Hannah and Colleen just got back from a wedding, and it’s June! So they chat about their various wedding experiences in Northern Iraq, complete with fireworks, cars, photographs, and loud music!


We found a few weddings on YouTube that look a bit like what we’ve experienced!
1. A Rented Hall (check out the bride and groom in the back!)
2. A Very Traditional Village Wedding

Learn more on our Iraq Page and to ask questions or share your wedding experiences email us at hannah@servantgroup.org.


Here’s a rough transcript! (If you’d like to hep us edit these in the future, please let us know!)

Hannah: Hey Colleen.

Colleen: Hey Hannah.

Hannah: So this is “Between Iraq and a Hard Place” although it kind of looks like a storage closet.

Colleen: Seriously, though we are here to talk about life in Iraq.

Hannah: Right.

Colleen: So today we’re talking about weddings.

Hannah: All the weddings. We just were at a wedding.

Colleen: Yes.

Hannah: You were in the wedding.

Colleen: I was in the wedding. It wasn’t my wedding though

Hannah: No, nor mine.

Colleen: We have been at my sister’s wedding and a few months before that I was at my brother’s wedding. Awesome weddings all but it got us thinking along with the season that it is, currently… spring.

Hannah: Right. Yay June. If you’re married in June, you’re a bride all your life.

Colleen: Exactly. And so we began thinking about all of the weddings we had been to and Kurdistan.

Hannah: Yeah OK. And I feel like the more we talked about it the more we were like, “But have we been to weddings?”

Colleen: And the truth of it is we haven’t actually been to the the ceremonial part of Kurdish. Kurdish wedding.

Colleen: Right. I’ve been to several Christian weddings. Like Assyrian Christian or Chaldean. But the actual ceremony of getting married in Kurdistan is not a public affair. From what I can remember from what people have told me like the bride and groom and some men go to an imam and like to a mosque or something and like have something read and it’s all just it’s very short and signing of documents and like that’s kind of the wedding ceremony.

Hannah: So when we talk about weddings we’re more talking about the party after the wedding.

Colleen: Right. Well, what Americans would call a wedding reception perhaps although that doesn’t necessarily have to follow right after the ceremony.

Hannah: Right. I have been at the like pre-wedding ceremony, too. OK. So I feel like we need to explain.

Colleen: Yeah. We probably should take a step back.

Hannah: There’s like engagement as a formal event. It’s not just the man and the woman and the man asked the woman, Hey do you want to marry me. Like there is kind of like a formality around engagement.

Colleen: And most people that I know there would actually call themselves married at that point.

Hannah: Right. Because it’s kind of like a betrothal sort of thing…

Colleen: Right in the biblical sense where you have a legal contract at that point.

Hannah: Yeah. So I’ve been to two engagement parties. One where I actually knew the person that was getting married and the other one was on my trip to Iraq in the spring. And those were both kind of different. Like actually the engagement party that I went to of the person that I knew was actually a henna party. Which is kind of like the the one I went to anyways was a combination wedding shower slash bachelorette party.

Colleen: OK. And so you did henna?

Hannah: Yes. So the bride like dips one of her fingers and henna and like the groom comes in and he’s the only man that’s there at that point. And he also like dips his finger in henna and then they like get bound up together and there’s a lot of dancing around them. I didn’t fully understand everything that was happening. I mean it was a friend and someone was telling me what was going on. But it was all you know symbolic of like how they’re matched now.

Colleen: Right, akin to the lighting of the unity candle.

Hannah: Right. The unity henna.

Colleen: There you go.

Hannah: But the rest of it was more like you know we played bridal shower games and ate food and was very…

Colleen: The engagement party I remember going to was nothing like that at all. It was the families. And there was like lots of giving of gold.

