This past weekend, I enjoyed the company of my family at my nephew’s wedding in Lancaster, PA.  It was a very traditional American wedding.  I couldn’t help think of the similarities and differences with Turkish weddings.  The wedding took place in a small chapel followed by the reception in aa neighboring hall.  There was a string of bridesmaids and groomsmen.  Long gowns and tuxedos.  Limousines and roses. The wedding party was introduced to all while entering the hall.  Dinner was served.  Followed by the cutting of the cake, throwing of the bouquet, and dancing.  It was a lovely event.  Big scene of the night:  the cutting of the groom’s cake.  The groom stood behind the xbox 360 cake, picked up a game controller and insisted his new bride do the same.  He then handed his controller to a cousin and said, and I quote, “Put this on my plate.”

George & Renee Play with the XBox 360 Cake

My first introduction to Turkish weddings was back in Philly.  Our neighbor was raised in Jamaica and moved to Philly for college.  At some point, he moved to London for awhile where he met a Turkish woman from Izmir.  They married in Izmir.  I don’t remember the details they shared.  I do remember she wore a long white dress.  The one detail that stood out for me was what they ate.  They had a plate of cookies and a bottle of Coke at each table.  I couldn’t imagine it. 

My next experience was my brother-in-law’s wedding in Kayseri.  I was told that the night before there would be a henna ceremony at the bride’s home, where all of the women would put henna in their hands.  I looked forward to that.  I had a friend from India who had told me her stories of Henna nights.  Mom also had Eritrean neighbors in West Chester, PA who participated in henna ceremonies and rituals for special events.

Henna night was thwarted by some who didn’t want to participate in the event.  But the bride and the groom proceeded.  They placed a dab of henna in each hand.  They topped the henna with a coin and then covered their hands with gloves, red satin for the bride and green for the groom.  I no longer remember how long they were supposed to keep the gloves on – but they managed about 30 minutes or so.

The next day, cars were decorated with flowers and streamers and the wedding began.  We drove through the streets honking horns in celebration.  The wedding started much later than I was told it would.  Apparently, they work on their own time.  No big restraints on what time they need to be anywhere.  Nice, right?

The wedding itself was spectacular.  It seemed very American.  The groom in a nice suit and the bride in a long white gown.  There was no bridal party.  They had snuck off earlier in the day to be married by the Imam.  But the official ceremony was a short signing of documents by a civil official at a small table in the reception hall.  They must have had at least 300 guests.  What struck me most about this wedding was the dancing.  Before dinner hit the table, everyone was dancing.  I mean everyone.  The biggest difference, men were on the dance floor before the women, dancing with each other. 

Dinner was a full meal, appetizers, dessert, the works.  Dancing went on throughout the meal.  There was a huge wedding cake covered with fireworks.  I later found out this was for show – not the cake we were served for dinner.  Clowns were hired to entertain children throughout the evening.  Back to the dance floor, the uncles of the groom pulled out piles of one dollar bills – yes, American bills.  They proceeded to flick the bills one at a time, over the heads of the bride and groom and their guests.  I believe when this money hit the floor, it was to be used to pay the band.  However, the band had to beat the children to the bills!

At the end of the evening, every guest, as tired as they were, had their photos taken with the couple.

My next experience was watching from a window in the Keçiören neighborhood of Ankara.  The guests gathered in the courtyard behind an apartment building on a Saturday afternoon.  As the music started, the dancing began.  I noticed one dance where all the men circled the groom, kneeling on one knee.  I couldn’t really make out what was going on.  It was a simple wedding with a lot of  joy and happiness.

The next experience was recently in Aksaray.  Another huge event in a rented hall.  The bride in a long white dress.  Much of this wedding was similar to the Kayseri wedding, but oddly to me, on each table was set two plates of cookies, to plates of fruit, a bottle of Coke and one of Fanta.  It was a huge fancy wedding without dinner.  I was actually shocked by this.  The rest of the wedding was as expected.  Non-stop dancing, talking, and photos as the end.  Again I saw the circling of men around the groom.  But this time it was first hand.  One man danced with the groom.  At some point, one of the kneeling men jumped in and the first joined the others in the circle. 

The Dancing Circle in Aksaray

It was also the first time that I experienced the sale of photos during a wedding.  The photographer had kids selling photos of guests for 5 lira just as quickly as they could take and develop them.  It was a lovely cool evening.

My last Turkish wedding was a bi-national wedding, an American and a Turk.  This was more a celebration of the vows they had taken months earlier back in the States.  Living in Ankara, the couple rented out the outdoor dining area behind a jazz club.  The band played jazz, including old Turkish tunes to a jazz beat.  A full and lovely Turkish meal was served, as was wine. (I had previously only seen wine at one wedding and I believe it was brought by guests.)  Dancing was not tradtional.  There were no arms waving to the sides.  The guests rose for a few slow tunes.  It was a really beautiful night and nicely done.  To me, it really showed the range of difference in society.  It’s not that this was a more high-classed group, they were just different.  They had the big wedding in the States and this was a close intimate setting of family and friends.  Side note – there were photos taken during this wedding.  Apparently Ankara prices are higher at 10TL per photo.

Bottom line – to each his own, whether it be barefoot in the park, by a lake, in a hall, or at a jazz club.  Weddings are a celebration that crosses lines, traditions blend with fashion and wants.  Weddings, whether bold and big or intimate and small are a joining of families, familiar and new, celebrating the birth of a new line. 

PS – Sorry there aren’t more photos!  I have most of them back home.n  I can add them later if you are interested.

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