but why maintain a boring theme? Go sci-fi! Ever fantasize about Mounties? (yum) Try talking your husband into the uniform! It's perfectly fine to have a fun wedding.



Who's leading this thing?

My husband and I agreed that getting a stranger would be a bad idea...we wanted someone who knew us, knew our commitment, and knew our concerns about our families. Someone we could trust to keep the wording low-key, and not go into drama hysterics. Also, we hoped this person would truly give his or her blessing to our union...and we didn't think we could get this from a total stranger.

If you feel you need a Priest or Priestess to make your handfasting "official", you might try your local UU church. If you do get someone you don't know, I recommend you get to know this person very well *before* you finalize your plans. There are some really strange people out there masquerading as Pagan clergy.

Another thought on this...you don't really need anyone to perform the ceremony. You and your husband-to-be can simply stand together in front of your family and friends and exchange vows, then ask the blessing of the witnesses. This is just as binding as anything a priest or priestess could do.



Where are we doing this?

Outdoors is a popular choice, but if you have a small wedding party you have more options. The time of year you choose also has an effect on where you have the handfasting (obviously). Late spring to early fall is probably the best time for an outdoor wedding.

Most city parks are good choices, as permits for the handfasting itself are usually not required. Some parks even allow the use of small contained fires (usually in the BBQ pits provided). If you have a huge gathering, or will be playing loud music, you must contact the city park services first and clear it with them. It's a good idea to call them anyway, to make sure no other groups have the park reserved and to ensure no suspicious park workers interrupt the ceremony.

Larger parks outside of town are even better choices. You have more room to maneuver in, and being away from city noises make it easier to create an otherworldly feel. You are almost guaranteed privacy from the general public here, as well as better options on scenery. However, in most states you *must* obtain permits to hold gatherings in these parks...and at the very least you should clear it with the rangers. This will also help to insure no interruptions. If permits must be purchased, they will be cheaper in these parks than the city parks.

Don't overlook your own backyard, or the backyard of a friend or relation. This is free, and in a more controlled area than any park. Easy access to indoor plumbing is a very good idea, and if you're putting on your own feast, the access to a kitchen is ideal. However, local laws, homeowners association laws, and nosy neighbors can be large drawbacks or even barriers to using private property in the city. Always double check before finalizing your plans.

Indoor weddings can be just a beautiful and Pagan-y as an outdoor wedding. If your budget allows, you can rent a plain hall and transform it into a magickal fairy forest, a medieval castle, or grand gothic estate, as well as more traditional low-key settings.

You might have friends or family with larger homes who would be willing to loan them to you for the ceremony.

If you and your fiancé are living together, you might hold it in your own home as a blessing of your home as well as a blessing of your union.

If it interests you, you might contact the planning boards for Renaissance faires, Medieval faires, Scottish games, or even various conventions about holding a handfasting during the festivities. In many cases, the core wedding party (you, your fiancé, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, parents of the bride and groom) get free admission, provided you doll up the ceremony to make it interesting to the other faire-goers. This might also provide you with a hall to hold the actual ceremony in, and some festivals hold feasts you could get a discount on for the entire wedding party. Holding your handfasting at a festival gets rid of the need to host/ess a reception...everyone can just go play.



How much for a canapé?!?

No matter the size of your wedding party, feeding them is going to be a hassle. If you can afford it, catering may be the easiest choice you have. Many catered receptions are paid for by the plate, and this can run from $20 to $200 per person, or higher.

With some forethought and careful planning, you can create a feast on your own for very little money. If you want to serve large amounts of meat, try contacting local farmers about purchasing from their livestock. You might be able to find someone willing to butcher an animal for next to nothing. If you want to serve roast pork, for example, you may be able to purchase a pig straight from the farmer for $50-$150. I'm not certain what the current market prices are for livestock, but a 200 pound pig should cost $75-$100. If the farmer is willing to butcher it for you, this should cost another $50 at the most. In some cases (especially if you're getting married in the fall) you might be able to find a farmer who is butchering his/her own livestock, and include yours for much less. It sounds like a lot of money, but in reality it's very cheap. You won't use all of the pig, and purchasing just the meat from the farmer should be cheaper than the whole pig. So, say you purchase 150 pounds of meat from the 200 pound pig...you can expect to pay about $100, which is $0.67 per pound. I've never seen meat this cheap in a market, and you know your food will be fresh. This goes for chickens too, and possibly even cattle. Try contacting a local 4-H club to find people raising livestock.

Even a vegetarian feast can benefit from contacting the source... mid-summer to mid-fall are the best times to get fresh fruit and veggies, and you're guaranteed to get them cheaper from a farm than the market. In many states, farmers sell their surplus to the government for a loss, simply because they can't sell all of what they grow. If you're willing to go collect your own veggies, many farms will be glad to let you pay cheaply by the bushel, as low as $0.50 per. You might have to prove that you know what you're doing before they let you tamper with their crops, but it's not rocket science. :)

Don't be afraid to tell the farmers and 4-H people why you want all this food. Most of them will approve of your industriousness, and you may get more help than you hoped for. If you're stuck for how to prepare all of this food, *everyone* has their grandmother's secret recipe for such and such.

You might also consider having a potluck for your feast. This takes the strain off of you, but you should give out lists of suggested food to prevent everyone showing up with pasta salad. If you feel that giving lists is a little too...demanding... you might phrase it as a request for a favorite food, i.e., Aunt Martha makes the best apple pie you've ever had, could she please bring one to the wedding? And Uncle Toby makes fantastic BBQ, your fiancé would be thrilled if he brought some, and so on.

