Wedding Traditions in Turkey

Marriage in Turkey & Turkish Wedding Traditions: An Extensive Guide

Also known as matrimony or wedlock, marriage is one of the few unions that is regarded acceptable (even necessary) by almost all the cultures on Planet Earth. Basically being a legal or traditional sort of contract, marriage is still an institution that makes a particular society recognize a couple’s union, be it legally, traditionally or sexually.

The reason why marriage has such a huge rate of acceptance in almost any culture is not set in stone. While some cultures deem in unacceptable to get involved premarital sex or to live together, people may prefer to get married in some other cultures which simply does not have anything to say about the mentioned issues. It is also an undeniable fact that the current or former religious doctrines influencing a society lead to the upbringing of generations with a positive attitude towards marriage.

Before you begin reading this extensive article on Turkish weddings, here are some more articles that may attract your attention, since we assume that you’re already interested in diverse customs and traditions:

1. Common Russian and Turkish Superstitions

2. The most interesting African Traditions

But this article is about the wedding traditions in Turkey, right? So let’s have a look at the status of marriage in Turkey, first of all.

Legal Status of Marriage in Turkey

Legal Wedding in Turkey

In Turkey, the age of majority is 18 so every citizen over the age of 18 can get married by his/her free will. However, those between 15-18 are also allowed to get married if the individual himself/herself  desires to do so,  but this is only on condition that the parents of the individual give their legal consent and the court approves the application.

The period of engagement is also acknowledged by the Turkish Law. According to the law, an engagement legally begins from the moment when both sides agree on getting married and it is a legal right of both sides to request the gives be given back, should the engagement is terminated for any reason.

Relatives and those who cannot prove that their former marriage is over cannot get married according to the law. Moreover, both sides must go through a simple health check (a blood test) for their marriage application to be approved. [1]

2015 UPDATE: By the Turkish laws, having religious marriage without civil marriage was subjected to imprisonment between 2 and 6 months. By May 2015, this law has been abolished since it was considered as a source of discrimination between unmarried couples living together and those who live under religious wedding.

Religious Practices in Turkish Marriages

Turkey is a large country where over 30 languages are spoken [2], which indicates a huge variety of cultures and religions, thus practices. However, a majority of the population define themselves as Muslims [3], so it may be a good idea to cover the practices of the majority first.

As a Christian marriage is solemnized by a priest, a Muslim marriage must be solemnized by an imam, but the solemnization does not have to take place in a mosque. An imam can be invited to a property for the marriage and the solemnization is performed under the witness of two more people. In most cases, the groom has to offer the bride some kind of warranty (called ‘Mehir’ – usually in the form of golden coins or bracelets) to be given in the case of a divorce so that the bride would not be economically bound to the groom if the marriage ends.

The Christian and Jewish people, or those who have a different religion than the three perform their own marriage rituals in traditional ways, in churches or synagogues.

Less religious people may skip the religious phase of marriage.

It should also be noted that religious marriages are not recognized by any public institution in Turkey since the country’s constitution is built on secular principles.

Turkish Wedding Traditions

As mentioned above, there are numerous peoples within the borders of Turkey, therefore, it is not possible to talk about a unified group of Turkish wedding traditions that are followed by all the different groups residing in the country. However, and of course, living in the same country results in commonalities and and those commonalities in wedding traditions may serve as a generic group of Turkish wedding traditions. We’ll go step by step from this moment on, from the proposal to the first days of marriage, but it is still necessary to have a look at the two common types of marriage in Turkey, one (group) of which may not require an actual proposal.

Arranged Marriages Vs. Love Marriages

Arranged marriages form around 20% of all marriages in Turkey [4]. Typically, the parents or guardians of the prospective bride or the groom select someone for their young adult children to get married to, and the marriage takes place if the families agree. It is mostly mothers who look for a “potential bride” for their sons and house visits for that particular purpose can be arranged by women. In most cases, the consent of the children are also taken where the other family is not present at the scene, if the marriage is not desired by any of the children, the families do not come together to agree on the marriage.

