The Egyptian Wedding
By Dr. Maged El-Bialy
You may ask why am I writing an article about Egyptian weddings. You may think that an Egyptian wedding is like any other wedding, but I can assure you that an Egyptian wedding is a very special historical ceremony. It is the most important ceremony for Egyptian females. I am sure that there are certain rituals for marriage in many parts of the world but the Egyptian wedding ceremony has been carried on from generation to generation since the times of the Pharaohs. While there are many western aspects, the enthusiasm and grand festive atmosphere of an Egyptian wedding is simply amazing.
The ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to regard marriage as a legal relationship. Marriage in ancient Egypt was a religious imposition. The ancient Egyptian laws organized the marriage relationship and indicated all rights and duties for the couples. Many of the old marriage contracts have been found, and they were registered and signed by three officers. The ancient Egyptian laws gave the right of divorce to women as well as men, and the wife had great respect and a high degree of prestige.
Before marriage in ancient Egypt, there were many chances for men and women to meet in places such as the temples or at the common feasts. There was a custom in the Egyptian family which allowed the adult daughter to welcome guests who came to visit her parents. Even today there remains in some parts of rural Egypt a custom that the eldest daughter is to marry before the youngest. The ancient Egyptians had an engagement period in order for the couple to become familiar with each other. The groom-to-be and his parents would go to the brides house and meet the head of the family. They would negotiate an agreement where the groom would pay a dowry and buy the bride a gift of precious stones or gold. On the day of the wedding there would be a great banquet where all the guests would eat, sing and dance. Then the bride and groom would be led to their home and on the way, green wheat would be tossed in the air as a symbol of fertility.
While time has altered modern Egyptian weddings, many of the traditions remain. Christian and Islamic custom now dictates that the official wedding must take place in a church or mosque. However, the reception after the official wedding remains much the same as in ancient Egypt. Reception parties differ from place to place in Egypt but they all hold common features including singing, dancing, a banquet and a lot of guests. Most often the wealth of the family of the bride and groom dictates the number of guests invited to the reception.
Certain aspects of Egyptian weddings in urban cities are not unlike weddings anywhere in the the world. The bride wears an ordinary bridal dress and the groom wears a black suit or a tuxedo. The ceremony starts with a car parade. The wedding car (as prestigious as possible) will be decorated with flowers and ribbons. Cars of both families move together in a noisy parade of continuous sounding of car horns to a wedding hall most often in a hotel. The honking is to announce that there is a wedding taking place. When the bride and groom reach the hotel they are received by a Zaffa. The Zaffa is another human parade of belly dancers and drummers surrounding the bride and groom, singing happy songs. The bride and groom will occasionally join in the dancing but the main aim is to walk as slowly as possible to the wedding hall. Some Zaffas will last an hour!
When the bride and groom finally reach the their destination in the hall they sit in the Kosha. The Kosha usually consists of two comfortable seats in front of the guests where the bride and groom reign as though king and queen. As soon as the bride and groom are seated in the Kosha a rose sherbet drink is passed to the guests and all drink to their health. Then the bride and groom will switch rings from right index fingers to left index finger.
This is probably an old Christian tradition but it is done whether the couple is Moslem or Christian. With this ritual, the festivities begin. The bride and groom have the first dance after which the other wedding guests join in. Usually a belly dancer or a singer entertains the guests but in more luxurious weddings there is more than one entertainer. Guests will dance and sing with the newly wed couple, and the groom will occasionally be tossed in the air by friends. The more the tossing of the groom the more his popular! After the formal entertainment, a disc jockey is used to extend the festivities.
Then comes the cutting of the cake. As elsewhere in the world, the bride and groom cut the cake, which is several layers high. The bride then tosses her flower bouquet behind her back to other hopeful females. Who ever catches the bouquet is lucky because she will be next to marry. Next, the couple opens the buffet for the guests, which is usually a wide variety of salads, meats, stews, and sweets. Actually the list might go on forever in some weddings. Food is considered one of the factors that reflect the wealth of the families of the bride and groom. After every guest has stuffed his or her stomach, the wedding party is over. In some weddings there may be some more entertainment. Then the bride and groom usually get a complimentary night or two at the hotel.
Modern urban weddings are obviously affected by western traditions. For example, the cutting of the cake and tossing of the bouquet. This is not the case with rural areas of Egypt. In rural areas, after the Zaffa, the wedding ceremony will usually take place in a big clearing of land where a huge Arabic tent called the Sewan is set up. Entertainment includes a belly dancer or singer and sometimes both. Drinks are passed to guests and food comes in huge plates to be served to guests. The customary food is Fattah which is pieces of lamb meat embedded in rice and bread dipped in stew. The bride and groom will leave the wedding early but the guests continue the festivities.
Whether rural or urban, weddings reflect the image of the families that have come together. Both families show off their wealth to their wedding guests. From this, it would be concluded that Egyptian weddings are not just an announcement of marriage but also an announcement of the economic positions of the families..
If you visit Egypt keep an eye out for weddings. In many seasons, there will be weddings almost every night in hotels such as the Nile Hilton. Do not hesitate to ask permission to join the wedding. I guarantee you that you will be welcomed. Sing, dance and enjoy the culture of Egypt.
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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011
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