// Entry #36
The summer is marriage season in Palestine, and Gaza City has a lot to show for it.
It is perfectly reasonable to assume that at least one person from your extended family or immediate neighborhood is getting married on any given day. With well over 50% of the population under the age of 25, families are regularly hosting marriage ceremonies or attending them. In fact, marriage is so commonplace that it has inevitably become the butt of almost every joke made by men under the age of 40. And if it isn’t being joked about, it’s used as a tool of coercion.
A perfect example, spoken from the mouth of a relative: “So Sami, I know she’s your cousin and all but she comes from a great family, ours, and you’ll have lots of kids.”
But the tradition and cultural significance surrounding marriage in the Gaza Strip is no laughing matter. As chaotic, plentiful, and free-spirited as it may seem, the process of getting married is highly structured and follows the same general patterns. The spectacular part of it all is being able to attend three in one night.
Typically, the ceremonies begin well before the marriage day. Two or three days before the wedding, the groom’s family hosts a large dinner for the bride’s and groom’s relatives and close family friends. The next day is usually the henna where women and their daughters gather for a night of singing, dancing, mingling, and friendly gossip meant to entertain.
Meanwhile, the night before the wedding is the sahra – literally translated to ‘the practice of staying out late’ — where the groom’s family cordons off an entire city street, lays a stage, hires singers and deejays, arranges hundreds of chairs, and invites the shabaab of the community. An all-night affair illuminated by glowing lights, young men and their fathers dance and perform dabkeh while professional musicians sing about the blessings of family life. Children run through the crowd hurling firecrackers into the sky while passerby take a moment to congratulate the groom’s family.
Towards the end of the sahra, two songs always play. One announces the delivery of somogeeya, a purple dish native to the people of Gaza. The groom’s family presents plates of the food to all of those sitting or dancing. The second song thanks the guests and wishes them a safe night.
On the day of the wedding, male relatives decorate a fancy car with flowers, streamers, and colorful bows in the early morning while their wives and sisters do the same to their hair in expensive salons.
By mid-afternoon, the decorated car picks up the bride and groom and joins a procession of other relatives and friends riding in their own personal cars or in taxis rented for the day. At the head of the convoy is an open-air cargo truck in which a team of musicians sit, play, and sing. The group is dressed in traditional Palestinian garb and plays tablas or hand drums to the tune of wedding music blaring from speakers attached to the truck.
The procession travels through the city with relatives and close friends sitting on top of cars or leaning out of car windows and joyfully clapping and attracting as much attention as possible. The sound is overwhelming, especially when traffic forces multiple processions to wind through the city together. In one twenty minute period late one Thursday afternoon, I counted fourteen separate processions.
The procession arrives at the marriage venue and invited guests file into the wedding hall. Trumpeters line the hallway and announce the presence of the marrying families. When the guests are settled and the venue reaches full capacity, food is served and professional singers and musical groups entertain the crowd for hours. This is where the weddings stray from tradition and exhibit creativity. Some newlyweds stage a skit that involves the bride playing hard-to-get with her love-stricken groom. Others hire costumed actors to playfully wreak havoc on the stage. Mothers woo the crowd with a melody of voices while their children chase after one another. Every attendee participates in one way or another.
When the ceremony is over, the new husband and wife make their way to the decorated car and drive off. It happens every time in the same dramatic fashion. To this day, I still can’t figure out where exactly they drive to but I am willing to bet that their first plan as husband and wife is to catch the final hour of one of the many other weddings taking place that evening.