Hannah: Yeah. So the Kurdish one that I went to was like that. And in fact I didn’t realize it was an engagement party until after we left. And I was like. OK so are they married now? What is happening? What happened? It was like, No no. They you know the family of the groom gave the bride all this gold jewelry to like show that she’s part of their family now and the mother-of-the-bride or the bride’s family wasn’t there at all. I think or traditionally the bride’s family doesn’t come? But I think like her sisters maybe came? Because my friend that I was with there was like, “Yeah I feel like it would be really sad to be at this big party and none of your family be there to see you officially get engaged. She was like but this family is like being non-traditional because these are her sisters and they came.

Colleen: It’s I think that’s a growing trend in the wedding stuff that I’ve been a part of in Kurdistan is that there’s less following maybe of older traditions some additions of some western traditions. I know for the one, one of the wedding receptions. People call it, “going to the wedding”, that I went to. They actually played music and had the bride walk down this huge aisle. And none of the rest of any of the ceremony was there, like a wedding ceremony. But they did add that one feature.

Hannah: The entrance of the bride. That henna party that I went to, I got invited back for like the pre-wedding ceremony ceremony. Which I thought was really fascinating. And I did get it kind of like explained to me as things were happening. So I kind of want to talk about it. That was really cool. So, the bride is in her parents house and all of her relatives are in the house as well. And the groom’s family drives up in a very decked out car. You know what I’m talking about like flowers and ribbons and like very much like party car.

Colleen: Fluff party car.

Hannah: Yes. And he brought with him musicians who started playing music as soon as he stepped out of the car. And so the men of the family at that point are outside and they kind of like dance around with him. But he also brings his mother with him. And like, her job is to like fight her way through the whole family to get to the bride and get the bride back to the car.

Colleen: The mother’s job?

Hannah: The mother’s job. So it’s kind of that idea of like they’re stealing the bride away from her family. And so in this case it was families that were related to each other. So there was definitely no like actual fighting. But they had to make a show of like we don’t want to let our daughter go, we’re sad to be parted from her. And so the final part she gets back to the room and the bride’s mother is in front of the door. And the only way the mother will allow her to come in to take her daughter is if she pays her. And so like the more money you’re able to hand over at that point the more like prestige it gives you. So I have no idea how much money was exchanged but I do know it was in U.S. dollars.

Colleen: Oh! not Iraqi dinar?

Hannah: Not Iraqi dinar the real valuable stuff. And so then as soon as like the bride is taken out of the room like the female family members all start weeping and mourning. But by the time they get out to the men the dancing and the partying part has started. And they put her in the car and she and the groom and the groom’s parents drive off or the like his mother and brothers and something like that. And then everyone else kind of loaded up into cars and was carried away.

Colleen: Now at this point had the bride gone through her dress and makeup preparation?

Hannah: Yes she was dressed and ready.

Colleen: Because that, I think, was always one of the most surprising aspects to me about Kurdish weddings. Was the amount of makeup that the women wear like many of them are unrecognizable as themselves.

Hannah: Yes.

Colleen: They look like painted porcelain dolls. And also the amount of hair. Because while…

Hannah: ..on their heads! They are not hairy!

Colleen: Haha! Yeah on their heads. But yeah like they all have lovely thick lots of hair anyway but obviously hair and other things are added to their coiffure. And there’s height and largeness. And then of course the dress!

Hannah: Which has to be big and poofy and sparkly and white

Colleen: Aand also most the ones I saw were more revealing than anything any of those ladies would ever be caught in anywhere else. Like many of them look much like what you’d see in the US: strapless low cut. Some of them less so.

Hannah: I think I’ve seen both. I’ve seen some really modest ones. One wedding in particular. I guess I just saw pictures from it. She had the whole hijab and it was white and she had kind of like a strapless dress but she had like a white long sleeve turtle neck kind of shirt covering. Yeah like not a shirt shirt it looked very nice with the dress. So I guess I have seen both. She was also Syrian. So that may have been Kurdish but Syrian Kurdish. And they don’t buy their dresses which I think is so smart!

Colleen: So smart. They rent them. I mean makes so much more sense.

Hannah: Yeah. Because who wants to spend that much money on a big poofy dress sparkly dress that you’re never gonna wear again. This is something that needs to come to America.

