Whilst the wedding ceremony may be different one custom that has been wholeheartedly adopted from the west is that of the wedding cake.

Before we get into the intricacies of attending the actual wedding reception – called ‘balo’ – we forgot to talk about wedding invitations in the previous article.  Unlike custom in the UK, when a wedding invite will arrive months before the event, here they may come a week early if you are lucky.  They are sometimes elaborately printed cards and sometimes take the form of a towel (we don’t know why) in gift wrapping with a label giving full details of wedding celebrations.  There is no need to RSVP to village wedding invites – so many people are invited no one will notice if you don’t turn up.  Well, that isn’t strictly true, as we foreigners do tend to stand out in the midst of an otherwise Turkish crowd, but there shouldn’t be any hard feelings if you don’t make the wedding.

The actual marriage ceremony may or may not take place at the beginning of the balo.  This is very much a matter of convenience, whether or not the registrar can attend at the required time.  If s/he can’t make it then the couple will just go down to the Marriage Office in Fethiye and do the legal bit at a time to suit.  Then carry on with the celebrations as planned.  If the legal marriage ceremony is taking place within the celebrations it will be at the beginning of the ‘balo’ following the entrance of the bride and groom along an avenue of large sparkler-type fireworks.  Yes, the bride and groom arrive together, very different to UK custom.

As soon as the legal bit is over, or when the bride and groom arrive if they have already done the legal bit elsewhere, the dancing begins.  As at the henna night there will be a keyboard player with backing tracks but, as this is the high point of the celebrations, there may also be a drum and zurna combo who will actually weave their way in and out of the dancers playing as they go.

{mosimage}One custom that has been wholeheartedly adopted from the west is that of the wedding cake.  As can be seen in our photo, there are actually many cakes (twelve in this case to save you counting) and the cake shop usually send one or more youngish boys with long knives of the type used for slicing doner kebab, to set up the cake and do a bit of a dance performance with knives before cutting the cake.  It is traditional to ‘bribe’ the boy with the knife to cut the cake.  He will serve the bride and groom first – they feed each other a mouthful of cake – and then the cakes are removed for cutting and everyone (until the cake runs out that is) gets a piece of cake in a paper napkin.

And we have now arrived at the high point of the evening – the pinning of money.  When we were invited to our first local wedding in 2005, after an absence of over thirty years from the Turkish village wedding scene, I had no idea how much money to pin on the bride.  So I phoned a Turkish woman I know in Fethiye and she grilled me about our relationship with the girl who was getting married (slight), and the proximity of the bride’s house to our own.  In a village everyone who lives in the same district as you is your neighbour – we have neighbours who live over a kilometre away.  After a whole string of questions I was told “10YTL is fine”.  I was shocked.  In the event the amount seemed so low that we doubled it and went to the balo with a crisp new 20YTL note ready for pinning.

When the pinning is announced the bride and groom don red satin sashes and a queue forms to pin money.  Young relatives hand out straight pins to those queuing and, when it is your turn, you pin your note on the bride or groom depending on which family invited you to the wedding.  At the first wedding mentioned above most of the money was 5 and 10YTL so our 20YTL was more than adequate.  Three years later we are still pinning 20YTL and it would seem inflation has not yet caught up with us.  If the people getting married are very special to you, you can buy a gold coin – they come in different sizes starting at around 40YTL – and pin that on instead.  After you have pinned you may be offered a piece of Turkish delight and/or a sprinkle of lemon cologne.

And once everyone has pinned the music strikes up and the dancing continues.  We usually leave after pinning. Indeed, so familiar have these weddings now become that we are currently in the business of trying to time our arrival to coincide with forming of pinning queue, so we spend minimal time at the wedding, but fulfil our neighbourly obligation of pinning money.  However, if you’ve never been to a village wedding the first few are very interesting.  Look out for the old ladies in white headcloths folded in a range of different styles – they are only ever seen at weddings these days.  Also watch the dancers, as there will always be one or two overweight middle-aged women who are wonderful performers on the dance floor. 

And finally, if you’ve never been invited to a village wedding, you can just turn up and will be welcomed.  Listen for the drum announcing a wedding, or get out and about in the countryside over the next few weekends, as we are currently in peak wedding season.  It is bad luck to get married in Ramazan and, as the fast starts on 1st September, there are currently scores of weddings every weekend.  Spot the white plastic chairs set out in a garden or field and you’ve found your wedding – enjoy.