It’s fall wedding season again, and with weddings, come bachelorette parties! Time for brides-to-be to let loose in the company of their BFFs, celebrating both past and future adventures. If you’ve ever planned a bachelorette party, you’ll know how much thought and work goes into making it a night to remember. If you’re currently planning one (hopefully not too last minute!), read on to get inspired by a long-practiced version of today’s bachelorette bashes: The tradition of Mehndi, or henna night.
Henna Night Traditions: An Overview
Henna paste has a ton of uses, but thanks to henna night, it’s been a part of marriage ceremonies in South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African cultures for centuries. Every culture has its own version of the henna night, but the traditions all tend to have a few very relatable goals: Pampering the bride-to-be, making her look gorgeous for her wedding day, and surrounding her with support from the ladies in her life.
It’s also common for the henna night to take place the night before the wedding ceremony. Because the henna dye is boldest and darkest about 24 hours after it goes on, applying it the night before allows the color to peak during and after the ceremony. Though explanations differ, many cultures put importance on the bride having rich, dark henna art on her wedding day.
Despite the many similarities, regional henna party traditions are diverse. In Hindu mehndi ceremonies, the designs are usually floral patterns, and it’s common to hide the groom’s name somewhere within the bridal henna. When the bride searches for it later, her patience in finding it reflects the patience she’ll need as a spouse. In Egypt, henna art tends to feature butterflies, eyes, and anklet designs. Traditional Egyptian henna nights feature several chances for the unmarried girls to increase their luck of being the next bride, which includes eating sugar cubes and pinching the bride’s knee. During Turkish henna night ceremonies, guests sing songs intended to make the bride-to-be cry, which is traditionally believed to bring abundance. Only after she’s shed tears can she receive her henna art, usually from her mother-in-law.
Reimagining Henna Night
Naturally, weddings and ideas about marriage have evolved since the time of the pharaohs and so have henna night practices. These days, it’s common to see elements of Western bachelorette parties at henna night gatherings. So, why not incorporate some ideas from traditional henna parties into your bachelorette bash?
As with all bridal events, your bachelorette party should be all about whatever the bride-to-be wants. All of the feels? Find a space you can move around in and put together a playlist of songs to dance, hug, and cry to (it will bring an abundance of heart-to-heart talks). Something more low-key? Host the gathering at someone’s home and focus on the food and stories (you can always swap out sugar cubes for cheese cubes). Traditional henna night parties would require a professional henna artist, but if you want to keep things intimate, you can even apply each other’s tattoos using DIY henna kits. In any case, it’s about the spirit of the henna night: The bride-to-be and her squad.
Tips for a Successful Henna Party
Make sure the bride can sit comfortably while her henna dries
Everyone will need to leave at least 20-30 minutes for the paste to get dry and brittle, be it on the skin or even nails henna art, then gently wrap the area with some household plastic wrap or paper towels. Doing so will protect everyone’s henna design while their skin absorbs the dye. Since the bride-to-be will have the most intricate art (which needs to be photo-ready), she will need plenty of time to do absolutely NOTHING!
Traditional henna night ceremonies solved this problem by seating the bride-to-be on a bed of cushions in a central part of the space, where she could recline in comfort while her friends and family pampered her with food and entertainment. You can switch out the cushions for an armchair or something equally comfy; the important thing is to let Her Highness relax with plenty of amenities in her reach.
Decide where and how complex everyone’s henna art will be before you start
It can be tempting to go freestyle, but planning out your designs beforehand will help for two reasons. First and most obvious, nobody should be outshining the bride. Second, each of the bridesmaids should have at least one hand free to help her and one another. Hand henna is extremely common, but other great spots for henna art include ankles, calves, forearms, and wrists.
If you’re going the DIY route instead of hiring an artist, you can simplify the planning process by using stencils or cutouts. Seeing the design on your skin is the best way to get a sense of where to put your art and how much space you’ll need. Some henna paste manufacturers make henna tattoo sticker stencils for this very purpose. Other budget-friendly options include drawing your design on paper and cutting it out or using a non-toxic, washable marker to trace the design on your skin.
Prepare in case of messes
This is especially important for you DIY-ers. Put paper towels or newspaper down under whichever body part is being hennaed to catch any stray bits of paste. Leave some out to put the henna cone and tools on, too. To remove henna from an unintended bit of skin, scrub with a cotton ball and a mixture of oil and salt (olive oil or baby oil will do). If henna paste gets on clothing: first off, don’t panic. Blot the spot and run it under cold water without rubbing it. Next, scrub some laundry detergent in with a toothbrush. Re-rinse and evaluate. If necessary, blot with a small amount of white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
To recap: Paper towels, cotton balls, olive oil, salt, laundry detergent, toothbrush, white vinegar. You’ll thank yourself for having them on hand if things get messy.
Take plenty of pictures!
This might seem obvious, but it needs to be said: Wedding memories last a lifetime. Since it’s common for bachelorette parties to happen prior to the week of the wedding instead of the night before, make sure to get photos capturing everyone’s beautiful artwork. For best results, consider hiring a professional photographer who can move freely without worrying about their own henna. The bride-to-be will end up with a gallery’s worth of special memories with her girls.
Now that you know more about how henna has been used in bridal celebrations over the years, get creative! For every combination of henna night ideas that’s been done, there are dozens more that can make a bride-to-be feel loved and supported as she starts a new chapter in her life.