henna1 Wedding celebrations in Palestine begin the night before the ceremony when the women of the bride’s family and her female friends gather for a joyous “Mehndi (henna) Night” of songs, dances, games, and, most importantly, skin decorations with henna.  This temporary coloring agent made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant has been used for over 5,000 years to dye silk, wool, leather as well as skin and hair.  It is also known to have medicinal properties and was used in ancient times to heal burns and open wounds and to reduce fever.  It creates a cooling sensation and Bedouin used it on their feet and hands to create an air-conditioning effect.
Tradition requires that older women decorate the skin of the bride and her guests with intricate designs. The bride’s is the most complex and often takes hours to complete while those of the guests will be smaller and usually restricted to the back of hands or arms.  An important element of “Mehndi Nights” is the dress.  The women dress in traditional, hand-embroidered gowns (“ithyab”) that were often handed down from grandmothers.  Each village has its own distinct motif, occasionally embellished with patterns reflecting family ancestry or heritage, reproduced in the embroidered designs.  That of the bride is always the most exquisite and complex.