The tradition of “naqout” encourages those invited to donate cash to help pay for the often lavish feasts. They pick up an envelope, fill it with cash, usually sign it and place it in a box strategically placed at the entrance.
Technically the donations are voluntary, but hosts take a dim view of those failing to meet expectations.
Some Palestinians see the tradition as a way to share the costs of important community events. But others say the social pressure to contribute pushes them into dire financial straights.
Murad Shriteh, 46, from near the West Bank city of Ramallah, said he feels swamped after being invited to more than one wedding a week. He spent $400, nearly half his monthly salary, in just two weeks of weddings, he told AFP at a wedding party in the West Bank town of Birzeit.
“I have already received several invitations for the rest of August, but I think I will refuse a few,” he said.
The West Bank sees more than 25,000 weddings a year, according to Palestinian statistics. Social pressures and tradition mean that most are extravagant celebrations, with much of the community invited.
They tend to involve mountains of food, live music and a photographer. The most lavish celebrations even offer each guest a traditional Palestinian scarf or a rosary.
A wedding can cost up to $30,000, while even a poor family may shell out $10,000.
Sharing the burden
That’s a major in expense in the West Bank, where more than a quarter of people live under the poverty line after nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation.
The costs come out of the pockets of the family — traditionally the father of the bride. Naqout is a way of sharing the burden. Khaled Abdallah, 50, recently celebrated his son’s marriage in a village near Ramallah in the West Bank.
He splashed out $10,000 on the big day, but recouped the entire amount in donations. For him it was payback for decades of paying for other people’s weddings.
“The naqout endures because it is a part of solidarity,” he said. Some see their donations as investments, expecting similar sums in return when one of their family marries.
“It is a form of social security,” said Majdi al-Malki, a professor of social sciences at the Birzeit University near Ramallah. “It is presented as a gift, but it is actually a practical and useful way to share the costs of marriage.”
He said the tradition is a legacy of ancient Palestinian tribal society. At some weddings, donations are even exposed for all to see: the cash is triumphantly hung around the neck of the groom in the midst of the guests.
“It’s a way to show pride, to show off the size of the donations” and to thank donors, Malki said. But it doesn’t always work like that. One father who recently paid for a wedding said some guests had left empty, unmarked envelopes.
“Thanks to video recordings, I could work out who they were,” he told AFP, speaking anonymously. “When their relatives get married, I won’t forget it.”