Pebble Beach Persian Wedding

Nathan's description of his bride-be, Shabnam, as 'elegant, articulate and very put-together', was exactly as I found her the first time we met.  Shabnam had a certain presence, a way of carrying herself, that made you pause and take notice.  Call it charisma.  And she carried that well into her exquisite wedding, held in a very special spot.

Millay and Young Photography

Millay and Young Photography

On the Monterey Peninsula, California, at sea level, lies the resort destination of Pebble Beach, home to many famous golf courses.  This is where Shabnam and Nathan decided to tie the Persian-American knot! 

Millay and Young Photography

Millay and Young Photography

A beautiful Sofreh (wedding spread) was designed by the family of the bride consisting of large silver platters filled with symbolic food items, sweets, nuts and flowers, arranged on embroidered fabrics and lace. 

Millay and Young Photography

Millay and Young Photography

Princess Jasmine

The first time Sarvenaz and Arya met in person, he thought she looked like “Princess Jasmine”.  She has beautiful, radiant black hair complementing her features.  That first date, neither wanted it to end, and talked for hours and hours.  After that, they were inseparable. 

He put time and effort into designing a very special ring that even featured an image of their cat!  And the rest... is history!

The venue was gorgeous, romantic and beautiful.  The grounds were lush and from a fairy land, with buildings of stone facade covered in vines and fountains everywhere.  A love story lurked in every corner!

 

 

Irish-Persian Nuptials

What happens when the Irish and the Persians make a pact?  A beautiful wedding full of tradition, ritual, and many ways to ward off evil spirits!

Theilen Photography.  Flower Affairs.

Theilen Photography.  Flower Affairs.

The Irish, like the Persians have many beliefs rooted in their rich cultural heritage and Sanam and Liam wanted to incorporate several into their celebration.  The first and most prominent was the addition of a horseshoe, for good luck, to the Sofreh (Persian ceremony spread).  On the Sofreh was also a “Child of Prague” statue, which had been left out the night before the ceremony, and had a broken head, which is a sign of a good omen.  At the end of the ceremony, all guests rang little bells to drive away any negative spirits in the air! 

Theilen Photography.  Elegant Sofreh Design.

Theilen Photography.  Elegant Sofreh Design.

All of these symbolic objects, though not part of the Persian tradition, were welcomed and embraced by Sanam’s family and friends.  Just as the Persian rituals of rubbing sugar and tasting honey to bring sweetness, and burning espand (wild rue) to ward off negative spirits were well received by the Irish guests.  Of course, both the Irish and the Persians know how to party, and the festivities continued into the night with drink, dance and merriment!

Hilltop Nuptials

I first met Nazanin and Mehrdad at a coffee shop in Santana Row.  The memorable story of their chance meeting and romantic courtship soon began playing itself in my mind! 

310271_529821470408298_817991179_n.jpg

The first time Nazanin and Mehrdad met one another, they had been driving, separately, but on the same route from Southern California to Northern California.  Eye contact was made when both cars stopped to get gas on the way, and after that, it was a pursuit by Mehrdad to get Nazanin’s attention and information all the way back to the Bay Area!  I am so glad he was successful. 

They made a beautiful couple and the love between them emanated from all their pores!  Their wedding was held at the gorgeous hilltop Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA where guests enjoyed magnificent views of the valley while listening to words on love and marriage from modern and classical poets and philosophers.  

Persian Wedding Rituals - Sugar Rubbing Ceremony

There are several beautiful and meaningful rituals that take place during a Persian wedding ceremony.  One of these is the Sugar Rubbing ritual that involves several well-wishing women spreading sweetness in the couple’s life and marriage.

During the Sugar Ceremony, the couple will be seated, and women are called forth to spread a Cloth of Unity over their heads.  Sometimes two women hold the opposite sides of the cloth, and at times, four women can hold each corner of the cloth.  Other ladies will come up, and take turns rubbing together large cones made of hard sugar, to sprinkle sweetness onto the cloth held overhead.  Another interpretation of this custom is that each sugar cone represents the bride and the groom and this act is in the hopes that every contact between them will result in sweetness.

