A Turkish Hen’s Party: No Penis Straws in Sight

On Saturday night, I had a rare opportunity to attend a Turkish hen’s party. A foreign friend is getting married to a Turkish man and his sister and mother threw her what’s called a henna (kına) night. I had no idea what to expect but a friend who is a make-up artist and did her share of Turkish weddings has been invited to a few henna nights in the past and described them as “dull, weird events where women sit in chairs facing each other and judge.” There’s often no food and forget booze—and these type of events, especially in foreign countries, need a couple of glasses of champers to get you in the mood. I didn’t know what to expect.

When we—the bride and her small group of foreign friends, including me, who speak little or no Turkish—arrived, the door was lavishly decorated and loud Turkish music was coming from inside. We were ushered in rather enthusiastically to meet 20 or so Turkish women of all ages, from children to grannies. A full table of food greeted us. There were even two bottles of wine on the drinks table. So far, so good. As accurately predicted, the chairs were placed around the room in a wide circle and so we balanced plates of food on our knees while everyone stared.

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Tha candles (source: Julie Marquaire, istanbeats.com)

When bellies were full, it was time for the festivities to begin. Traditionally, the single girls (i.e. not married; if you have a boyfriend, you are still technically on the market) wear a red-veil headband and tea light candles attached to their palms. Meanwhile, the bride gets dressed up in an Ottoman-style outfit: a red robe with a gold gown underneath (red because she is meant to be a virgin and gold because it’s the most precious commodity). Then, the lights get turned off, the bride enters the room and sits in a chair in the middle, and the single girls dance around her with the lit candles and sing. The whole thing is rather shamanic. The song’s lyrics chant of the bride leaving her family home to live with her husband. The bride is supposed to cry from sadness but my friend—a Czech woman who is technically already married to her husband—was quietly laughing. Luckily, the room was dark and she had a veil covering her head. Finally, a blob of henna attached to a red plastic rose was stuck on each of her palms. Here I was thinking someone would draw pretty designs on our palms, ala Indian weddings, but no, Turks just do blobs of unidentifiable shapes. I politely declined when someone asked me if I wanted my palms done.

Turkish henna night_henna

The hena (source: ilkeskitchen.com)

After that, upbeat music was put on and everyone was invited to dance. Jingling belly dance belts were distributed for those who wanted to shake their hips extra zealously. We learned that it is usually at these nights that the older women scout for wives for their sons. The choice of outfits for two of the guests—both in tiny, tight dresses and massive heels—became apparent. A short while later, we were given goodie bags with an evil-eye pendent, a bag of nuts, and some henna in case you wanted to recreate the experience at home. And then, just like that, it was over. Needless to say, there were no penis straws, strippers, or drunken karaoke till all hours of the morning. The whole shebang was over before 10pm.

Turkish henna night_bride

The only salvage photo of the bride that doesn’t reveal her face but does show the red and gold outfit

Unfortunately, all my photos from the night are blurry and I don’t want to reveal the bride, but I have added some photos to visually describe what I’m talking about. If you find yourself invited to a Turkish henna night, accept. It’s definitely an experience.

Title image source: blog.tccli.org

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