What should you expect at henna night?
At a modern henna night in cities, expect a wide range of emotions to be expressed ranging from gaiety to tears. Traditionally in the villages, though, there is usually only sadness, as the bride is leaving her home and friends, maybe to go a long way away.
You will all gather at the place where the event will be held. There will be lots of music, dancing and singing. At some point, the bride’s finger or hand will be dipped in red henna. Usually the middle class and above may participate in this but only use a small amount of henna, possibly on the finger or hand or an area where it is not so obvious and can be covered with a sleeve. Watch out! If you attend a henna night in the village or countryside, the henna will be generous and take days to wear off.
During the celebration, it is customary to sing sad songs -- songs of separation -- about the bride leaving her family. Naturally the bride crying is part of the tradition. It shows the grief and sorrow she feels about leaving her family. Lots of singing is common. Songs are sung by friends and women relatives in honor of the couple. There are special folk songs for the occasion, mostly expressing the sadness of leaving the home where you grew up and your friends and parents.
“Mother, don’t give me away to strange hands
I won’t be able to stand living with exiled hands.
Mother, there is a dark cloud over me
Mother, I am going; don’t forget about me.”
“Father, did you have too many daughters?
Was this girl too much of a load for you to carry?”
“I miss my mother, my father and my village.
If only my father had a horse that he could mount and come to me
If only my mother had a boat that she could set sail and come to me
If only my brothers and sisters knew the way so they could come!”
Depending on the region, it is common for the bride’s friends also to help her dress and prepare for the wedding celebration.
Don’t be shocked or surprised if you see some of the groom’s female relatives slipping a spoon or saucer into their pocket. It is a custom for them to “steal” something from the bride’s household that night.
Tell me about a henna experience…
An important part of the evening is the henna ceremony. Henna is a vegetable dye. Traditionally it is given by the groom’s family. Although it is a red dye, the henna itself is a green paste. At a key point in the evening, all the young single girls will be invited out of the room. They will be given a silver or copper plate with a lighted candle and some henna paste on it, then the lights are dimmed and all the girls proceed in singing. If you are unmarried, you may be invited to join this procession. Don’t refuse -- it is an honor -- just copy the girl in front of you!
Traditionally the bride will have changed into a long velvet robe called a bindalli for this part of the ceremony. The bride’s head will be covered with a red veil. She will be sitting in the middle of a circle made by the procession of girls -- unlike a Western hen night which is a girls only occasion, her husband-to-be will often be sitting there, too. Again, sad songs will be sung, and it is important that they make the bride cry!
The bride will put out her hand for the henna but with a clenched fist. She will only open her hand if money is given -- normally a gold coin called cumhuriyet altını. Then the paste is put on the bride, and mittens of tulbent are tied around her hands so she won’t stain anything she touches. The same may be done to the prospective bridegroom. Then the bride’s veil is lifted, and other ladies present may also use henna.
There are different ways of doing henna: Sıvama means the henna is smeared all over, up to the wrist. Yüksek covers just the finger tips. Kuşgözü is a circle in the palm of the hand. In iplik kınası a string is wound around the hand to make a pattern -- this part will remain the color of one’s skin while the unexposed part is dyed red.
The stains left on the hands for weeks afterwards tell everyone that they are new brides or have been to a close friend or family member’s wedding. Middle-class people often just use a very small bit of henna (perhaps on finger nails so they can cover it with nail polish) or don’t leave the henna on too long. The longer you leave it on, the darker the stain!
If you are single and want to get married soon, then after the henna has been put on, try to steal the bride’s red veil from her head without anyone catching you. If you manage this, you will be the next to wear a wedding dress!
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org