This past week, our family had the honor of attending a dear friend’s wedding in Dallas, Texas. I was ecstatic to see this beautiful woman get married, and it was also a blast getting to experience my first Ethiopian-American wedding. My deep love for learning about different cultures was sure to be in overdrive during this 3-day event. Here are 5 special elements from the occasion that stood out to me:
- Traditional Ethiopian dresses (well, many dresses!) The Bride began Day 1 in a traditional Ethiopian dress. She walked down the aisle with two elders, who then handed her over to her parents and then they proceeded to the Groom. The Bride later wore a traditional, white American gown to the reception on Day 2. The next day, she was in another Ethiopian dress that matched the Groom’s outfit. With this dress, she also wore symbolic gold jewelry. There were chains of gold linked within her braided hair that was customary for her father’s tribe – so beautiful. Likewise, the bridesmaids wore a variety of dresses throughout the festivities and although they had matching heels, you were more likely to find them barefoot (see #5).
- Kidnapping of the Bride! This was fun! The Groom goes to the Bride’s parents’ house where she is kept inside as her friends and family block the entrance to the home. The Groom works with his friends and family to sway the Bride’s family into letting him inside. They offered flowers, perfume, gifts and many sweet words. There was also TONS of dancing and singing! It was also fun to watch their neighbors observing the event. Several neighbors, from different cultures, came outside to see what was taking place. The Bride sat inside and was to keep a serious expression on her face to show she is sad to be leaving her parent’s house; however, this Bride had a hard time holding back her smiles of happiness as she waited for the love of her life. Eventually, the Groom was permitted inside where he sat with the Bride and then left with her in the limo.
- The honoring of elders. Throughout the wedding events, it was clear to see the value of the tribe’s elders. Each day they are dressed in delicate white material. At the start of the ceremony, elders walked the Bride to her awaiting parents who then took her to the hands of her Groom. After the reception, the elders sat in a row as the Bride and Groom went before each one, bowed down and kissed their knees. The elders said blessings for the couple and the evening came to an end. I noted throughout the weekend that people of all ages were paying their respects to the elders. They checked on them to see if they needed anything, they warmly greeted them, and they were sure to include them on activities throughout the weekend. It was simply beautiful to see this level of deeply rooted respect.
- The food. The food. The food. Okay, so I am automatically drawn to any outing where there will be food, especially if it is something I have not tried. Although I have been eating Ethiopian food for years, thanks to this awesome friend, this was the first time I saw a special wedding tradition. Now, there was American food served inside the beautiful reception venue, but that is where it ended. The rest of the weekend was full of injera (information can be found here), meat stews, kitfo, vegetables and the lovely fragrant Ethiopian coffee. It was fun to watch people eat these dishes for the first time (something I’ve had the pleasure of seeing many times over the years, and it is always eventful because it is a unique experience for most people outside of that culture with both the types of food and the style in which one eats it). They asked many questions and put it on a plate like an American holiday meal. So, I was used to plating the injera and then the food on top (injera soaked in the juices is the best!) and I have eaten kitfo (a description is here) on many occasions. However, new to me on this day was the raw cow that was hanging, ready to eat – yes, ready to eat! The meat is “cooked” with spices and I was willing to try some since I have previously enjoyed the ground version. It was good, but I still prefer it ground.
- Dancing the nights away. When the Bride stated that there would be tons of dancing, she was not exaggerating. From before the Bride stepped into the aisle to say her vows, from when Day 3 ended, there was continuous singing, ululation (The start of this video has the ululation, along with pictures of many features I mentioned in this piece, although this video is not from the wedding I attended.) and dancing. The days were filled with beautiful ululation that replicated the joyous feeling everyone was experiencing. A lot of dancing also took place at the reception, which was in a gorgeous hotel. Due to the venue’s setup, many hotel guests could observe the reception. It appeared that people were very grateful for this opportunity as they stood and watched the celebration for a long time and often were seen taking pictures. There was a mix of past and present music from both represented cultures. Guests of all ages and backgrounds were finding their way to the dance floor because the energy was so infectious. It surely led up to the hype!
Anytime people gather to celebrate love, it is magical. The warmth from the Bride and Groom fills the air and coats the atmosphere. This wedding lived up to that ideal and spread even further. To see two cultures combine was so enchanting. Each brought pieces of their culture to the union. Their guests were able to learn from one another, and grow deeper as we celebrated the love between two amazing individuals. So, by the end of the three days, we found ourselves exhausted and yet still smiling, ululating and accepting yet another bite of injera.
Ahmeli… that when cultures come together, they bring out the best in one another to create a better tomorrow.
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