Henna Night - KINA GECESi

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August 4th 2006
Published: August 4th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

Two years ago, in August of 2004, Levent and I went to his hometown of Denizli, Turkey, to get married. I had very little knowledge of how Turkish weddings worked. I tried to search on the internet, but found very little information on modern, city weddings like the one we would have. I had been to a few weddings in the US and Canada, all of which had involved bridesmaids and groomsmen, a rehearsal dinner, wedding party photographs, a wedding, and a reception. I had essentially no idea of what to expect at my own wedding, and it didn't occur to Levent to explain it to me - or for me to ask. I didn't know where to begin, and I am not sure he knew how little I knew about what was to come. Once we got to Turkey, I heard his mother mention numerous times that she wanted to have a henna night for me. I had heard of this from Indian weddings, but had never been to one, and really didn't know many details about it except that there would likely be henna involved. Fortunately, at least I knew what henna was! It was about the only thing I knew, and attending my own henna night and wedding was like watching a new movie for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, and that made me both excited and anxious.

What is henna night?
Traditionally (in Turkey, at least), henna night, or kina gecesi (kuh-NAH GE-je-see) is a women's party that usually takes place the night before the wedding. The bride's closest friends and female family members gather to eat, dance, and sing. They put henna on their hands. The stains it leaves on their hands for weeks afterwards tell everyone that they are a new bride, or have been to a close friend or family-member's wedding. Traditionally, and still for many brides, it is a melancholic evening. The following day, the bride will leave her father's house, where she has lived all her life, to live in her new husband's house. It can be both sad and scary for the brides, and at the very least is the end of an era. There is a song that is sung especially at henna nights which demonstrates the melancholy. It is called "Yuksek Tepelere". You can hear the music here. (you will have to find the song by doing a search on the page for "yuksek").


Yüksek yüksek tepelere ev kurmasınlar - They shouldn't build homes high up on the mountain tops
Aşrı aşrı memlekete kız vermesinler - They shouldn't give girls to faraway lands
Annesinin bir tanesini hor görmesinler - They shouldn't neglect the mother's one and only

Uçan da kuşlara malum olsun - May the birds carry the message
Ben annemi özledim - I miss my mother
Hem annemi hem babamı - Both my mother and father
Ben köyümü özledim - I miss my village

Babamın bir atı olsa binse de gelse - If my father had a horse, he could jump on it and come
Annemin yelkeni olsa açsa da gelse - If my mother had a sail, she could open it and come
Kardeşlerim yollarımı bilse de gelse - If my siblings knew the way, they could come

Uçan da kuşlara malum olsun - May the birds carry the message
Ben annemi özledim - I miss my mother
Hem annemi hem babamı - Both my mother and father
Ben köyümü özledim - I miss my village

It's quite a sad song, and, living so far away from my own parents and siblings now, it is definitely meaningful to me. The writer of the song probably didn't have the internet, though, or cheap international phone rates, so I consider myself very lucky. My father doesn't have a horse nor my mother a sail, but thank goodness for airplanes! Both my mother-in-law and my mother lived far away from their own families, so this song is likely meaningful to them, too.

What to wear?
I didn't really think about what to wear to my henna night primarily because it somehow didn't occur to me that it might be a dress-up occasion. I should mention here that at the time Levent and I got married, I knew just enough Turkish for everyone to assume (incorrectly) that I knew what was going on and picked up on the wedding-planning conversations. In fact, it was exhausting to listen to Turkish all the time and focus on understanding everything, so I often tuned out the conversations going on around me when they got too confusing (ok, I still do it now). I didn't ask Levent to translate for me because, well,

The groom (damat) is not really supposed to see his bride (gelin) on the henna night, but this lucky bride got to see her handsome groom before the wedding :)
he already had enough to do, and I figured that I would somehow, eventually be told what I needed to know. This was not always an effective form of communication. While I am sure it is common among language learners, I do not recommend it, particularly when wedding plans are involved! When I was asked what I would wear, I was at a loss. I had brought a red silk dress to wear at a close friend's wedding (also in Turkey - unfortunately, Levent and I both got extremely sick the week before our friend's wedding, and were unable to go). I suggested the dress, and Levent's mother was pleased. Whew!

