Culture

Traditional Turkish Weddings

 The concept of marriage has existed since ancient times. In our human life and society, marriage has always held a place of great importance. It is the foundation of the family and the cornerstone of any society. The ritual of marriage has certain rules and patterns that differ from country to country, region to region, state to state, all around the world. Shaped by these unique and different cultures, the rules and patterns developed have become characteristic of the customs and traditions that define a particular society.

Before our daughter became engaged, her future husband came to her father and asked if he could have her hand in marriage. This seemed to have been a man-to-man thing as I was not aware that it happened. I was surprised when my daughter and her new fiancé arrived at our home unexpectedly in the evening of the next day. She was proud her husband-to-be had come to her father privately, asking for her hand and permission to propose. And she was excited to show us, me in particular, the diamond engagement ring she received after accepting his proposal.

 In these modern times in American culture, the old-fashioned tradition of a young man coming to the father and asking permission to marry his daughter is not always practiced. The young couple may still be at university, or living on their own and working in their chosen profession, and/or living in another city away from their parents. They may be dating and courting for several months or even years before becoming serious about a formal commitment to marriage. They may not seek permission for their engagement and future marriage as much as informing their parents of their decision.

In Turkish culture, preparation for the marriage ceremony has different stages. In every region, province, and even village in Turkey, customs have developed over generations. Many traditions and kinds of marriage were practiced in rural Turkey but are now disappearing. Here are some examples.

  • Marriage among relatives, such as cousins, was common.
  • Upon the death of a brother, in order to keep the inheritance of the deceased in the family, and for the welfare of the children, the widowed sister-in-law is married to a single or widowed brother-in-law.
  • Men would kidnap a girl they wanted to marry but could not, usually due to family objection.
  • A couple would run away to overcome family objection to their marriage.
  • In an “oturakalma” situation, a girl moves into the home of the man she loves, many times at the objection of her family.
  • Called an“ic guveysi “ marriage, a man moves into the home where his wife lives, usually due to his inability to pay a dowry, or the absence of a son in the bride’s family.

The old custom of a “baslik” or dowry has almost ceased to exist in most of Turkish society. But it is still practiced in the underdeveloped regions of Turkey. And although outlawed and punishable by law, in some regions marriage with more than one wife (polygamy) still happens.

A Late 18th Century Turkish Mosaic Wedding Trunk
A Late 18th Century Turkish Mosaic Wedding Trunk

It was more prevalent in the past when a wife could not bear children, became ill, was or became an invalid.

In Turkey, men are usually expected to marry after completing their mandatory military service. In some traditional areas, they marry right before going into military service. The general age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women, and can vary 5-6 years beyond that. Because many young people in Turkey now attend college or university, the age for marriage may extend until after they graduate.  As in most cultures, older siblings are generally expected to marry first, particularly if they are of the same gender. However, in various regions in Turkey, the age for marriage is dependent upon the traditions that are observed there.

 “Seeing a girl” – the first step leading to marriage. The first step is expected to be taken by the groom-to-be and his family, while the family of the girl being courted remains passive. In a traditional setting, the courtship process begins with families who want to marry their sons looking for girls, starting with relatives, neighbors, and close friends. The following story is the account of how finding a girl for marriage works in some traditional Turkish villages. (Source: Turkey Travel Centre.com Blog)

 “A young woman from the UK traveling in Turkey took a Jeep safari through the mountains of Marmaris. Passing beautiful waterfalls on country roads, they arrived at a small village. It was the embodiment of traditional Turkey and far away from man-made holiday resorts. Despite the heat of the summer sun, the women were dressed in long-sleeved shirts, long flowered pants, and their heads were covered. Gardens were filled with chopped firewood with goats and chickens running around, and old men sat talking together in the local teahouses.  Noticing an empty milk bottle standing on the beam of one of the houses, she asked about it. The guide said the father of the house put it there, to signal that his daughter was ready for marriage. Any man who could knock the milk bottle off the roof could ask for his daughter in marriage. The father would assess the suitor’s financial position and his ability to provide for his daughter and the children they would have.”

