What to Expect at an Emirati Wedding

Emirati brides will always cover herself with gold and jewelry
Emirati brides will always cover herself with gold and jewelry | © Joi Ito / Flickr
Photo of Jessica Harn
26 September 2017

The United Arab Emirates, home of the famously glamorous and rich city of Dubai, is known for its love of gold and extravagance. Emirati women adorn themselves in gold, perfume, and jewelry, and expats will quickly learn the perfect amount of gold jewelry to wear, which perfume to use based on the time of day, and how to always look their best—even if it’s just to go to the corner shop. All this preparation and experience, however, flies out the window once you attend an Emirati wedding, which truly redefines what it means to be extravagant.

First, however, there is the nikkah, the religious ceremony before the actual wedding celebration; it’s where a religious figure officially marries the couple. After this is when the party begins, usually at a hotel for a wedding reception. While not all Emiratis can afford an extravagant wedding reception, it is extremely common to spend a huge part of their savings on the festivities. Emiratis will also completely cover their house, from the yard all the way to the roof, with bright lights to let all of their neighbors know about the joyous day. The bride will have also received her mahr, which is the money or gold given to her by the groom when asking for her hand in marriage, and many Emirati brides will use this mahr, along with her family’s money, to completely cover herself in gold and jewels for the wedding celebration.

Emirati brides will always cover herself with gold and jewelry | © Joi Ito / Flickr

Almost all Emirati weddings are split into two separate parties: one for women and one for men. The reason for this is so that the women, who usually wear hijab (the Islamic head covering or scarf), can dance and celebrate without worrying about being seen by men they are not related to at the party. The bride’s reception will usually consist of dancing, entertainment, and top-notch decorations, so be prepared to dance and be blown away by extravagant décor. Emirati weddings are the best place for women to show off their designer dresses and gold, so be sure to dress up and not down. The bride will, of course, be the best dressed and completely covered in jewelry and gold.

The men’s party will also consist of dancing and entertainment. However, many men still wear the traditional kandoura, a simple white dress, to wedding celebrations; therefore, it will look less glamorous than the women’s side from an outsider’s point of view. The men’s form of traditional dancing, however, is entertaining enough to make up for the lack of diamonds and gold. Emirati traditional dancing consists of the men standing in a line, usually holding a thin gold cane in one hand; sometimes the men at the front and end of the line will carry a small rifle. They then dance to thundering Emirati music with mesmerizing movements, bending forward and back to the rhythm. You won’t be able to listen to the music without wanting to get up and dance yourself.

Emirati men at a wedding | © Tribes of the World / Flickr

On either side of the party, however, there will be delicious Emirati food, so be sure to arrive with an empty stomach. Emirati weddings, like many weddings around the Middle East, are celebrated with food, and you will not leave an Emirati wedding feeling hungry. Emirati coffee and local dates are also usually served, alongside many other delicious sweets.

Arabic sweets | © Ani Harif / Flickr

Although not all Emirati weddings are the same—family status, ethnicity, and location all play a part—you can always expect a lively, extravagant party, complete with delectable food, all of which will completely blow you away. Expect to have the celebration last way into the night, with the Emirati music blasted during the wedding ringing in your ears for days afterward.

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