By Dina Ismail
Like almost everything in Jeddah, wedding traditions are very unique to this part of the world. For the uninitiated, the art of attending a Saudi wedding in Jeddah (everything from accepting an invitation to congratulating the happy couple) can be a complicated maze to navigate but that’s all part of the fun!
1. Punctuality: Very Passe
One of the biggest aspects of Jeddah weddings that seem to shock foreigners is the timings. Speaking conservatively, if invited to a wedding, don’t expect to be home before 2AM – 3AM. Most families send invitations with a vague start time, so be prepared to make some Arab time adjustments. If you are prompt and punctual at 10PM, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time in sumptuously decorated wedding halls all by yourself.
2. Oscars of Society
For the women of Saudi, a wedding is the perfect opportunity to showcase a new gown or hairstyle to an all-female gathering. No cocktail dress or little black dress casual interpretation – Jeddahwis prefer the “more is more” concept when it comes to attending a wedding. Evening gowns are the norm and in most cases, attendees will have their hair and makeup professionally done (better book those salon appointments in advance, ladies).
3. Picking A Seat Is Like Playing Musical Chairs
Upon entering the hall, the close female relatives of the bride and groom stand in a line at the door to greet guests and accept congratulation. After greeting the families, guests select a table at their discretion but usually get up immediately to circulate and socialize over Arabic coffee and canapes while waiting for the “zafa” (the procession of the bride and groom through the ballroom and to the stage.) This means that your seats constantly keep on changing.
4. The Actual Wedding Is The Last Event Of The Night – No Wonder We Come Home By 3 AM
Keep in mind that the actual wedding is the last event in a series of confusingly similar events. The wedding is more of a party than an actual ceremony; although some symbolic gestures are still observed such as the exchange of the rings and the more traditional gifting of a set of jewelry to the bride in front of attendees.
5. Dinner – Well That’s What Everyone’s Been Waiting For
The male relatives of the bride and groom enter the hall briefly to take pictures with the couple (you may see attendees scrambling for their veils at this point) to the ululatings of attendees. The zafa, which can take place quite late at night (or in the wee hours of the morning, depending on how you look at it) is followed by a buffet-style dinner.
6. Dancing – It’s Party Time
Although more and more weddings are opting for a DJ nowadays, the unbeatable music of “tagaga”, a traditional female singer who is accompanied by rhythmic drumming and sometimes other instruments, never fail to get the crowd to their feet. Younger attendees dance as their mothers (and potential mother-in-laws!) look on and it’s always a nice sight to see the older attendees joining in on the fun on the dance floor.
A particularly charming custom is when the mother of the bride and the mother of groom dance together and are gradually joined by other close female relatives of the couple, accompanied by the Jeddah wedding crowd-pleaser “Al Fulan Kullahom”, a song which calls the families of the bride and groom to dance and celebrate.
7. And Remember This – Don’t Get Gifts To The Wedding
Usually, only very close friends or family of the bride and groom purchase gifts for them, but if you would like to do so, then don’t bring the present to the wedding itself but rather send it to the newlyweds’ house the next day or send it to any time before the wedding day. Don’t be too shy to join the ladies on the dance floor and try your hand at what is affectionately called the Saudi two-step (the traditional dance of Saudi). A wedding is a social occasion first and foremost, so stay cheery (hold back those yawns!) and prepare to smile and chit chat.