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Old Traditions Can Be Molded Into Meaningful Traditions That Are Still Relevant

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The other night I was privileged to go and partake in the Jewish Yemenite pre-marriage Henna Ceremony for my nephew and his bride to be.

Isn't the mother of the groom in the background so very mature?

Before I go any farther, if I make any mistakes as far as the ceremony itself or the reasons behind it, please feel free to correct me. I asked a lot of questions and I read up a bit but I am sure there is plenty I don’t know.

The Henna ceremony is Yemenite tradition that many people of Yemenite descent still observe. Back in Yemen, women were married at young ages (I am talking 10-12) and the Henna ceremony was performed a week before the wedding. It was a ritual where the young girl was preparing for the change from being a girl to being a man’s wife. After marriage she would be separated from her family and would go to live with her husband and his family.

Since moving to Israel, Yemenite women have become more empowered and less subservient and dependent. Today’s Henna ceremony focuses more on the couple and blessing them on their journey together and less as a rite of female passage. It is observed with pride by many because it is a symbol of their ethnic identity.

The word Henna in Hebrew is pronounced Cheena (pronounced with the “ch” making a guttural sound as if you were clearing your throat). Each of the 4 letters in the word stand for something. The Chet (again the ch pronounced like above) stands for Challah, the traditional bread used on the Sabbath. The Yud stands for God. The Nun stands for the Jewish family purity laws which includes monthly immersions in a ritual bath called a mikveh. The Heh stands for Hadlakat Nerot, the lighting of the candles at the start of the Sabbath. At the cermony when I asked one old woman what the Henna ceremony was she told me that it was an acronym but instead of the Yud standing for God she said it stood for kids. (Yiladim in Hebrew)

The traditional garb worn is a painstaking labor of love that takes months to make. In Yemen the bride used to help make it. These days the whole costume is rented as is the jewelry.

I believe the greenery in the headdress is the plant the Henna comes from.

There are women whose job it is to dress the bride and there is a person running the ceremony and singing. They are paid. It’s what they do as a living.

There are three different headdresses worn by the bride during the ceremony. No one was able to tell me why there were so many changes or what the significance. I found it interesting how often we do things because of tradition without really knowing the reasons.

HEADDRESS NUMBER ONE

HEADDRESS NUMBER TWO

HEADDRESS NUMBER THREE

The ceremony starts with a Zaffa. The Zaffa is where the bride and groom are escorted to the dance floor. They are preceded by a woman singing and drumming and by women carrying baskets of flowers and candles. The candles symbolize light in the home the flowers are representative of flourishing and fertility. (At least that’s what i think the women I asked told me.)

Then there is lots of dancing. There is of course the Yemenite step which I have been trying to learn for about 15 years. I was lucky that one of the bride’s great aunts had pity on me and took me under her wing and attempted to show me the steps and help me feel the beat. You also hear a lot of kulululu. (A sing song whistle sound.) There are even Yemenites who aren’t invited who just show up to dance. I posted a short video at the end with a summary and explanation of things.

Traditional Yemenite food is served. The only thing I recognized was the Kubanneh (a type of bread).

Later on, after everyone is sufficiently exhausted there is another Zaffa.

There is a procession that once again leaves the house this time to the stage built in front of the dance floor. The bride and groom are escorted by the bride’s parents. They are preceded again by women holding flowers and singing. The singer/drummer also walks in front of them and sings. This time the song is a “conversation” between the bride and her parents, with lots of blessing flowing each way. there are also blessings for the groom.

Before the bride and groom get to the stage, they dance with the bowl of Henna. The henna symbolizes fertility.

Sorry about the blurry pictures. Night mode on the camera is not good for moving objects.

They are then seated and someone (in this case the bride’s great aunt) mixes the bowl of Henna.

The two mothers join in and mix as well. The bride and groom and anyone who doesn’t want stained orange hands for the wedding a week later wear plastic gloves.

Then comes more singing and the parents then each bless the couple. All the relatives who wish to bless the couple then also in turn come to the stage and bless them.

I wished them from hubby and I mutual respect and to be happy for each other. Oh and of course we wished them kids.

That hand with the henna is a bit too close for comfort.

Cups with the Henna were passed around for anyone wanting to put some on their hands.

The evening was lovely even though it was about 100 degrees with 90+% humidity. Thank goodness for this friend who I kept visiting.

The one solitary fan in the whole place. Did I mention a gazillion percent humidity?

And even with that, this is what I looked like when the night was over. And although you can’t see it, my clothing was soaking wet.

In desperate need of a shower.

All in all it was a wonderful, really happy and enjoyable experience for me as I know it was for the bride and groom.

I especially loved the way an old tradition, something that may have come from very primitive origins with a different type of purpose years ago was molded into something relevant for today. And even so it still made you appreciate the bride’s ethnicity and love for her heritage.

Here is a short video from the ceremony.

Fast Tube by Casper

Has anyone ever been to ceremonies that were new to them?

*It seems that the 3 different headdresses represent three different types of communities in Yemen.

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I am me and also lots of other things like a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a daughter in law, a sister in law, a friend, an oncology nurse, a blogger, a life coach in training, an avid book reader, a chauffeur, a chef, a shopper, a maid and on some days a bit overwhelmed. On this blog I share my journey of striving to see the best in everyone and everything. Strive, because I don't always manage to. Yup, I am human. I would love to have you join me in learning lessons in positivity from life.

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10 Responses to "Old Traditions Can Be Molded Into Meaningful Traditions That Are Still Relevant"

  1. Annie says:

    Absolutely fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing. I didn’t know anything about this ceremony. Sounds like a fantastic night.

    And thanks for the photography link you emailed to me. much appreciated.. it was really cool

    Annie :)

  2. shafeena says:

    That is incredible. It really is very different from the henna ceremony in India. I should write a port about that some day :D…

  3. Oren & Rachel says:

    Susie, incredible summary!
    In addition to it being on your blog you should start a Wikipedia page on Chenna as well :-)

  4. Oren & Rachel says:

    Great summary Susie!
    In addition to it being in your blog you should open up a Wikipedia page on the subject as well :-)

  5. I love celebrations, and that looks like a brilliantly fun evening! The bride’s headdresses are gorgeous, though I’ll admit the last two look much more comfortable than the first!

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  6. Mrs.Mayhem says:

    The young couple looks so radiantly happy. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  7. wow, that sounds wonderful! utterly fascinating, I love learning about things like this. thank you x

  8. How fantastic to have been able to experience that. What a beautiful bride too – she looks positively radiant! x

  9. Yehudit says:

    Thank you for your pictures, video and explanations of an authentic Henna ceremony. It is very educational and fun to watch. I love the blending of rituals stemming from our ancient roots that are re-framed for modern day.

    1. Susie says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Yehudit. Have you been to a Henna ceremony ever?