It should come as no surprise to anyone that growing up in the Bronx and in an Ashkenazi family, did not prepare you me for a Henna ceremony, let alone prepare me for creating the obligatory Kallah Henna basket. 

Let's start at the beginning; actually two beginnings.  The first is that my eldest son married (Mazal Tov!) a lovely Moroccan girl.  The second is that a Henna ceremony is an integral part of the Moroccan (and other Sephardic) marriage traditions.

A month or two before the wedding my daughter dropped the bombshell!  I must bring a Kallah Henna basket to the Henna ceremony.  In my naiveté I thought, I've made hundreds of Purim baskets throughout the years – what's the big deal?  WRONG!!  It is a big deal.  The preparation for the basket – should begin months before the Henna ceremony when one should begin to search for the obligatory presents such as jewelry, silver, crystal, negligee.  The basket also includes a host of small trinkets i.e. hamsas, tehilim, bride's prayer, chocolates and the list can go on and on and on.  As I would find out later, the type of presents given the bride has as much to do with the bride as it does with the groom's family (that should be read = "mother").  I felt like Alice in Wonderland, with the landscape growing larger and scarier with each new discovery.

Just ever so slightly hysterical by this point, I got a list of obligatory presents from my daughter.  My daughter let it fly that the present search and find mission, usually takes several months.  Nice.  I didn't have "several months" – I had weeks and it would have to do.

My search and destroy mission to find each present on the list  lead to the inevitable gift-giving questions: What color will she like? What size? What style? What if she already has it?  What if she hates it?  Of course "merchandise return slips" (in my mind, these little beauties are one of the most significant inventions of the modern era – up there with the "mouse" and the "un-do button") solves many of these dilemmas.  

Now, if you are like me, you would assume that the next step is to wrap up each present in shiny paper and a big bow, put them in pretty bags and cart them off to the celebration.  Once again, my innocents,  this line of thinking is WRONG!  While a Henna ceremony is a lovely and lively celebration of life, love, friends and family.  It is also a celebration of "see how much I am giving" and "see how much I have".  Three words that can easily describe any Henna are Shiny, Bright and Loud.  The presents are no exception!  Here again, my daughter's invaluable knowledge helped .and I learned that the presents had to be shown-off and showcased in something big and ostentatious.

At this point I used my handy-dandy internet. I googled the death out of key words like henna baskets and Henna ceremonies (in Hebrew and English).  I found plenty of examples!  I found pictures of large baskets filled to the brim with all kinds of shiny goodies.   I even found pictures of presents that were masqueraded as wedding scenes (the earrings and necklace were the bride and groom, the watch in its box was the chuppah and on and on), towels and robes that looked like wedding cakes and so on. I also noted that the color choices were not subtle or coordinated; they were loud, profuse and striking.  It seems that Henna baskets take the American "More is More" approach very seriously! 

With my new-found knowledge, I searched the stores for the largest basket I could find!  When I found my basket – as large as a baby's bath (but not as deep) - I knew I was on my way.  I bought rolls of organza and shiny paper.  I continued to minutely examine the Henna basket pictures online, trying to decipher each shape and bulge.

A kind and discerning client understood my obvious cultural handicap.  She told me that chocolates (large wrapped ones), hamsas (good luck charms in the shape of a hand – sometimes with an eye in the middle), the brides prayers and tehilim were usually added to the mix.

Once again, I went out on my shopping mission, looking for – well – anything "shiny" and colorful.  I bought hamsas, miniature tehilim books, silk flowers, miniature Moroccan shoes with long upturned toes, chocolates, strings of shiny beads and fake pearls, large decorative candles, ribbons and so much more.  The brighter and shinier - the better! 

When I began my Henna shopping project, I put the carefully wrapped items I purchased in a corner of my bedroom.  As the list grew and the items piled up, I moved my treasures to a corner of a guest room.  By the time I finished my project, the items were piled high on a double bed.

One of my sisters-in-law came in from the USA for the wedding.  The delicious "H" was now my comrade-in-arms for this important of missions.  Just days before the Henna, she bought the fixings and fillings for her own Kallah basket.

Now came the day of the Henna celebration.  Early that morning we prepared for the – "dressing" - the dressing of the baskets.  We laid out all our presents, goodies and trinkets on the shabbas table and began to work in earnest.  Referring again and again to the internet pictures, I began to understand that each large gift needed to be seen by the admiring crowd of Henna invitees.  So began the unwrapping and rewrapping.   We staged, placed, replaced, moved, wrapped and unwrapped, hung, strung, laid and draped the presents and goodies in their respective places – each in a strategic place in the basket.  Some placed higher.  Some placed lower.  Some draped in small trinkets.  Some stand alone in their importance.  All nestled in a giant bird's nest of transparent paper and organza.  The basket itself was then draped in beads and hung with good luck symbols.
After an hour or two, we became a "little" slap-happy from the fumes of the glue and epoxy (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!).  From that point on, every two or three minutes we would take a step back from our work and ask the all important question "Is this too much?"  As we worked the "Is this too much" question transformed from a serious decorating question, into a sign that we needed to reposition and re-dress a gift with even more trinkets.  We were like kindergarteners gone wild with finger paints – no space should be left untouched, "no white space" (if you know what I mean), no color combinations too outrageous and, most importantly, no one there to stop us! 

At a certain point we lost the ability to stop ourselves from "improving" our baskets.  It took all of our will power and threats that we would never get to the hall on time to force us to STOP and finally proclaim that our baskets were indeed 'stage ready' and we needed to get  ourselves to the hall.

The Henna celebration is a blog all by itself, but I will say that only when we reached the hall did we find out the importance of the basket displays and their larger-than-life presence.  Our baskets and those of others were placed and displayed in a long row, along the main wall of the hall.  Surrounded by the opulence of a dressed room in draped Moroccan finery, the baskets indeed needed to shine – literally – in order to compete with the glitter around them.  So to answer my own question: where the baskets "too much"?  NOT AT ALL!

Do you have questions about a Jewish wedding, its customs, traditions and practices?  Please feel free to contact me today!

1 comment:

  1. While a baby's bathtub could fit that henna basket perfectly, I'd definitely wish to see somebody make a henna basket worth the size of corner tubs or even bigger, just to break or create a new Guinness record.