The big news is out! We have a Persian wedding to plan!!
As of spring 2018, I and Parsa will be getting officially married and going through all the fuss and excitement of a Persian wedding. We are already done with the engagement and Aghd and we’re currently planning out the big day. Yay! 🙂
I’m basically using my Persian wedding procedure as an excuse to describe the ceremony and give you an explicit guide to Persian wedding traditions. There were certain traditions I just could not accept and others I gave in or appreciated to have. But in this post, I shall explain everything.
This post is dedicated to the ceremonies and traditions that happen before a Persian wedding, but you can read all about the big day here in my second post. 🙂
What’s a Persian Wedding like?
A Persian wedding is huge and extravagant. It’s the biggest Persian celebration you could attend and it’s very much centred around two families rather than only the bride and groom.
For an outsider, it might seem huge, crazy, loud, emotional and even awkward at times. Most of its traditions route back to Zoroastrian times and today’s weddings are still keeping many traditional elements, despite how modern the couple might be.
Before I get started, I want to state that the family has a huge role in Iranian culture. Even to this day, most Iranians are extremely family centred and it plays a major role in their personal lives. For many, it might seem too much. But you should bear in mind that young Iranians are still significantly supported by their families, whether financially or emotionally. Hence Iranian families get a lot of say in their children’s wedding and they have a good excuse for it.
In present-day Iran, Persian weddings have become a huge business. People go overboard to have royalty-like weddings whether inside Iran or abroad. For most weddings at least 300 people are invited. The numbers could easily go as high as 1000 (I’m not joking!). Parents wait years to see their sons and daughters in wedding clothes and are eager to throw them a party everyone will remember.
But let’s stop here and get into detail:
Khastegari – Asking a girl’s hand in marriage:
Traditionally, Iranian families would be looking for an eligible bride as soon as their son reaches the “marriage age” or whenever he approves of the idea of marriage. They would search within family and friends for a girl that reached their standards. The most important values for the perfect bride were her modesty, intelligence, abilities, faith and sometimes beauty. It was also common to search for brides that came from the same cultural and economic class as the groom’s family.
Once the bride was found, they would discuss her with their son and if he approved, someone from the family would reach out to the bride’s mother for a Khastegari session.
Khastegari is basically a ceremony in which a girl and boy meet for the first time in the girl’s house with the intention of marriage. It’s almost like a traditional date. It does not mean anything and both people can decide whether they want to end it with the first session or not, so don’t confuse it with an arranged marriage.
For a Khastegari, the grooms family are expected to bring flowers or pastry of some kind. The bride’s family greets them with tea, sweets and fruits. Regularly, the girl would not present herself at the door. The guests would arrive, have a seat, start the small talk and then the girl would come with a tray of tea. That was when the boy and girl would have eye contact for the first time. It’s also the time when the girl would get shaky hands and spill the whole tea on the groom’s pants. At least that’s what would happen in a Persian movie. haha!
After that, both families would present their children and talk about why they think they are the most eligible person on earth to be married to a perfect husband/wife! Lots of self-promotion!
The girl and the boy would usually get a chance to also talk in private. After the khastegari, if the boy was still interested, his mother would be calling the family to ask whether they are willing to continue the process. If so, a second, third and … khastegari would happen until they reach a conclusion and start planning the big Persian wedding.
Nowadays things have changed quite a bit. While some families would still go for the traditional way, most people date outside the family zone and the Khastegari only happens when a mutual decision has been made between the couple for their families to meet.
I and Parsa met through mutual friends from back in Uni. We dated for a short while and were rather quick in making a decision. We both were very clear about what we wanted and everything went smoothly for the both of us.
The khastegari still happened as it does for everyone else. I did not bring the tea (phew!) and greeted them right at the door and thankfully we did not have to talk in private in the presence of my parents!! I always thought that was the weirdest thing ever!
