What’s the occasion?


Celebrations are most often associated with weddings and birthdays, but there is more to revel in when people come together. And how we celebrate says a lot about who we are, writes Amal Awad.

(Image: Salam Stock)
(Image: Salam Stock)

I’m pretty sure there was a time I imagined a wedding. I didn’t bother with the 21st or graduation gigs – I was more concerned with my Big Special Day. Like just about every other girl I knew, I bought into the fairytale ideal, and assumed that along with my dashing hero there would be a big bash to celebrate and be merry.

Music, dancing and a glorious buffet of food and desserts – I wouldn’t be skimping on the details. The cake would be something modest, like five tiers or so. The bonbonnieres would be Jordan almonds bundled in tulle and satin ribbons, because that’s what every Arab Muslim wedding provided. To my tweenescent eyes, they were a bit glamorous.

And, of course, the dress. The dress would be fit for a princess. It would have a huge, puffy skirt and be made of delicate lace. I’d most likely opt for a veil, but this wouldn’t have to stay on all night, so I’d attach it to a small crown. Modest, not extravagant – but oh-so-elegant.

Okay, in my defence, I was pre-adolescent at the time, and a major dreamer. Barbie was also a significant influence in my life, and no doubt messing with my head. Not that anything’s changed for girls in 25 years. Toys, movies and books still toot the celebratory horn when it comes to marriage and I’ve no doubt that, aside from potential wedding apps for tweens, little girls still grab a curtain and throw it over their heads before pretending to walk down the aisle and marry the unwitting male cousin who was over for a visit that day.

Funnily enough, when I eventually did get engaged (briefly, in my late 20s), I didn’t really spend much time thinking about the wedding. I enjoyed flicking through bridal magazines to find a ‘dream’ dress, but I never looked much further than that. I didn’t imagine fancy table settings; I didn’t design a wedding invitation, buried in a mountain of samples. There was no toss-up between limousine and Rolls Royce for delivery to the hall.

I just didn’t do much beyond think about whether or not I should get married to the guy, period. By then, reality had stepped in and the fantasies were diluted, and I wasn’t so much concerned with a wedding as how to navigate the whole marriage minefield. I wanted to celebrate, but I needed to get the cause for celebration right first. Which kind of meant, I had to get life right first.

Since then, I haven’t done much wedding imagining. Battle-scarred after a decade of duds, I just enjoy other people’s celebrations, more than happy to partake in festivities. And it has become something more than that. I want just to celebrate, in a more general sense. I recently happened across a quote that read ‘The more you celebrate life, the more there is to celebrate,’ I kind of get it. Any occasion can be made more beautiful, fulfilling, enjoyable. These occasions are part of our everyday existences, adding vibrancy, energy and joy to our lives.

I’m not sure if it’s the writer in me, but it’s beautiful and fascinating to see how people celebrate. I appreciate the effort many go to, and while I don’t spend much time imagining my own celebrations, I suspect there’s a filing cabinet in my head labelled ‘In case of celebration, open’.

My close friend Asmaa goes all out at Halloween. She features dry ice, a lolly buffet and takes a creative approach to food, in line with the theme (think hot dogs dressed up to look like mummies, and a cake in the form of a haunted house). It’s completely Asmaa. She is attentive to detail, creative and generous. It’s evident at the parties she throws.

For my last birthday, a friend and I put together party favours – a gift bag with chocolates and a little gift, individually tailored for the person. I was excited about making the afternoon tea gathering something a little more elegant and pretty. It was also my way of saying thank you – who says the party-giver has to be the gift-receiver?

Meanwhile, the last wedding I attended was a reminder of how elegance and beauty can make a day memorable. I was there for the bride, a young woman I have only recently got to know. Still, it was her bridal shower (a vintage-themed garden party) and oceanside wedding that showed me things about her it might have taken months to reveal.

First and foremost, she is a deeply romantic soul, in the purest sense of the word. Her wedding invitation was practically an event in itself – beautifully laid out on quality cardboard, pages of it, which told a story through poetry. The wedding continued this theme – from the gift of a honey pot thanking us for making the day so ‘sweet’, to the soft hues of pale pink and cream flowers, cakes and chocolates.

What a day. It was her day, and I felt like I had a better understanding of the bride. She’s thoughtful, elegant, an old-school romantic, and loving. She also has an admirable attention to detail, down to the framed quotes placed on each table.

Being Arab Muslim, the wedding mixed East and West. We danced to Arabic music, but she walked in to her nikah ceremony to the wedding staple, Pachelbel’s Canon.

This sort of celebration is the kind I love the most: a mish-mash of experience, culture and religion. A three-for-one that leaves the attendees feeling high on life (no small feat given there’s no alcohol to inflate the fun factor).

More importantly, it felt like the celebration of two people, infused with positive vibes and good wishes. Even though it was fancy and elegant, I left feeling I was part of a celebration, not an opulent wedding. The people behind it were central to the day, not the table settings.

When it was over, I think I’d filed away some notes for the imaginary cabinet in my head. It’s not that I would do things just as she had. It was that I wanted to do things that showed people who I am. Because I’m starting to get a good idea of what it truly means to celebrate.


This article originally appeared in the December 2012 Holiday, Celebrate issue of Aquila Style magazine. For a superior and interactive reading experience, you can get the entire issue, free of charge, on your iPad or iPhone at the Apple Newsstand, or on your Android tablet or smartphone at Google Play

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