A few nights ago we enjoyed a Jewish henna celebration, in honor of my neighbor's daughter, who will be getting married in a few months. After the young couple is engaged, many families have the custom of making if official with an engagement party, that is thrown by the bride's family. Since my neighbor is of French Algerian descent, they, like most of the Sephardic Jews from North Africa (and the Yemenite Jews as well) have the tradition of honoring the bride with a Henna party, which in this case was done at the end of the engagement party.
In Hebrew, the three letters which spell henna stand for the three mitzvot that an observant married woman takes on, and that are unique to her as a married woman. One of those is lighting two candles just before shabbat, so two lit candles are placed in the bowl of henna, and the lights are turned off as henna is applied to the hand of the bride and then the guests.
Off course, this is proceeded by special music and dancing and a ritual in which the bride receives jewelry from the family of her groom. There is great excitement and festivity and platters of cakes (wrapped in cellophane usually) are waved above the bride's head and giver's of gifts also dance around with the gifts.
At the end, henna is placed on the palm of the bride and the guests, in some cases it is nicely wrapped with a little cloth and ribbon so as not to make a mess, but here it was done simply. The henna is left on the hand long enough to leave a mark, as a reminder of the special meaning of the things the bride will do once she is married. Lots of fun was had by all, and my seven year old slept until two in the afternoon the next day. Quite likely from all the beautiful French tarts that he gobbled up, more on that later!
That's all for now, gotta go cook for shabbat! Oh and of course bake my challah. Which reminds me, the letter chet, which is the first letter in henna (which is really spelled chenna) stands for challah, one of the precious mitzvot unique to the Jewish woman. Not to mention the amazing smell that fills the house... that's all for now!
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