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Should a person hear that a couple “tied the knot,” it’s immediately known that they got married. But just when and where does the term “tying the knot” come from? The phrase “tying the knot” is steeped in tradition, though the origins of the phrase remain open for debate.

One origin story states that tying the knot can be traced back to the Roman empire, when brides wore girdles that were tied in knots, and the groom had to eventually untie those knots to consummate the marriage. Tying the knot also may be traced to the custom of handfasting. The marriage contract was established between a bride and a groom by joining their hands together and tying them. Although accounts vary as to whether the hands were tied only during the ceremony or later, this is believed to be an ancient Renaissance or Celtic tradition.

Others speculate that the phrase traces its origins to Hindu weddings in which brides and grooms tied a necklace of flowers as part of wedding tradition. Yet another theory suggests that the phrase can be traced back to the knotted string that supported beds prior to the use of metal springs. Therefore, in order to make a marriage bed, couples first needed to tie the knot. Knots also represent a difficult-to-break bond, which is why they have long been associated with marriage. In one unity tradition, couples may braid or knot together three strands, with one representing the bride, one symbolizing the groom and the third representing God as they join together in faith.

Similarly, the phrase “getting hitched” is associated with knot-tying as well. The saying implies that two people are being tied together just like a horse is tied, or hitched, to a wagon.