The research at hand will investigate Lebanese Weddings as an important social phenomenon and track how they evolved from traditions to nowadays. A traditional Lebanese wedding is currently perceived as an indicator of power and social status, which makes it strongly tied to the market of luxury services and goods. Such a wedding is a complex service provided through the collaboration of various industry sub-groups (photographers, videographers, event organisers, planners, cooks, dressers, make up specialists, etc.) (Hanf 2015).
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Furthermore, the task is complicated by the fact that a number of Lebanese traditions involved in the ceremony have to be preserved alongside with personal preferences all the couple and other parties, which brings about additional expenses. All these financial considerations create a situation in which the demand for wedding services largely depends on the income of a family. This positions wedding as a unique luxury service that not every young couple can afford.
Therefore, the research question the study will attempt to answer is: What wedding traditions have the Lebanese preserved? How have these traditions integrated into modernity, turning a wedding into a service affordable only to high-income families?
The overall aim of this research is to understand the influence of traditions on modern wedding practices by looking at existing literature on the topic and to analyze how these traditions have made a wedding a luxury event.
Some research objectives were highlighted in order to provide an exhaustive answer to the research question. They run as follows:
- To examine Lebanese wedding traditions and to single out essential components that any wedding must feature.
- To investigate the present state of the wedding industry in Lebanon.
- To develop a set of recommendations for couples that would help them organise the event with a cost-effective wedding project, thereby proving their high social status and showing respect to traditions.
Some would say that weddings cannot be referred to essential services, which means that a couple that cannot afford a wedding should simply opt for a civil marriage. However, the problem in case of Lebanon consists in the following: First and foremost, everything in the Lebanese society rotates around your status and prestige, which means that having no wedding would have a detrimental impact on the couple’s position in the society; secondly, the country does not have a civil marriage, and a couple would have to go abroad to register their bond. These and other challenges will be discussed in the paper.
The literature review is aimed to provide required information on the topics enumerated above. The first part of the section provides a brief outline of the role of social status in Lebanon to provide sufficient evidence of the importance of a wedding. The second section of the review investigates Lebanese wedding traditions and their modern interpretations. The key components of a typical wedding are identified and discussed. The third part of the review will trace the state of the present-day wedding industry in Lebanon.
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The Role of Social Status and Prestige in Lebanon
The upper class possesses power and influence in a number of countries, and Lebanon is not an exception to the rule. The country is currently referred to the category of Upper Middle-Income Countries (UMICs), which implies that the status of Lebanon is even higher than it could be expected to take into account its ongoing political unrest and rather small size. Citizens of the country are very much concerned with their role and status in society and are primarily focused on the impression they produce.
They need to know what others will say after meeting them and how their own life looks in comparison to other households. In many families, for instance, there is a regularly coming maid that serves healthy people who do not need her services (and in many cases cannot actually afford them) but still bear the expenses to show that they belong to the upper class (Hanf 2015).
As far as a wedding goes, of course, it is typical of all brides and grooms across the world to organise lavish ceremonies with elegant dresses, cakes from the best cooks, and exquisite decorations. However, in Lebanon, the idea is not only to make it beautiful and memorable but mostly to make it better than your relatives and friends. It is not an infrequent situation that only a month after the event, friends of the newly-weds throw a wedding that is specifically made more pompous and costly to demonstrate that they stand higher in the social hierarchy. A lot of couples get upset that their own wedding looked cheap, and some even want to repeat it to make everything better, with more grandeur (Gordon 2016).
The whole modern culture of Lebanon is based on this attitude to prestige: Even relationships are built with the primary consideration about what the person has but not what he/she is. Before any wedding takes place, it is highly important for both the couple and their relatives to learn what houses they have, what cars they drive, what clothes they wear, how they earn their living, what income their parents have, and other attributes identifying the level of the wedding as well as the future status of the couple in the community (Gordon 2016).
This shift from the intellectual, spiritual, and cultural values to prestige helps understand how important it is for couples to have a traditional wedding, which is likely to have a considerable impact on their future life. Unlike in Europe or in the United States, one cannot see a small and simple ceremony intended only to entertain relatives and friends. Wedding in Lebanon is a complex phenomenon, every single detail of which must be carefully planned and heavily financed to avoid failure (Hanf 2015).
