Rima Al-Mukhtar | [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2011-12-07 02:14

Saudi weddings are usually contemporary where the bride is in a white puffy dress. To give a little culture to their weddings, Saudi brides usually host a henna night to celebrate the new life with their friends and family.
One day before the wedding, a Saudi bride hosts a ghumra (which is Saudi for henna night) at her parents’ house. “The bride usually invites her closest friends and family members to paint their hands with henna,” said 82-year-old Roqayya Hashem. “The bride wears a traditional beaded and colored gown. She would also wear a lot of gold on her head and around her neck as well as gold bracelets on both hands. Those gold accessories are usually gifted to her from her new husband.”
“Some brides wear a beaded face cover so no one would see their face, while others would rather put makeup on and show off their beautiful face and hair,” added Hashem.
The word “ghumra” means soaking and comes from the fact that the bride soaks herself in gold and wears a dress that is made of gold beads, explained Hashem. “The bride covers herself from head to toe and doesn’t even show her face, wearing a burqa made from gold. She only reveals her hands and feet to enable the henna artist to apply henna on them,” she added.
Ghumra is a must in Madinah, according to Um Saleh, a mother of four. “There is no way for brides in Madinah to skip henna night because it connects us to our roots and traditions,” she said.
“Henna night might cost up to SR20,000 and it is worth it because it’s the only wedding ceremony where we celebrate our old traditions and share it with the older generations, especially that girls these days just want a simple modern wedding,” she added.
In Madinah, ghumra traditions are slightly different as the bride wears a different dress called “Zaboon,” which is a very expensive gown made especially for henna night.
“Most brides choose white or pink for their ghumra dress, but it depends on the family finances. Some can afford to buy their own while others just rent it,” explained Um Saleh. “In this night, people who attend ghumra give the bride valuable and expensive gifts from gold and precious perfumes to show it off in front of everyone.”
During her henna night, the bride walks down with her mother, sisters and aunts along with the wedding singers who sing traditional songs and play drums. “The music and dancing doesn’t stop; this could go on all night where the ceremony takes place at a rest house or at the bride’s parents’ house,” said Um Saleh.
Fawzeyya Ahmed, owner of a wedding rental shop, says that a ghumra dress might cost the bride up to SR5,000 for a night. “We have a wide selection of ghumra dresses with different colors, designs and sizes. We have been renting out wedding dresses for more then 15 years now, and we offer traditional clothing with good designs. The price range for a henna night dress ranges from SR2,000 to SR5,000, depending on the fabric, design and style,” said Ahmed.
“There is more than one style when it comes to henna night. Some brides ask for Indian style while others prefer to keep it regional and choose Gulf or Hejazi style,” she added.
According to henna artist Shaheen, henna night in Saudi Arabia is usually Indian themed. “I’m usually requested to attend henna nights to apply henna on the hands and feet of the bride and her friends,” she said. “Ten years ago, brides used to only ask for basic henna on hands and feet. Now, however, they ask for artistic henna drawings, especially of flowers and random curves.”
However, she explained that Ghumra today differs a lot from ghumra 20 years ago. Back then, applying henna was a must for a Saudi bride; today, however, brides don’t even want to request it.
“I see many brides hosting henna night but don’t want to apply henna on their hands and feet,” added Shaheen. “Even though they still hire henna artists, it is only to apply henna on the older women who attend the event.”
“I feel sorry for the new generation for not holding on to this beautiful tradition. Henna is one of the oldest traditions in Saudi Arabia when brides did not apply makeup and only appeared with lipstick and henna on their hands and feet,” she added.
Ghumra is fading day-by-day and if it is done, it is done lavishly for the sake of showing off, said 73-year-old Nazeera Dakheil. “I believe brides started competing on who hosts the best ghumra, so they started spending a lot of money to host a better henna night than their friends,” said Dakheil.
“Back in my days, henna night was a normal small gathering only for close friends and family. Brides now host lavish and more expensive ghumras. I’m surprised because this night is not their big night; their wedding is. This is why some brides prefer skipping on henna night to save money and invest in their actual wedding day,” she added.

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