Welcome To a Traditional Algerian Wedding
By: Safa M. Qureshi/Arab America Contributing Writer
Since Islam is the dominant religion in Algeria, with over 99% percent of the population Sunni Muslims, the Algerians follow the Islamic marriage procedure. A Muslim man can marry a Muslim, Christian, or a Jewish woman. But a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man. A marriage is only valid if the woman accepts to be married and is not forced by anyone. A woman cannot be married without her father or guardian’s acceptance. In addition, a marriage without dowry is considered to be an invalid marriage.
Choosing Your Partner
Algerian men and women are free to marry whomever they wish, as long as the marriage partner is approved by both families. Typically a man will express his love for a woman to his mother, and then the mother will “investigate” the family of the woman to see if she will be a match. If she is approved, the man’s family will approach the woman’s family for the proposal. For the record, same-sex marriage is not legal in Algeria.
In more conservative cities, the people normally marry their cousin, a relative, or someone from the village. The family of the groom would go to the bride’s family and ask for her hand in marriage. If everyone agrees, the two who are marrying will pronounce El- Fatiha (which is the first verse in the Quran), in the presence of two witnesses and the Imam.
So How Much do Weddings Cost in Algeria?
“Love is madness. It makes huge dents in your wallet.” This is how 30-year-old Nabil sums up the situation of engaged couples in Algeria. The most lavish weddings are found in the city of Tlemcen. In Tlemcen, weddings can cost up to half a million dinars (around $4,000 USD). In addition, it is customary for the groom to give the bride an item of jewelry that can cost up to 100,000 dinars (around $800 USD). Algerians believe that the more money that is spent on the wedding, the more proud the family can be.
The groom wears a European (French-styled) suit since the Algerian culture is influenced by the French. However, most grooms opt-out and wear a suit.
The traditional dress of Algeria for women, but more precisely of the city of Tlemcen, is an Algerian dress composed of several layers of clothes and accessories linked to different Mediterranean civilizations. This is called the chedda, and is the first dress ever registered on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Traditionally, the wedding dress was made and embroidered by the bride herself as a sign of commitment to her new life. But these dresses take a lot of time to be prepared. An Algerian bride will have seven different dresses, including one that represents the region from where the bride’s family is from. The jewelry is also a work of art. With dozens of rows of pearls, massive gold jewelry, gems, embroidery with gold and silver threads – everything is just glowing and sparkling.
The bride is bathed and dressed in a traditional dress and then adorned with jewels, anklets, bracelets, earrings, a tiara, and a necklace made of clove and amber. When the bride is dressed, she leaves her parent’s home wrapped in a golden hand-woven silk veil.
The ceremony starts with the make-up ritual – one of the bride’s aunt will draw red and silver circles on her cheeks. These circles are incorporated for the protection of the bride against magic spirits that could do her harm in her future life as a married woman.
Food Served at Weddings:
Weeks before the actual wedding, women begin gathering at the bride’s house to prepare desserts such as makroud and baklava. The wedding meal might include popular dishes such as couscous, pasta cooked with lamb or chicken and vegetables, and Tajine.
The Quran is usually recited during the engagement. After the recitation, the signing of the contract of marriage, called ‘lehlal’ is completed. The imam prepares the contract and it is necessary that 12 men play the role of witnesses that the marriage has been legal and has the consent of both parties. Dowry is most likely discussed during the engagement.
After the engagement is ‘shoura,’ which means the couple will begin purchasing clothing, household goods, wool, and gold for the wedding.
El Hani- The Henna Ceremony
In the afternoon of the henna day, the female members of the groom’s family visit the bride’s family, bringing the ‘jehaz’ (traditional dresses and jewelry for the bride). They may also bring other gifts with them like semolina, meat, olive oil, and vegetables. Then in the evening, the henna ceremony takes place. The henna ceremony is normally performed separately — meaning while there is a henna ceremony at the bride’s place, there will be one at the groom’s. Dancing and singing also takes place during the henna ceremony. For the ceremony at the groom’s place, family members and friends form a circle around him. At this point the mother of the groom will place the following items on a table: a pitcher of water for the preparation of henna, another plate containing durum wheat, fresh eggs, and almonds (normally pastel-colored sugar almonds). An extra plate is also placed for the guest to leave money for the groom. The mother will light candles that will be placed next to the plate of wheat and eggs to symbolize the groom‘s coming children.
It is important to note that traditionally in Algeria, henna is exchanged, which is analogous to the exchange of rings in western culture. In addition, the henna is meant to ward off evil spirits and to increase fertility.
Preparations Before the Wedding Day
On the day of the wedding day, the bride goes to the ‘hammam’ (Turkish bath) with the closest women of her family. This ritual symbolizes purity and prosperity, and to leave it out can bring bad luck to the bride in her future life with her husband. The women help her bathe while singing for her. This step is the beginning of the ceremonial festivity, which takes place on the first day, usually on a Tuesday.
After the hammam, the bride goes back to her parents’ house. While dressed in a traditional, green, outfit, the family would decorate her hands and feet with henna.
The Wedding Day
The wedding celebration nowadays takes place over a period of three days (traditionally it used to be seven days long). The bride and the groom receive money as gifts from the guests. When it’s time for the rechka “gift ceremony,” the Mechta (the lady who helps dress the bride) announces the gift amount on the microphone. This money is given to the bride and she can spend it however she likes.
A New Beginning
Upon entering her new home, the bride must put in her mouth a piece of sugar, which she must keep until she crosses the threshold of her new home. The mother-in-law approaches the bride, hands her a pot of milk (or water) to drink, and gives her a sieve full of candies to throw behind her. Sometimes this is not done and instead, the bride is asked to break an egg on the threshold of the door (it depends on what region of Algeria you are from, as the traditions slightly vary).
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