Cultural changes have been more rapid in larger cities in Turkey. Common practice is for people to meet on their own personally and begin to develop a relationship.  However, in more traditional communities, the “Görücülük”, the act of go-between, is still the process used in enabling marriages. Several women of a family, or friends of a man who wants to get married, pay special visits to the home of the girl seen as a potential fit. They examine the girl closely and reveal their intentions. This procedure is called “seeing a girl, “send women to see a girl”, or “woman sent out to inquire about a prospective bride” (“kız bakma”, “görücü çıkma”, “dünür gezme” in Turkish).

If the girl receives an affirmative evaluation, her family is given time to learn about the prospective groom and his family before making a decision. If they agree to take the process forward, the role of the go-betweeners (“gorucus”) comes to an end. However, having done the work of “seeing” the prospective bride, these women will remain involved in the process of asking for the girl’s hand.

Agreement to marry (“Söz Kesimi”) is the next step. Asking for the hand in marriage of the prospective bride. Both families reach agreement by way of “Dünürcülük” (women sent out to inquire about a prospective bride) and agree on marriage before guests (“Söz Kesme”). The engagement is completed by giving the rings, which are tied into the ends of one long red ribbon and presented on an embroidered cloth brought by the prospective bridegroom’s family. In some regions “Söz kesimi” is also called a small engagement ceremony. Sweet dessert (“ağız tatlılığı”) brought by the prospective bridegroom’s family is distributed to guests immediately after the agreement by both parties to marry their children.

Even today in some regions, the prospective bridegroom is not present at this ceremony. According to the attitude of the prospective bride’s father, the bridegroom who is present in the bride’s home, and the prospective bride, both kiss the hands of the elder guests. The ceremony for agreement to marry is complete.

Engagement is the next step. This ceremony is held in the bride’s home. The cost in some regions is borne by the bridegroom’s family but many times by the bride’s family. When a date has been decided for the engagement ceremony and invitations have been made, guests go to the home of the bride.  In traditional sections of the community, women and men sit separately in the bride’s home.

After lunch, jewelry (called “takı”) is given to the bride. She is dressed in a special engagement dress from her mother-in law and relatives of the bridegroom. Again in some areas, the bridegroom may not come to the bride’s home. If he does not come, the engagement ring for the bride is given by a woman from the bridegroom’s home. If the bridegroom is present, rings worn by the bride and bridegroom are placed by an old man on the ring fingers of their right hands, to the accompaniment of standard words and wishes.

In modern Turkey, many engagement ceremonies are more elaborate. Wedding halls are rented. Men and women sit together. Music, mostly with live musicians, is played. The engagement is celebrated by the family and friends of the prospective bride and groom.

No definite rule is imposed for the length of the engagement, but is determined by agreement from both sides. In modern communities of Turkey, it is considered natural for engaged couples to meet. However, in traditional, rural communities, such meetings are allowed only by parental permission, and a family member usually accompanies the couple.

Breaking off an engagement is considered a serious matter and frowned upon in traditional circles. If the party who broke off the engagement is the girl, all jewelry she received must be returned to the former fiancé. If the man broke off the engagement, usually his former fiancée keeps the presents.

Before the wedding, formal invitations are distributed inviting family, friends and neighbors to the wedding. The bride’s family completes preparations for the trousseau. The bridegroom’s family completes gifts for the bride, to be presented to her before, during and after the wedding. A wedding flag is planted by men at the bridegroom’s home. In some regions, apples, onions, mirrors, and other items are placed on top of the flag.

The night before the wedding, the bride spends her last night in her family’s home. She will be in the company of women of all ages close to the couple’s family, including the bridegroom’s female relatives. Hosted in the bride’s home will be a ceremony called the Henna Night (“Kina Gecesi”), getting its name because the hands of the bride are adorned with henna. The dyeing ceremony differs by region.        

