December Fourteenth

December 14, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Anniversary, Christmas time, Living With Intention

We grew up in a big wedding culture. John had a Catholic childhood complete with big bawdy beer soaked receptions with fried chicken and mostaccioli. I was from the Protestant side of town where we had the same bad food, and lots of fruit punch. There was also sliced roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and soft mushy green beans. The food was bad but the Catholics got by it with the beer. Every once in a while one of our girls would marry one of their boys and we watched in awe as their side danced and whooped it up. At the boring quiet Methodist weddings the reception was often held in the church basement. There the excitement for the little girls was looking at the bride’s ring and hanging out near the big girl bridesmaids. The boys ran wild in the decorated room where the floors had been shined to a high polish and they could slide like baseball superstars in their good Sunday shoes. But the Catholics rented Polish Hall and found bands who played Proud Mary so the nephews could dance like the Peanuts gang. Here the little girls still oohed and ahhed over the bride’s ring, but their uncles lifted them high in the air and danced with them and then kissed their wives during the first slow dance of the night.

These were the traditions of our childhoods, but in our twenties, hanging out at political rallies and a Unitarian church, they hung on us like a bad 1970s suit. When John and I decided to get married we needed a new tradition that fit the kind of life we intended to make with one another. We listened to jazz, read the NYT in bed with coffee on Sunday mornings, and spent weekend afternoons in a little lefty bookshop. We played with the dogs and looked at art we liked. We went to indie movie theaters and saw edgy films that we didn’t always like, but which always taught us about a bigger world than we’d yet seen. We were making a life rich with ideas and new foods we spent hours cooking in a tiny kitchen. Together we learned about garlic and ginger, and tried vegetables we’d never heard of for the whole of our first twenty odd years. We discovered pomegranates and kiwi, and found out that iceberg was not the only lettuce in the world.

We were married on December 14th underneath our Christmas tree. Our Unitarian minister Martha wearing a long flowing purple robe and her beautiful white hair caught up in a messy bun, performed the handfasting we’d requested without batting an eye. We gave her the ceremony we’d written and she read some Celtic books and learned with us about the history and traditions.

A handfasting is an ancient ritual celebrating of a relationship that already exists. It started when the folks who lived high on the heaths..(the heathens) who didn’t see a priest for most of the winter because of the weather. At the spring ceremonies, the priests, being pragmatists, married those people who’d spent the winter making lives and babies in this ritual which combined the old pagan and more recent religious traditions. We’d been living together for almost four years so this made more sense than a big white froofy dress and prayers that no longer held meaning for us. Instead we built a ceremony around our beliefs that God is manifest throughout the world, and our friends, from John’s old life, from mine, and some that we’d made together, formed a circle around us representing water, air, earth, and fire, They read the blessings that felt so profound to us.

It went a little like this….Goddess and God of the North, Mother and Father of all living things we greet you. Let your roots sink deep within to the source of their creativity. Let the strength and constancy of earth connect John and Ellen and be theirs always.
Then we went to the south…creative fire of the universe, we greet you. Let your fire enter here that John and Ellen may have power and passion. Let your flame comfort them and light the way as they begin their adventure.
From the west there was,
Let your energy flow where it is needed and let these lovers see their true selves mirrored in your reflection. Take them through their changes just as surely as your tides ebb and flow.
And lastly from the east was let your breath fill the air sharpening their intellect. Give John and Ellen wings so that they may fly as freely as birds in your embrace.

There was more poetry but this was the rhythm.

Tears ran down our cheeks as our hands were tied with flowing long red ribbons. We each said,
I take you to be the wife/husband of my days, the companion of my house, and the mother/father of our children. We will keep together what measure of trouble and sorrow our lives may lay upon us. And we will share together our share of goodness and plenty and love.

The emotion in the room when Martha cut the ribbon symbolically breaking the tie and illustrating the bond, united but separate, ran high. We giggled and cried and so did our guests. We exchanged rings saying

This ring is a symbol of our handfasting and of my eternal love for you. I ask that you take it and wear it so that all may know you are touched by my love.

Martha’s benediction was
May you weave the beauty of this day into the fabric of your lies. May your home continue to be filled with unconditional love nurturing and patience. Your hands are fasted, Your marriage begun. The circle is open but unbroken.
May the radiance of this moment be with you now and forevermore. Let all who go from here know the joy of this day. Blessed be.

We had lots of big food, rich with smells and tastes that had been foreign to us just a few years before. The food was a nice mirror of the ways our lives had already begun to change. There was lots of wine and champagne and live music in the living room from musicians we knew and loved. It was the perfect beginning for journey we have taken together. As I look back over all these years, I know that we have kept our promises to each other even on the rare days when we didn’t. We have honored that day with our enduring presence and gentle attention.

We celebrate the day we met in October and then we get to celebrate our handfasting in December too. It’s because we have a lot to celebrate.

Happy Anniversary John. I love you more and more and more. Blessed be indeed….


  • Maddie

    I have never heard of a Handfasting. Yours sounded beautiful. How lovely that you did it beside your Christmas tree. What a wonderful picture you all must have made.

  • beesknees

    i thought handfastings were strictly wiccan. this one seems to have had all sorts of neo pagan and Christo centric bits. thanks for telling the story and happy anniversary to you both.
    i like knowing that somewhere people are staying together and are glad about it

  • library lady

    Happy anniversary. I knew you got married sometime in December, but I didn’t know the date. Yesterday on the 14th I went through a little hand-holding ceremony myself–I had my nails done by a sweet young Vietnamese man who doesn’t really understand what I say to him at the same time I don’t understand him either…something I’ve observed in many married couples, but NOT you and John. You two are an ongoing inspiration.

  • Kate

    Oh. That made me cry just a little bit.

    Enjoy each other.

  • Jennifer

    So…where did the chicken dance fit in?? 😉

    Truly, this sounds so beautiful — the ceremony itself and that it was entirely yours. As your life seems to be now, too. There is nothing more lovely. Happy, happy anniversary!

  • jamie

    Happy anniversary a day late! It sounds like quite an amazing ceremony. I love the idea of a handfasting. You do have much to celebrate! 🙂

  • Bia

    This was lovely…

    So, Happy Anniversary to you…yesterday…and we’ll think of you as we celebrate our anniversary today (the 15th).


  • Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge

    Whoa, this was not the type of wedding I’d expect you to have had, but I only have a limited picture of you. Just goes to show – the image we put in our minds about people aren’t always accurate.

    I agree with another comment – so wonderful to see two people who still love to be together.

    on another note, one methodist wedding that I attended had, at the reception, “fancy” punch and “plain” punch. I had to ask the bride what that meant! I had never been to an alcohol-free reception before.

  • Don Mills Diva


    It sounds beautiful and this was a gorgeous, gorgeous post.

    Happy anniversary to you both!

  • TheCynicalOptimist

    Wow sounds beautiful. And sort of hippy but beautiful none the less! 🙂

    Happy anniversary!!! That is something to be proud of!

  • Anonymous

    But was there any fruit punch for those Methodists that were undoubtedly still around?
    I wish I’d known you then. And I surely wish I could have seen Lorraine at that wedding!!!

  • painted maypole

    i can see from this blog that you have weaved the beauty of that day into your lives

    happy (belated) anniversary!

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