The first part of the Saudi wedding experience post left us foreigners still sitting at the table in amazement of the goings on. Read that post here.
The main event of the Saudi weddings is of course the arrival of the bride. Like I mentioned before the bride actually stays hidden from the guests for most of the wedding party. In a way I feel this is a shame since the wedding hall has been so beautifully decorated and so much time and money spent on it and the bride doesn’t get to fully enjoy it. All her relatives and friends are there too, so the arrangement of the bride only showing up for a good half hour during the entire evening, feels strange and like a sort of a waste for her to stay away from it all so long!
It’s hard to understand why the brides don’t fully participate in their own weddings! Sure she is the star of the show for the time she steps out of her closed room upstairs and slowly makes her grand entrance down the stairs and aisle to the stage for everyone to see. The bride then sits on the throne, sofa or chair whichever she has chosen, and watches women dance for her and come up to greet her. Usually this is the time in most Saudi weddings when the groom and some relatives such as the father of the bride and her brothers will make a short appearance on the women’s side which leads to frantic covering up of the unrelated women.
This wedding was different though. Not even the groom showed up which was really uncommon, I was told. When the bride was ready to come down the lights were dimmed and the music changed into a sort wedding march performed by the same music group. When she showed up in all her glory on top of the stairs the whole room seemed to gasp in amazement of her beauty.
She was indeed stunning. Thank God there was no “clown make-up” and she had kept it low key by Saudi terms. Her waist-long hair had been tied up into a huge bun that reminded me of the 60’s hairstyles and it was decorated with flowers and pearls. On top she wore an exquisitely embroidered long sheer veil secured onto her hair with a small tiara. Her ivory white dress had a simple A-line cute to it, with an embroidered form fitting top and a cute ribbon belt to accentuate her tiny waist. The dress had a beautifully detailed and long trailing hem on it. She was holding a small bouquet of flowers in one hand. She was the perfect bride.
The bright spotlight followed her steps slowly as she made her way down the red carpeted stairs. The bride was very nervous and had trouble smiling for the female photographer, but who wouldn’t be in that situation! Coming down the staircase seemed to take forever. I thought it must have felt like eons for her. Her dress had such a long and heavily embroidered hem it was difficult for her to take steps down. For each step she took down she had to grab the hem with both hands, kick it out of the way, then settle the dress again for the minute long pause she took at each step. I held my breath at every step and hoped and prayed she wouldn’t trip on the hem.
The bride eventually reached the stage and stood in the spotlight facing the crowd. As she stood there, now smiling and seemingly more relaxed, there was an announcement in Arabic and the crowd burst into applause and some women were loudly ululating. The announcements kept coming and the ululating got louder.
Finally she took a seat and her close family all gathered around her. Some were dancing, some were hugging her, some sat next to her. At this point I was clueless (again) what I should do. I was part of the closer family and unsure if I should go on the stage or not. I watched people slowly go up to her and congratulate her. I wanted to go, but then again I really didn’t! I felt really shy and didn’t want the attention.
At this point the first REAL drinks were served, the waitresses came around with trays of fruit juices. In very tiny glasses for my disappointment though. As I was dying of thirst at this point, having only had Arabic gahwa until then, I drank the juice in one gulp and snatched another one before the waitress left our table. I must have been her favorite person of the evening, always bugging her for something to drink! The waitress gave me a long look. I’m thirsty, woman! For God’s sake I could drink them all at once! Don’t look at me like I’m some sort of freak.
So after this refreshment I had decided to make my way to the stage. I grabbed my friend along for emotional back up. I was so nervous and I didn’t know what to do. My master plan was to quickly go congratulate her then quietly step off the stage and leave. It didn’t exactly work out as planned though.
After I had greeted her and some other relatives, I was pointed to stand on the side of the stage where women were cheering on the dancers in the middle, so I joined in. Suddenly one of the women approached me and grabbed me by the hand. I panicked. OMG! Now way I am going to dance in front of 300 women! I wanted to run or to shrink into a tiny little midget so nobody could see my so called dance moves. I know now how deer feel when they see the spotlight from the approaching car and freeze without being able to move, waiting for the smash.