Although this is an organic and unrehearsed part of the ceremony, there are strong beliefs about who should and should not take part in this ritual.  Some families believe that the ladies who are rubbing sugar must be “happily married” so that their happiness and success rubs off on the couple.  With the rise of multi-cultural marriages, this ritual has adapted to embrace the varying demographics of the guests.  During many ceremonies, the bridesmaids are the ones to hold the Unity Cloth, which makes for a uniform and color coordinated effect.  And as for who does the sugar rubbing, many families are open to having any woman who so wishes, to come up and take part in this beautiful ritual.  In my opinion, any woman who comes up to rub the sugar cones and sprinkle sweetness, has the best of intentions and that is much more important than whether they are single or married!

Happy Sugar Rubbing!

The hyphenated Persian wedding

For Iranians, weddings are one of the most important events in their lives.  A festive event with months of planning and preparation, where no expenses are spared, and everyone is invited to participate in a celebration of their lives!  As more and more second-generation Iranians marry non-Iranians, wedding celebrations have become even more meaningful and filled with ritual.

What is incredible is that, even though most Persian wedding traditions originated in Zoroastrian times (the first monotheistic religion dating back to the 2nd millennium BCE), they are still celebrated today.  Since that time, Iran has gone through empires, revolutions and war.  Technology has changed lives, and many Iranians have migrated throughout the world.  Despite all this, many wedding traditions and rituals have continued the same way for thousands of years.

 Perhaps these rituals continue to be celebrated because of the strong sense of pride Iranians have towards their cultural heritage.  Or is it because the Persian wedding ceremony is filled with beautiful, festive and touching aspects?  An event where many individuals can take part, gathering close around the couple, with ladies taking turns to rub sugar loaves, shout that the bride is out picking flowers, sew the couple’s destiny with needle and thread, offer honey to add sweetness to their lives, or present gifts, among other joyous activities.  Today, with the increase in mixed marriages, the welcoming and open nature of the Persian ceremony is even more apparent.

 This fun and festive ceremony lends itself well to inclusion of rituals from other cultures.  Many interfaith or interracial couples choose to hold a Persian ceremony and incorporate elements of other traditions into their wedding.  The Sofreh Aghd (Persian wedding ceremony spread) is a great place to display important items from other traditions.  Rituals such as exchange of vows, lighting of the unity candle, coin ceremony, lasso ceremony, breaking of the glass, lucky horseshoe, wedding bells and many others fit well into the Persian wedding celebration and many couples choose to incorporate them.

Nothing is more beautiful and meaningful than the union of two people from different backgrounds and walks of life embracing the richness of the traditions that have nurtured them, and celebrating their differences with love.   

The Stitching-together of the American quilt

The following are excerpts from an article written by Bob Gibson, Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, whose daughter, Logan, married Ali.  The full article appeared in The Roanoke Times on May 17, 2015.

My daughter, Logan, was married May 9.  I am still marveling at how well a family with traditions from the American South joined a family with traditions from the south of Iran in a wedding that mixed bluegrass music with Persian poetry.  The wedding ceremony at Ash Lawn-Highland, James Monroe’s presidential estate outside Charlottesville, brought together family and friends from many states and seven nations to celebrate the joining together of a couple and their families from Virginia and Oregon.

Dominique Attaway Photography

Dominique Attaway Photography

Quotations of love and wisdom from Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, and Marcel Proust, a 20th-century Parisian novelist, in Persian, French and English, reflected the beauty of the ceremony conducted by Nilou Nouri, sister of the groom.  As Rumi said more than seven centuries ago, “Love will find its way through all languages on its own.”