What I found out much later (as in, on the day of my henna night), was that I was going to change into a very special outfit, indeed - I, like all of Levent's female cousins, would have the privilege to wear a family heirloom - the Traditional Turkish wedding dress of Levent's mother's great aunt. It was over a hundred years old, and in gorgeous condition. Even though I was very pleased with my own wedding dress, getting to wear this wedding dress was so incredibly special and meaningful and inclusive, I have rarely felt such a connection to history.

Where and when should we have the henna night?
From what I understand, henna nights are often held in a home. Levent's mom wanted to have it at their home, but there was a problem: we wanted to have it the night before the wedding so that all of our guests coming from abroad would be able to attend, while his mom wanted it to be a few nights before so she wouldn't have to do the cleaning up the night before the wedding. Hmmm, dilemma. We also thought it might be nice to break tradition and make the henna night co-ed. We mentioned all of this to the event coordinator at the hotel at which the reception would be held, and she thought it would be a great idea to have the henna night by the pool at the hotel. There was already a live band playing there, and it would be interesting for the tourists to watch. They would provide some snacks, and my mother-in-law would bring homemade yaprak dolmasi stuffed grape leaves. And, it could be held the night before the wedding because the hotel would do the clean up. Perfect!

When we arrived at the poolside of the hotel (Polat Thermal Hotel), it seemed like a regular poolside party. Most of Levent's cousins were there, as were his aunts and uncles, close friends, my parents, my brothers, and some of my close friends. We mingled and snacked. I think I was nervous, though not consciously. I didn't know what the plan was, what I was going to have to do and when. We all danced and chatted and I knew there was more to it than this, but didn't think to ask about the schedule... I was still wearing my red dress and had heard something about wearing the family heirloom wedding dress, but didn't know how I would know when I should change into it, or how to put it on, even.

Fortunately, when the time came, I was whisked away by Levent's sister, Neslihan, and his cousin, Ilkay, to my parents' hotel room, where I was dressed in the silk piece of family history. Perhaps I now know what it feels like to be an empress or a queen or a president - they probably don't know the play-by-play plan of every day and every event. They just trust that their entourage does! Before I knew it, I had been transformed from modern American woman to historical Turkish bride. A sparkly red scarf was put over my head (nobody could see me, but I could see out of it). I had been with my mother in law when she bought it. At the time, it had seemed a bit... well, gaudy. But when worn together with the rest of the outfit, it was perfect.

Neslihan held my hand and led me down the hallway toward the poolside terrace. Cousins appeared and joined me as my entourage, and Ilkay was holding a copper bowl piled with henna paste, with a lit candle glimmering in the middle. As I stepped onto the terrace, my parents and brothers, friends and future-family smiled. "Yuksek Tepelere" was being played by the band (you really do have to listen to that song to get a better feeling for the evening) as I was led to my chair. I sat down, and tried to take it all in and remember every second because this is one of those things in life you can only do once, and no picture will capture it because there were no pictures taken from inside my sparkly red veil. My mother-in-law wore rubber gloves and put a spoonful of henna into the palm of each of my hands, and put a gold coin in each pile of henna, then she put red covers over my hands to keep them closed and the henna inside. She then put henna into the hands of the other women who wanted it. Through the chiffon and sparkles, I saw my English mother and my Turkish future mother-in-law dancing around me with giant smiles on their faces. I knew that the music being played was supposed to make me cry, but I couldn't have been happier.

Once the henna was in my hands, the veil was removed, and the whole group danced in a big circle. The dads then danced together, in the Turkish style of holding their hands above their heads and doing low dips to the ground. The mothers later danced together. Then we danced together in a huge line. Step step step step kick kick step step step step. Like a Turkish Can Can. We were moving too fast for anyone to keep up, and everyone was kicking and stepping in a wave rather than to the rhythm. The rhythm didn't matter, though, because we were having a blast!

