A Traditional Persian Wedding in Modern Times
& Johanna Kaestner
Photography: Gregory Bartning
The Persian New Year starts on
March 20th with the first day of spring. What could be a better time to feature
a Persian Wedding celebrating old customs that originated back to Zoroastrian,
Fatemeh and David embraced the old tradition, sprinkled in new-world
touches, and added their own spiritual and personal values. Guests from all
over the world and different ethnic backgrounds came together to be part of
|Zoroastrianism is a religion based on the teachings of the
philosopher Zoroaster, also known as Zarathushtra. His date of birth is not
exactly known; most probably he lived more than 2,700 years ago and believed
in one omniscient god. His motto was: good thoughts, good words, good deeds.
The arrival of Islam has changed the concept of marriage dramatically;
however, the old ceremonies have almost remained the same. In modern Iran,
weddings are considered a symbolic blend of the rich ancient culture and the
current religious influences that exist.
Fatemeh is a psychologist; her hobbies are mostly Persian dance but also
Latin and African dance. David, a computer scientist, is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and percussionist
in his spare time.
They met through friends who introduced them during the intermission of a show
at the Palace of Fine Arts. Soon afterwards David's percussion band and
Fatemeh's dance group collaborated on an event for Earth Day.
It did not take
long for the collaboration to turn into love, and Fatemeh and David soon were
planning their wedding.
A Persian wedding is celebrated in opulence. A richly decorated hall and an
abundance of delicious food are essential. Relatives and friends gather to
celebrate this important event. The first part is the legal process, during
which bride and groom sign the marriage contract; the second part consists
of the feast, which can last from three to seven days.
David and Fatemeh agreed to have a modified Persian Wedding ceremony
incorporating their own spirituality and their common love for music and
dance. The theme they picked was the "Circle of Life."
The center of a Persian ceremony is a beautifully decorated cloth that is
the backdrop for what is called the "Sofreh-ye Aghd." It is spread on the
floor facing east in the direction of the sunrise (light) with symbolic
items placed on top, representing the good wishes of the parents for bride
True to her theme, Fatemeh tried to find all required objects in round shapes:
the ceremonial cloth, mirror, bowls, dishes, and candles. Even the chairs of the
guests were arranged in a semi circle around the cloth, facing the elaborately
carved and decorated chairs of bride and groom.
Both sets of parents opened the ceremony with the lighting of the
candles to represent their wish for the couple to have light and passion in
Then, two dancers, symbolizing maids in waiting, danced in elegant, classic
Persian style bringing symbolic items to complete "Sofreh-ye Aghd." They
included decorated flat bread, symbolizing prosperity; wild rue, symbolizing
good health and protection against the evil eye; a vase with colored eggs
and another one with colored nuts, symbolizing fertility. Other items
already displayed on the cloth were the candelabras, representing the bright
future, and a mirror, in which the groom should see the reflection of his
bride and in which the couple can see the truth of love that brought them
together. There were apples, pomegranates, and grapes for a joyous future, a
glass with honey for sweetness, the holy book for spiritual directions, and
two sugar cones.
The dancers were followed by Neda, the bridesmaid, who brought in a shawl of
fine fabric, that was later used to spread over the couple. Fatemeh and
David's niece and nephews were next, beginning with the flower girl,
Isabella, who had a single rose in her hand. She was so small that her
cousin, Aurash, had to carry her in. Then came Aurmon, the ring bearer, very
serious and well aware of his importance. David was accompanied by his
nephew, Tyler, who brought laughter with his verbal appreciation of the
dancers. At last Fatemeh walked alone down the aisle. David waited for her
next to the chairs, gave her the single rose that Isabella had given him
before, and helped her sit down before he took his seat.
The ceremony was celebrated in Farsi/Arabic and English.
Single female relatives helped Neda hold the shawl above Fatemeh and David,
representing their desire to have a wedding ceremony of their own.
Throughout the ceremony, married female family members alternately rubbed
two sugar cones over the shawl, sprinkling the couple with "sweetness and
happiness" from their own long-lasting marriages.
When Fatemeh was asked if she consented to the marriage with David, she
agreed only after she was asked the third time. This custom is intended to
show that only the groom is eager to get married. The best is a custom which
might come in handy for many brides: a corner of a separate scarf is
sewn together with multi-colored thread during the ceremony, traditionally
symbolizing the lips of the mother-in-law not being able to speak unpleasant
words to the bride. In modern times, if this custom is incorporated into the
ceremonial "Aghd" it would be to symbolize the desire for minimal intrusion
by the in-laws into the marriage. The signing of the wedding contract marks
the end of the ceremony.
Then bride and groom exchange rings and feed each other honey to sweeten
life. At the end Fatemeh was showered with expensive jewelry by relatives
and in-laws, while David only received a few gifts.