How to Throw a Henna Party

Henna tattoos can be intricate designs that run along a hand for various occasions. Nina Lishchuk/Shutterstock

If you've never been to a henna party, you're missing out. Indian, Middle Eastern and African brides traditionally throw these festive events before their weddings. These celebratory nights are a 2,000-year-old tradition full of music, games, dance, food and the traditional temporary tattoos made with henna.

Since ancient times, people have turned henna leaves (which come from henna trees that grow throughout Africa and Asia) into henna dye, a paste that colors skin, hair and nails. Henna artists use this paste to draw temporary reddish-brown tattoos that fade in a couple weeks. They apply these tattoos in important, ceremonial events, such as weddings and religious ceremonies ... and sometimes just for fun.

Self-taught Sri Lankan henna artist Zainab Emseen has been applying bridal henna since she was 13, and she now runs her own henna business. Henna is great for nearly all occasions, she says. It's fun "for festivals, birthday parties, anniversaries, baby showers, as well as many other ceremonies that are festive in nature." Here, she offers some tips on how to throw your own henna party.

Guests to invite

First thing’s first: Don't forget the all-important guests or you won't have much of a party. While some super-fancy henna parties can include hundreds of guests, it's easier to keep things more intimate. Emseen suggests just inviting close friends or family.

These parties are "a great way to bring your friends and family members together to have fun and enjoy each other's company," Emseen says.

Picking a theme

Emseen suggests choosing a party theme, such as "Morocco" or "Bollywood," to give your gathering some flair. Round up some decorations, like “fairy lights, flower garlands, pom-poms, lots of cushions, candles, lanterns,” suggests Emseen. “It's all about being creative and having fun with it!”

Loading up the playlist

Whatever you do, don’t forget the tunes. “I'd make sure to select the best party songs to make the party come alive,” she says. Include some dance music if you want to get people on their feet.

Preparing the food

Consider picking up Indian or Middle Eastern-themed snacks to give your party a more authentic feel. Emseen recommends traditional Indian food, savory samosas, tea and coffee. You can even get creative and ice henna designs on cakes, cookies or cupcakes.

Old games played in new ways

An intimate party is the perfect place for games. Emseen suggests playing the “pillow-passing” game, sort of a more rewarding version of hot potato. A group sits in a circle and passes around a pillow or parcel with a gift inside. When the music stops, the person with the parcel unwraps the gift. You can also try musical chairs, a sweets-eating competition and truth-or-dare.

Getting the designs right

A woman with henna designs on both palms
Henna designs can be as simple or as intricate as you can imagine. Andy Lim/Shutterstock

Finally, the reason for the occasion: henna. You can hire a professional henna artist or have guests apply henna themselves. It’s easy to buy henna kits at local stores or even over Amazon, and a henna book full of simple designs will come in handy.

“Make sure you use safe and natural henna,” reminds Emseen.

If you want to get crazy, get some body glitter and stone embellishments to add a special touch to the designs.

Applying henna is a whole process, so we won’t go into the intricate details here (we’ll leave that to henna kits and other guides), but the beginner basics are:

  1. Buy a tube of pre-made henna
  2. Clip off the end
  3. Squeeze the henna like toothpaste onto skin
  4. Draw artistic patterns

Farewell goodie bags

If you're doing this for a special occasion, or even if you just want to take the classiness up a notch, consider coming up with some henna-themed gifts. Emseen suggests preparing "henna designed candles, cupcakes or cookies iced with intricate ... designs as favors to the guests to give an extra glam to the party."