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In a depleted Syria, weddings take place without a groom

In Syria, people are throwing elaborate weddings to defy the grinding atmosphere of war. It’s an attempt to adapt, revive tradition, and bring about some happiness.  

They’re beautiful examples of resilience — except, it turns out, not even weddings are immune to the strife.

Often, the weddings include only a bride — and no groom. They serve as a stark reminder that the 5-year civil war has hollowed out the adult male population, either by conscripting, killing, or forcing them to flee.

The situation is emblematic of the country as a whole — the absences, the longing, the glaring holes in all aspects of life.

More than 400,000 people have died in the war and the vast majority of them are men. More than 4.8 million people have fled the country and 6.5 million people have been displaced inside the country.

Many relationships have ended because of the radical upheaval in Syria — either due to death or the thousands of physical miles that separate couples. 

Then there’s the limited government services, the shortage of food and water, crumbling or destroyed infrastructure, tattered economy, and the roaming, vicious militias.

Everywhere Syrians look they are reminded of their collective trauma and how dismal the future looks.

So they’re coping with impossible circumstances as best they can, often in heartbreaking ways. The Wall Street Journal describes one wedding in which the bride walked down the aisle by herself trying to be happy and grateful, but fully aware of how bizarre the scene is. A video shows the groom and bride standing together in a park. But the image isn’t real — it’s two images stitched together.

Cakes at Syrian weddings are enormous, but this tradition is often set aside now because, traditionally, it was the job of the groom to cut into it with a sword.

This is becoming the norm across the country.  

Even still, weddings are a significant part of Syrian culture and in this reduced state, they serve a unifying role.

They bring communities together for a day of food and celebration, they allow families to boast of their good fortune, and they powerfully counteract all the surrounding gloom, signalling to everyone that peace is still possible.

There is also a practical element. While the groom is absent, the marriage is still being conducted with his permission — he's often present via phone or video conference. This kind of “proxy” marriage can still be legally recognized and then the many legal benefits of marriage are unlocked.

Most importantly, once married it becomes easier to travel across borders together and secure visas, and easier for the couple to start over.