The phrase “in most cases” was intentionally used in the previous paragraph because a very small percentage of arranged marriages in certain parts of the country may skip the ‘consent of the child’ phase. One of the examples to this difficult situation is called “beşik kertme”, which is basically an engagement arranged by families when the bride and the groom are still babies in their cradles. Although the practice is hardly ever observed nowadays, the rejection of marriage by either party makes the situation quite complicated in this type of marriage.

Another type of arranged marriage in Turkey, which is hardly ever seen nowadays, is “berdel”, a term that basically means exchanging brides. In societies within Turkey which required a kind of “bride price” for marriage, this type of marriage was preferred by poorer families who could not afford the bride price. By giving a bride to the family in return for taking a bride, families used to unite without the bride price. “Berdel” is also known to have terminated blood feuds in the past, since marriages claimed the sides in conflict relatives.

Changing times, however, has limited the use of such arranged marriages and nowadays the majority of Turkish population prefer what can be called a “love marriage”. Just like anywhere in the world, people meet, have a relationship whose duration can vary, and decide to get married. The consent of the family, however, can still be important in many parts of the country, although more people respect their children’s decisions in comparison to the past. In case of an objection by the family, the couple may respect their families’ decision or get married anyway. In practice, most objecting families forgive their children after some time, if they’re convinced that the particular marriage is what the couple really wants.

Phases of a Typical Turkish Marriage

A traditional wedding in Turkey has to follow certain phases, which can be examined in three subtitles: Agreement, Engagement and Wedding. Regarding these phases, while more traditional families are more likely to pay attention to even the smallest details, less traditional ones may just go through the phases for the sake of tradition, thus skipping many steps. Some couples may even skip the whole procedure and do a legal marriage right away. So from this point on, the present article deals with solely the traditional ways of getting married in Turkey.

Let’s have a look at the phases one by one. It should also be noted that in such a diverse country like Turkey, the applications may change regionally, so the following lines may only function as a general “frame” for the whole process.

Marriage Agreement (by the families)

In the ‘types of marriage’ section, I’ve mentioned house visits by mothers, in which process a bride candidate is selected again by mothers. After the selection, if the children agree on getting married, the actual marriage agreement takes place. This phase has two important functions: Allowing the families to meet and agreeing on the marriage officially, in front of the most authoritative family members.

This process is basically another house visit, with the difference that fathers and other relatives with a high level of authority within the family are also present this time. Since the agreement is already made before the actual ceremony in most cases, the family of the prospective groom is present in the ceremony with certain gifts, such as a box of chocolate and a bouquet of flowers. The family of the groom are also expected to present some valuable gifts mostly in the shape of jewelry to be presented after the rings are worn. But before the rings, the most crucial part of the agreement ceremony should be dealt with.

As mentioned above, the fathers and generally the elders of a family are present in this phase, which means an important decision is about to be made. After some short chit-chat, the oldest male member of the groom’s family asks for the consent of the oldest male member of the bride’s family, typically reciting the following lines:

“By the order of Allah and the word of The Prophet (Mohammad), we would like to have your daughter (her name) for our son (his name).”

Unless something extraordinary shows up, the elder of the bride’s family does not reject this request, since the consent of the family is generally taken before the house visit.

Turkish Coffee

Turkish Coffee at this point also has some traditional meanings. Typically, the prospective bride prepares coffee for everyone to be presented in a fancy tray, but the groom’s coffee has to be a little different then the rest. The coffee for the groom has to be prepared with salt (a lot of salt) instead of sugar and the groom has to take at least one sip from the cup, which can be quite challenging and fun at the same time. This tradition generally means that the groom will bear with all the difficulties of sharing a life together, no matter how hard it could be.

After this most critical part of the ceremony, two rings (I can call “agreement rings”) that are tied together with a red ribbon are presented in an ornamented tray and they are given to the couple by an elder, typically after a speech of good wishes for the couple and the family for their holy union. Then the ribbon is cut by the same member of the family, signifying the actualization of the marriage agreement.

Parenthetically here, the scissors to be used to cut the ribbon is usually held by a close female relative or the best friend of the bride and when the elder to use it approaches her for the scissors, she typically says “The scissors wouldn’t cut.”, meaning he should put some money in the tray before taking the scissors.