I was at the center of the stage and could feel those curious eyes becoming even more curious now that the Amriki lady had been dragged into the spotlight for a great chance to LMFAO. I surely delivered. I had done this dance before and I do love Arabic dance, and music, even managed to pull it off somehow in familiar company. In this situation though, in fornt of so many strangers I could not have been able to perform a simple freakin ballet plie. I was as stiff as a rake.
The beautiful woman who dragged me was smiling and encouraging me and she was an excellent dancer, probably the best of them. Which of course made me look even more idiotic up there. I felt like a pecking chicken among beautiful gliding swans. I held my dress with my other hand, tried to smile and look like I was having the time of my life (which in a way I was) and clucked around for the song that seemed to go on for eternity. Were the African women making it go on this long on purpose?
When it finally finished I was taken back to the side of stage next to other women. I clapped along to the songs and prayed no one else would come and ask for this dance, waiting for a chance to escape. Suddenly a young woman started dancing very provocatively facing me. She had one of those make-up masquerades going on on her face and her hair was so stiff from the hairspray it was the only thing not moving on her body.
The vamp was closing in, looking at me like I was the steak on her plate! Yikes! Someone HELP! I had no idea what was going on. I looked to my sides. Everyone acted normal. Is this normal? This woman had possibly been watching to much MTV music videos and thought she was Shakira. Her moves were straight from a provocative dance video. The Arab Shakira was nearly in my face before she abruptly made a 180 degree turn and continued her sexy dance. Phew. Now that was AWKWARD.
The awkward moment when you’re being vamped by a Saudi Shakira dressed in an evening gown in front of all her relatives.
After that I was wishing I could grow wings and fly off the stage. No Red Bull so that didn’t work out. Next one of the fully veiled women came up to the stage and I curiously watched her warmly greeting the bride. I wonder did they even know who she was? As this lady left she turned to me and I had another skipped heart beat-moment. Luckily she just laughed and showed me the thumbs up. That made me feel really good. I also took it as a sign of approval of my chicken dance.
I really hope the animals underneath the table were not the ones in the stews above.
So many delicious dishes to choose from! Some of them I was familiar with, some were new acquaintances. The real enigma was the huge chunk of meat in the middle of the buffet served on a large silver plate and embedded in rice. My friend and I were wondering out loud was it camel meat? The chunk was so large and sort of resembled a camel’s hump. It must be camel right?
We asked a little girl what meat it was and she looked at us as if we had just asked her ‘what is a pizza’? We didn’t get an answer but we did get very long looks and whispers. The meat was surely popular among the guests. Many women were literally digging into it with their bare hands tearing big pieces off. That kind of put me off tasting it so it remained a mystery until I had the chance to ask my husband.
So what was it? Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll..) This is “leeya” aka a lamb’s BUTT. And apparently it’s a delicacy and yes the white stuff is blubber. The best part, I was told. So I will just leave it to that because I know many people really like this :)
After dinner it seemed most of the guests were leaving. There was a large freshening up room with mirrors where some women were re-applying lipstick after dinner. And as if anyone at this wedding needed MORE perfume, there was even a stand with a variety of perfumes to spray on yourself next to small mints and chocolates. About a fourth of the women had returned to the main hall where the music continued and some young women were dancing.
I couldn’t help noticing a gorgeous and statuesque young lady dancing among them. She could have been at the Oscars red carpet and stunned everyone. She wore a golden sleek one shoulder (the only bare shoulder of the night!) gown with minimal jewelry and must have been 6ft tall with a body to die for. Her hair was cut into a shoulder length trendy look and her make-up was perfect. She looked like a combination of Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz. I thought to myself had this woman been born to a different culture, by now her other-worldly beauty would likely be known worldwide. In Saudi she lived a very sheltered life, most likely only a handful of men ever witnessing her beauty. Two so different worlds!
Back at the abaya cloak room where women were covering up all the glitz and glamour under layers of black veils and abayas. You would never know what what was underneath!
