Practices and traditions surrounding weddings vary across different countries and cultures. However, it is consistently viewed as one of the most important institutions in society.
Lebanese wedding traditions, like many Middle Eastern and African cultures, are extravagant and jubilant. The celebrations begin days before the wedding ceremony with the henna and pre-wedding parties. The Zaffe or procession to the venue is led by boisterous groups of dancers and musicians. The reception is a feast of traditional and modern food with even more dancing.
As a result of its diverse religious composition, Lebanon’s wedding traditions and culture have similarities with nearby countries such as Egypt.
Before the Wedding
Couples hire quality photographers and travel to their desired location for numerous pictures. The locations are typically outdoor and surrounded by greenery.
On the night before a Lebanese wedding, immediate family members will host a henna party. A male relative will then paint elaborate patterns using henna on the couple, symbolizing fortune and good luck for their union.
The exact spot where the henna is painted will vary across regions. One common variation is to put it on the bride and groom’s pinky, which will then be wrapped with gold or money by the guests.
The two families each hold their own pre-wedding party on the day of the ceremony. Although the number of guests present in these pre-wedding parties is typically lower than that in the ceremony itself, there is still abundant food, flowers, music, and dancing.
Right before going to the venue, the groom’s parents will visit the bride’s home and bring a gift. This gift is generally gold or diamond accessories for her to don for the ceremony.
The Wedding Ceremony
The zalghouta or ululation is a shrill cry performed by women from both families which uses the throat and tongue to produce high notes. These signify their happiness for the marriage and manifesting blessings for the couple.
This is similar to the Egyptians’ zaghareet and it is practiced by many Middle Eastern and African cultures. However, what sets the Lebanese zalghouta apart is that it also includes some words or verses of poetry. Besides elation, the verses in zalghouta also expresses admiration and praise for the couple and their families.
The zaffe is a wedding march from the bride’s and groom’s home to the venue of the wedding. The procession includes a group of dancers, musicians, and men carrying flaming swords. Sounds from drums, bagpipes, horns, and the honks of cars accompany the couple as they make their way to the ceremony.
People in the houses and streets that the procession passes through will watch as the extravagant celebration unfolds. As this happens, they become part of the celebration as well. It is common to throw rice, flower petals, and candy-coated almonds as symbols of fortune and prosperity.
As the zaffe once again escorts the newlyweds to the wedding reception, their arrival is marked by the music and dancing of the zaffe and the extensive display of fireworks and pyrotechnics. It also makes for a beautiful backdrop for photoshoots and the rest of the reception. Moreover, fireworks are also set off during the cake cutting.
The newlyweds will join the dancers of the zaffe for their first dance. Eventually, their families will start to perform with them. The guests will be allowed to join after the families have had their time.
Dancing is an integral part of any Lebanese wedding, from the pre-wedding parties up to the reception. Wedding venues are typically equipped with large dance floors to accommodate the excitement and energy of the guests.
Aside from the zaffe, belly dancers are typically present in Lebanese weddings. Not only does this add to the entertainment of the guests, their performances also signify the transition of the bride into a sensual being.
As with any other Middle Eastern culture, food is a fundamental aspect of any Lebanese celebration. Traditional and modern cuisine are served in platters and multiple courses. Not only can the abundance of food serve as an indicator of the family’s wealth, but it is also necessary to keep the guests’ energy consistent for a night filled with dancing and socializing.
Cake Cutting with a Sword
For the Lebanese, the cake symbolizes fertility and is said to manifest sweetness for the couple’s life together as newlyweds. With one’s hand over the other’s, they slice into the cake with a ceremonial sword. The position of their hands is a testament to their commitment to a life and future together.
The cake cutting ceremony is ended with the newlyweds exchanging a kiss. Some believe that with this kiss, the couple gives a part of their soul to live within the other, attesting to their being soulmates.
The Lebanese believe that if the bride steps on a girl’s foot, she will soon find a husband and get married herself.
Besides carrying bouquets of flowers, it is also common for brides to wear flowers in their hair. Across cultures, flowers are a symbol of purity, fertility, new beginnings, and unending love.
Last Ones Out
Opposite to common practices, Lebanese customs state that the newlyweds must be the last people at the reception. As Lebanese weddings tend to last even after midnight, it can get tiring for the bride and groom. However, it is seen as impolite and disrespectful if the newlyweds leave without seeing everyone off.
From the pre-wedding parties and elaborate Zaffe, to the night-long feasts, dancing, and fireworks display, Lebanese weddings are joyful and lavish celebrations of two families coming together. Even until today, couples are going through and upholding these traditions to further connect to and preserve their culture.