Bale Boroon – Literally ‘Taking the Yes!’ in Persian
So once enough sessions of Khastegari have been accomplished and both families and the couple are happy with the idea, they set a date for Bale Boroon. Bale Boroon is a ceremony held in the house of the bride where only close relatives are invited and the idea of the marriage between the couple is announced publicly. At this point, the couple has reached the conclusion that they want to get married. The grooms family comes bringing gifts such as elegant fabrics, silk scarves, a white chador, cake and of course the engagement ring.
Before the ring is given to the bride, certain things such as Mehriyeh or the date of Aghd would be discussed between the two families. I will get into that shortly. 😉
Mehriyeh – ‘A gift of love’ if you may!
Mehriyeh is a gift the groom promises to the bride. It’s usually equivalent to gold coins. The numbers can go as high as thousands and there’s currently a lot of debates over how much it should be in Iran. Mehriyeh is a girl’s right to be asked whenever she pleases. It is written in the marriage contract and the groom would be legally in debt if the bride announces her request through the court.
No one really gets their Mehriyeh unless they are getting a divorce. Why would you put your husband in such a huge debt anyway?!
Unfortunately, as of today, Mehriyeh is mostly a girls leverage used in the process of divorce. Since the marriage law in Iran does not give equal rights to both men and women, women use their Mehriyeh to force their partner to divorce or to take custody of their children. (According to Iran’s law, men take custody of their children after they reach the age of 7)
The number of coins you set for a Mehriyeh is up to the couple and their families. Usually, the number has a special meaning. It could be the birth year of the bride or have religious importance.
Aghd – The civil and religious marriage
A Persian wedding is divided into Aghd and the reception. In almost all cases the couple has their official Aghd ceremony way before their wedding. They might keep it intimate without a celebration and just go to the office, sign the contract and say their vows.
They would then have another formal Aghd ceremony with their close family and friends on the day of the wedding. In this case, Aghd is performed an hour before the wedding amongst closer relatives and the rest of the guests join at the reception.
In our case, we decided we wanted to have a small party for our Aghd ceremony which was a few months after our engagement. We had the ceremony performed among our close family and had our friends join us at the reception.
When it comes to reception, it can either be mixed or segregated. Religious or most traditional families would prefer a wedding reception that has separate sections for men and women. This will allow the practising women to throw off their hijabs and enjoy the party in sophisticated evening gowns.
The groom is the only male who is allowed to make an appearance in the female section. He and his bride walk into the reception together, greet their guests and have their first dance. He then leaves the girls to go on with the party and makes occasional visits.
While we will also be having our Persian wedding separated – as I do not want to wear a hijab with my wedding gown – we celebrated our Aghd with a mixed reception. And I’m so glad we did. It gave me and Parsa a mutual chance to enjoy the celebration with our friends and family.
How is Aghd performed?
I woke up the morning of our Aghd and headed to the salon. I had my hair and makeup done and was then picked up by Parsa. We then went back home where we both got fully dressed and then headed to a garden to have our pictures taken. This was simply our choice. None of it is part of the traditional procedure of Aghd.
As traditions go, we then met our guests in the Aghd room. Here’s when the bride and groom sit in front of the big Sofreh Aghd and Aghd is performed.
Sofreh translates to the tablecloth and Sofreh Aghd is a certain cloth that includes items with symbolic meanings in a Persian Aghd ceremony:
#1 Mirror and candelabras
Along with quite a number of things that the groom’s family buys for the bride is a set of mirror and candlesticks. The same mirror and candlesticks will later be in their future home to commemorate their wedding. Mirror in Persian culture represents immortality. The bride and groom sit in front of it looking at each other in the mirror. The candles coming from Zoroastrian customs represent light and warmth.
#2 Sangak bread
Sangak break is a kind of Iranian bread baked in stone covered fire ovens. The bread is elaborately designed and represents prosperity for the couple.
