I went to my first Azerbaijani wedding on August 1!!! You don’t know how exciting that is. Before we even got to Azerbaijan, they were telling us to bring a wedding outfit because we would probably be attending lots of weddings. That was true for many people, but not for me. Luckily it finally happened and may there be many many more!

Background:
Weddings are a pretty big deal in Azerbaijan. There is a whole process for engagement as well as an engagement party, girls wedding, and then the boys wedding. It all begins when a boy and girl fall in love. HA! Traditionally marriages have been arranged here. Sometimes the boy and girl did not meet until their wedding day. As I’ve talked about before, if you have arranged marriages you don’t need dating. In other cases, the boy will see a girl, find out as much as he can about her, and send his dad, uncle, or other elderly family member to ask for her hand in marriage. That’s right; the boy does not ask the girl directly. When a boy and girl who know each other want to get married, the same process happens—the boy will send his dad, uncle, or other ederly family member to ask for her family for her hand in marriage. I said in a previous blog that the family structure is a core element in their lives. You can see that here! When the boy’s family member(s) go to the girl’s family and ask for her hand, they sit and talk. I don’t know what they talk about or how long it takes. If they all agree, then they drink sweet tea together.

Then there is the engagement party. I haven’t actually been to one. I’ll have to give you the details about that later. At the engagement party, I believe, the boy and girl are not in the same room. It’s separated by gender (mostly) but it all happens in the same house. This is also where the girl and family and friends do a Henna ritual. They just put henna on their palms. On the girl-to-be-married’s palm they put the boy’s first initial in one hand and the girl’s first initial on the other. The engagement period is also when the dowry is prepared. The bride’s family is responsible for providing all necessary house stuff. The groom’s family buys the bride jewelry and clothes; they also provide the couples new house. Probably more happens, but I wouldn’t know.

Normally there is a girl’s wedding and then a boy’s wedding. If there are a lot of people being invited, they will both weddings. If the couple is doing both, the girls wedding will come before the boys. At the girl’s wedding, the bride’s dress can be any color—red, pink, blue, orange, multicolored. The girl’s wedding is usually smaller (100 people) and is held at a house. The boy’s wedding is usually held at a wedding palace where usually between 200-300 people attend. It could also be held at a house or if you are from a village it might be held in a tent. In this wedding, the girl wears a white dress with a red ribbon around her waist (symbol for virginity). From the tapes I have observed, the same set of events happen at both weddings.

My Experience:
I went to a boy’s wedding. He is a PCV’s host brother. The wedding process starts at the boy’s house. I know this because the camera crew starts videotaping from here. There is a little bit of dancing, and his family comes out with cake, a mirror, and a candle. They eventually all get into cars and drive to the bride’s house. These cars are decorated. Everyone knows that you are getting married. The cars also form a procession line, and wherever they go, they honk their horns. Upon arrival that the brides house, they go inside. There is still dancing, and this is also where a red ribbon gets tied around the bride’s waist. Then the bride’s father takes her hand and they walk around a lit lamp three times. This symbolizes eternal light that brings happiness to families. After some more dancing everyone gets into a car and procedures to the wedding palace.

At the wedding palace, the bride and groom show up late. All their guests are already there, music is already being played, and people have already been served and have started eating. There is TON of food!! It is seriously a 3 hour buffet of eating. This particular wedding started at 6 pm, and us PCVs arrived around 6:30. The place was packed! The tables were full of food, and people were eating. For food there were multiple types of salads, fresh cut up veggies, cheese, deli meats, nuts and raisins, these hot-pocket looking things with meat in it, and the first meat served was chicken. After the chicken they brought out more chicken cooked in a different way. After, they brought out ground beef that has been formed into sausage shapes. After that they brought out lamb. After that they brought out beef on the bone. After that they brought out more chicken (I believe). At some point I lost count and was too full to partake in eating more. After the main food was served, the waiters took the big bowl of fruit, cut it up, and brought it back for us to eat. We seriously did not stop eating until around 10 pm. Way later on in the night after a traditional dance, they brought out plov. Plov is rice with chicken, onions, and dried apricots and raisins. Plov is one of my favorite Azerbaijani dishes. Later on they served ice cream which concludes all of the eating. That’s right ladies and gentlemen. There is no cake served to the guests.

Side note: At a wedding, guests bring gifts or money like we do in America. Guests are also expected to pay for their own seats. As PCVs, we do not have much money. Everybody knows this. When we are invited to a wedding, we normally do not pay. This was a very nice jester by this particular family because 11 PCVs were attending. That’s a lot of money to pocket yourself. A seat is about 30 manat.

During all the eating, music is playing (they always have a live band), and people would get up to dance. The bride and groom arrived before 7 pm and sat at their sweetheart table opposite the band. Basically for a few hours, it’s mostly just eating. The guy with the mic calls certain people (family members or important guests) up to give blessings and wishes, and then they do a dance. While people are eating, this is happening. Sometimes the bride and groom will get up to dance. All the PCVs were invited by the mic guy to come up. We all went up, and some of us said something. I did not say anything. I’m a bit shy about my language abilities in front of large crowds. I need to review the speech section in my language book a bit more. After we gave speeches, some of us preformed a song (I was not party of this either). After the song, we danced! After 9 or 10 pm, the eating slows down and it turns into pure dance. Even some western songs were played.

Dance is what we did. Azerbaijani’s have their own particular style of dancing. Boys and girls dance with their arms out at shoulder level with some fancy foot movement. Men will have one arm straight out and the other arm bent with their hand behind their head. They switch off with their one arm straight and the other bent. Girls will have both their arms out but a little bent (more dainty) and do a forward roll with their hands. PCVs have described this as “screwing in the light bulb” movement. The pictures show a little bit of it, but for the real experience, you’ll have to youtube it—especially for the fast footwork.

It was a super awesome wedding. Lots of fun! Hopefully I can go to more joyous occasions just like it.

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