This attitude to such seemingly insignificant issues is explained by the fact that people in Lebanon have been involved in years of unceasing struggle with other countries in the Middle East. Their leaders promote the ideology of strong national identity, convincing citizens that they are much superior to their neighbouring nations and could gradually form an upper-class society. Furthermore, the idea of showing off and trying to appear better and richer than you actually are is often linked to the traditions of the society.
However, the truth is that it was traditionally common to boast of culture, knowledge, and power achieved through real spiritual and intellectual superiority, whereas nowadays, the real values of a Lebanese marriage (demonstrated in wedding traditions) have already become outdated, which makes the whole event purely symbolic in terms of their cultural meaning in spite of being economically and socially important (Gordon 2016).
Lebanese Wedding Traditions
Wedding traditions in Lebanon have always been and still remain an issue of paramount importance even despite the shifted focus. They can be classified as follows (Gordon 2016):
The first step to the wedding is treated seriously indeed. That is why a private engagement between a man and a woman without any relatives is quite impossible for respected families. It is not typical to date for a long time–on the contrary, couples are soon expected to announce their intention to get married. Traditionally, the fiancé visits the parents of his future wife to pay tribute to their household. Fathers of a young couple discuss whether it would be acceptable for them to marry.
If everyone agrees, engagement is settled and can be celebrated. Following the tradition, this celebration should take place twice: in the family circle the same night and at a big engagement party on the following day. It is also common to go to church to have a blessing for the future event. Although an engagement party is initially meant for relatives, nowadays, couples tend to invite their friends, neighbours, and a lot of other people in order to set the tone for the wedding as everyone must get impressed by the scale of the celebration.
A week before the wedding
An engagement party is not the only celebration that takes place before the major event. Traditionally, the family of the bride was to organise another party one week before the wedding; yet this one was meant only for the bride and her family with no other people present. At the end of the evening, the fiancé was expected to appear for no more than a couple of minutes. The same party is held by his relatives at the same time (although it is usually no so festive). Modern families try to stick to this tradition as it is another way to show that they have enough money to sponsor several celebrations, one after another.
Although all weddings are rather similar to one another even if they follow different cultural traditions, a Lebanese wedding deserves a separate discussion. First, this wedding is twice as long as any other. Second, there are no such things as moderation or elegance of minimalism. The more is always, the better: This rule applies to decorations, food, dresses, jewelry, number of guests, and all other important components. The same is true about the number of pre-wedding parties. In fact, there is one more before the major ceremony. The bride must spend the whole day dressing up, making her hair, receiving guests, and taking photos.
The tradition is also followed by modern couples: The party usually offers a lot of food, dancing, music, beverages, souvenirs, and even fireworks to entertain guests in anticipation of the wedding itself. The fiancé and all relatives are expected to send luxurious bouquets to the bride (which is also a clear indicator of both their own social status and the status of the bride’s family). It is a deep-rooted practice to give as many flowers as you expect to receive at your own wedding. The family, in its turn, is judged by its ability to provide exquisitely crafted sweets and souvenirs to all quests. The groom and his family arrive only when it is already time to go to church but do not enter it until all guests are present.
The groom’s parents are to make a presentation to their son’s future wife, which is a perfect way to demonstrate how much support they can offer to a future family. The present is usually a gold necklace, diamond earrings or a bracelet; it is important to present these pieces in front of everyone, saying traditional words and singing festive songs. Only after the ritual is performed, the whole procession can head to the church. Both the father of the bride and the father of the groom accompany her. They are followed by mothers. All the guests throw rice at them for good luck–the tradition is quite the same as in the United States or in Europe.
The ceremony is accompanied by zalaout–a loud high-pitch cry that women produce to express their joy and support the bride. Another tradition is Zaffee dancers’ show: They must go before the bride and the groom and play the drums that are intended to signalise that the couple is heading to the church. Fireworks constitute another tradition that is usually followed as people in Lebanon truly love the effect produced. They also pay much attention to decorations (the tradition that is never abandoned), so that the bride it transported in a car adorned with flower, ribbons, toy, and any other things that she finds attractive. Moreover, all cars in the street immediately engage in the process and start honking and congratulating the couple.
