Henna Hen Night

Jeremy and I have had the honor to be invited to our first Turkish wedding. I was very touched that my friend Devrim from school invited us to her brother’s wedding, once again showing how open and welcoming people are here. Weddings here seem to be a different beast than the ones back home and from what I’ve seen, it is common to invite friends and friends of friends to the affair. We were invited to two events. The first was the kına, which means ‘henna’ and the second was the actual wedding ceremony. After doing a little online research, I found out that the kına is a traditional ceremony for the bride and the women in her life, to mark the last time that she will be with her family in her family’s home. The equivalent in Western culture, would be a bachelorette party, although this event is a far cry from penis headbands and straws, and drunken bar crawls.

From what I'd gathered before going, during the traditional Turkish kına, women come together, sing, dance, and decorate their hands with henna. This is the mark of a new bride or of having recently been to a close friend’s wedding. Traditional songs are sung, some which I’ve read are tear-jerkers, reminding the bride that she will leave her family behind. Men, during this time, have their own gathering, traditionally- like a bachelor party. Before the day of the kına, I asked around to see what was typical for these types of evenings and it turns out that each family does things a little bit differently. Our biggest question was whether or not men and women celebrated separately the whole time, or just for a part of the evening. Traditionally, the celebrations happen separately, but Devrim's family is more modern, and the whole event was co-ed. 

Unfortunately, Jeremy couldn't come, and so Friday evening, I took off from school with two of my co-workers- Nadia and Misty- who had also been invited. We ventured down to Ortakoy to buy a gold coin, which we'd been told was customary to give for weddings here in Turkey (though supposedly for the kına, one should get gifts for the home, but we wanted to keep it simple). We then walked back up to Ulus and got dolled up- a rare occasion for me here, for some reason, and started our metrobus and dolmus journey to the kına venue. 
Nadia and I

We got there a bit on the early side and were warmly greeted by the brides' mother. In our limited Turkish, we communicated that we were friends and not wedding crashers. Seeing that we were foreign (we don't hide it very well!), she spoke slowly with lots of gestures (which I found myself wishing that everyone here did), and ushered us to a table. 

The dancing begins!
More people began to trickle in, the music got louder, and it wasn't long before the dance floor was full. We all sat back and observed the steps, trying to internalize a few, so that we wouldn't look too foolish once we ventured out onto the floor. Turkish music has an amazing rhythm and it's wonderful to watch women and men, young and old move so gracefully to it. It is so apparent that children here learn to dance as soon as they learn to walk and it was entertaining to watch young boys proudly mirror their fathers, raising their hands up, and stepping to the beat. 

The bride came in, wearing a beautiful embroidered red dress and introduced herself to us, before joining in on the dancing. Soon after, our friend Devrim came and pulled us out on the dance floor, where we spent most of the evening, sometimes trying to mimic the skilled moves of the Turkish people next to us, sometimes just doing our own thing. There is so much beauty in the all inclusive circle dance, where everyone is stepping to the same rhythm and beat and it was fun to be able to join in. 

After a few hours, it was time for the henna ceremony. Everyone gathered at the back of the venue, where candles were being lit in preparation. Once everyone had a candle, we raised our arms to make a bridge for the bride, groom, and then everyone else to file under. The bride sat on a decorated chair in the middle of the dance floor and everyone danced around her, singing a traditional song called "Yüksek Yüksek Tepelere"  (High, High Mountain Tops), about homesickness once a bride has left home to move in with her husband's family. This song is meant to make the bride cry- a good omen for the years to come. This bride, however was too joyous, and couldn't bring herself to cry, which I'm sure is also a good sign

Lighting the candles

Light Tunnel

The Bride

Circle Dance
After dancing a while more, Devrim and her mom came around and put a glob of henna in each of our hands and instructed us to hold it down with a tissue by making a fist. We were to wash it off after half an hour, when it would have had time to leave a mark. After half an hour, we washed it off and admired the ochre colored stains on our palms. With that, the evening ended. We said our goodbyes and commenced our journey home. 
Misty, Devrim, Nadia
It was a truly wonderful evening and I felt honored to have been invited and share in the festivities. It was a special treat to be welcomed into a family celebration and to share in the dancing and happiness of the moment. The next day, I looked down at the rust colored smudge on my hand and smiled, remembering the evening and the friendships I'm building here. 

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