At the end of the night, my mother said to me, "You should have given me dance lessons before, Saskia, I didn't know what I was doing!" But she didn't need dance lessons - she did great. Nobody knew what they were doing. Everybody was improvising. I admit it, we foreigners were more clueless than anyone else, but the point is that we all had great fun. There was no set schedule, no rehearsal so everything would go just right. We were just a bunch of people from Turkey and the US and England and Spain and Poland and Germany and Russia* celebrating a marriage and love and friendship. There are no dance lessons for that kind of dance.

*I think there were some Russian tourists participating - didn't recognize some of the folks in the photos later!


3rd August 2006

Your Blogs!
I love your blogs!!!!!
4th August 2006

Very Neat.
Thanks for that. It was very neat to read and so well written.
4th August 2006

What an amazing experience that must have been! Your writing makes me feel like I was there to share it all.
6th August 2006

So glad you recorded this Saskia, we would not have remembered that amazing evening!
19th October 2006

That was a gr8 story!
Hey im Turkish too! N im glad you liked all our turkish traditions and not just laughed n said 'woteva' to them...hope u hav a gr8 life!! :))
13th December 2006

i liked this site so much thank you for your view and I'm from Denizli and welcome to denizli my sister ..:) and i live in USA and i missed Denizli and When I saw this site I was affected. And you were beatiful in your wedding. I wish you have a good time in Denizli ... bye.
1st February 2007

Thank You.
I wanted to take the time to say thank you for sharing your story. I'm getting married in the states and my future husband is turkish. We are having a mixed hispanic-turkish wedding but I've been having a hard time with turkish wedding traditions. I found your page and loved it. I love the idea of having my reherrsal dinner with my henna night. I think this is the best idea ever. My in laws are going to be so happy I've decided to incorporate this has part of my wedding weekend. My Dogu will too. Again thank you thank you thank you for sharing such wonderful details with us. Grechen
14th February 2007

very cool blog!
hey, i just wanted to say thank you for this fantastic bit of information, i am a turkish girl, who grew up in australia and am in the process of getting married. Naturally i have lots of aussie friends who dont know what a kina gegesi is. When i came across your blog i though perfect! forwarded it onto all my girlfriends who were invited and when the night came they all knew what was going on and why it was happening! Thanks Yasemin.
4th April 2007

Thank you
Thank you for your comment :)
4th April 2007

Thank you for your comment!
4th April 2007

Sorry it took me so long to respond to you - thank you so much for your comment. I hope your wedding goes well - maybe you can write about it on TravelBlog, or elsewhere and let me know where you post it!
4th April 2007

Thanks for your comment and best of luck for your wedding :) It is actually amazing how little there is in English on Turkish culture... guess we all can change that? Maybe you can post somewhere about your Aussie-Turkish wedding!
17th July 2007

Brought back memories
of my wedding in Pakistan. It is indeed bittersweet. I cannot view any wedding videos of mine because I get too emotional. American Woman, Pakistani Man, love, tears, religion, henna, culture... it's all so raw for me and it happened 15 years ago. I wish you luck in your marriage. It is a hard time for such marriages as ours.
11th October 2007

Most interesting blog
Merhaba, Congratulations on your marriage. I have been invited to a wedding in Izmir and am leaving in ten days. I was very curious about the henna night to which I have also been invited. I enjoyed your blog (and link to the Turkish music) which I found through a google search. I am not sure if a gift is to be given to the bride at this event in addition to the wedding day. All the best! Paula
13th October 2007

Gifts at Henna Night
Have fun at the wedding - it'll be fun, I am sure. As for gifts at the henna night, I don't think I got any. Some people preferred to pin the gold on me (traditionally, the bride and groom only receive gifts of gold at a wedding, rather than vases or plates) at the henna night rather than on our wedding night. But for the most part, it was just a night of fun and dancing.
26th November 2007

Tesekkur Ederim
Merhaba, Tesekkur Ederim for your reply. The henna party and wedding in Izmir were the highlight of my trip to Turkey. I also had a great time in Istanbul; my visits to Ephesus and Pamukkale were wonderful. The couple asked me to be one of the two official witnesses at their marriage. WOW - What an honor! All the best to you. Paula
6th December 2008

