Guest contribution by Wedad Yassin
Summertime is wedding season. But for many Palestinian-Americans, the season brings out more than just parties.
During my last semester in college, I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis on the Palestinian Diaspora in America. My research and writing was based on fifteen interviews of Palestinian-Americans across the country and focused on identity and culture. When presented with the question, What aspect of your life would you say is clearly Palestinian? the most common answer, expectedly, was food. But the second most common answer – weddings – was more of what I was expecting.
Living in a land so far from Palestine and feeling the need to preserve one’s identity and history forces one to sacrifice many things on both sides of the cultural spectrum in order to live a balanced enough life. Nevertheless, I feel the easiest way to keep the Palestinian cultural identity alive and well is through our weddings.
Families have taken the smallest of cultural practices and preserved them from summer to summer through our wedding festivities. Although we may have adopted the Western white dress and fancy banquets, many traditions still thrive in different parts of the wedding process. The most outward example is the henna party where traditional attire is worn, folk songs are sung, and traditional jewelry is also worn. Writing about the Palestinian wedding experience would take more space than we could afford but there is a tradition I want to bring attention too, a tradition that I feel has become forgotten in my circles of Palestinian-American life and is not celebrated as much as others.
My sister will be getting married at the end of this month. Aside from making sure the dress, the thobe, and the proper accessories are ready for her henna and wedding parties, we’ve been working on traditional Palestinian wedding necklaces. I personally hadn’t been aware of this custom until a few years back when my mom attended a wedding of a friend’s from Al-Ram. The hosts handed out necklaces made of cloves and colorful beads. We thought they served aesthetic purposes or doubled as natural deodorants. “This way, when people dance and sweat, the necklaces swaying back and forth will fill the room with a smell that will block out any bad body odor,” my mom jokingly said. But we both knew there had to be more to it, so that’s when my research began.
The necklaces are normally made of cloves, softened by soaking them in water, and imitation pearls, coral beads, and coins. The bride’s necklace is be more intricate than everyone else’s. At the henna, the bride’s family passes out a hijab and a clove necklace to each of the guests. The water in which the cloves were soaked is saved for the bride to bathe in on the morning of her wedding.
The clove water is believed to have many benefits for the bride’s skin, which is one reason why she bathes in it. It’s also said to have been used as a natural numbing agent. My grandmother told me that the women of the villages used to wear simple clove necklaces around their necks when they worked in the fields so that if they ever had a toothache, they could break off a clove from the necklace then and there. Another reason could be that it simply smells good and can be used as a natural perfume.
Cloves are also a symbol of wealth and good health, and it’s likely that these necklaces were first worn and passed out to mark the marrying families’ status among the guests.
Some Palestinians even say that it wards off the evil eye.
Whatever the reason may be, it is a beautiful piece of handcrafted jewelry that is very easy to make. For your next family henna, gather your siblings and cousins and try making them. Bring back this little work of art.
Wedad Yassin is a Palestinian-American from the Chicagoland area. She recently taught English at the Jalazone Refugee Camp. Wedad is an aspiring professor and an ambitious photographer.