No one would disagree that most Egyptians have a great sense of humor, are very friendly, generous and helpful, especially to foreigners. However, when it comes to traditions and customs, they vary tremendously. Personally, I used to find it very difficult to talk to my Japanese tourists about Egyptian people in general. I had to define which Egyptians I would be talking about –people from big cities like Cairo and Alexandria, or people from the countryside. So, accordingly, wedding customs in Egypt are quite different.
Modern Urban Weddings
Up to three years ago, 99 % of wedding parties took place at night. During the summer months a wedding party could last till 3am or 4am in the morning. Having a wedding party during broad daylight was something that Egyptians wouldn't imagine. However, after the Revolution of 2011, and due to the curfew and other reasons, the timing of some Egyptian wedding parties has shifted to an earlier hour and is sometimes held during the day time. This is considered a huge change in the culture of partying in Egypt.
The night before the wedding, there is a very special celebration called lailatu el henna meaning the night of the henna which dates back thousands of years. That day the bride and her female friends and relatives have henna motifs drawn by a professional henna lady on their hands and legs. They dress up, sing and dance freely as this night is a male free night. One of the traditions that some people still do is have a henna paste in a huge pan with lit candles inserted into the paste. The pan is carried by the bride while everybody follows her cheering and singing. On the other hand, the groom would have a henna party of his own at his home with his family and friends.
Most wedding parties start with what is called zaffa, which is a wedding procession or a happy parade. The main purpose of zaffa is to proceed and escort the newlyweds to where the party is held. There are many zaffa bands in Egypt which consist of a group of men and women. Some hold candles in their hands while some others play on huge trumpets or tambours. All members of the band sing famous zaffa songs. All family members, relatives, friends and bridesmaids join the parade, clapping and singing. Skillful women make a very loud cheery sound called zaghrouta, which dates back to the time of the ancient Egyptians. The sound could be described as a very loud scream and rolling of the tongue going high and low in a repeated manner.
When you hear a zaghrouta sound in Egypt, it means that something really worth celebrating has happened. Some examples are an engagement, a wedding, or a graduation from high school or a university.
Once, the newlyweds reach the hall, they sit on a Kousha . It is a special decorated seating area surrounded by flowers, and lights. It could be a couch or two seats placed in a relatively high place to be seen by all the guests. It serves also as a wonderful spot for taking pictures.
The party begins by singing and dancing. Here, friends of both the bride and the groom do their best to make the party as cheerful and enjoyable as possible. Some famous singers or belly dancers are hired to perform in the party according to financial abilities of both families. After the banquet, guests greet the bride and groom, take pictures with them and wish them all the best for their coming life as a new couple.
By Mona Ellabban
*culled from www.livinginegypt.org