The usherring in of spring and increased sunshine during the day means that wedding season in Turkey will soon be upon us. Although there are a wide variety of ways in which weddings are celebrated in Turkey, in nearly all cases, whether you find yourself in a pasture at a village wedding or a fancy ballroom in the city, there are a few points of deviation typical to Turkish style that would be good knowledge to have as a foreigner in Turkey.
A Turkish wedding can range anywhere from three days to a one-night affair. The typical rule is the more rural the setting, the longer the wedding. The first night is known as the "henna night" and takes place in the familial home of the bride to be. The bride dons a rich red gown and the guests are primarily female. The bride sat on a chair with a thin veil covering her face.
A pot of henna is prepared and a small dollop is placed in the center of each palm after which the bride's hands are wrapped in cloth for the henna to set. What follows is a series of melancholic songs sung in chorus by those present as the younger women walk in a circle around the seated bride both passing the pot of henna around while also each carrying a candle. The vibe is somewhat grim as the intention of the ceremony's participants is to bring the bride to tears. Although it may seem bizarre to bystanders watching, the reason behind the gloomy atmosphere is that it is symbolically the last time the bride will spend the night in her childhood home.
In the event that the families of the couple are from different villages or regions, the second night consists of a wedding party held in the bride's home. The third night, where the official wedding takes place, is held in the groom's "home" and the bride simply dons her wedding gown for a second night in a row to dance the night away.
However, it is on the morning of the official ceremony when it gets really exciting as at the crack of dawn, the groom and his "best men" plant a red crescent and star flag in the vicinity of his soon to be marital home accompanied by joyous drumming and shrill pipes and possibly even rounds shot into the sky. This tradition, a remnant of Turkey's ancient nomadic culture is to represent the staking of the new home (or back then, "tent") where the couple will later arrive to live as man and wife.
In the afternoon, the groom's side of the party arrives to pick up the bride in a convoy. In the past, the bride would be seated upon a horse, her eyes blindfolded, as she was led on horseback to her new home. The reasoning behind this particular tradition was to ensure the bride did not know where she was going, in case she tried to escape back to her familial home. These days this tradition is nearly abandoned and if not is solely symbolic and the bride is most always brought to the wedding location by a convoy of cars adorned with flowers, streamers and "getting married" signs. Now, you may have seen children by the dozens chasing after a wedding convoy and literally stopping the car in front where the bride and groom are sitting. However, what you may not know is that they are expecting and are even prepared for this roadblock to occur possibly numerous times until they throw out envelopes filled with money to the children who only then allow the convoy to pass.
Although rural weddings are also grandiose, urban weddings, which are mostly held on a single night can be outright outlandish.
In this case, do not assume that a florally pastel dress is the best way to go for a summer evening, because Turkish ladies certainly pull out all the stops. Although black evening gowns are the norm, it is certainly not out of line for female guests to wear white, which is an unspoken nono in Western culture. Don't expect to see the bridesmaids wearing the identical dreaded version of a dress they will never wear again, as here the bride's close friends bond instead during a day spent at the hair salon, where they all get dressed up to the nines and outshine one another in unique and stunning evening wear.
One constant in Turkish weddings is to pin a gold coin or cold hard cash, onto the bride's gown or the groom's suit jacket by standing in long lines in plain sight of the wedding party to take a turn congratulating and gifting the newlywed couple. If gold is not your thing, just make sure not to arrive to the wedding with a toaster as a gift, because most likely there will be no place to safely put it, such as a gift table, to ensure it makes it into the hands of the married couple. In addition, a spontaneous "halay" dance could most definitely put said gift in danger.
Last but certainly not least is the steadfast tradition of the bride and groom jostling for the chance to be the first to step on the other's toes as they pen their final signatures on the marriage certificate. The first to stomp on their beloved's toes symbolically becomes the one to have the "final word" in the marriage.