Henna party adds colorful touch to the happy couple
Sareet Rimon grew up knowing she wanted to have a henna party when she got married. For the local singer it meant carrying on a Moroccan tradition that had been honored by her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
“This is such a beautiful and spiritual ceremony and has such a deep meaning,” she said. “The henna ceremony is supposed to bring good luck to the new couple. Every one in my family has done it, and one day I hope to do it for my children as well.”
Since Sareet and her husband-to-be, Adam, planned to marry in Israel, they wanted to celebrate beforehand in Los Angeles with friends who would not be able to attend the wedding. The bride-to-be hired a henna party planner and sent out invitations to 300 people for an opulent event at the Biltmore Hotel.
Sareet and Adam each chose three different outfits made of silk and velvet, some featuring gold embroidery, which they would change into at different points during the course of the evening. The bride even entered the ballroom in a hand-carried silver carriage.
Sareet admits she felt like royalty that night. “I felt like a queen,” she said.
The henna ceremony, once celebrated primarily by Jews from Morocco and Yemen, has grown in popularity in Israel. And now increasing numbers of young Sephardi and Ashkenazi brides in the United States are honoring this colorful practice.
The ceremony is performed about a week before the wedding and symbolizes the bittersweet separation of the young bride from her family.
Leaves of the henna plant are crushed into a powder, which, when mixed with water, becomes a dough that will stain a person’s skin orange for about two to three weeks if left on for two hours or more (other colors are achieved by mixing in leaves or fruits from other plants).
Known as mehndi in India, the practice dates back to at least 2000 B.C.E., and its use in ceremonies can be found from South Asia to North Africa. In India and other countries, henna is arranged in intricate lacey or floral patterns on the hands or feet, which can mean good health, fertility, wisdom, protection or spiritual enlightenment.
The henna ceremony is a purely cultural celebration and has no religious significance for Jews, said Yona Sabar, a UCLA Hebrew professor.
“Its purpose was to drive away the demons by disguising the bride and groom with the henna,” he said.
Moroccan Israeli singer Claude Afota, who performs at local henna ceremonies, said that the Jews in Arab countries adopted this ceremony from their Muslim neighbors.
“Back home in Morocco, everybody used to do a henna before a wedding or even a bar mitzvah,” he said. “When I immigrated to Israel, it was not as popular as it is today. Only Moroccan families used to have this ceremony as well as Yemen Jews. Nowadays, it seems that everybody is celebrating it.”