Middle Eastern Wedding Traditions
The Middle East contains some of the oldest civilizations on Earth, and so it is little wonder that many of their wedding traditions have been passed down for several centuries. While we must bear in mind that there are as many different traditions and customs as there are different peoples in the Middle East, it is also apparent that the region has a flavor that permeates all of the cultures of the region.
The engagement party is the first in a string of five wedding festive weddings celebrations.
In many parts of the Middle East it is common for five different parties to be thrown for the wedding ceremony. It starts with the engagement party. The bride and groom invite family and friends and a festive party is thrown, with special foods and much dancing and singing and happy music. Engagement parties can go on late into the night. During the party the bride often changes her dress up to five times.
The signing of the marriage contract is cause for even greater celebration.
The second party takes place on the day the bride and groom go to the courthouse and sign their marriage contract. Again family and friends are invited and there is much celebration, much music and dancing and song. Once again, it is customary for the bride to change her dress as often as five times during the party.
The Hena party is to ward off any evil spirits and to ensure the happiness of the new couple.
The third party takes place one day before the wedding and is second only in size to the party on the wedding day itself. This third party is named the Hena party. The word Hena might sound familiar; It’s a dye that is used to make special tattoos to the hands and feet of the bride, especially, to ward off evil spirits. This is also the party at which the “grinding” takes place. In many parts of the Middle East the bride and groom are seated while several unmarried girls hold a white cloth on their heads. The “grinding girl” then grinds together two lumps of sugar above the couples’ heads while asking God (Allah) to repel all evil spirits from the young couple’s life. It is traditional for the bride to wear a green dress at the Hena party and the party traditionally continues until dawn on the day of the wedding.
The wedding reception and the five almond pieces.
Following the wedding itself, at which the bride and groom exchange wedding rings – it is thought, by the way, that the wedding ring originated in the Middle East – there is the biggest party of them all. This wedding party is very similar to the receptions following U.S. and European weddings, with speeches, and much dancing and singing and traditional Middle Eastern music. Very often each guest is given five almond pieces, each almond piece symbolizing one of the five sacred wedding wishes: health, happiness, wealth, fertility and longevity.
The wedding shower.
The final party takes place 7 days after the marriage. In Arabic it is called Sabaa, which means Seven. In many ways the Sabaa party is equivalent to a wedding shower in the U.S. or Europe. The Sabaa is held at the home of the bride’s mother and only women attend. The bring the bride presents and the bride’s mother traditionally gives her daughter gold or diamonds.
While these customs – or slight variations of them – are common in many places in the Middle East, they are in no way universal. The Middle East is composed of many different cultures and each culture has its own rich and varied traditions. But one thing is universal in all Middle Eastern weddings, and that is the sense of joy and celebration that is universally expressed at the beginning of a young couple’s new life together.