We left the wedding exhausted but happy from the amazing experience. I think I pulled it off OK. At least I managed to keep “calm and collected” on the outside! Inside I was a nervous wreck most of the time. I’m hoping the next wedding I go to will be less of an ordeal!
Do you have a Saudi wedding experience to share?
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Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 75 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram: instagram.com/blueabaya
So I’m trying to understand this: so this lavish wedding allows women to dress a little more sexy and dance in ways, they normally wouldn’t?
I only hope the couple have a happy marriage ..for life.
It’s strange because Islamically the women must observe modesty and not dance provocatively in front of one another, and there are dress codes which women must observe amongst other women, yet many disregard them. It’d be better if they did those things in the privacy of their own homes.
Once when Laylah posted about the make up and how someone asked her why she wasn’t wearing makeup and “don’t you wear makeup for your husband???” or something to that effect… I just thought, what on earth does her wearing makeup for her husband have to do with wearing it in front of women? Seriously, its just a culture of showing off and lavishness and its so contradictory at times.
Huda I think they asked that also because they were worried my appearance (too modest or not sexy enough) would not please my husband.. Husband’s pleasure is the most important right ;)
Haha! I know that feeling of being dragged on to the dance floor! So much weirdness.
A friend and I did a podcast episode on this, if you’re interested in checking it out:
Thanks for the link Nessreen!
The details regarding a saudi wedding has to be my favorite post by you!! I’m a dancer and I’m really into how you were describing the dance styles over there. Can you please talk more about saudi women dance styles as well as the music? Are the African women who are playing the music are they saudi? Are there well known female saudi groups that play for special occasions such as wedding? Do you know any of the name of the songs that they usually play for weddings? I’m asking alot of questions , but i’m very interested in what you have to say!
Seems like the wedding was more about women trying to impress each other, rather than the fact that a couple made a big promise to each other. Anyway, nicely written, its a really entertaining article :)
The Saudi concept of a wedding is different from a that of a western wedding. Wedding for us are a celebration for everyone, new connections are being made with new families. Us dancing and having fun is a way to show our happiness and joy. It does not mean that we do not care about the big promises we made, which are usually celebrated a few months before the wedding.
Dance-thanks for your questions, I will try to answer but if someone has better insight feel free to help!
The african women are usually originally East african and to my understanding most have been here for generations so yes they are Saudi(some might disagree to my definition of Saudi)
Anyways I recently read an article on Arab News about a female wedding DJ, who is based in Jeddah and so popular that she is fully booked for months ahead. Cannot remember her name though! But she plays whatever music the bride has requested! So am guessing not just arabic music :) The weddings in Jeddah are far more relaxed and very different from the Riyadhian ones where often the drums are the only accepted form of music.
I hope someone can tell you names for the wedding songs!
Interesting story =) I think it also depends on the region, and the family, what a Saudi wedding looks like ;)
True. Wedding rituals and dances differ from one area to another and from one family to another. I really enjoy going to different weddings and comparing between my family’s tradition and other families’.
Yes I hear the same! I just wonder where the traditions come from ? I mean lots of the things done these days are from the western weddings right? SO they must be quite new traditions? So who approved them, and how do weddings evolve? Would the same family have almost identical weddings and doing something different would be looked down upon by some?
“Would the same family have almost identical weddings and doing something different would be looked down upon by some?”
i think this holds true for weddings in the usa…
I was surprised when you said that it is a common occurrence for men to appear inside the woman hall. What i have heard is the complete opposite that no men are ever allowed and this is something that used to happen among the ignorant/older generation. Also i think it defiantly depends on the tribe..not so much the location in saudi..as there are very conservative tribes in liberal cities..and very liberal tribes in conservative cities..it depends on Islam/culture/tribe.
Some families dont even allow their prospective daughter to be seen by her husband until the actual wedding night and that is the most liberal city in saudi.