Upon the actualization of the agreement, the grooms family gives the bride a set of jewelry as a gift and the other people present in the scene may also give golden coins or cash to help the couple with their preparations. Then the groom’s family leaves and the first step of the new family union is completed to be followed by the engagement ceremony.

Engagement

A typical Turkish engagement is the second step of marriage after the “agreement”, which is generally meant to give the couple and the families time to know each other and prepare for the wedding day.

Since a typical traditional family would prefer an arranged marriage for their children, engagement is an important phase for the couple to know each other due to the fact that they may not really know much about one another before this period. The basic idea is that, if the couple cannot get along or they think they are not fit for one another, they can break up before they actually get married, since a divorce would have more devastating effects on themselves and for their families.

In other words, dating people may not be appreciated in more traditional societies within Turkey and the engagement phase gives the couple an opportunity to date and get to know each other, under the approval of both families.

Back to the ceremony, the engagement is generally in the form of a celebration, during which rings again (but different rings this time) are given to the couple by an authoritative figure within one of the families. The expenses of the celebration is traditionally covered by the bride’s family, although some exceptions may be observed depending on the region. The size of the celebrations may vary, so do the procedures.

One way of celebrating an engagement takes place at the bride’s home, which is relatively smaller in size, having only relatives as guests. Just like the “marriage agreement” ceremony, the relatives of both sides gather at the bride’s home, people chat and talk about the couple’s near-future marriage.

Wedding Rings

Afterwards, everybody comes together for the ceremony and one of the elder figures of the family makes a short speech about the couple and marriage in general, then gives the engagement rings tied with a red ribbon to the couple. Then again the ribbon is cut, typically followed by an engagement cake and applause.

Naturally, an engagement ceremony is not without gifts of different sorts. In this phase of marriage preparations, both sides give each other extensive gifts that generally have the following contents:

Bride’s Engagement Bundle (Given by the groom’s family)

  • Satin night/morning gowns
  • Pyjamas
  • Babydoll
  • A set of underwear
  • Slippers
  • A bag
  • Shoes
  • Engagement Gown
  • A set of casual clothes
  • Skin-care products
  • Make-up Kit
  • Perfumes
  • Socks
  • A suitcase
  • A chest
  • Towels
  • Toiletry
  • Depilation Kit
  • Golden bracelets, a necklace and earrings

Groom’s Engagement Bundle (Given by the bride’s family)

  • Towels
  • Slippers
  • Pyjamas
  • Perfumes
  • Shaving Kit
  • A robe-de-chambre
  • Trousers
  • A shirt
  • A tie
  • A wallet
  • A belt
  • Shoes
  • Toiletry
  • A set of underwear
  • A prayer rug
  • Socks

The relatives that are present in the scene also give the couple presents, mostly in the form of golden coins or cash. Very close relatives usually give the couple golden bracelets that are more valuable.

If the engagement ceremony is to be held in a larger place like a wedding hall, the same procedures take place but this time the engagement cake is followed by a larger celebration, including dancing (and drinking, depending on the region) with many more guests like less close relatives, neighbors and friends.

This way, the marriage preparations are announced publicly and the actual preparations like finding a wedding hall, choosing the furniture or finding a place to live commence. The duration of an engagement may vary from several months to several years, but keeping this phase short is more acceptable socially. If one or both members of the couple are university students, for instance, it is common to wait for their graduation before the marriage.

You think now is the time to talk about the marriage, right? We have not even come there yet! There are four more important steps before the marriage that should be dealt with in detail, the making of home, the transfer/exhibition of dowry , henna night and fetching the bride. Once I cover those steps, we are finally good to go for the marriage.

The Making of Home

Naturally, the prospective married couple needs a home after the marriage ceremony and during the engagement phase, the preparations for that are made extensively. However, it should be noted that the regional and socio-cultural background of the related families strongly determine the way the making of home takes place.

Typically, the bride’s family is responsible for the purchasing of the bedroom and kitchen (including domestic appliances), while the rest of the furniture should be bought by the groom’s family. However, a quick forum research shows that it is regarded disgraceful for the bride’s family to purchase the bedroom and the groom’s family is expected to buy everything that is related to the new home of the couple [5] [6] [7]. Therefore, it is safer to state that in the western part of Turkey, the bride’s family is responsible for the bedroom and the kitchen expenses.

