Friday, June 27, 2008


Doesn't your heart beat just a little faster when you pass a wedding car, gussied up with ribbons, with the bride in back? Pass a church, or the town hall, where guests are gathering? The start of something new, in this ritual forging an enduring link between two people, two families whether it be a union held with the enormous pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding, or the simplest of ceremonies before a Registrar in his office.

No matter what traditions, religious beliefs, ceremony is involved there is, at its heart, a conjugation as ancient as civilisation.

I was in Italy last year, visiting a beautiful abbey church, when a bride arrived for her wedding. In England, the protocol is that all guests should be in the church before the bride arrives, but even while the bride lifted her dress as she hurried up the steps of the church -- lovely to see such impatience! -- the guests were milling around inside and outside the church, mingling with visitors while everyone applauded her arrival, applauding her as she walked up the aisle to where her husband to be was waiting for her. She was the star of the day and was treated as such. It was informal, slightly chaotic, utterly delightful.

When writing CHOSEN AS THE SHEIKH’S WIFE, I read a wonderful book, Mother Without a Mask: A Westerner's Story of Her Arab Family written by, Patricia Holton, an Englishwoman who gave a home to a young sheikh while he was studying in England. She spent much time with him and his family in Abu Dhabi and when the young man married, he sent for her to help him prepare the house he’d designed and had built for his bride, anxious that it should be quite perfect in every way. (He also had her bake the kind of rich fruit cake that is the traditional British “wedding cake”!)

Her description of wedding preparations was like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights. The dowry for the bride needed a fleet of lorries to transport it and the sets of jewels for the bride were worth a king’s ransom. Tribes gathered from all across the desert to set up camp outside the bride’s family home for the weeks of celebration.

Inside the bride’s home her family, friends, honoured guests – all women -- gathered in their finest clothes, talked, feasted, while the bride herself remained in an inner sanctum, wrapped in black veils, in utter seclusion.

But it was the excitement of the young man who was marrying a girl he hadn’t seen since childhood that was supremely touching, as was his care and concern for her after he had fought his way into the house to claim his desperately young bride. Once the marriage had been consummated, the bride was, for seven days, displayed wearing a fabulous bridal cap (pure gold and weighing many pounds), each day donning a different gown – seven wedding dresses! -- so that all the women of her tribe could see her and marvel at how much her new husband treasured her. Seeing how tired she was, her -- equally young -- husband summarily dismissed them all so that she could rest.

Alien as the concept of an arranged marriage is to modern western eyes, it was impossible to doubt that these two young people were truly a “match”.

Here, in CHOSEN AS THE SHEIKH’S WIFE, Sheikh Fayad explains these rituals to Violet Hamilton.

‘First the engagement jewels are sent. Not just a ring, but a matching set of bracelets, necklace, earrings in stones chosen by the groom’s mother to perfectly complement his bride. At the same time the groom prepares a house for her, furnishing it with the best he can afford. And the dowry is gathered – gold, jewellery, bolts of every kind of cloth, carpets, money, all designed to demonstrate his ability to provide for her – ready to be delivered to the bride’s home to be displayed at the maksar. The formal gathering of women to celebrate the marriage, although the bride herself will not take part in that.’


Violet, who had been thinking it all sounded rather cold, began to see it from a different point of view. Began to imagine the trembling excitement of a secluded virgin bride as the day grew nearer. As her groom’s dowry gifts arrived proving to the world, her family, to her, just how much he valued her, wanted her above all other women.

‘There is more than one way to rouse the passions,’ she said.
‘Her weight in gold?’

Her eyes widened at the idea of just how much that would be worth, but then she shook her head. ‘No. It’s not the gold. It’s what it represents,’ she said. And Sheikh Fayad responded with a look of admiration for her understanding. A look that sent her own heart spinning up into her mouth, that suggested passion would not be in short supply for the woman who won his heart.

