Toy is the Azerbaijani word for wedding, one of the most important events for families everywhere. However, in Azerbaijan such importance is placed on marriage that it takes months of planning. Weddings are also a remarkable showcase for the country's colorful traditions and customs, including in the preparations preceding the ceremony itself.
No wonder then, that they are also of great interest to Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) serving in the country. Far From Nome, for example, introduces its readers to the world of Azerbaijani weddings through a series of posts on the subject. The blogger says that weddings in Azerbaijan are nothing like those back home.
Okay guys, dig in because this is a pretty big topic. [...] The most important thing to know is that weddings in Azerbaijan, although called weddings, share few similarities with American weddings.
Firstly, weddings are big deals. Actually, they are the deal. [...] There is no US equivalent to describe how big a wedding is in Azerbaijan, so it is kind of hard to wrap your head around unless you have lived here.
Last week, I went to a bachelorette party. Amid Turkish traditions and probably some Persian customs, we ate, drank tea, and danced.
In another post, the blogger notes that is never quite as simple as just having one wedding.
[...] So…did you know that the bride and groom have their own weddings?!
Yup. That is right. As a bride, you get two (TWO) parties to celebrate the momentous occasion of marriage. At the girl's wedding (a few days before the boy's), the girl wears a colored dress, enjoys the company of her family, and smiles, a lot. She then goes back home and prepares for the boy's wedding which will happen in a couple of days. [...]
The best part about this wedding? I got to MOW DOWN. U.S. wedding food has got nothing on Azerbaijani weddings. We are talking at least 5 courses of salads, meats, kebabs, and special wedding rice pilaf.
A subsequent post compares the groom's wedding with that of the bride.
[...] First, a boy's wedding and a girl's wedding follow the same exact pattern. The only real differences are:
1. The bride wears a white dress with a red sash around her waist; and,
2. The bride does not return to her parents’ home after the ceremony.
Otherwise, normally, the boy's wedding is bigger and attended by both sides of the family. Things go pretty normal – about 4 hours (maybe 5 if you are lucky) of dancing, eating, and drinking. [...]
After attending several weddings, the blogger concludes that there is more to discover in terms of local tradition.
Now, I have talked about weddings several times , but as I found out last night, not every tradition I have learned is expressed in exactly the same way.
So, it goes to show that no matter how long I am a PCV, I have barely scratched the surface of Azerbaijani culture. [...]
On a more serious note, Life Called by Julie Nelson touches upon the tradition of arranged marriages, but says that this is not always the case.
[...] The regional customs, family rituals, degree of conservativeness or liberalness, and level of affluence or poverty directly affect Azerbaijani weddings and the events leading up to and following the occasion.
Some weddings are arranged, others are somewhat arranged, while there are those marriages where the spouses choose each other without much family interference (although this is not exactly the norm).[...]
It was a classiest Azerbaijani wedding I’ve seen, and I had a lot of fun. I also liked the fact that the bride and groom met randomly and on their own – she is a journalist and interviewed him for an article. [...]
In an extensive post accompanied by photos, Making Wool from Eggs, another PCV blog, paints a colorful picture of the engagement party, the symbols used, and of course, traditional dance.
[...] At the engagement party, I believe, the boy and girl are not in the same room. It’s separated by gender (mostly) but it all happens in the same house. This is also where the girl and family and friends do a Henna ritual. They just put henna on their palms. On the girl-to-be-married’s palm they put the boy’s first initial in one hand and the girl’s first initial on the other. The engagement period is also when the dowry is prepared. [...]
[...] In this wedding, the girl wears a white dress with a red ribbon around her waist (symbol for virginity). [...]
[...] Azerbaijani’s have their own particular style of dancing. Boys and girls dance with their arms out at shoulder level with some fancy foot movement. Men will have one arm straight out and the other arm bent with their hand behind their head. They switch off with their one arm straight and the other bent. Girls will have both their arms out but a little bent (more dainty) and do a forward roll with their hands. PCVs have described this as “screwing in the light bulb” movement. [...]
AzerbaiWHAT? speaks about wedding symbols and also shares her dancing experience.
[...] The bride and groom enter with at least one girl carrying a candle and another carrying a mirror. The candle is to bring light into their marriage and the mirror is very practical but also lets them see what they already possess. Pretty cool. They immediately cut the cake and have their first dance and then they sit.
[...] My first toy dancing seemed to be a success [...]. Azeri dancing is ultimately stepping side to side, or step tap step tap. You don't move your hips [...]. Very soft flowy movements. If you can't imagine it just sway side to side and delicately pretend to screw in light bulbs.