If, upon receiving an invitation to a Moroccan wedding, you accept, then you had better prepare yourself.
You’re in for an awesome night. The most fun non-alcoholic party you will ever attend, I guarantee it.
Moroccans themselves, when asked about their wedding celebrations, will usually give you a dull answer. Yeah, I guess they’re fun, but they can be boring. And the reasoning behind this is the fact that they have probably already been to more weddings than they could count. There is always a wedding happening in Morocco, always.
But they can’t see it from a foreigner’s perspective, and understand how exciting a Moroccan wedding, or any wedding in an Arabic country for that matter, can truly be for someone who is new to the culture and to the traditions.
And this is exactly why the whole thing was so exciting for me.
So upon receiving that invitation, the first thing you should do (besides get excited) is to figure out what you’re going to wear. For guys – guess what?! You get to wear a suit, like always. Some men wear the traditional robes, but if you’re going to a modern-day wedding in a large city, then you’re going to look a little out of place with one on.
For girls, also like always, it’s way more fun. Moroccan women go all out for weddings, donning their fanciest takchitas. A takchita is a traditional Moroccan two-part dress, made up of a colorful caftan (long-sleeved dress) with another short-sleeved dress to go over it that shows off the caftan underneath. The two parts are combined and the outfit is completed with a large decorative belt that goes around the waist.
My host mother was kind enough to give me her cousin’s takchita, and it was gorgeous. A gold-colored caftan with beautiful turquoise designs and another turquoise dress to go over it, hemmed with silver sparkles and covered in a flowery pattern. The moment I tried it on I loved it, and I could feel my excitement for the wedding growing.
I’ve been entertaining daydreams of what the celebration could be like all week, and have been subject to equal amounts of story-telling from local friends about the thousand and one weddings they have gone to themselves. But today is the day, and I’m ready to find out for myself what it’s all about.
My host family and I proceed to pile into a couple of petit taxis, and a few Moroccan Darija words (which I don’t quite catch) are thrown at the driver, who nods in understanding before zooming off. In comparison with the cramped squeeze-as-many-people-as-we-possibly-can grand taxis, this “piling” is nothing, but with the layers of fabric of the takchita pillowing around me, my hair done up, and heels adding a few inches to my minuscule height, it sure feels as though the amount of space in the vehicle is limited. But no matter, the anticipation is building.
The taxi arrives in front of an ornate metal gate, with the sound of drums and an instrument resembling a trumpet drifting out onto the street from within.
I’m wondering if the party has already gotten started when I hear the music, but as soon as I walk through the gates I find that this music is actually meant for us, for all of the guests. There is even a red carpet, Moroccan style of course, and as I (attempt to) gracefully walk down it and into the building venue, the musicians dressed up in their red fezzes and long white robes begin again: banging on the drums to announce our presence. For a moment, I feel like a celebrity. Like a Moroccan princess. Too bad I could not speak the Moroccan Arabic dialect fluently and play the part.
I enter the building after basking in the glory of my entrance performance and am bombarded by a dozen new faces and two dozen kiss-on-the-cheek greetings, from the families of the bride and groom, who probably aren’t even sure of who I am. But after recovering from these unexpected greetings, I finally begin to notice everything around me.
The venue is so high-class.
The ceiling is adorned with detailed carvings, pretty lights, and chandeliers. Fancy tables are spread around, covered with assortments of tasty-looking macaroons and delectable pastries. A small fountain sits at the center of the room and that same Moroccan-style red carpet blankets the ground beneath it all. Now, staring at what is surrounding me, I really can’t help but feel like royalty.
But then I look over and notice the actual throne: a large, sparkling crystal chair positioned at the highest point of the room for all to see, complete with an intricately hand-crafted awning and fluffy, bejeweled pillows. A color-changing spotlight draws even more attention to the empty throne, whose two spots are designed for the bride and groom to sit once they eventually arrive.
No, I may feel like royalty at this place, all dolled up in my takchita like a true Moroccan girl, but I’m not. That right is reserved solely for the future married couple, whom that throne is for, while the rest of the guests and I are nothing but members of their court for this occasion.
Seated at a table among other familiar faces, the waiting period begins. The pastries slowly disappear as guests gobble them up in anticipation, and glasses of mint tea are poured countless times, much to my delight. The empty tables and chairs fill up at an alarming pace, filling the room with laughter and endless color from the wide array of takchitas, each one more beautiful than the next.
The period of waiting and chatting and snacking soon comes to an end as the room quiets down and the live band starts to play music – meaning, more obnoxious fez-twirling, drum-banging, and unidentifiable Arabian instrument playing. Everybody knows what this means – the bride and the groom are about to enter the premises.
Figures can be seen emerging from the entrance, and everybody gets up to move a little closer and see for themselves, cameras in hand and at the ready. An actual cameraman dashes among the crowd, and every person to have the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) of being filmed by him gets there face up on multiple television screens scattered around the room.
All of the on-lookers and relatives poised with their cameras, including myself, get a disappointment on seeing that the bride in all of her dazzling glory has not yet arrived: first comes the family of the groom, then the groom himself in his clean-cut black suit. A mini army of waiter men follow this entourage, balancing large, gold, conical containers and placing them in front of the groom as he takes up a spot in front of his throne. These strange-looking things actually contain gifts from the groom’s family for his future bride, or so I am told.