Drawn in, totally fascinated, she said, ‘Tell me about the wedding.’
‘When everything is ready, there will be a vast celebration. In the old days tribes would come in from desert and set up camp and the feasting would go on for weeks until finally the time comes for the groom to demand entrance to the bride’s home, fight his way through her family to claim his bride who will be waiting, wrapped in layer upon layer of veils, sitting on a white sheet.’

Even as he described the scene her heart rate was spiralling out of control and she only managed to hold back the exclamation that sprung to her lips by holding her hand over her mouth. Cold? No way…

‘Is something wrong?’ Sheikh Fayad asked.

‘No,’ she managed, resisting the urge to fan her cheeks at the thought of him removing layer after layer of veils, unwrapping her… ‘I’m fine. Really,’ she said, when he reached forward, poured her a glass of iced water that seemed to evaporate on her tongue. ‘You did this? When you married?’

He didn’t immediately answer and she back-peddled, madly. ‘Oh, lord, please forget I asked that. I can’t believe I was so rude. I didn’t mean --’
‘The bride is expected to fight, too. To bite and kick, protect her virtue with all her strength so that her husband will respect her.’

‘And do they?’

Did Hasna fight? she wondered. Could she have looked at this beautiful man and not have fallen instantly and whole-heartedly in love with him? Could any woman?
And if, because his respect would be something unbelievably precious, she fought him with ever fibre of her being, how did he overwhelm her?

Even as the question welled up in her mind, she knew the answer. She’d lashed out him this morning, angry, hurting and he’d sat with her on her grandmother’s bed, just holding her, taking the blows, whispering soft words of comfort, his lips against her hair, her temple, gentling her, calming her. In her head she saw how that scene might eventually unfold with his bride. There would be no force, but patience, a soft voice, quiet kisses, caresses that would open her to him as a flower opens to the light and warmth of the sun.

And she understood exactly what he’d meant when he’d said that he’d done “much more”. It wasn’t the fact that he’d kissed her. His kiss had been the least of it…
She swallowed, took another sip of water. And in a desperate attempt to blot out what was happening in her head she said, ‘Having showered her with jewels, fought her entire family the groom then has to overcome his bride, too? He doesn’t exactly get it easy, does he?’

Making light of it.

He smiled. ‘Interesting. I had assumed your sympathies would be with the bride.’

‘Oh, please,’ she said, quickly. ‘It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that this is a well-thought out strategy to overcome those initial awkward moments.’ Then, ‘I imagine any bride worth her weight in gold knows exactly the right moment to go all weak and swoony.’

To surrender to his strength, his power and in doing so, claim it for her own.

* * *

100 Arabian Nights containing not just Chosen As the Sheikh’s Wife, but stories by Meredith Webber and Kim Lawrence is now on sale in the UK in June (no news on a US release as yet) as part of the Centenary Celebrations of Mills & Boon.

I have a copy to give away. For a chance to win, share your own special wedding traditions or memories.


Anne Gracie said...

Liz, what a lovely post. I've never been to an amazing wedding such as you've described, but I have been to weddings at the other end of the scale, where the bride and groom have been quite poor, having been refugees from war.

They were also arranged marriages, and though there wasn't much money, there was a great deal of family love and pride in evidence. I went to the women's celebrations, of course, where all the female relatives and friends (and teacher) were gathered. The only males there were the bridegroom and the bride's brother who was taking a video of the occasion. They came and went several times during the evening between the women's and the men's celebrations, travelling by car, as the men's party was some distance away.

The bride wore her few pieces of gold with pride, and changed outfits five times times during the evening, sitting on display for most of the night. The food was home cooked and delicious and everyone belly-danced with much whooping and laughter and ululating. I am desperate to learn how to do that - it is such a cool sound.

Then it was time for the groom to take his bride and all the men and the imam came in a large group from the men's party and stood around the bride's family's house. The bride was heavily veiled and given over, not fighting, but reluctant and visibly trembling and off she went. It was a hugely emotional moment.