If there is a special dish you have your heart set on, but don't have the time or talent to make it, consider catering just the one dish. I love baklava, but I can't make it and trying to do so frustrates the living crap out of me. I could contact a local Greek restaurant to find out about catering, or a local Greek Heritage club.

More than likely, you won't be making your own wedding cake. The cake is the focal point for all weddings, and it should be incredible. If you know how to make a triple layer cake with all the beautiful details, go for it...but not many of us do. Contact your local bakeries, and shop around. A beautiful wedding cake is an expensive thing, so you might have to pay more than you'd like for it.

Many craft stores (like Hobby Lobby) have cake decorating classes. This can be useful to you in many ways...you can take the class yourself, ask the teacher who they would recommend for creating a wedding cake, ask the teacher if he/she would create a wedding cake, or even sponsor a contest in the class for your wedding cake. This last one is risky, as none of the cakes may be what you want, but *if* the contest ends at the right time for your handfasting, and *if* one of the cakes is perfect, and *if* the class wants to do it in the first place, all it would cost you is the prize, such as a $25 gift certificate to the craft store hosting the classes. If you go this route, hold the contest in an advanced class, rather than a beginner's course. :) You could also design the cake yourself for the class to copy, or just give suggestions on what you want. Of course, the decorator’s own innovation may surprise you!



The pink plates *do* match my sister's hair...

When women think of weddings, or any special occasion, we usually envision an elegant gathering, with candlelight glistening off of crystal and gold. No matter what we *say*, those plastic forks break our hearts a little. Unfortunately, that's almost always the cheapest way to go.

You probably don't have enough dishes to serve an entire wedding party, as only the most anal among us have complete dining sets for 50. Most newlyweds are lucky to have a complete set of *anything* for two! If mishmash doesn't bother you, you could ask friends and relative to loan the use of all of their dishes for the day. However, as the loanee, it's only polite to return the dishes clean and quickly, and not many new brides have this sort of time right away. :) Also, things get shuffled around and sometimes lost, so Uncle Toby might have Aunt Martha's serving spoon for the next three years. According to Miss Manners, that's your responsibility...either get it back for her or replace it.

You could rent dishes, serving platters, silverware and glasses from a catering company, but this can be expensive. Try calling other rental places, such as a rent-to-own center, or costume rental shops. Even if they don't rent dishes, they can usually direct you to places you wouldn't have thought of.

If you decide to hold your handfasting at a renaissance faire or medieval faire, some faire sites have permanent structures that can be rented at all times of the year. Sometimes the rental can include use of the kitchens and dishes. Here in Oklahoma, we have the Castle of Muskogee, which hosts a feast in the fall. They have dining sets for 300 available, and the cost of renting the dishes is included in the cost of the hall.

If you decide to rent a hall, ask if they have dining sets available. Many times they do for a slight fee. If you're completely stuck for places to call, try local churches. Some larger congregations have donated dishes to the church that the church will in turn rent for a small fee...usually much cheaper than a caterer.

And of course, there are always those plastic dishes. We have more choices now than we did ten years ago, but it's still a plastic plate. The not-so-bad ones can be just as expensive as a real plate, so shop carefully.

Don't forget that it's traditional for the father of the bride to pay for the wedding. You may be able to ask your father (or equivalent stand-in) to pay for one of the more expensive aspects that you can't pay on your own...or at least chip in.



It's a nice day for a white wedding...

The dress. It can be more expensive than the cake and rings put together, and you only wear it once! This can be the worst waste of money you ever commit, or you can turn a one of a kind outfit into something reusable.

If you want a traditional white wedding dress, with crinolines, lace, and pouffyness, but don't want to spend a few thousand dollars, you could scour second hand shops for months, look in discount boutiques, or buckle down and make your own. Many pattern companies sell wedding dress patterns, and satins and lace can be had cheaply if you look in the right places. You could also buy a prom or party dress from a discount store and alter it to fit your needs. If you can't sew, you can always hire a sempstress, or a sewing friend. However, these options may only save you a few hundred, as opposed to the few thousand you hoped for. Rental shops are also an option, although you're less likely to find something you want there than in a bridal boutique.

You could always wear a nice, simple dress...but handfasting calls for pageantry! And a simple white robe can be as stunning as the most frou-frou of designer dresses. Even those of us who can't sew can make a beautiful robe fit for the most lavish wedding parties. Robes are also unisex, so you and your fiancé can dress up for the big day for next to nothing. You can add simple embroidery, ribbons, painted designs, or whatever your imagination calls for. You can also reuse the robes as ritual garb, or underneath your renaissance costume as a chemise.

Using simple robes also makes it easier for your bridesmaids to match, as well as the groomsmen. Just be kind, and don't choose seafoam green.

You don't have to wear white, either. I've heard of red dresses being worn to symbolize fertility, yellow for joy, blue for harmony, brown for dedication to one another, and so on. White wedding dresses in the western world were used to symbolize purity, so if you want to try and convince people that you're a virgin (like your fiancé doesn't know better!) go ahead with the white.

Don't forget to rummage through your friend's closets, either. I found my wedding dress packed away in a box in my best friend's closet...it was the dress she wore to her daughter's baptism. Also ask around in your family, you might be able to wear Great-Aunt Agatha's wedding dress.

Want more ideas? Check the next handfasting page.

Handfasting II Handfasting III