Engagement and henna party from the series “Karadayi”

Dry henna brought by the bridegroom’s family is broken into pieces in a silver or copper vessel. The hands and feet of the bride are dyed with henna, and a veil ornamented with red flake is placed over her head. The bride is then brought to the guests accompanied by songs and hymns about henna. The bridegroom’s side puts money into the hand of the bride. Initially, relatives of the bride, particularly her mother, lament the departure of the daughter from her parent’s home. Then a joyous celebration of song and dance follows.

After the guests leave, close friends of the bride may stay with her until the next morning, spending their last “single” hours together. In some regions, a similar ceremony is held for the bridegroom by his friends at his home.

A traditional wedding is different in older, rural, conservative regions of Turkey. In the bigger cities and modern circles, weddings are more Western in style. A wedding banquet or reception unites the family and friends of the couple. In all cases, the marriage requires a civil ceremony conducted and recorded by a municipal officer to become legally effective. The religious ceremony precedes the civil ceremony by a few days.

The day after the Henna Night is the day of “Gelin Alma” (“to fetch the bride”), “kız alma” (“to fetch the girl”), or “gelin götürme” (“to carry the bride”). Everyone is invited to this ceremonial procession from the home of the bride to the home of the groom. Guests go to fetch the bride on foot if not far, or by cars if too far to go. In some regions, the bridegroom is not allowed to accompany the bridal procession. The procession is followed by drums and pipes. In some regions, the bride is prepared by elderly women (“yenge”) who prepare and attend to the bride. Preparation of the bride in modern times is usually done at a beauty salon. The bride joins the procession on her way to the groom’s home.

Before leaving her home, a “Maidenhood Belt” (“Bekaret kuşağı”) is tied around the bride’s waist by her brother or a close relative. The bride says farewell to those who will stay at home. To lighten things up, the doorway is sometimes blocked by a male relative of the bride or a younger brother sitting on the wooden chest that carries the bride’s dowry, to prevent the bride from leaving. A tip from the groom’s family solves this final hurdle, then the bride leaves her parent’s home.

The bride and wedding procession travels around the village accompanied by drums and pipes, then comes to the home of the groom. The mother-in law meets them at the front door and welcomes the bride with a gift. The groom takes her by the arm and leads her inside the house. After a while, the groom is taken out by friends and is shaved, bathed and dressed, then taken to the mosque for the late night prayer (“Yatsı Namazı”). When the groom is returned home, he is accompanied by the “hodja” (preacher) of the local mosque who performs the religious marriage ceremony.

Then it is time for the “legal marriage” ceremony. The bride and groom sign paperwork and agree to the marriage on legal terms so they can be presented with their marriage certificate. At some point, the couple will try effortlessly to step on their partner’s foot. This symbolizes who has dominance or who will call the shots in the relationship, which usually provides a good laugh for the couple’s families.

The bride and groom are then allowed to enter the nuptial chamber (“gerdek”). An older woman in the nuptial chamber asks the couple to hold each other’s hand. The groom performs his ritual prayer, and then opens the veil over the bride’s face, after giving her a present to see her unveiled face. Then the couple eats the meal offered by the bride’s family alone.

 During the wedding, traditionally after cutting the cake, the bride and groom will have ribbons placed around their necks. Guests will then approach the couple, congratulate them, and pin money or a gold coin to their ribbons.

In traditional communities, virginity is extremely important and proof of it is sought by the groom’s family. Proof is usually the bed linen where the marriage was consummated. An absence of blood on the linen can be cause for great shame for both families. It may even be a reason to send the bride back to her parent’s home. This procedure has become outdated and is not widely practiced today.

Whether the wedding is held in a pasture, which might be the case for a village wedding, or if it is held in a fancy ballroom in a larger city, a Turkish wedding can be a one-night affair or last up to three days. Typically, the more rural the setting, the longer the wedding celebration will be.

 Traditional Turkish Village Wedding Celebration Dance

Mary is a retired corporate manager, living in Centerville, Ohio with her husband, Jon. A mother of one daughter and grandmother of four beautiful children, she loves cooking for her family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all manner of food and cuisine. A dedicated colorist, she is also a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and loves to travel.

Copyright @North America TEN and Mary Bloyd

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