Lois said...

Sadly I have no wedding memories of any kind -- I've only ever been invited to one, but didn't go (she's an ex-friend, loooooong story LOL). So the only real wedding I have any sort of memory of is watching the Duke and Duchess of York's way back in the 80s, early in the morning since I"m in the US. And since I was only 5ish when Diana and Charles got married, I only remember seeing the rebroadcast on the 10th anniversary on cable. LOL

I obviously lead a boring life. :)


Liz Fielding said...

Hi Anne! Thanks so much for sharing that wonderful wedding story. Since both the dh and I are only children there are been precious few weddings in the family -- the last was before I married myself (very simple register office do). But this year my darling daughter is getting married so we're getting really excited about that!

Lois, royal weddings are something else, aren't they? Unfortunately not all the pomp in the world could guarantee a happy ending to either Diana or Fergie. But not going to weddings doesn't mean a boring life -- I think my last was in 1967!

robynl said...

a beautiful description of the wedding; what a ceremony.
I've been married twice and did the 'something old/new/borrowed/blue' tradition. My Mom sewed my wedding dress for my 1st marriage and it was beautiful. She also sewed her own dress, the flower girl's dress and 1 bridesmaid's dress.
Once attended a wedding where the brother-in-law of the groom was to give a speech and he was so drunk it was horrible for everyone. He could not spit out the words not matter what(not coherently at least. I felt sorry for the couple.

Pat Cochran said...

In Hispanic weddings, there are a
variety of traditions. One that we used was the lasso, in which a white
braided "rope" is placed about the
shoulders of the couple. It is
symbolic of the joining of the two
into one. A second was the groom's
presentation of a small basket of
coins to the bride. It symbolizes
the gift of his possessions.

Pat Cochran

Cheri2628 said...

CHOSEN AS THE SHEIKH’S WIFE sounds wonderful, and so does the entire anthology. I have been to some really sweet, romantic weddings. I have also been to a couple that seemed like a farce to me. The couples had each been married several times before. I couldn't help thinking that they had made these same promises before so the promises were meaningless. Yes, they did end up divorcing, too. I guess hope is eternal, huh?

ilona said...

I love the way you have described the wedding traditions of the arab marriages. It made me understand better the culture and traditions behind arranged marriages in that country.

As for my own wedding traditons there aren't any but my wedding memory is a strange one.

On my wedding day I was at the registrar's office with a very calm husband-to-be and a very nervous and hungover Best Man when the official came in. She called our names and then looked around the room.

As both the best man and the fiuture husband were in best uniform (being soldiers) she grabbed the most nervous looking guy and led him toward me saying 'I want you both to come in the office and sort the paperwork out ready for the ceremony'.

She thought the best man was the groom and was going to marry us instead of the husband-to-be and I!!! I tell all five of my kids that they could have ended up with the wrong guy as their dad :D

Paula said...

When I got married 11 yrs ago, I had already been with my hubby to be for 9 yrs. We both only wanted a church service. Only immediate family attended. I didn't want all the pomp and circumstance that sometimes goes with a wedding.
I remember being so nervous that I was sure everyone could see my legs shaking.

Liz Fielding said...

Robyn, having your mother sew your dress is just such a beautiful thing.

A best man who gets drunk is a total nightmare. Poor bride!

Liz Fielding said...

Pat, those are two lovely traditions. I'm afraid we don't have anything that physically symbolic in the Church of England, but the words are lovely.

Liz Fielding said...

Cheri, that's so sad, but so true.

Liz Fielding said...

Ilona! LOL! That is so funny, but obviously you married the right man if you have five children to tell the story to!

Liz Fielding said...

Paula, I have this vision of your knees knocking, but even after so long the vows were obviously very special to you. Thanks for sharing.

Estella said...

This anthology sounds great!
No wedding memories or traditions here.

Nathalie said...

Liz... what a nice post!

