Let me preface this post by saying the words I’ve written below are things I’ve either experienced firsthand, heard or seen. Like any wedding in any country there is no right or wrong way to ‘have a wedding’ but these are some of the aspects of a Turkish wedding that I’ve found to be the most interesting to share. Please note, not all of the phases need to be followed, today people pick and choose what traditions and rituals they want to participate in.
Phases of a Turkish Marriage
3. Henna Night / Kına Gecesi
4. Nikah Ceremony
Part 1: The Agreement
A time when the immediate families get to meet and agree/approve of the bride and groom getting together. Today this may be the first time the parents meet their children’s significant other and might start the conversation about marriage. My favorite aspect of this meeting is the Turkish Coffee test…
Tradition: Bride-to-Be Serving Turkish Coffee
The bride-to-be prepares Turkish coffee for everyone, but instead of preparing with sugar she’ll use salt for the groom’s. As he takes a sip, based on his reaction he will show his character and maybe foreshadow how the marriage will be. For example, if he goes without complaining, it shows that he’s well-mannered and patient and implies he will bear any obstacles that may come their way. Others say that if she doesn’t like the man, she purposely uses salt to deter the man from marrying her.
Part 2: Engagement
Sometimes almost as big of a celebration as the wedding itself. Either celebrated with a big party or a formal party among the immediate family at the bride’s home. At this time the engagement rings are tied with a red ribbon and are given through a symbolic ring ceremony. This is also where the dowry would be exchanged (bedroom, kitchen and home items) and ’The Making of the Home’ is also done at this time, since couples tend to not live together before marriage, which is still true to this day.
Part 3: Kına Gecesi / Henna Night
Kına Gecesi translates to ‘Henna Night,’ similar and somewhat equivalent to a bachelorette party for the bride. Typically held the week of the wedding, the bride is surrounded by female relatives and friends. The bride wears a form of the traditional gown called a caftan. The bride sits on a chair in the middle of the room with her face veiled, as women dance around her carrying lit candles, singing traditional songs about the bride’s departure from the family home. This can become a sad ritual as the bride and mother begin to cry over the separation from their family. Henna is applied to the bride by the mother-in-law to wish her good luck for her marriage. For a more detailed description read my blog post: Traditional Turkish Henna Night Ceremony
Part 4: Nikah Ceremony
Nikah (pronunciation: nee-kya) is the legal part of the marriage where the marriage contract is signed. This may be held the same day as the wedding, or held on a different date, even in a different city. Sometimes this may occur in the bride’s hometown, where the wedding would be held in the groom’s hometown. If it’s not a religious ceremony done at home, it’s typically held in the town’s nikah/wedding salon, an open hall with curved theater seating around the stage. Here the bride and groom are seated and are later joined by the marriage officiant and their two witnesses. The ceremony consists of a 10 minute (secular) ceremony conducted by a marriage officiant, where the bride and groom loudly state their name and ‘yes’ or ‘I want’ and the two witnesses say, “I accept”. The amount of guests invited is unlimited since the nikah/wedding halls are large enough to fit a couple hundred. (Usually everyone is invited to these, where the wedding party is more selective). Even though this event is only for 30 minutes long (that’s how long you can rent the hall for) people will dress and come as if its an all day event. It ends up breaking down to 10 minutes for the ceremony, 10 minutes for giving gold/money and wishing congratulations, and 10 minutes for photos with guests.
Tradition: Stepping on the Foot First!
As soon as the bride and groom are married, the first person to step on the other’s toes is said to be the “boss” in the marriage.
Tradition: Fetching the Bride
On the day of the Wedding the groom with his relatives and friends gather outside of the bride’s home to witness her final departure from the family home.
Part 5: Wedding
Weddings are always a big occasion, but in Turkey – they’re BIG! Family and friends come from all over to attend, making an average wedding having at least 100-300 people in attendance. What I found most surprising is that you can expect an official invite a month in advance and RSVP is not required. Like most weddings today, the bride wears a white wedding gown and the groom either wears a suit or a groom’s tuxedo. The event is filled with a lot of love, family, friends, eating, drinking, singing and dancing!
Tradition: Signing the Bride’s Shoe
Instead of the bride throwing the bouquet and waiting to see what eligible bachelorette catches it, Turks sign the bride’s shoe. Before the bride begins the ceremony, her single friends and relatives sign the sole of her bridal shoes. At the end of the night, the person’s who name has faded the most will be the next to marry!
The Gift of Gold
Instead of filling out wedding registries like in the States, here the gift of gold is given – literally! As a guest a gold item is given to the couple, usually it’s a a coin (pictured above), where immediate family may give the gift of gold in the form of a bangle or jewelry. After the nikah or wedding ceremony, the bride and groom stand at the front of the room, each with a sash around their neck where guests can line up to pin gold or money to it. This is when, guests share their congratulations and the bride and groom exclaim their gratitude to each of their guests for the coming and for the gift.