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Laura Hunt

A Traditional Persian Wedding in Modern Times

Fatemeh Bani-Taba & 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, pre-Islamic times.

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 this festivity.

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 and groom.

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 their lives.
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.

Fatemeh and David celebrated their wedding at the Piedmont Community Center. Blue Heron Catering provided most of the food. You can find one of their recipes in Cooking for Couples.


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