In my family, every young woman wears a diamond cross; the tradition was started with my grand-mother. My aunt was not a fan of it, so she put the pendant on the tie binding her bouquet!

Dina said...

I got married in City Hall, so no real memories here.

Cherie J said...

Wonderful post! Something that is traditional in my family is the wearing of the veil thoroughout the entire ceremony until the priest blessed us and said my hubby could kiss the bride. A few people gasped when I we did the unity candle and had to blow out the candles representing our seperate families after lighting the one representing the union of both of our families. I think everyone was afraid my veil was going to catch on fire.

braible said...

I'm kind of partial to bagpipers at a wedding. And kilts, a wee dram of scotch from a quaich (loving cup)and there's nothing cuter on earth than a wee tiny ring bearer in a kilt!! We had all of these and it was a lovely occasion!!!! Just beautiful!

Liz Fielding said...

Hi Nathalie -- a special piece of jewellery is a lovely tradition. I hope we're starting our own this year when my daughter wears the pearl earrings my husband bought me when she was born.

Liz Fielding said...

Dina, even City Hall is special if you're with the right man! All the traditions and ceremony in the world don't mean a thing without that.

Liz Fielding said...

Cherie! Omg... It must have looked so beautiful, but I hope someone had one of those mini fire extinguishers in close reach!

Liz Fielding said...

Braible ... there is just something about the male knee and well shaped calf that does it for me every time. The dh never wore a kilt, but in shorts he was a killer!

Aideen said...

Hi Liz,

I've been to more weddings than I can remember and each one has always thrilled me no end. I love them, the very ideal that they represent. Happy ever after endings exist not only in books.
I'm sure here in Ireland that traditions are straight forward enought, you turn up looking radiant, you see your man standing nervously at the end of the green mile and you make your way slowly towards him.
My own wedding was no different from my sisters and friends before me. But my husband did do something a little different and it still makes me smile to think of it.
When the priest announced that he could now kiss the bride he reached out for me, had my face in his hands when he turned away. I didn't worry, I had no idea what he was doing but I knew the grin on his face. He asked, deadly seriously if my mother might look away as this might get 'interesting'. Of course the whole church laughed, myself included so the kiss was slightly off kilter.
But not to worry, I've kissed him plenty since in the last six years.
It was just one small thing that makes the day quite memorable.


Lily said...

Hi Liz,

we have a tradition that each bride has to wear jewellery offered by the groom, and there is always pearls involved!

Liz Fielding said...

Hi everyone

Thanks so much for sharing your memories and traditions. I put all your names into the dh's hat and he drew out Pat Cochrane.

Pat, if you'll email me at liz @ with your snail mail addy, I'll get your prize in the post to you asap.

Love to everyone

Sherri said...

I got remarried this past October to my very own Scottish man resplendent in his kilt, the kilt being a first for me and one of my secret fantasies. One of the Scottish "traditions" is the bride wears the tartan of her groom's clan on her dress. I'm assuming it's to show her declaration of loyalty to his family. Combined with sprigs of heather for luck worn by both the bride and groom on their wedding finery makes for a very amazing day.

Anne McAllister said...

I loved Sheikh Fayed and Violet, Liz. It's a beautiful story with memorable people. I'm so glad Book Depository exists, so I could order it!

We got married at university in a Catholic church that was still temporary and had been stuck in a hole-in-the-wall between a convenience store and a pizza parlor. It barely held thirty people, but there were only 29 of us, so it worked out fine. And we're still married after all these years, so I guess it worked.

Liz Fielding said...

Hi Sherri

My dd, who is getting married this year, just sent me some pictures of bouquets -- she's going for pink David Austin roses -- and one of the brides was wearing a tartan ribbon and had heather in her bouquet. It looked gorgeous!

Liz Fielding said...

Hi Anne

There was something Mr Macawberish about that story. Room for 30, 29 guests equals happiness. I'm so glad it worked that way for you.