Handfasting is the traditional European ritual that sets in effect a temporary or permanent betrothal or marriage. The term "handfasting" comes from the German phrase "Hande fest halten", which means to hold hands firmly. In the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent required that there be a priest and two witnesses at every handfasting, and that the bride and groom must give thirty days notice of the affair prior to the ceremony. Even so, many common-law and clandestine marriages were recognized in both England and Scotland during that time.
In the eighteenth century, the Kirk of Scotland refused to recognize any marriage that was formed by mutual consent and/or sexual intercourse. A handfasting ritual was to be held in public to avoid any legal repercussions. These rules were held in place until 1900s, with the Marriage Act of 1939, in which the term "handfasting" was no longer recognized by the general public.
Presently, many Neo-Pagans take part in handfasting rituals, in which the vows said in the ceremony may last for "a year and a day", a lifetime, or "for as long as love shall last." It is up to the couple to decide whether or not the ceremony will be a legal, public, or private matter. State laws regarding handfastings vary greatly, and many couples may choose to have a separate, legal ceremony afterwards. Most modern handfastings are used to wed same-sex couples or multiple partners, in the case of polygamous relationships.
There are many different rituals involved in handfasting, and it usually depends on the couple as to which ones they choose. If the couple is of a Neo-Pagan religion, they may use the elements of a specific ritual from their traditions. Jumping over a broom or small fire to seal the ceremony is a common event in most handfastings, and most of the ceremonies take place outside in the summertime.