I was thrilled to be asked to provide Fireweini and Thomas with coverage of their Eritrean Wedding. It was an amazing two-day celebration starting in Lancaster and traveling to Harrisburg. The Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony was held at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, while the two celebrations were both held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. We also went to take some portraits at Willow Valley Chapel.
For those of you who don’t know anything about an Eritran wedding, here are a few interesting highlights. Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa. It borders Sudan and Ethiopia, and has a coastline along the Red Sea. It’s a multi-ethnic country of around 5 million people. An Eritrean wedding often lasts two days, and can include components of multiple beliefs and cultural traditions. The couple will have a wedding ceremony on Day One which is often consistent with other ceremony types you might already know. This can include Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, or other ceremony types. Both days of the celebration will usually include receptions with colorful dress and flowers. Most Eritreans speak Afroasiatic languages of either the Ethiopian Semitic or Cushitic branches. But, if the wedding is taking place in the United States or United Kingdom, most of the guests will also speak English.
On Day One, there is a wedding ceremony (usually in the morning) followed by photographs at the church and other locations. This photo session can include the couple and wedding party, but can also include many combinations of family photographs. Prior to the wedding party entering, a group of men will walk in, singing and jumping with swords (called the “Medebale”). After the Medebale, the couple and wedding party will walk into the reception with a specific song called the Mesihaley Doe. Frequently, this parade of the couple and wedding party will process through lines formed on either side of guests cheering and holding flowers.
After the grand entrance and first dance, dinner will be served. In the Eritrean tradition, feeding someone by hand is a way to show affection. After dinner, there are two traditional songs which must be sung prior to everyone dancing. The first traditional song is called the Awelo, sung in respect of the couple’s families. The following song is a traditional song about the food, mes (Eritrean mead), and suwa (Eritrean beer). This is done in order to thank those who prepared the food and drink for the reception.
Day Two is called the Melse. The couple wear traditional habesha clothes as well as a “Kaba” which is a traditional cape embellished with gold or silver trimmings. The bride will often have decorative henna and many adornments. The second day is frequently a smaller guest count, being more of a celebration with close friends and family. The bride and her bridesmaids will spend the morning having their hair braided and being decorated with henna and gold. A procession heads toward the couple with water, jugs, food, and cloth. There is a hand washing ceremony which takes place, including the couple and their wedding party. They will be served a communal plate (sometimes one for the couple, one for the bridesmaids, and one for the groomsmen) from which they will all share the meal.
In many Eritrean weddings there is a coffee ceremony, and a very specific exit where elders and family members form a circle (or lines) to bless the couple as they make their grand exit. Once the couple has exited the building (usually getting into a vehicle of some sort), the reception has officially ended.