First, I spent over an hour writing a detailed description of a wedding JD and I attended last Friday. When I was almost finished my iPad froze and my narrative was lost in space, or maybe in the Cloud. So as I once again write about the wedding I’m afraid I won’t be providing as much detail. Enough of the disclaimer.
A traditional Palestinian wedding (and perhaps all Islamic weddings) consists of three parts. Part one is the engagement contract wherein the parents, and the couple, sign an engagement contract. Following the signing the couple meets every few days at the home of the parents of the bride or groom, but usually the bride. This is an opportunity to get to know one another and the families they are marrying. Family is a focal point of life here and it is very important that the parents and the couple get along.
The second step in the marriage follows the engagement, which is at least six months or longer. The couple, now committed to marry, sign a marriage contract and are now legally married but each return to their homes until after the third and final step. Once the couple has signed the contract they can go out unaccompanied, but most don’t. If something were to go wrong between step two and step three, it would damage the reputations of both parties.
Now to the grand finale, the Wedding and Party. All of the wedding attendees, and there are a lot, from the bride’s village gather at the home of her parents. All of the women are dressed in their finest Thobes, which is the traditional Palestinian dress for special occasions. A woman’s Thobe is a long, slim dress, usually black, decorated with very intricate hand embroidery. For weddings the decoration sometimes includes hand-stitched beading and sparkly stuff. The mother of the bride wears a very fancy and colorful dress, as do some of her aunts and cousins, and the younger girls are wearing their fanciest dresses and I saw lots of sparkly shoes. All the adult women are wearing hijabs, the head covering, except the bride. The bride herself is wearing a traditional, western style white gown with some modification, sleeves have been added for modesty and because in Islam it is haram, sinful, to have exposed skin. Modern adherrants to Islam do not follow this rule, but this was a traditional wedding and most of the females were covered, myself included out of respect for tradition and because I wanted a Thobe and hijab. (I was less than successful with my hijab, it is hard to get it right, so I basically ended up wearing a scarf.)
All the women gather together with the bride for the women’s party. They ohh and ahh over the bride and sit and talk, drink tea, soft drinks and eat fruit (fresh figs). Towards the end of the party the bride’s grandmothers and aunts start singing and clapping wishes for the bride. The singing is accompanied by trilling, a sound that no American woman, even one in a Thobe and hijab, can make.
Meanwhile, the men are gathered together elsewhere for the men’s party where they drink tea, coffee and water. No food for the men, not even figs. Most of the men were casually dressed, except the bride’s father who was wearing a suit. Some of the men were wearing traditional robes (also called Thobes) and headdresses. The robes and headdresses are white with a black band securing the headdress. It is ncalled a keffiyeh.
After about an hour, the grooms family shows up. The males go to the men’s party and the women come to greet the bride. They come into the party singing and dancing and bringing gifts for the bride. This goes on for a while and then it’s time to leave and go to the groom’s village. The bride puts on a hooded cloak and is escorted to a decorated car. (We still haven’t seen the groom.). All of the guests, which is everyone in the village, get into their cars (they even had taxis and a medium sized bus) and form a caravan to travel to the groom’s village. With the bridal car leading, lights flashing, sirens and horns blaring, we drove from the village of Jiljilya to the village of Baytin, about 20 kilometers.
Once we arrived in Baytin we went to the Municipal Building for the “wedding” party. As we drove through town we encountered a large group of males gathered next to the road. This group was the groom’s party. In the middle was the groom, dressed in traditional robes and headdress. After we got to the building and the bride was secured in the women’s room, the group of men started moving down the street. By this time the groom was riding a horse and carrying a sword, surrounded by his ‘tribe’ all of whom were singing, chanting, and clapping. The horse was also decorated with ribbons and bells and pom proms and sort of pranced down the street.
The parties were on the fourth floor and after getting stuck in the women’s elevator (it broke) and getting turned away from the men’s elevator (haram) by the elevator police, I trudged up the stairs to the party. Finally, the bride and groom arrived, the cloak was removed, and the dancing, singing and merriment began.
First, the bride and groom danced, then the women in the bride’s family formed a circle and danced around the (still) dancing bride and groom. This went on for quite some time until the groom left and went to the men’s party. I’m not sure what they did but JD tells me he went around the room and greeted and shook hands with everyone.
Meanwhile at the women’s party everyone was taking turns dancing with the bride in the circle. Then the groom’s family, including the male relatives, came in and they all started dancing. It was very festive. We, JD and I, have now been at the wedding for about fours hours, with only figs to sustain us. Suddenly, there is an audible murmur in the room and I notice that JD has entered the women’s party and is making his way in my direction. But it’s okay, it’s just the Americans. So after about four or five hours we give our regards and head for home. A beautiful, and very different, wedding in Palestine.