Nilou Nouri told the couple during the ceremony, “I am very impressed with how you have embraced each other’s traditions and rich heritage.  It is only a testament to your successful marriage together.  Who would’ve thought bluegrass music fit so well with a Persian-themed ceremony?  But we are all much more similar than we think.  Doing a search for the ‘culture of the South’ turned up an exact description of Persian culture!
“It is a loyalty to a place where habits are strong and memories are long.  If those memories could speak, they would tell stories of a region powerfully shaped by its history and determined to pass it on to future generations.  This day, that the two of you have planned, has elements of both your heritage, as if you have woven from threads of both traditions a fabric that represents who you are together.  And what a beautiful fabric that is.”

As the wedding ceremony and reception and music continued, the blending of the cultures and of the families had a magical beauty to it.
I keep thinking of the quote from Proust that Nilou Nouri read, first in French and then in English, at the ceremony before adding sugar and honey and other traditions:
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Amen

Persian Wedding Ceremony, Aghd

All wedding ceremonies are beautiful and meaningful.  Regardless of the background and heritage of the couple to be married, the ceremony usually involves tradition, rituals, exchange of vows, rings and sometimes tears and laughter!

The Persian wedding ceremony is perhaps one of the most interesting and engaging events anyone has witnessed.  Traditionally all the guests would stand around the couple who are seated in front of a beautiful Sofreh Aghd or ceremony spread.  The Sofreh will have a collection of symbolic items on it, including mirror, candelabra, flowers, termeh or silk cloth, spices, bread, decorated eggs, nuts in shells, honey, crystalized sugar, a book (holy book or poetry), among other things. Each of these items symbolizes a well-wish for the couple’s life and marriage.  The symbolism of the Sofreh has its roots in the ancient culture of Persia, with special emphasis on natural and spiritual elements.

During the ceremony, ladies will rub sugar loaves over a cloth held over the couple’s heads.  This act is believed to bring sweetness to their marriage.  It is also during this time when the Officiant will administer the couple’s vows.  When the bride is asked the question, she remains silent and her girl friends will respond with “the bride has gone to pick flowers….”.  The question is asked again and again and only after the third time, the bride will consent to the marriage!  It is believed that this custom comes from the time when the groom was outside the ceremony room and the bride’s girlfriends teased him by saying “she’s not here, she’s gone to pick flowers”!  It is an interesting custom and adds a humorous and fun element to the ceremony.  Towards the end of the ceremony, the couple will share a taste of honey by dipping their pinky in a dish of honey and placing it on one another’s tongues.  This custom is believed to bring sweetness to their relationship.  

Sofreh Aghd (Ceremony Spread)

The Iranian wedding ceremony, Aghd, is a beautiful and joyful event dating back thousands of years to the ancient culture of Iran zamin.  It incorporates and pays tribute to many elements of nature along with many aspects of the Zoroastrian faith and traditions, which in itself pays homage to the four elements of nature; earth, wind, fire and water.  Each of these four elements are represented on the Sofreh (the spread) and are believed to bring prosperity and happiness to the couple’s life and marriage.

Sofreh design by Afsaneh Shakoori

Sofreh design by Afsaneh Shakoori

Items on the Sofreh
1.  Ayeneye Bakht (Large mirror, believed to bring light and brightness into the future)
2.  Sha’am (Two candelabras, to symbolize fire and energy)
3.  Naan-e Sangak (Flatbread, to represent prosperity)
4.  Tokhm-e Morgh (Decorated eggs, to symbolize fertility)
5.  Gerdou & Badoum (Walnuts & almonds, to symbolize fertility)
6.  Seeb (Apples, to symbolize the divine creation of mankind)
7.  Golaab (Rose water, extracted from Persian rose to perfume the air)
8.  Nabaat (Crystalized sugar to sweeten life for the newly wed)
9.  Honey (consumed right after the ceremony to ensure sweetness in life)
10.  Termeh (Traditional Persian gold embroidered cloth, handed down from generation to generation to symbolize family and tradition)
11.  Kalleh Ghand (Two large sugar cones – to shower the couple with sugar symbolizing sweetness and happiness)
12.  Sekeh va Noghl (Gold coins and almond candy – to represent wealth and prosperity)
13.  Esfand (Wild rue – to represent purity and health)
14.  Shaah-Nameh or Hafez or Holy Book
15.  Shirini (Sweets and pastries, to share the sweetness of life with the guests after the ceremony)
16.  Sabzi (Tray of fresh herbs, to share the happiness and prosperity with the guests after the ceremony).