The selection of the goods for the new home may also have some traditional aspects within the country. While many couples choose what to have in their new home themselves, some families may be directly involved in the selection process. Furthermore, some families may go for this process with a large group of relatives, everybody stating an opinion about what to buy. After everything is bought and moved to the new home, the process of which may take a relatively long time, the marriage is quite close and the dowry of the bride is moved to the new home, too, after its exhibition.

Dowry Exhibition

Traditional Turkish Dowry Chest

This is quite a simple exhibition, typically organized by the bride’s family at their home. The largest room of the place is typically used, since the contents of the dowry is quite massive and it is difficult to make everything fit in one room. The dowry typically consists of all the kitchenware, dinnerware, bed sheets, blankets, bathrobes, bathroom kits and smaller kitchen appliances. Relatives, neighbors and friends come to the flat/house of the bride’s family to see the dowry and the groom’s family is also there to take everything to the couple’s new home.

A hope chest is present in the scene most of the time and the fetching of it bears another fun tradition within itself. In many parts of Turkey, a close relative of the bride, a child in most cases, sits on the hope chest and when it’s time for the groom’s family to take the chest, the child typically says “The chest won’t move!“. Like the scissors that do not cut in the “marriage agreement ceremony”, the un-moving chest means the groom’s family should convince the child to step away from the chest with cash. The same words are recited until the child is convinced and the chest is taken to the new home of the couple, along with the rest of the dowry.

The completion of the dowry exhibition means that the marriage is quite close, and the next step is the “Henna Night”, typically celebrated just one night before the marriage.

Henna Night

A henna night resembles a bachelorette party for the bride, female relatives and female friends, but in the Aegean and Thracian parts of Turkey, there may not be any gender restrictions and the celebration looks like a wedding party. However, in a traditional setting, a henna night is a girls-only night during which many rituals are performed in traditional dresses. If the participants do not form a large crowd, the henna night is held at the bride’s home or a nearby garden.

Bindallı for the Henna Night

During the henna night, the bride typically wears a robe (a caftan) that is called “bindallı” and there is no dressing code for the guests.

The ritualistic part of the henna night takes place after some time. The bridge sits on a chair with her face veiled with a piece of red clothing, and the young girls dance around her carrying lit candles, singing traditional songs that have “a bride’s departure from the family home” as their themes. Although there is dancing and singing included, this is actually quite a sad ritual during which the bride (and her mother, too, in most cases) start crying, and is expected to do so. This ritual goes on for a while and then a small amount of henna is applied on both hands of the bride and the young girls around may also have some, believing that it will be good luck for their marriage. At this point, I believe it is a good idea to describe the roots of using henna in Turkish culture.

According to Assist. Prof. Dr. Mehmet Yardımcı [8], the application of henna has Islamic roots dating back to Abraham, who was given a ram with henna on it in order to sacrifice instead of his son. His article suggests that the using of henna by the Turks has three main functions. Firstly, henna is applied on the rams to be sacrificed since it is an offering to Allah. Secondly, the boys to be sent to the army for their service, since they’re sacrificed for the motherland. And lastly, henna is applied to a bride’s hands, since in a way she is sacrificed for a new family and a husband.

Upon the explanation of henna in Turkish culture, we can now go to the wedding day, which starts with the fetching of the bride.

Fetching the Bride

On the wedding day, the bride has to depart the family home for the last time, which is quite a ceremony itself. After having her hair and make up done in a beauty salon, the bride comes back home to wait for the groom’s family to fetch her, all dressed up in her wedding gown. Typically, the family of the groom and all the relatives along with friends gather at a determined spot to form a wedding procession (alay) with their cars. The destination is naturally the bride’s home. All the cars attending the procession are given embroidered towels by the family of the groom and the towels are tied to the rear-view mirrors and they move towards the bride’s home to fetch the bride. Typically, the wedding procession is lead by a pick-up full of musicians playing live and a cameraman recording everything.

