Summer is finally here, and so the most popular season for weddings has arrived. While the weather is warm, couples are exchanging vows in countries all over the world and Azerbaijan is no exception.
Azerbaijani weddings are known for having unique traditions, festive ceremonies, rich decorations, and of course, delicious food. Typically, Azerbaijani wedding ceremonies are of a very large scale, with guest lists of approximately 300 to 500 people. At the ceremony the décor is elaborate and ornate, featuring glamorous textiles, crystal chandeliers, and rich white tablecloths with countless delicacies covering the tables.
Some of Azerbaijan’s wedding traditions, such as the custom of having the bride’s face hidden from her groom till after the ceremony and a lengthy engagement process that took up to seven days, were mocked by filmmakers in the 20th century. Through their comedic critique, the Azerbaijani movie and music industry played a big role in speeding up the transformation of customs in Azerbaijan. Today, many historic traditions are still practiced, but most have been greatly simplified so as to be more practical.
Traditionally, a couple can only being dating once the boy’s parents visited the girl’s parents and receive official permission for the couple to date. Today this is enforced less strictly. However, many young couples hide their romance from their parents in order to avoid conflict. Even if the man and the woman are seeing each other before receiving approval from their parents, it is not considered “official” until they do. When the couple is ready to take this step, the groom’s parents come to visit the bride’s parents at her home. The parents are introduced to each other and the groom’s parents are seated at a purposefully empty table where in the absence of their children they discuss the potential groom and recommend him to the bride’s parents. If the woman’s parents agree that the couple should be together, they serve tea with sugar at the end of the conversation, sugar being the key ingredient symbolizing their agreement. Unsweetened tea is a sign of rejection. After tea, the young couple is invited in and introduced to each other’s parents. It’s important to note that this meeting does not symbolize an engagement; it is simply a formal acknowledgment that the couple may date and a promise to continue forth towards an engagement.
After this meeting, the couple continues to date for several months while discussing the engagement and possible wedding arrangements. During this time, the groom and his family usually try to “show off” as much as possible before the bride. The groom does this by showering the bride with various presents. One common gift is called the “honcho,” which consists of a variety of glamorous baskets filled with fancy sweets. The trays of the honcho are usually overflowing with various sweet pastries, chocolates, national sweets, and many others. Today, the honcho has become even more extravagant than it was in the past, including additional decorations such as flowers, ribbons, and fancy wrapping. Another common gift is a large sugar cone that is wrapped in colorful ribbons and is brought to the bride’s household as a symbol of a sweet and easy life. The groom continuously brings these gifts to the bride, in addition to clothing, flowers, and small jewelry. During this gift-giving time frame, the couple decides on a wedding date and continues planning for the big day.
The day before the wedding, women get together and usually paint henna on the bride. This is an ancient tradition that originated in a time when the henna herb was believed to wave off evil spirits and bad luck. The modern henna designs are a lot more elegant than the rough patterns of the older times, and are usually done only for aesthetic purposes.
On the wedding day, the groom and his relatives pull up to the bride’s house in a fancy limousine decorated with ribbons and flowers that are made to look very festive. The groom comes into the bride’s home with his closest relatives and friends, some of whom carry a mirror and candles that sit in rice to represent well-being and happiness. The groom is additionally accompanied as a small troupe of musicians who play lively music. As this loud procession nears the front door of the bride’s home, a woman within the house opens the door and pretends not to let the groom in until he gives them some money. This tradition is fun and playful, as the women put on a little show and the groom is forced to donate a symbolic sum of money in order to gain permission to enter. As the groom and his party enter, it is traditional for the groom’s brother, or closest male relative, to tie a red sash around the bride’s waist to symbolize purity and innocence. Then the bride and groom usually take photos at home and the groom “takes” the bride away for the wedding ceremony after receiving a verbal blessing from her father. The couple, along with their families and friends, then drives to the place of the wedding ceremony, which is usually a large ballroom or restaurant. After the official wedding ceremony, the party begins. Azerbaijani weddings are full of lively dancing, singing, eating, and drinking and go on for hours, often all the way through the night.
Sometimes, two separate wedding ceremonies are held: one for women and one for men. These types of weddings are rather old fashioned and rarely seen today. In the separate weddings the women dance all out without having to hold back in front of the men, and the men also have fiery dance competitions. Many say that these separate parties are a lot like dance competitions as the women and men engage in dance offs without having to hold back and be reserved in front of the opposite sex.
Full of traditions intricate in detail, an Azerbaijani wedding is the most important event in the lives of most Azerbaijani people and it is definitely worth attending if you are ever lucky to receive an invitation.
Post written by Anastasiya Filippova, Karabakh Foundation Cultural Ambassador.