Formulaic Pre-Wedding Celebrations: Turkish Henna Night

DSC_0061First off, I realize it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything – like a month.  I’m still in Ankara, still waiting for the baby, and still have things to talk about 🙂  However, I’ve also been really busy this past month – despite not going to USAK every day.  Lots of classes, lots of editing – and, quite honestly, after editing any more than 4,000 words in a day I really don’t want to open my computer again.  But the pace of everything is slowing down – only 10 pages to edit and one class to give today! – and you’ll probably see more posts as the summer progresses (provided I’m not, you know, completely swamped by being both a PT editor and a brand new FT parent).

So, Henna Night (Kina Gecesi):

Last Friday I accompanied one of my sister-in-laws on a ‘picnic field trip’ outside of Ankara organized by her work unit (a Hanim Locale/State-run Woman’s Club – somewhat similar to the original YWCAs in that, for a minimal annual fee, it offers study spaces and classes in everything from interior design and painting to English to step aerobics to cooking and jewelry making).  On the trip (which should be another post, if only because it involves a disco-bus) I was invited to the wedding – and all the pre-wedding celebrations – of one of her younger co-workers.  The hamam night had already passed, but this Tuesday saw “Henna Night”.

DSC_0075Now Henna Night is a traditional Turkish pre-wedding celebration, basically a preparing of and sending off of the bride involving dancing, singing, cookie nibbling and pressing of henna into the bride and groom’s hands.  Apparently (nearly) everybody still has a henna night, and the locale where the event was held was actually a “Kina Konagi” (Henna Konak – Konak being an architectural term describing traditional Ottoman structures) in the revitalized HamamOnu neighborhood.

But what was lacking was authenticity.  It was one of those events that seems done and carried through simply because this is the way things are done, and not because the actions continue to carry any significance for the participants and organizers.  It was almost as if we were spectators in a carefully planned – but somewhat empty – program, watching rather than creating the event.  Guests came, kissed cheeks, sat; there was music (electronic, from speakers propped up by the door) and dances led by four professional dancers in gypsy-Ottoman costumes.  The bride-to-be was henna’d and surrounded by a circle of women with their smart phones out; everyone gathered for photographs and sipped from juice boxes. But the event seemed to lack body, like it wasn’t a natural internally-originated expression from those attending.

And a Post-Wedding Update:

Mygod, the wedding was boring.

There, now I’ve gotten that off my chest. Like the henna night, the wedding felt formulaic – although even more lacking in substance and active audience participation.

The wedding hall was literally on the edge of Ankara, in this wedding complex topping a hill overlooking fields and an outlet mall. But it might have as well been in the city center because all the windows were closed and the tight high-ceilinged hall shone with cold blue lights beaming down from the white chandeliers to bounce off the round mirrors we had in place of placemats. And I thought Kyrgyz weddings were shiny.

We arrived around 7:30.  We sat.  We sat some more.  Other co-workers arrived and we somehow contrived to find a table to fit all of us, though it was at the edge.  The bride and groom descended, the veil was lifted and vows were said – but the sound system was so bad that we couldn’t really hear anything.  And then there was an hour and a half of guests going up (waiting in a line) to give the new couple their congratulations and pin the traditional gold coins.  Inedible appetizers came out (only wedding where I’ve ever been served chicken nuggets…) along with fruit juice and cola.  Then the couple danced and people started to leave. There was a bit of dancing on the small space of open floor, but… this was an alcohol-free wedding.  It’s surprising how little activity can come from one room packed with 450 people. If you’re going to have a wedding, I think ti should at least be fun and at least a partial reflection of the things you enjoy.  I’ll admit, our wedding didn’t include all the elements we would have wanted (we did arrive in Ankara 2 weeks prior), but at least it had more the sense of being a good dinner with people we know and whose company we value.  The purpose of last night’s wedding (judging by when people left and the lack of interaction otherwise) seemed to be to stand in line and pin the gold coin on the bride’s dress. Not my kind of event.  Also, Henna Night was comparatively a lot more fun.



2 thoughts on “Formulaic Pre-Wedding Celebrations: Turkish Henna Night

  1. I could not stop laughing about the chicken nuggets. Boyfriend (Turkish) and I (Canadian) and I have many a discussion about the culture of the nouveau-riche and aspirational nouveau-riche in Turkey. Maybe it’s just us, but in Istanbul it always seems hard (not impossible of course – no need to tar everybody with the same brush) to find people who seem to interact authentically and not just as actors reading a script of social rules and expectations – particularly where parties and the appearance of money are concerned. I wonder how a wedding in a village would have gone – would it have felt more authentic if the place hadn’t experienced the same rapid economic development that Turkey has seen within the last 20 years?


    • I think part of that may be reflective of who has moved to Istanbul – Ankara is generally a city of bureaucrats and university students/professors, so I think we witness a lot less bling, whether on the street or in a wedding hall. I would say that certain events (to a certain extent) do seem “scripted” – especially when (as with this wedding) a good portion of the people are religious and that affects the entire vibe. My husband’s family, on the other hand, is a lot more lively and comfortable around each other – if anything at our wedding was scripted, people forgot their lines after the first or second glass of raki…
      As for complete scripts, that’s definitely something I’ve seen in Kyrgyzstan:


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