The Hue of Henna

If you ever attend a Turkish wedding, you are also in for a nice Turkish style bachelorette night several days before the wedding – what we call “Henna Night”. It is a night filled with dance, food, folkloric songs, tears and, of course, henna.

Traditionally, henna night happens a couple days before the wedding, at the home of the bride, and close friends of the bride and female family members get together and celebrate the wedding and “giving away of the bride-to-be”. It symbolizes that the bride is moving away from the family home to her husband’s home. Among all the dancing  though, the event’s highlight is the traditional folkloric song of henna night sang by teary-eyed family members of the bride, especially her mother.

The bride sits down with a red cover over her head, her friends circle around her, with candles lit up in their hands, singing a song. The tradition goes that they keep singing until the bride starts crying. Or at least, so far that is what we have done in the henna nights I attended. Once the bride starts crying, they stop singing, and a family member comes upfront to put henna in her hands – someone with a long, happy marriage. However the bride keeps her hand tightly closed and does not open to accept henna at first…Until her future mother-in-law comes and puts a golden coin in her hand. That does the trick, she opens her hand, and henna is put on her hand, covered with red fabric.

Every region has their own traditions about henna night. However, I have noticed different trends in today’s henna nights from the ones I experienced years ago: favors are given at henna nights to the guests now, the venues have changed from simple family homes to the restaurants, a couple more steps added to the flow of the night. Everything seems to be changing in Turkey and even old traditions are changing their “package” to keep up with the new. The hue of traditions varies not only among the regions but throughout the time as well.

There is one thing that has never changed and I don’t think will ever is the traditional song. The song is very heartfelt and sad song, telling the story of a new bride who longs for her family deeply. As with every folkloric song, there is a sad story behind it, attributing to an event. I was able to find the English translation of the song on this site and copied below. If you want to listen to the song in Turkish, here is the link for you.

They shouldn’t build homes high up on the hills
They shouldn’t give girls (as bride) to faraway lands
They shouldn’t look down on her mother’s one and only

It shall be come to feel to the flying birds
I miss my mother
Both my mother and my father
I miss my village

If my father had a horse and could only get on it to come here
If my mother had a sail and could only hoist it to come here
If my siblings could only know all the way to come to me

It shall be come to feel to the flying birds
I miss my mother
Both my mother and my father
I miss my village

Three days before my brother’s wedding, we had henna night for my sister-in-law as well. I was supposed to hold the henna tray and wait for her to start crying before we put henna her hands. She was all smiles, not a sign of tear in her eyes which I can relate because that is how I was at my own henna night. I took that as a good sign.  There is no need for sad tears in joyful events.

We had a blast that night, singing, dancing, eating and drinking. I am rusty when it comes to the “traditional roles and what I am supposed to do as a sister-in-law” but thankfully everyone managed to give me directions that night.  We ended the night in a very non-traditional way. My brother and his friends along with some family (including my husband) crushed the party at the end of the night, entering the restaurant with “Gangham style” dance, music blasting and silly blinking neon glasses. I wish I was prepared to take pictures but I was not. Everyone was just screaming with surprise, applauding the guys, and keeping the beat – because the guys kept dancing and dancing. Gangham style…It was hilarious! Even if I could take pictures or record their entrance, the guys would not allow me to post it anyway. Yes, it was that funny:)

I guess it always livens up the old traditions when you mix old and new in a creative way!






  1. by zerrin
    7:08 am
    Apr 1, 2013

    Gorgeous photos of henna night! Our traditions are very well explained here! I really enjoyed reading the post and seeing these pictures! Your sister-in-law looks stunning under that red cover! And it’s great that she didn’t cry. This shows that how she’s happy to be marrying your brother!

  2. by Ilke
    7:10 am
    Apr 1, 2013

    That is how I took it as well :) When I was under that cover, all I could think of was the new life ahead and could not stop smiling.

  3. by Carolyn
    10:24 am
    Apr 1, 2013

    Thanks for sharing! I love reading about Turkish traditions like this one…red dresses, and henna, and songs.

    Tebrik ederiz!

  4. by Angie@Angie's Recipes
    1:00 pm
    Apr 1, 2013

    An exotic and fun celebration! Thank you for sharing, llke.

  5. by Heidi
    5:20 pm
    Apr 1, 2013

    thanks for the story!! love it!

  6. by Susan
    9:29 pm
    Apr 1, 2013

    You’ve portrayed the tradition very beautifully, Ilke, and why should there be tears at a joyful event – especially if the bride is marrying willfully to someone she loves :)

    Wedding traditions have gone way overboard here in the past 20 years here also with so much more fanfare and cost and less intimacy.

  7. by john@kitchenriffs
    12:17 pm
    Apr 3, 2013

    How interesting! I learned a ton – I knew almost none of that. Great pictures, super post – thanks so much.

  8. by Shelley
    12:44 pm
    Apr 8, 2013

    What a cool tradition! Sounds like you all had a blast. So sorry I’m missing men and their gangnam style dancing – it sounds hilarious.

  9. by Mrs Ergül
    10:13 pm
    Apr 18, 2013

    I never knew that part of the wedding (prep) till now. It looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing the music!

  10. by rebecca
    10:50 pm
    Apr 18, 2013

    what a lovely tradition thanks for sharing :-) brings back memories I had henna in India

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