Jordanian people are loud, proud, and highly hospitable, so when they throw a wedding, they really throw a wedding. Unlike traditional weddings in the West, a Jordanian wedding will often last a over week, so if you’ve been invited to one then you better be in it for the long run. Expect (very loud) traditional music, dancing dabke, and copious amounts of food. Here is an introduction, and somewhat of a guide, to Jordanian weddings and how to survive them.
Wedding ceremonies, wherever in the world they may be, are windows into cultural traditions and customs. In Jordanian culture, as well as being a great excuse for a party, a wedding symbolizes and celebrates the coming together of two families. It is also an important remembrance of ancestry and heritage. For this reason, wedding customs in each province of Jordan can differ slightly from tribe to tribe in regards to the food served or traditional dress.
Much More Than Just the Wedding Day
There are three main stages to a traditional Jordanian wedding. First and foremost, the pre-engagement stage, where the mother of the groom visits her son’s potential bride-to-be to speak with her privately so that they can get to know each other. The mother of the groom will then formally make a proposal to the bride-to-be on behalf of her son—although the son will generally have spoken to her prior to his. If the bride accepts, then the immediate families on both sides will meet and will read Fatiha (the opening chapter of the Qur’an) together as a recognition of the engagement.
Once these formalities are out of the way, the engagement party is held. Traditionally the elders of the family of the groom gather and bring an assortment of sweets to the bride’s house, where tea and coffee are served and families get to know each other better. The party itself is is usually only for women, but in modern times this has often changed to include both genders.
Of course, over recent years many people are opting to move away from traditional wedding customs in favour of more modern hotel-held do’s, but in areas outside of the capital, Amman tradition still stands strong.
If you’re headed to a more traditional Jordanian wedding, prior to the wedding party itself, celebrations traditionally begin on a Tuesday. Often seen as a warm up event, the family of the groom celebrate the upcoming marriage with music, tea, and lots of dancing.
The Henna Night
Traditionally held on a Wednesday, the women of the family of the groom head to the bride’s house to paint intricate patterns on the hands of the bride with paste made from dried henna leaves.
Depending on the area where the celebration is held there are also specific dishes which are served on this night, for example, tuna in the seaport town of Aqaba, and liver in the northern city of Irbid.
The Groom’s Shower Night
This takes place traditionally during the day on a Thursday, where close relatives and friends of the groom gather to prepare him for his wedding night. Lunch is made and the groom is pruned to within an inch of his life.
The Wedding Party
After all this incredible build up we reach the main event, the wedding party!
On the day of the party the family of the groom will gather and parade to the bride’s house with their cars in careful formation, with the bride’s car in the lead. Once they reach the home of the bride, the groom will wait for her to come out of her family home. If you hear gun shots at this point do not panic! This is normal, its celebratory, and safe—or at least this is what you will be told. They leave together along with the bride’s father and brothers to the venue to celebrate.
Be aware that the wedding party will use this journey to warm themselves up for the party that is to come, blasting music at full volume out of each and every car as they honk their way to the wedding venue.
Once you arrive to the venue, which can be a rented hall, hotel, or anything in between, you will find a traditional band playing arabic drums, known as tabla, as the guests arrive. Watch how the temp speeds up as the bride and groom make their entrance.
The Dance Floor
Yes, you will dance, a lot! But don’t worry, just go with the flow, you’re sure to take part in some lively dabke dancing. Luckily for beginners this is a group dance so you can just join in line, copy what the person in front of you is doing and there you have it—you’re dancing!
Another word of warning, the music will be extremely loud. If you are a sensitive soul, or are particularly protective of your hearing, we advise that you take some invisible earplugs with you. Place in and pretend to listen to very loud music whilst smiling and enjoy the sound of sweet silence.
We all know you’re really only there for the food. The dancing will inevitably get too much, so just keep your eyes on the prize. The traditional food served at weddings is mansaf, a delicious meat and rice dish which is eaten with the hands. At modern weddings this is sometimes served at the wedding party in the hotel, but in traditional weddings it is made for lunch on a Friday. If you’re not feeling brave enough to dig in with your fingers then grab a spoon and avoid eye contact, no-one will notice, or at least this way you can ignore their gaze.