Colleen: Yes, I agree.

Hannah: Rental wedding dresses. Someone start that business. I don’t have time nor desire. And not just the dresses but like they put on all the jewelry too. So like if part of their dowry is gold, whatever gold jewelry they’ve been given by the family or by their husband they wear.

Colleen: So they’ve got doubled up the gold.

Hannah: Yeah. And not just like a little bit of gold. It’s like all, all the gold because it’s kind of like showing how much their husband values them.

Colleen: Right, because the idea is if he gives her more gold and say she leaves him or he divorces her like she gets to take that gold with her and his wealth will go away with her.And so that rather large investment is a sign of value and honor to her that he’s not going to let her go because she would take all of that wealth with her.

Hannah: Yeah there’s there’s some guarantee in that and provision in that.

Colleen: It’s one of the things that I know some of my Western American friends have run into questions when they meet other you know living there when they meet other families and like, oh like you’re only wearing a ring like does your husband not love you? And you know, in the US we don’t use large quantities of gold to show our value of another person right.

Hannah: But we also don’t need need that guarantee, that value system because most women are able to take care of themselves.

Colleen: Yeah there’s a lot more independence.

Hannah: It used to be that the standard was you paid the weight of the woman in gold. And I think that’s not happening anymore. But it did! Like when I learned that I kind of made the connection of like, oh that’s why women like tend to fill out more after they’re married because they don’t want to weigh too much beforehand because they’ll never get married.

Colleen: But yeah with less I think less wealth and more people and I think people too, not wanting to wait as long maybe to get married I know that a lot of men have to wait a while to gain enough wealth to be able to buy the gold to get married.

Hannah: Well and I think people are using different wealth standards. It’s not about gold necessarily, but like, Do you have a car? Can you buy a house? Do you have a steady job like how much income are you bringing into your family? So kind of transitioning from that nomadic wealth has to be carry-able, to wealth has to be visible in some other way. It’s kind of one of those cultural tradition changes. I know there are a lot of men who are frustrated by that because they they want to get married but there aren’t jobs in Kurdistan that allow them to make enough money to buy a new car or buy a house. And most families are looking for that. Which is reasonable.

Colleen: You know if you want someone who can take care of your daughter in a society where she can’t make it on her own. That makes sense.

Hannah: Yeah I feel like I started to see more and more people who the husband or husband-to-be would come to America or go to Europe and work and make a bunch of money and buy a house or buy a car there and then come back and get married and either go back without her to continue to work or eventually bring her back with them. And I think that’s becoming more common just because it’s harder to find jobs.

Colleen: Yeah.

Colleen: Are you wondering what to do with your life? We’ve got some ideas. Come check them out at www.ServantGroup.org/Iraq.

Hannah: Another tradition that I thou ght was really interesting is that the family has to agree that two people should get married to each other. Like even then more and more people are marrying for love not

Colleen: Right the love matches, not arranged marriages which a lot of the older generation pretty much had with consent. I mean it was just the way things were.

Hannah: Right. You didn’t go out and find your spouse someone your parents arranged it for you. But there still is that like the families have to agree that those two people should get married and not just like Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad but like aunts and uncles and grandparents all have to agree. And again I think it’s part of that is that guarantee that the woman will be provided for and that she’s not marrying someone who will bring shame to the family. Or that the man is not marrying someone that will bring shame to his family. And I think a consequence of some of that is that family members tend to get married.

Colleen: Yeah. Cousins second cousins third cousins. because everyone knows their whole family tree down to the nth degree. Lots of people are related in ways that in America we would never know.

Hannah: Or keep track of. And I mean there are there are standards for that. Like you can’t marry your mother’s sister’s child but you can marry your mother’s brother’s child. Because mother and brother are less genetically similar than mother and sister would be. So the same on the other side you can’t marry your father’s brother’s kid but you can marry your father’s sister’s kid.

Colleen: Yeah. So complicated.