The next one to enter the building is the real star of the show – the bride herself. Being acclimatized to typical (and also more boring) American weddings, I expected her to simply waltz into the room in her dress, while the band plays away to more Moroccan music.
But of course, that was not be the case. As I stand among the crowds around the entrance, armed with my camera, I catch sight of some sparkles similar to the ones on the throne where the groom is currently waiting.
And then, the bride enters. She doesn’t walk in on her own two feet though. Of course not. Instead she is seated, wearing a brilliant gold and white dress, in her very own palanquin carried by four men, with a beautiful crown adorning her hair.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I stared at this bride being carried in, the tassels on the fezzes of the musicians twirling around as the music grows louder with the excitement. She was literally sparkling – all eyes were on the bride. And she was being carried in like an actual queen! I couldn’t even imagine what it must have felt like to be in her position.
The four men carried her into the room, and while I expected them to bring her right to the bridal throne, they take a little detour instead. People gather around as the bride is lifted up over their heads, her palanquin swaying to sound of the music as the men holding it up march up and down the room in unison. Everyone claps to the beat of the music and cheers as the bride holds an unwavering smile in her position above the crowd.
And then, after the bride is finally carried over to her throne to be united with her future husband and pose for hundreds of photos, the dancing begins. Women young and old, but mainly young, congregate in the center of the room and show off their true Moroccan genes as they wrap scarves around their swinging hips, their arms moving methodically with the pace of the music.
I join in on the fun, and the women enthusiastically accept me into their dancing circle. A scarf is also tied around my hips and I’m given Moroccan Dancing 101 within a few minutes. Soon, I am attempting to move my body like the rest of the women, and despite their encouragement and praise I know well enough that my dancing skills are only the sad attempts of a skinny little white girl. It doesn’t matter though, I’m having a blast. I’m jumping around, the cameramen often coming my way and getting my face up on the television screens as Iquite possibly am making a fool of myself.
This time, it was a beautiful emerald green and gold takchita, and she walked in on her own two feet. Still accompanied by lots of music, of course. This green dress is essential in Moroccan weddings, because it is in this dress that the bride gets her henna done. As she sits on her throne, women appear before her and decorate both the bride’s and the groom’s hands with henna for their marriage.
Now let that dancing begin again.
But not for long, because believe it or not, the bride has even more dresses to come. Moroccan girls can’t just settle on one dress, they have MANY. And for this bride, it was a grand total of 5!
I’m not kidding. Just wait for it.
The bride appears again (after probably having to change at lightning speed), this time in another traditional dress. She looks like some ancient Egyptian pharaoh in this one. This third dress, also green and gold, needs to be held up by the bride on either side of her face – making her look like a pharaoh of course. And while she holds the dress out to her sides, both her and her husband are carried in baskets over the crowd as they once more cheer and clap and gather around them.
And in the middle of this ruckus, the husband stands up in his golden basket and leans over to kiss the bride. So romantic.
The atmosphere of the wedding is intoxicating – everyone is happy and in a celebratory mood, the music plays incessantly as everyone sings along to songs that sound unfamiliar and exotic to me. I feel as though I have become one with the crowds of dancing women in our rainbow of takchitas, whether or not my dancing skills were up to par with the rest of them.
The dancing isn’t interrupted this time around. The bride reappears again in her 4th dress, a beautiful deep blue takchita (which I did not get a photo of)that allows her to join the other women in dance.
The mother and daughter of my host family switch back and forth between chatting with relatives, joining the celebratory crowd, and running around with a camera attempting to discreetly get some photos of me dancing with the other Moroccan women, during the times that I am shoved into the center and attention is directed specifically towards me.
The only things I can think about while eating are how much I want to get back to the dancing, and how expensive the food must’ve been. The first course is a loaded seafood platter with lobster and shrimp. Everyone seems to eat at incomprehensible speeds because before I know it the second course of lamb and vegetables and bread has arrived. I’m left at a loss for what to do, already feeling full from the first course as everybody continues to tell me to “Kulee! Kulee!” (Eat! Eat!). I manage to nibble on some oranges and apples in the final round of food, a large fruit bowl, but am excited when this much too fancy dinner has come to an end and the dancing picks back up.
The dance party keeps on going this time, and I never want it to end. I lose track of time as my mind and body are taken over by the rhythmic and repetitive dancing and I let the sound of Moroccan Arabic float around me. I don’t take the time to think and decipher what they’re saying, I just enjoy the musical sound of the language itself mixing with the actual songs of the band, and am left mesmerized as I continue to laugh and hop around with my newfound friends and dance company.
But everything must come to an end at some point. It must’ve been past 2 in the morning when the bride reappears for the last time, in grand dress number 5! Out of all of them, this one most closely resembles what I see at Western weddings – a long white dress which poofed out at the bottom.
The crowd circles around the now married couple as they share a final dance, which ends with a bang as the room is suddenly filled with bubbles and confetti that float down around them. The guests and the musicians follow the couple out the door and to their fancy car, which whisks them away to celebrate the first night of their honeymoon together.
The wedding was an unforgettable experience, and I am so grateful to my host family for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to experience this exciting part of Moroccan culture. It was, without a doubt, the best party I went to this summer. And like most things, I can tell stories about the wedding all I want but nothing ever compares to being there yourself.
So if you ever are lucky enough to receive an invitation to a Moroccan wedding, heed my advice – you’d better take it.