Traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been a cornerstone of our society for centuries. This union celebrated from ancient times brings two people together under an array of customs and traditions that bring a certain flavor to our weddings.
If there is something the Lebanese love to do is celebrate. We celebrate practically everything, yet there is one event that we celebrate that is given more importance then any other, il 3iriss (the wedding).
On the wedding day, the groom “el 3ariss” and groomsmen stay behind at church or at the party venue to await everyone. The future-in-laws present the bride “el 3arouss” at her home a gift (like a dowry) usually it is a gold necklace for her to wear on the day. The gift is presented in front of everyone. As they are leaving her home, the women from both families will give her their blessings with chants and jubilation sounds called zalghouta.
Also known as the act of ululating, the zalghouta is practiced all the over the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. An ululation is a high-pitched tongue trill, a physical skill that involves the throat and tongue. It is a distinct ability and not many people can hit such high notes. The Lebanese zalghouta is different from the others because it is not limited to the act of ululating. Instead, there are a few verses before the loud cry. These verses usually compliment the bride and groom, highlighting their beauty, family and good manners. The bride will leave her home with the joyous chants of “Ah Weeeee-ha,” and “Lilililililililililililili” as the elations fills the air crowning the bride with happiness.
With streets closed-off by the presence of villagers, on-lookers from balconies and porches, entire neighbor hoods become part of the celebration by throwing rice, candy-coated almonds and flower petals on the bride and groom’s accompanying family, as a symbol of good health and prosperity for the couple. Rice is a symbol of fertility and a wish for prosperity and a full pantry.
One of the Middle Ages wedding traditions was to bang pots, ring cowbells and generally make a lot of disturbing noise after the marriage ceremony in order to ward off evil spirits. This custom has been replaced in Lebanon with honking of the procession of cars following the bride to the reception. To our days you can hear the honking of the convoy of cars in the streets of Lebanon as family and friends escort the bride to her groom.
The zaffé, a Middle-Eastern trademark, dating back to the 14th century, is the customary way in which the bride and groom are escorted from their respective family homes to the ceremony location. It represents a celebratory event in which music, dance and public participation are at its core. While the zaffé has been used to escort very important figures in all types of social and political domains, the most memorable zaffés are those that create an ambiance of joy and unison experienced during weddings. The wedding starts with two parties, one in the groom’s home and one in the bride’s home and ends at the venue where the bride and groom walk behind the zaffé for the first time in front of everyone as husband and wife. If the wedding lacks a Zaffé, which is never the case, a wedding is still not considered complete.
Classical Lebanese belly dancing is often performed at the wedding reception and is part of the entertainment. It symbolizes transformation of the bride into a sensual woman.
The wedding cake tradition goes back many centuries to ancient times, originally representing fertility. Ancient Romans would make cake of wheat or barley (both present in Lebanon). Though the actual procedure is unclear, the custom was to break it over the bride’s head as a symbol of her fertility, which has been replaced with the bride and groom cutting a wedding cake. They cut the cake together, his hand over hers, symbolizing unity, their shared future, and their life together as one. The wheat used to bake the cake was symbolic of fertility, and sweetness of the cake was believed to bring sweetness to the couple’s new life.
In our culture the marriage ceremony ends with the bride and groom exchanging a kiss after the cutting of the cake. From ancient times to the modern day, the wedding kiss symbolizes for all people everywhere the physical uniting of two souls. One interpretation is that when the couple kisses, they exchanges spirits with their breath and part of each ones soul left to abide in the other affirming their being soul mates.
After the wedding, the groom’s family invites the bride’s family for a big lunch or dinner. After that dinner, the bride’s family invites them back, all in all more opportunities to have a good time.
If the bride steps on a single girl’s foot it is believed that it will bring her luck and that she is going to marry soon. From the earliest times, brides have worn flowers in their hair and carried bunches of flowers. Flowers symbolize fertility, purity, new life, and never ending love.
Finally, It is widely believed that the first examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt. Relics dating back as far as 6,000 years ago, including papyrus scrolls, show evidence of braided rings of hemp or reeds being exchanged among a wedded couple. Egypt viewed the circle as a symbol of eternity, and the ring served to signify the never-ending love between the couple.
In this land we celebrate all those traditions, not only because they are part of a worldwide trend, but are part of our history and culture. With the Romans, Egyptians, Phoenicians all leaving their marks we have learned to embrace and keepsake those symbolic traditions that unite two humans together.
It is the beginning of the wedding season here in Lebanon. Lebanese weddings make celebrations elsewhere in the world look like casual house parties.
To us, to our traditions, and to the way we do things!
Some videos on zaffés:
The cover picture was taken from: (https://beyondbeirut.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/dabke-and-the-lebanesewedding/).