Hannah: Yeah. So I have been to at least two weddings where it was cousins getting married. And it’s not it’s not a weird thing for them culturally at all.

Colleen: And honestly for a lot of people especially if you were kept really isolated. The idea of marrying somebody that you had met and grown up with versus marrying a complete stranger. I mean historically and culturally that makes a lot of sense right.

Hannah: Right. Internet dating is not a thing.

Colleen: Not yet, at least.

Hannah: Maybe in the rising generation. I feel like that’s that will be a cultural shift should it ever come about.

Colleen: But I mean all cultures are always shifting in some ways it’s a cultural shift for those of us in the West.

Hannah: That’s true. That’s true. It is. I can’t even imagine how that would work in Kurdistan I can’t even imagine. Anyway Weddings! It’s also a big deal to have very fancy receptions. I mean you get everything from a chair, a circle of red chairs in a open field and kind of a picnicky celebration.

Colleen: Right. I’ve been to some of those.

Hannah: …to like we rented a hall and have a catered dinner…

Colleen: …set off fireworks indoors.

Hannah: And have a great camera on a crane that is like swooping around and videotaping everything. Oh my word!

Colleen: As a Westerner in public events the camera is not your friend.

Hannah: I mean it is in your face but it’s not your friend! Lots and lots of dancing. Really loud music…

Colleen: …dancing, really loud music and photos, like photos with the bride and groom.

Hannah: Right, who are like seated up on a dais with flowers around them and they’re on like a couch and right they’re just kind of have to sit there and wait for people.

Colleen: And look stoic, like look not happy. I mean granted if she moved her face it might crack all the makeup might just fall off. I don’t know. But yeah the I have to say I think the one I enjoyed the most though was one that was small and just in a park and it was a whole range of adventure for me because I was the only non-family member and it was my neighbors and I think really the only reason I was invited was because they knew I could drive and they needed another driver.

Hannah: Nice.

Colleen: And so like they know why I didn’t have a jili kurdi at that point or maybe mine was still be made, anyway, like or I think I had a brown one and they’re like No you can’t wear brown to a wedding. I don’t know. But I ended up going and they wanted me to try on a bunch of their jili kurdis and like they wanted like we put on a bunch of makeup. And yeah. And all these cars show up and there is you know another car there and yeah they put me in a car. I think the mom and a younger brother and some other women and we drove off to go pick up the bride at the salon where she was all bedecked and drove as you know part of this whole caravan of people with you know like the decked out car and the honking music and the honking and let’s just say it was a little stressful for me. I was like I hope they don’t drive too crazy because I don’t know that I’m going to be able to keep up with them but they were decently sedate for me.

Hannah: Good.

Colleen: And yeah we drove picked her up from the salon drove to like a photo place where…

Hannah: …to get the formal portraits…

Colleen: …and you know different family members went through and like I just sat there I think for a couple of hours while photos were taken. And then we packed up from there and went to some office where they signed something. But again, I wasn’t in there I was waiting in the lobby with other people. None of these people really spoke English so we had to get by on my barely-there Kurdish. And from there we went to a park and had food and took photos and I got my photo taken with the bride and groom,I don’t even know how many times! And I kept being like, Don’t smile, don’t smile, don’t smile. Because you know, you don’t want to look like you’re in a toothpaste commercial right with everyone else who’s you know part of some sort of serious band photo.

Hannah: Right.

Colleen: And then yeah drove everybody home and after it got dark and I was just like I spent my whole day driving around a whole group of people for a wedding and it was nothing like any American wedding I’ve ever been to. But it was really fun. And I got a lot of good Kurdish practice in and they were thrilled that I was there and hey everybody got to be a part of the day because I could drive.

Hannah: Yeah. Good work Colleen, good work. The only other wedding tradition I can think of that’s different is wedding gifts. You don’t take gifts to a wedding. Oh I did go to one wedding where all the tables had an envelope on them and you were supposed to collect cash from the table and put it in the envelope and then you were all supposed to go up and greet the bride and groom and leave the envelope on the table as like we’re just gonna give you this money sort of thing.