Thanks huda. I dunno, it just sounds like a bunch of women going over overboard during a wedding celebration..because they don’t have much opportunity to be this “free” in daily life. I can’t explain this, but alot of women showing off to each other in terms of fashion, cleavage (that’s what her blog post said, which I found strange in an Islamic, strict country), ultimately sounds a bit limiting. It’s fun to dress like that um..maybe once every decade. :) But other than that, life offers so much more other things to explore beyond home!
Jean-I agree with you, some of the women might be going overboard because it is one of the few occasions they get to really go all out. SO they enjoy it to the max.
From my observations showing off, or appearances are very important here. SO that might explain why the huge jewelry and so forth.
As opposed to a Western wedding where women dress up in bling showing off cleavage to women AND other men. As a convert who has been married for 37 years, I think that we women like to dress up , dance,and party, regardless. But it really is not very appropriate to get all dressed up so other men can look at us. Every culture has their own way to celebrate, so I’m not judging. let them enjoy the celebration the way they want.
You say that appearances are so important in the kingdom..i remember a photo from your photo journal explaining that obesity in women is on the rise..does the weight hold women back from going so “overboard” like it may for women in the west..who only see beauty as model thin?
Also how did you find saudi women react to foreign wives who may have lighter features then they do…do they see that as something beautiful or are they still wondering why the saudi man didn’t pick someone from his tribe ?
P.s. I just love your blog..thanks for being such an honest writer.
hi Morena, good questions! No weight certainly is no limitation here! Women will wear whatever they like , whatever their size and shape! Which is of course good that the self esteem issues we have in the west don’t exist and women are not that limited in what they “can” wear to such occasions.
Well many Saudis do comment on my skin color (especially at work) how white it is, this made me feel very awkward and not know how to respond. I am guessing many perceive lighter skin and hair more beautiful, judging by how many try to whiten their skin for example.
I’m pretty sure there will always be few people from my husbands tribe who don’t accept me and wonder why he didn’t choose from among them. Also he might be seen as a traitor of some sort. Some might even hope he takes a Saudi as a second wife some day.
I kept laughing while reading this… awesome chicken dancing by the sounds of it!
Although the meat thing was a bit off putting I could see why people would like it. Besides it doesn’t sound as bad as what Syrian’s do… my dad used to get us to eat lambs eyes and tongues hahaha >:(
The lamb was cooked of course but I always opted out. However my brothers thought it was yummy lol
Huda-lambs eyes and tongues??? OMG I have no words!
the eyes i believe have aphrodisiac effects so in our country they were eaten by husbands to prepare for a long night with the wife.
“And, if the sheep’s eye, considered a delicacy by the Bedouins, is offered to you, you must eat it. The host had given you the highest honor he can think of.” ;D
So this is the celebration,awesome,
but what about the ceremony what is that like?
Diana-the actual ceremony is very short and simple and only involves signing of some papers at the judge, basically just the official just. woman remains fully covered and is accompanied by her father, or her guardian who has to be present for her to marry.
The ceremony can be held anything from a year or even more up until few weeks prior to the wedding party.
In this case the ceremony (nikah) had been 6 months before the wedding party.
That´s very interesting! so there is not much religious ritual? it sounds more like a civil weddding.
The judge reads passages from the Quran and might briefly “lecture” about Marriage in Islam, and then he takes the two male witness testimony and asks the woman if she agrees to marry this man, and they settle whatever they want to have written down in the contract as additional clauses, not much to it other than that.
I had attended a Saudi wedding before, His originally Indian from Makkah, a doctor, and she a Syrian nurse.
My friend told me to eat enough before a Saudi wedding. Reception starts at around 9pm, with all the arabian belly dance, the bride and groom came in at Midnight, we have to don the abaya and veil and then food is served at 4 am…
nevertheless it was an experience, not everybody get invited
Black Jubah-wa aleikum salaam
Food was served at 4 am? Wow you must ave been starving by then! So what happened during all those 7 hours before the food?
I have heard that music is forbidden for conservative Muslims but apparently alright for weddings? I know that there are certainly Muslims who don’t consider music forbidden but are there Muslims who wouldn’t even have music at a wedding?
