In the predominantly Sunni Muslim country of Egypt, Arab wedding traditions are steeped in Egyptian culture. They possess a flair that befits such a fascinating country with so much history.
Glossary – Quick Reference
- Katb el Katb: Egyptian wedding ceremony
- Kosha: Wedding reception (Coptic Christian wedding)
- Maa’zoun: Wedding officiant
- Mahr: Money gifted as a dowry to the bride’s family
- Shabka: Gold gifted directly to the bride
- Sharpat: Rosewater juice prepared for wedding guests
- Zaffa: Wedding procession (Coptic Christian wedding)
- Zaghareet: a unique sound or ululation created by moving one’s tongue back and forth from side to side
Before the Wedding
Although many Egyptian nuptials are based on love these days, the family is still involved in arranging the union. Typically, the groom presents two gifts: the mahr, money gifted as a dowry to the bride’s family, and the shabka, which is gold gifted directly to his bride. After the agreement is in place, the couple celebrates their engagement and plans a traditional Egyptian wedding ceremony, called the katb el katb.
Henna Party (aka Bachelorette Party)
A day or two before the wedding, as is typical in many Arab countries, female friends and family members hold a henna party for the bride-to-be. The bride wears a red shawl and a cap or a crown on her head while she’s carried to the bathhouse in a canopy. There, friends and family decorate the bride’s hands and feet with henna tattoos.
The Wedding Day
Venue & Attire
The traditional Egyptian wedding ceremony will occur in a marriage hall, the local mosque, or the family home. Whatever the venue, the families of the bride and groom will sign the wedding contract during the ceremony, which is officiated by a Maa’zoun.
According to Egyptian wedding customs, the bride will typically wear a jewel-toned dress with a veil on the day of the wedding, while the groom will dress in a ceremonial tribal costume. Women are allowed and encouraged to pinch the bride for good luck per local tradition.
At the close of the wedding ceremony, the bride’s father places the bride and groom’s hands together and puts a white cloth over them. The couple then repeats the words of the Maa’zoun.
While 90% of the Egypt is Muslim, 9% of Egyptians identify as Coptic Christians.
Coptic wedding ceremonies are a bit different. For one thing, local custom dictates that the bride and groom must remove all body hairs before the wedding ceremony. A Coptic wedding ceremony often lasts about 45 minutes. It usually includes scripture readings, and the bride and groom wear crowns and special capes with designs dating from the 4th century. The priest anoints them both with holy oil on the forehead for spiritual protection.
After the ceremony, around 10 pm or so, the wedding procession—called the zaffa—moves to the reception, which often takes place at a local hotel. The bride arrives at the reception, called the kosha, with her father, and the groom waits for them at the venue. Once the bride comes, the groom removes her veil and kisses his bride on the cheek or forehead.
To mark the wedding celebration, guests traditionally enjoy a rosewater juice called sharpat, prepared from various fruits and herbs. During the reception, the newlyweds welcome their guests and take photographs while belly-dancers and singers entertain them. Guests will participate in the candelabra dance at some point during the evening, and the bride and groom cut the cake and feed each other.
When the reception is over, often in the early morning hours of the following day, the new couple will leave for the groom’s house. In rural areas, Egyptian marriage traditions include a colorful procession where the bride often travels by camel, accompanied by her wedding party. They will dance and sing along the route. It’s not uncommon for the women to express their joy through zaghareet, a unique sound or ululation created by moving her tongue back and forth from side to side. Whether Islamic or Coptic Christian, Egyptian wedding traditions celebrate the history and the vitality of Egypt.