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Quick Peek Inside: A Traditional Palestinian Wedding

Posted by Summer Kanj on

Lu-lu-lu-lee! Ululation (Zaghareet) is a unique sound that is created by touching the tongue either to the side of the mouth or teeth in rapid succession. The most prominent time women in Palestine zaghareet, is to announce the establishment of a son or daughter’s wedding in a way to express their happiness. An authentic Palestinian wedding starts with the pre-marriage phases, which involve the families’ of both the bride and the groom. Typically the mother and the sister of the groom will go over to the home of the bride’s family, to discuss the proposed marriage, which entails the future ties between the two families. If all details of the couple’s marriage are settled upon, the ceremonial planning proceeds.

zaghareet - Palestinian WeddingPalestinian Woman Zaghareet

All of the pre-ceremonial rituals can last up to a week. Though, upon the days leading up to the wedding ceremony, the family and friends from both sides of the marriage, gather together night after night for what is called a ‘sahra’. In Arabic, a sahra is a late night get together. The men and the women of the couple’s families, exchange conversations and get to know one another, as they are soon to become family. Dancing and singing is also involved. Specifically a type of traditional dance called the dabke. The dabke, mostly performed during joyous occasions, most commonly involves all of the men linking hands in celebration and presenting quick and synchronized footwork and stamping, while rotating in a circular movement. During the dancing, the women would usually sing traditional Palestinian songs all together. In the night before the wedding, the bride as well as all of the women, would gather together for a henna night involving dancing, food and henna applications of the hands. The henna night is an ancient tradition, which was not only a chance to make last minute arrangements and decorations but also an opportunity for the families of both sides to celebrate and bond together before the wedding ceremony.

Henna - Palestine BrideHenna during a Palestinian Wedding

All of the members within the village are aware that a wedding is about to take place, as all of them have been invited, including those of nearby villages and even travelers. Since the family of the groom pays for and arranges the entire wedding, they are responsible for traveling from home to home throughout the village personally inviting each of the guests to the ceremony. In the most literal sense, an entire village of people is invited. Thus, on the day of the wedding the women of the groom’s family can be found busily preparing a huge quantity of food in order to feed all of the guests invited to the large gathering. One of the most prominent dishes served was ‘asida’ a type of dumpling made from cracked wheat flour and boiled in water. It was served with a layer of rice and large pieces of lamb. This was a very simple yet rich dish that was very filling and mainly eaten during occasions.

‘Mansaf’ is another traditional dish that is typically served during all large gatherings in Palestine, especially weddings. Mansaf is made of lamb cooked in a sauce made of dried fermented yogurt, typically served with rice or bulgur on top of a thin piece of ‘shrak’ bread. The name mansaf originates from the term for “large tray”, which is exactly how this dish is served to guests at large gatherings. The large tray dishes typically around 36 inches in diameter would be spread out on top of white sheets on the floor in which groups of six to eight guests would be seated in a circle around the dish. Each of the guests would share and indulge in the dish, each eating with only their right hand and grabbing from the portion directly in front of them. In addition, the immediate family members of both the bride and the groom do not eat until all of the guests have eaten.

Mansaf During Palestinian WeddingMansaf During the Wedding is Served for the Guests

On the day of the wedding, the groom’s family will have already sent dinner to the bride’s family at their home. In the meantime the bride and her family will have been eagerly awaiting her departure to the groom’s home. When the actual ceremony begins, ‘al-zaffeh’ takes place. Al-zaffeh is perhaps the most anticipated part of the ceremony, which loudly announces that the marriage celebration is about to begin. This is an ancient tradition that involves a procession of the bride seated sideways on a horse, while paraded alongside family members whom are ululating while playing Arabic drums (tablahs) and dancing through the streets of their village chanting phrases of praise. Up until reaching the groom’s home, members of the village will have stopped the bride to offer her gifts and to personally express their best wishes.

Once the bride arrives to the groom’s home she will be seated on a chair that is usually elevated on top of a platform. The bride will be wearing a traditional Palestinian costume called a thobe. The thobe is a long gown with long sleeves and is most prominent for its hand-embroidered designs known as ‘tatreez’. The intricate tatreez incorporates colorful patterns, which are specific to the region of Palestine in which the bride is from. However on her wedding day, her bridal thobe may specifically include angular sleeves with gold or red embroidery. Along with the thobe, the bride also wears a traditional headdress called, al-suffeh, which is lined with gold coins all around the head. As for the groom, he will join her while seated by her side wearing a traditional outfit incorporating a men’s custom white thobe and headdress called a hatta. In some village customs, the groom will have received a fresh facial shave by a close friend or family member in public preparation on the day of the wedding.

 Zaffa

Throughout the night, the families of both the bride and groom celebrate together into the late hours while eating, dancing and enjoying each other’s company. There is no exchange of wedding rings in a traditional Palestinian wedding. Though, towards the end of the ceremony, a scarf is placed onto the lap of the bride, as additional gifts of money or gold are given along with further wishes of extended health, happiness and prosperity. It is a Palestinian tradition that all of the relatives from both sides of the bride and groom present gifts in order to help the newly married couple in establishing their new life together.

Palestinian Bride Samira in her wedding Gown, The first Christian Palestinian Wedding After 1948

Today most Palestinian wedding ceremonies mix in modern Western elements along with traditional authentic customs. Yet no matter which Palestinian wedding you attend, two traditions will always remain prominent across the line. These two traditions are the importance of family and the strong emphasis of hospitality. Features of these qualities can be sensed prominently throughout any Palestinian wedding ceremony one might attend. While change of traditions over time has proven inevitable, today there are many young Palestinians whom have been seeking to restore all of the traditional rituals within their own weddings in order to preserve the authenticity that makes a Palestinian wedding, truly authentic.


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1 comment


  • Probably one of the best blogs I’ve read so far about Palestinian traditions. Great work

    Leana on

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