Hi Annie, yes music is considered haram according to some interpretations of Islam. Thing is, there is always a way “around” things. Like music is ok if there’s only this sort of drum played, and singing only, no other instruments. Some people think just the drums are allowed. Anyways, I’ve never heard of a wedding without music. This was an extremely conservative wedding, and they had music.
Wow! So glad you posted part 2 of the wedding! What a night! Could you tell by looking how many mothers and grandmothers were checking out possible future brides for their sons and grandsons? That would have been so interesting to watch.
My mouth was starting to feel cottony reading about this wedding though! Hot and little liquid served? Ouch. Was this unusual, or are the locals just accustomed to a higher level of general dehydration?
I remember my father telling me that people appreciate the “leeya” because it is the part that tells you the quality of the meat. The bigger it is, the healthier and fatter the sheep is. or was :)
Here in the US all sheep have tiny tails and no butts so I guess they do not have the serving-the-butt-to-guests custom :D
As an FYI; the ‘speech’ before the ululating of the women were praises and salutations to the Prophet :) It’s common in Saudi weddings.
This wedding definitely seemed much more conservative than the average Saudi wedding. In my wedding (my wife is Saudi), I was present during her walk of fame from the balcony to the stage, pausing to cut the cake and take pictures along the way.
Thankfully, wifey and I made sure we didn’t take it long into the night, as is the ritual. Dinner was served just before 1 AM.
Quite the night to remember.
I didn’t realized how nervous u were till I read the blogs! U presented yourself very nicely and you looked stunning! I enjoyed the wedding very much…eventhough we were the center of attention the whole time since u were the only Blonde at the whole wedding!!!! I think u even took the spotlight off the bride hehe…..I also enjoyed translating, however, I wondered why so many young ladies did not know English. I thought it was very strange!! I won’t forget the awkward translation moment hehe “Tell her I say Congratulations for baby” … “hah … what baby??” loool…”Layla ???” “ummm yeah I’m pregnant!” loool As if i needed more shock during the night! loool And i can’t believe that lady in the restroom thought we were sisters loool? that was a nice compliment :-) …but i still don;t understand how she came to that conclusion… I guess I look Finnish hahaha……. She said she came all the way from Khobar to attend the wedding… I wonder if she was trying to find a suitor….I could tell that your husband’s relatives were very impressed by you and I felt they were actually showing u off ;-)
I know this has no direct link to the post, but when I think of being offered cow’s tongue or brain on Eid by my Omani relatives and get disgusted, they remind me how eating bread out of a Turkey’s butt (i.e North American thanksgiving or Christmas dinner) is just as inane to them and maybe more so lol.
I’m a Filipino here in Riyadh and I have attended a Saudi wedding once, with my other Western colleagues. I also felt equally embarrassed (my colleagues too) because everyone was looking at us – being foreigners. At the venue, you also need to greet the groom, aligned with 20-30 male relatives of his (mostly elders) and greet them. We did not know what to do, it was just so embarrassing… Some of the me kissed us on the cheeks, some didn’t, we just shook their hands. It was really confusing. But overall it was really an interesting experience.
hello Laylah I really like your blog you’re creative mashalla ,but i just wanted to make it clear that not all weddings in saudi arabia are like that i’m from riyadh and our weddings are nothing like that we put simple makeup and wear cute dresses that are usually plain with no eye hurting sparkles.and women don’t wear niqabs
hi layla! i just discovered your blog and i really enjoy reading it!
Mrs. Layla…..when i was reading Saudi Wedding on your blog i fall down from my chair laughing…. lol and i am still laughing and laughing…. but i hope you enjoyed it…..
Salam alaikum Layla
Terveiset suomesta,ihana blogi!
[…] So I attended my first big wedding party (walimah) here in Riyadh! What an amazing experience! The second part of the wedding party v=celebrations can be read here. […]
Amazing reading Layla! Thanks for the entertainment :) As you know from my blog, I have not attended a Saudi wedding myself – just heard inside stories from others. The difference between our Nordic culture and life in Saudi could not be vaster. You have to live it to believe it…