#3 Termeh or a praying mattress
The famous Iranian handwoven cloth called Termeh is always a part of the Sofreh Aghd. It’s usually converted into a praying mattress and shows the couples faith in Islam – if they are Muslims of course. It is placed right in front of the mirror.
#3 Crystallized sugar
Crystallized sugar represents sweetness in the couples life.
#4 Coloured eggs
Just like in the Haftseen table that is arranged for Nowruz (Persian new year), coloured eggs symbolize fertility.
#5 Gold coins
Representing wealth and financial prosperity.
Because rosewater is everywhere in Persian culture. In food, dessert and evening ceremonies to perfume the air.
#7 Almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts
Tastefully decorated in a basket representing abundance.
Once the Aghd is performed and rings are exchanged, the couple dips their small finger into a bowl of honey and put it into each others mouth. I personally find this tradition so sweet and beautiful. 🙂
A special incense that is burnt to ward of the evil eye from the couple’s life.
Nature’s gift, which is always present at any Persian gathering.
#11 Kalleh Ghand (Sugar cones)
During the ceremony, sugar cones are rubbed on the head of the couple either by young unmarried girls or happily married women in the family to shower their life with sweetness.
#12 An arrangement of 7 symbolic spices
A tray of 7 colourful spices to guard the couple against the evil eye!
Other stuff along with lots of flowers are also present depending on the families.
The consent – Saying I do!
Once the bride and groom arrive, they are seated in front of the Sofreh Aghd facing their guests. Then the officiate of the ceremony starts by reading a few verses of the Quran. While he’s talking, young girls or happily married women in the family are holding a white canopy over the head of the bride and groom and one of them is rubbing the sugar cones on their head. Well actually on top of the canopy.
Then the officiate would start by asking the consent of the bride.
It is a tradition for the bride to create suspense and not answer until she is asked for the 3rd time. :))
The ladies holding the canopy are there to make excuses for the bride. At the first request of the officiate, one of the girls would announce that the bride has gone to pick flowers! (I promise it doesn’t sound that silly!) and the second excuse is usually the bride having gone to bring rosewater! (duh!) On the 3rd request, the bride would say: “With the permission of my parents, Yes!” and this is when all the women start to Kell (a lililili sound made by their mouths which I personally have no idea how it’s done :).
At this point, the groom removes the veil and is allowed to kiss his bride. Then one of the girls would bring a bowl of honey which the couple are supposed to dip their little finger in and put it in each other’s mouth. Later, gifts are to be exchanged (mainly jewellery or gold coins) and everyone takes photos with the newlywed couple.
The contract is also brought to the couple to be signed and 4 other guests who will sign as witnesses.
Buying the wedding ring, mirror, and candelabras
A few weeks before the Aghd, the bride and groom buy their wedding rings and mirror set which is normally made from silver. While the engagement ring comes as a surprise, the bride is free to choose her desired wedding ring. On some occasions, the mother of the bride and groom accompany them in the shopping.
My Persian wedding dress, hair, makeup, and bouquet
If a Persian wedding has a separate Aghd ceremony, the bride would usually choose to wear a light colour that’s not white. I went for a pale pink and designed my dressed inspired by 1950’s high waists and collars. A friend of my mums was kind enough to bring my idea into reality and sew the dress.
My flower crown and bouquets were made by my best friends. We actually went to the flower’s market together 2 weeks before the ceremony and tested our bouquet making skills. I chose the flowers I wanted and we just had a great girl’s day.
As for my hair and makeup, I would have normally done it myself but many people advised me to have it done professionally. So that’s what I did and I was very happy with the result.
A Persian wedding requires a lot of help from family members. In some cases, the bride or her mother spend months designing the perfect Sofreh Aghd. There’s really so much room to make everything very personal.
The whole Persian wedding is still a big ceremony even if it’s only the reception. So I’ve divided my posts into two different parts and dedicated a whole another blog post for the actually Persian wedding day which you can read here. 🙂