From the henna party to the tisch, five traditions that take place around the big day.
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You’ve got the big day, the rehearsal dinner, maybe even a morning-after brunch. But that doesn’t have to be it. If you and your guests have the energy to whoop it up all week long, take a page from the party playbook of a few different cultures that make sure every wedding is a moveable feast—and a series of soirées. After all, you’ve got so much to celebrate!
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The Making of the Bed
Three days before a Greek wedding (that’s the night before the night before), all the unmarried girls gather in the bride-to-be’s house (or hotel suite) to make the bed in which the newlyweds will spend the wedding night. It’s a race to the finish, as the woman who places the final pillow in its case is said to be the one who will marry next. Then the bride’s friends and relatives throw money, rose petals, rice, and Jordan almonds on the comforter, all of which are symbols of plenty and fertility. Finally, children and babies are bounced on the bed. If the couple wants their first child to be a girl, they’ll have a girl climb on first; if they want a boy, a male child or baby gets the first bounce. Throughout, the guests enjoy drinks, sweets, and hijinks. As for the bed? It stays covered in its bounty until the newlyweds return from the party on the big day.
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Here’s a clue as to what happens: The name for this Indian celebration comes from the Sanskrit word for “music.” Everyone invited to the wedding attends this prenuptial bash at which the bride and groom’s friends and relatives entertain them by performing dances, songs, and skits. Back in the day, only women attended sangeets (and often combined them with henna parties). But today, unless a “Ladies’ Sangeet” is specified, the scene is co-ed, and features refreshments as well as live entertainment. It’s like an open-mike night, karaoke contest, and dance-off all rolled into one Bollywood-worthy affair.
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In both Muslim and Hindu weddings, the bride’s female friends and relatives gather on the first of three days of nuptial celebration to get festive and gorgeous at the same time. Along with eating, drinking, and socializing, each woman is adorned in henna designs (also known as mehndi), which are meant to bring good luck and fertility and fight the evil eye. The designs (traditionally, an image of the sun adorned the palm) are painted on every woman’s hands and wrists, but the bride, who is graced with the most ornate patterns, will have mehndi applied further up her arm. The artist applying the mehndi often incorporates the couple’s initials into the design, so that the bride’s new husband can search for them on the wedding night.
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Why wait until after the vows to start the reception? In traditional Jewish ceremonies, the groom has a gathering of all his friends called a tisch (which is Yiddish for “table”) prior to the ceremony, where they eat, drink, and jokingly interrupt him while he tries to give a speech. At the same time, the bride has a reception during which she sits on a throne, musicians play, and her friends dance for her. These events used to be strictly gender segregated, but now many Reform Jewish couples invite friends of either sex to their pre-parties. Traditionally, the tisches end when the groom’s friends dance him over to the ladies’ section for the signing of the ketubah, the marriage contract, and the bedekken, or veiling, of the bride.
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Aitin’ the Gander
Here’s just the excuse you need for one more pre-wedding dinner party. In Ireland, the bride’s family would invite the groom over for supper, either once the engagement was confirmed or the night before the wedding, in a ritual called Aitin’ the Gander. Nowadays it’s just a dinner party, but originally, this event was when the families would sign elaborate marriage agreements called The Bindings, which specified details such as how the newlyweds would take care of their parents in their old age—even how often they would make sure the elders would get to mass on Sunday. Once the agreements were signed and the dinner was eaten, there was no way the groom could get out of the wedding, which is how we get the expression, “His goose is cooked.”