Thank you!!
Thank you so much for your comment! That blog entry gets an amazing number of hits. There just isn't much out there about Turkish weddings, in English. I guess my kina gecesi was not exactly a traditional one, but among "city people" now, there are so many different sorts, and many people bypass them altogether. For me, it was way more fun than the wedding (and I really did like that it was co-ed, it was right for me and my family, but I'm sure girls-only would be great, too.) Good luck with your wedding!! Is your groom Turkish, too?
3rd April 2009

Thank you
Thank you so much for the informatin that you have given. I am a wedding planner and I am putting a wedding together for a couple that sound very similar to you and you rhusband. I want to do everything I can to include both cultures. My gosh this has been so helpful, can you tell me where I get henna and what is needed for the application and if there are symbols that need to be applied
4th April 2009

henna :)
You're welcome! Glad it helps :) You can get Henna from Indian stores. Lucky for you, in traditional Turkish weddings, there are no fancy designs. Just a blob of henna in the middle of the hands, with gold (or fake gold) coins stuck in the middle!
28th April 2009

selam !!! very nice henna...i love your story it is very pretty and you write excellent feelings.. i imagine i was there... i wish one day been in a turkish wedding.. kendine iyi bak
8th September 2009

Hi ! It´s very nice but I think it would be nicer if you put more pictures in!!!
8th September 2009

too busy having fun...
There simply aren't that many great pictures of our henna night because everyone was having too much fun participating! We're lucky we have any :)
30th November 2009

You are the best!!
Thank you very very much to share your story with us, im a mexican getting married with a turkish in 3 weeks in the beautiful city of Istanbul, his mom aready said we will have a henna night one day before the wedding and just know im learning what is this about, i wasnt ready at all, i was planning to bring a party dress :D OMG thanks for your help, wish you the best of lucks!! xoxo
30th November 2009

i almost forgot
.... by the way you looked sooo BEATIFUL with that pink dress in those pics, i hope to look as beautiful as you did :)
2nd December 2009

Buena Suerte :)
Paula, best of luck to you! Glad you found my blog. Where will you and your husband reside? How long before the wedding will you get there? You can really find gorgeous clothes in Turkey, so you might just go shopping for a dress for your henna night there. My henna night was a little out of the ordinary because it was co-ed and at a hotel. But things are very modern in Istanbul, anyway. Have a wonderful wedding! Ojala que tengas una boda fenomenal :)
28th January 2010

hello! thanks a lot.. I'm from peru..I'm latina n i have a boyfriend from turkey..(through internet) .. n i hope i can meet him soon..sOMEtimes we talk about a possible wedding between us..n one friend talked to me about this night..i was very curious of course.. n now thanks to u , i have an idea of that amazing night...the best of my wishes for u ;)...i wanna be a turkish bride like u..:) a big kiss for u....i liked ur article a lot :)
19th July 2010

ask around...
Dear Judy So, Why do you need people in so many different places? I think the best thing to do would be to ask local hairdressers in the area for their recommendations. Best of luck.
1st October 2010

Kına gecesi
Hi THanks for your blog! I am getting married 2 weeks later to a turkish guy and my mother in law to be wants to have Kına Gecesi but we refused:( Fortunately, the owner of the institution where I worked asked me to have kına gecesi at school I am so confused if I will do it coz I refused with my mother in law. I know it's a lot of fun. Do you think I will let them know that I will do Kına gecesi without their knowledge? ( my partner doesn't want to inform them either. I'm puzzled:) please ladies need advise.
6th October 2010

why not?
Why did you say no to your mother-in-law? Go ahead and have both henna nights - why not? It's a lot of fun, and you only get a chance once - or, in your case, twice!
25th August 2011

Brilliant, want to learn more before my wedding next month, this explains all and the music, as i told my fiance he started singing it to me, what i wold love, is to be able to print it so my mates in uk who will come to the wedding know about what happens,
9th October 2012

I had nearly the same experience for my Turkish wedding
No idea what was going on really, and excited not to know too in a way. thanks for sharing! ---- Kat katarinakojic.com
17th March 2013

wow! I needed this!
This was fantastic to read, since my henna night is in a couple of months and I am juast as lost as you wrote about yourself! I really enjoyed reading this you have no iea how helpful it was
5th June 2013

so glad it helped!
Just go with it - it will all be fine, and congratulations!

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