Colleen: That way no individual is called out for lack of generosity.

Hannah: That’s pretty pretty smart. Yeah. I thought it was clever. I was like, Should I ever get married this is what we’re going to do.

Colleen: In the invitations, “please do not bring gifts but bring cash to stick in the envelope on your table.”

Hannah: Yes. The other part of that that I have heard, though I’ve never experienced it, is that like a week after the wedding you’re supposed to bring like house warming type gifts to the bride and groom in their new house. So like if you wanted to give someone dishes or things that we would think you would do at a bridal shower. Like a crockpot. Nobody wants a crockpot!

Colleen: Not without city electricity!

Hannah: You’re supposed to go and welcome them into their house as a married couple. Which, again, is much more convenient because then you don’t have to haul the gifts from wherever you got married to the house.

Colleen: Or unwrap them all. I have helped many a bride unwrap her wedding gifts and it always feels just a little bit rude awkward. You’re like these are not my guests but I also understand the necessity of like accomplishing this monstrous task. So.

Hannah: Or the like. Bridal party circle where you have to open the gift in front of everyone and be like, “Oh look isn’t it nice,” and then pass it around the circle. So everyone can look at it.

Colleen: I always enjoyed that as a child. I’ve not been to one of those as an adult, I don’t think.

Hannah: I’ve been to several as the adult. And I’m like, This is so awkward and uncomfortable and I don’t like it and it’s not even for me. Yeah.

Colleen: Anyway just bring the gift.

Colleen: Bring the gift a week to the house. And I think that is also they do like they bring food gifts like here’s a bunch of flour or you know in the South we would call that a pounding where you bring a pound of a pantry supply.

Colleen: But I also think that that works there because I, maybe I’m wrong, but I never knew of anyone who went on any sort of traditional honeymoon. Like you’re kind of expected to get married and the next day be back at work, which always kind of surprised me when you know one of the teachers would come in and be like, “Oh yes, I got married yesterday. I have brought soda for everyone or candy.” and you’re like, “Oh, yesterday, really?”

Hannah: Congratulations?

Colleen: Sometimes it was the engagement that happened the day before but sometimes it’s like yeah, they actually went and did this whole wedding thing right. She’s got photos on her phone of someone who doesn’t look like her.

Hannah: I feel like Friday is the wedding day, generally that’s when I saw the most wedding things happening.

Colleen: That makes sense. Saturdays are the most common wedding day, I think in the US.

Hannah: Yeah. I had teachers that would get married and I wouldn’t know about it. Like there’s no like, “Oh my wedding’s coming up in three months.”

Colleen: It seems there’s a lot less stress about it.

Hannah: Mm hmm. Right. It’s not last minute necessarily but it’s not a long lengthy production that American weddings can be. Which again, kinda nice. If you have been to any unique weddings, please tell us about them. I mean I think we have also been to a Hindu wedding.

Colleen: Yes, part of one!

Hannah: Right, they’re real long!

Colleen: We didn’t last the whole time. Who’s also our neighbor.

Hannah: I’ve been to Hindu engagement party as well. Yeah. Tell us about like the most unique wedding tradition that you have seen.

Colleen: Or even the most unique wedding unity symbol. My sister’s wedding had a charging of the unity fuel cell.

Hannah: Which was unique for sure and a little bit scary. I’m not going to lie.

Colleen: Hey you were standing at the back of the room right up there next to it.

Hannah: That’s true. I was out of the splash zone, as it were. Yeah. Let us know what unique or interesting wedding things that you have seen. And we’d love to share more of our weird non-Kurdish wedding stories with you.

Colleen: You can find us at Servant Group International on Facebook or Instagram or on our Web site at servantgroup.org.

Hannah: Yeah and if you have a question that we haven’t answered yet send us an email or Facebook message. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks for listening!

Hannah: And boy did I put myself on display. Oh no. I broke a face and it was very embarrassing. But I don’t want to talk about it.

Colleen: It’s okay.