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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.

This sort of contract was common among the Romans and Jews, and is not unusual in the East even now.

`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.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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