I attended my first henna night (kına gecesi), a ritual for the bride-to-be, the night before the wedding. A tradition like many have changed and have been adapted over the years, so this was no different, the bride took old aspects of the ceremony and made it somewhat modern.
Traditionally, up until this night the bride has been living at home, this ceremony symbolizing a “rites of passage” for the bride from girl to womanhood, as the bride-to-be is given away to the family of the groom (leaving her identity as a daughter) and prepares to live with her husband after marriage.
The Henna Ceremony
A female wedding ritual that involves the female members of the bride’s and groom’s family, along with the bride’s neighbors and friends. The bride-to-be traditionally wore a red caftan (a variant of a robe or tunic) and wears a red veil that covers her face, as she enters and sits on a chair in the middle of the room. Traditionally unmarried friends (virgin girls), today friends of the bride, follow her into the room holding lit candles, as they begin to walk in circles around the bride-to-be, along with one woman carrying a silver tray with the cup of henna. At this time songs play and women sing to lyrics about the daughter leaving home and becoming a wife. This song, is a popular song to be played today.
This can become an emotional time for both the bride, mother and siblings and even for the guests, who usually begin to cry as they watch the bride about to embark on the next chapter in her life (away from her family).
The women stop and surround the bride as the henna cup is slowly brought to the mother-in-law (or grandmother-in-law) seated in front of the bride. As she takes the henna from the cup and tries to apply it, the bride refuses until a gold coin is placed in the palm of her hand. (I read the gold coin is a symbol of good luck). After the bride receives the coin, she then allows the henna to be applied to the palm of her hand(s) – on top of the coin. The henna cup is then passed around to the guests to also apply henna to the palm of their hands as well for luck in addition to either a continued happy marriage or a future happy marriage.
The remainder of the evening is spent celebrating with dancing, singing, talking and eating.
What is Henna?
Henna, is an organic substance made from crushing the dried leaves of the tree into powder. It’s commonly used today for natural hair coloring (reddish-brown color) and for decorating the body.
How the Henna is Applied
I will now ruin the elaborate decorative henna image you may have in your mind. In Turkey this ritual is about symbolism and tradition, not beauty. Unlike in countries like India, in Turkey it’s literally a dollop of henna placed in the palm of your hand. It is then carefully covered with a towel or napkin to allow the henna to set. The longer it’s left on, the darker the stain will become. I was recommended to keep it on for 30 minutes-1 hour before removing. When it’s first applied the henna is green and similar to a mud texture consistency (I also found the smell to be unpleasant and earthy), when you remove the excess henna at first it appears orange and it will continue to darken over the following day turning into a reddish-brown stain. I was told that it remains on the skin for about 1-2 weeks.
Read my full overview of a Turkish Wedding.