When they reach the bride’s home, music continues and people dance on the street until the bride comes out. Meanwhile, the bride bids farewell to the family members one by one and a red maidenhood belt is tied around the waist of the bride before she moves out for the last time. After that, the groom himself or the groom’s family (regional variations) comes to fetch the bride, during the process of which they may encounter one last hurdle.

One thing to note here, the bride usually writes the name of her single relatives and friends under her shoe with the hope that the name to be wiped off of the shoe first will be the one to get married next.

This last hurdle is typically a young boy waiting at the bride’s door holding a Turkish flag, saying “The door won’t open“. By now you must have understood that if someone says a particular thing doesn’t work, the only way to make it work is to tip the person saying that. So the flag-holder is given some money to move away, and the couple comes out of the home accompanied by prayers and music.

It is very common to observe the bride’s family crying in this phase, since the whole procedure symbolizes the final departure of the bride from her family’s home to start her own life. The couple then goes to the groom’s home for the religious marriage procedures led by an imam (see the beginning of this article for the details). Also, the groom’s family is responsible to feed the guests stopping by in this phase.

The Wedding, Finally!

As a matter of fact, a well-organized wedding ceremony is the easiest phase among all those I have mentioned. The wedding procession simply leaves the home of the groom after the religious wedding ceremony, and go to the wedding hall that was rented months ago. In the hall, everything from the chairs to the walls are ornamented in various sorts.

Turkish Wedding Traditions - Wedding Hall

Everybody arrives in the wedding hall while the bride and the groom wait for the last preparations to be completed in a room that is typically backstage. In most cases, there is live music in the wedding hall and the head musician also acts as the presenter.

When everything is ready, the musician welcomes the guests and announces the names of the bride and the groom to come. Accompanied by music, the couple steps into the middle of the dance floor followed by a huge applause. If the couple has not completed the legal part of marriage yet, a registrar is also present at the scene to ask for the approval of the couple for their legal marriage. Both the bride and the groom have to give their approval out loud in order for the marriage to take place legally. Two or more witnesses have to be there in the scene and they also sign the legal documents after the couples.

The last step before everybody starts dancing all evening long is the presentation of gifts. Typically, everyone who comes to the wedding hall gives gifts to the couple in the form of golden accessories and cash. The closer the guest is, the more valuable the gifts become. They can be varying from a golden bracelet to a golden coin.

The completion of the gifts ceremony means that the difficult parts are all completed, and the rest of the night is all about dancing, eating, drinking and feasting.

At the end of the wedding party, after everybody leaves, the bride bids farewell to her family one last time and the couple usually leaves for their own home or their honeymoon.

Epilogue

As you see, a traditional marriage in Turkey means an extensive period of customs and different phases all of which are with their own codes of behavior. It is important to note, however, that the above explanations are valid for the most traditional settings, which may not be visible in all parts of the country, or may be more slightly dealt with. All in all, I have tried to explain the wedding traditions in Turkey in this article with all its aspects.

As a mixture of Asian and European cultures, however, Turkey has a lot more to offer when it comes to traditions. Did you know, for instance, that Turkey and Russia shared a lot of common traditions and superstitions? If not, do read our article on Common Aspects of Russian and Turkish Cultures!

Feel free to comment below! Questions? Just ask! 

References

1. http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/kanunlar/k4721.html [In Turkish]

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Turkey

3. http://joshuaproject.net/countries/TU?page=1

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriage

5. http://www.kizlarsoruyor.com/ask-iliskileri/q292036-evlenirken-kiz-erkek-tarafi-neler-alir [In Turkish]

6. http://forum.memurlar.net/konu/1615514/ [In Turkish]

7. http://www.kadinlarkulubu.com/forum/index.php?threads/yatak-odasi-kime-ait.529242/ [In Turkish]

8. http://turkoloji.cu.edu.tr/HALK%20EDEBIYATI/mehmet_yardimci_geleneksel_kultur_asiklar_kina.pdf [In Turkish]

 

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Marriage in Turkey & Turkish Wedding Traditions: An Extensive Guide
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Marriage in Turkey & Turkish Wedding Traditions: An Extensive Guide
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Marriage in Turkey & Turkish Wedding Traditions: An Extensive Guide
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