Wedding Traditions

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It is difficult to hold on to traditions over time. Change in cultural traditions is inevitable. However, because traditions define a people at a given time and place, learning about them is both interesting and necessary. Since many Palestinian traditions may not be practiced anymore, it is important to remember them and record them for posterity. I have always been interested in the traditions that are no longer practiced. For that reason, and because it is rather different than those of today, I am choosing to describe a Palestinian wedding from the 1940's. A wedding was a grand affair which was celebrated by the entire village. Even travelers and people from nearby villages were welcomed to the weddings. Everyone in the village knew that a wedding was coming. The family of the groom would go from house to house to personally invite guests with an offering of "makhloota", a mixture of nuts and seeds. In traditional Palestinian weddings, it is the groom's family who pays for and arranges the entire ceremony. For days and up to a week before the wedding ceremony, family and friends gather night after night for a "sahra”; a night of singing and dancing. Usually taking place in a large empty field and providing plenty of space for lots of people to gather, the sahra is just as festive as the wedding ceremony itself. It was usually only the men who danced el debka while the women sang. The night before the wedding is the henna party. The bride and all the women gather for dancing, sweets, and the painting of henna on their hands. Henna painting prior to a wedding is an ancient tradition which is sometimes still practiced today.

On the day of the wedding ceremony, the women of the groom's family are very busy preparing a large amount of food for the large gathering that is to come. The main Arabic dish was "asida"; cracked wheat cooked like rice, which is covered with a layer of rice and large pieces of lamb. This is served in abundance as several trays of it will be prepared. Perhaps the most showy part of the ceremony is when the groom is seated on a horse and paraded through the village for all to see. Wearing the traditional dress of a "kafiyeh", the Palestinian black and white head cloth and an ornate white "abaya" cloak with gold trimming, he rides a horse dressed in a fancy saddle. As the groom rides throughout the village, his family follows singing, clapping and displaying their happiness. By late afternoon, the groom and party return to the groom's family's home and dinner is served.

In the meantime, the bride and her family have been awaiting her departure for the house of the groom. The groom's family has already sent dinner to the bride's family at their home and following that, the bride makes her way to join the groom. Like the groom, she is also seated on a horse and escorted and followed by her family. She wears the traditional Palestinian dress called the "thobe" which is a long dress with long sleeves. However on this occasion her thobe has angular sleeves and fancy gold, silver or red embroidery. On her way to the groom's home, neighbors and people of the village stop her to offer her gifts. Upon her arrival to the groom's home, she is seated in a room on a chair that is usually elevated on a platform. The groom joins her and is seated at her side. The families of the groom and of the bride then celebrate together, dancing into the late night hours. In a traditional Palestinian wedding, there is no exchange of rings. At the end of the night, a scarf is placed on the bride's lap and guests place gifts of money or gold in the scarf as they wish them happiness and prosperity.

Wedding ceremonies are one of the best ways to observe the traditions of a people. Today, in that same West Bank village, this sort of ceremony is no longer practiced as only some of the traditions still remain. Ceremonies today are instead a combination of the Palestinian-American wedding and the traditional wedding. Remembering...
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