The Middle East is a large, diverse area with a lot of different cultures and traditions. Even though there is this significant diversity, many of the customs of different countries carry a distinct unified style from the region. It is a Middle Eastern custom to throw five different parties when a couple is going to be married: the engagement party, the contract party, the Henna party, the wedding reception, and the wedding shower.
The engagement party is to celebrate and announce the engagement of the couple. The bride-to-be will change her outfit up to five times and there will be a lot of elaborate foods, desserts, and drinks, along with much singing and dancing. These parties usually start in the early evening and go through most of the night into the early morning hours.
The contract party is the legal aspect of the marriage ceremony. In Middle Eastern countries it is mandatory to legally sign a marriage contract at the courthouse. Family and friends join the couple and they make a party out of the occasion. This may be held at a restaurant or another community center, and again, the bride will probably change her outfit up to five times.
The Henna party takes place the day before the wedding and is second in size only to the wedding party itself. Henna dye is tattooed on the bride’s hands and feet to ward off evil spirits. Along with this ceremony, there is the grinding ceremony, whereby a cloth is held over the heads of the couple and some of the bride’s unmarried friends will grind two hard lumps of sugar allowing the dust to fall on the cloth. While doing this, the girls are praying to Allah to ward off evil spirits from the couple. These celebrations will last into the morning of the wedding day.
The wedding party is the formal exchanging of wedding rings. Much like western cultures, the reception follows the wedding with much dancing, singing, speeches, cakes, foods, drinks, and Middle Eastern music for all. Every guest is given five almond pieces which symbolize the five sacred wedding blessings for fertility, happiness, health, longevity, and wealth.
The final party, the wedding shower, takes place seven days after the wedding. This party is called “Sabaa,” which is Arabic for seven. Similar to the wedding showers in western cultures, this party is held in the home of the mother and only women friends and family are invited. There are gifts given to the newlywed bride, delicious foods served, and much music and socializing enjoyed. It is traditional for the mother to give her daughter diamonds or gold.
Even though many of these rituals may be observed in Middle Eastern weddings, they are by no means universal. Each area of the Middle East may have their own regional customs, but the one universal theme is that the joy and love of family and friends is evident during the celebration of every couple’s marriage union.