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The major procedure begins in the church. The groom must wait at the entrance to greet everyone who arrives. When the couple is finally together, they go through a mass service. They are usually adorned with robe and crowns. However, unlike the Western tradition, the Lebanese do not allow any kissing in churches. The bride and the groom usually sing all the necessary documents and leave.
This part of the wedding is the most important one in the social aspect. This is a perfect way for both families to show how much they can afford. All appetizers, drinks, and main courses are chosen carefully so that all guests could estimate how much money and effort they cost. Zaffe dancers are usually asked to remain at the party and continue their performance, simultaneously showing that the family does not care about saving money on wedding services.
There is a traditional style of food in Lebanon, called Mezza. However, this tradition is generally neglected nowadays, which means that all guests will have to eat a lot since the organisers are willing to show that they do not need to follow any restrictions. Special attention is given to desserts.
The Modern Wedding Market in Lebanon
On order to understand how much significance the Lebanese attribute to their wedding traditions and how much they are ready to sacrifice, it is necessary to assess wedding costs. According to different estimates, it usually starts from $10,000. The point is that most families have to borrow at least half of this amount from banks as their earnings are usually much lower than they show. It is very challenging for couples to plan their wedding in such a way that no one could think that their families are in need. At the same time, it is actually the case, which implies that the family cannot afford a big wedding.
Nevertheless, there are numerous wedding planners operating in the country since the business is thriving because of the ideological and cultural reasons enumerated above. 55% of all the couples are unwilling to resort to services provided by wedding planners (which indicates their adherence to traditions); however, 45% opt for a modernly organised wedding. However, no matter what path couples chose, the wedding industry is still a multi-million one as every couple spends no less than $10,000 on their wedding. Those who are really wealthy can spend up to $100,000, and this sum is growing every year. Overspending on weddings has already become a common thing as people generally believe that the game is worth the candles.
An interpretivist philosophy will be adopted in order to understand problems that stand behind the significance of the topic and provide a qualitative analysis of motivations that underlie the whole issue. This philosophy will allow predicting the impact of traditions upon the modern Lebanese wedding with its new approaches. Moreover, it will make it possible to provide numerous perspectives on the concept and significance of weddings in the context of their economic and social significance.
The research strategies of this study focuses on reviewing journal and newspaper articles as well as books in order to identify, which traditions were crucial for people to such an extent that they had to adopt them to the modern context (which was unfortunately not really successful). Another strategy is to analyze wedding planning sites operating in Lebanon and try to calculate an average budget of a wedding through exploration of various combinations of seasons, months, dates, etc.
Since the study does not make any specific hypotheses that could be proven only empirically, it will employ a deductive research. This implies that a number of sources will be investigated to find out certain regularities and commonalities that would allow to identify Lebanese weddings as a unique social phenomenon.
The research will resort to the systematic sampling. In order to single out certain commonalities, it is necessary that the focus group members should be similar to one another in the most important variables. This would allow to guarantee a high level of representativeness, which random selection would not be able to give (as it not notices above, weddings fall into a luxury niche of the market).
All the findings of the research will be assessed to ensure better understanding of the situation. The cost and the number of weddings per year are needed to understand the tendency of following traditions to maintain social status. Moreover, data analysis will show how Lebanese families’ financial status corresponds to their wedding traditions.
This refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to other sectors. In this case, the outcomes of the research can be generalised only in terms of financial position of the Lebanese society as a whole as well as the degree to which their perceived images manage to correspond to their real financial status.
The study is limited by the scope since it is not possible to analyse a sufficient number of weddings to make conclusions. Moreover, another great limitation is a total inability to assess the real financial status of the family and the image they create oranising a wedding to their son or daughter.
Gordon, DC 2016, The Republic of Lebanon: nation in jeopardy, Routledge, London.
Hanf, T 2015, Coexistence in wartime Lebanon: decline of a state and rise of a nation, IB Tauris, New York.