Sofreh designed by Aroosi by Lili

Sofreh designed by Aroosi by Lili

Today, the Sofreh and other aspects of the Aghd Ceremony take various forms and presentations and reflect the taste and wishes of the families involved.  For referrals to Sofreh Designers, feel free to contact nilou@weddingvowsbynilou.com.

How to choose wedding professionals?

So you are engaged and looking forward to your dream wedding, but don’t know where to start and what to do!  Some couples choose to hire a wedding planner and some decide to plan the wedding themselves.  As a general rule, if you and your fiancé are busy with your work and cannot spare at least 12 hours/week (and more as the wedding date nears), then it is a good idea to hire a planner.  Another reason to go with a planner is whether you have a big wedding in a venue that is not full-service (home, garden, museum, etc.).  If you have the time, organization and creativity, you can choose to plan the wedding yourself.  In either case, it is a good idea, for the wedding day, to have someone else take charge of the coordination, so you can enjoy your wedding!

Exclusively Events

Exclusively Events

As soon as you are engaged, there are important decisions to be made about the style of your wedding, size of guest list, budget and location.  Sit together with your fiancé and go through each of these with thoughtfulness, realism, patience and an open mind.

Decisions such as hiring an Officiant, Photographer/Videographer, Musicians, Florist, Caterer, Sofreh Designer, etc. are just as important and require time and research.  Remember, the work of these professionals will have a huge impact on how your wedding turns out, so take your time to carefully search and choose who you will work with.  You can ask friends and family for referrals, attend bridal shows and get most of your information online, including availability, pricing and reviews from past clients.  Of course you will want someone who is reliable, organized, detail-oriented and can bring your vision to life.

Countdown Events

Countdown Events

After you narrow down your options, you need to interview and decide who to hire.  Make sure to carefully review each contract before signing an agreement. Here are some tips on hiring various vendors:

Officiant – The ceremony is at the center of your wedding and can really set the tone for the rest of the festivities, so look for an Officiant that you trust and who is willing to customize your service to reflect your wishes. Decide what kind of ceremony you want (religious, secular, traditional, modern), interview Officiants to determine whether their style and demeanor fits into your ceremony.  Make sure to check reviews, references and video clips. 

Photographer/Videographer – Remember that all your preparation, planning and expenses will be for one day, the day of your wedding.  After that, the only thing that remains, besides wonderful memories, will be the photographs and video of the event, so take time and careful consideration to find someone who is right for you!  You can get referrals from friends and family, or look online to see whether you like a particular photographer’s style.  One of the most important considerations in choosing your photographer and videographer is whether you and your fiancé feel comfortable with him/her.  Remember, the photographer/videographer will be with you the entire day of your wedding, so it’s important that they make you feel at ease. 

JOS Photographers

JOS Photographers

Musicians – whether you choose to have live music or a DJ, it is best to attend an event where the band or DJ will be playing, so you see and hear them in action.  You can also request a CD mix of their music, and ask whether you can provide a play-list for the wedding.  Be sure to check references and online reviews.  A good DJ will have the latest equipment and will know how to get everyone up and dancing at your wedding!

Florist – An ideal florist will offer in-season options, keeping in mind your style and color scheme.  Flowers are usually ordered for bride and groom and the VIP’s, as well as the ceremony, reception center-pieces, cake and other areas.  Make sure to read online reviews, see photos or arrangements and communicate your wishes clearly.

Caterer – Once you have decided whether to have a buffet or sit-down dinner, and have reviewed the menu options, you should schedule a tasting to make sure you are happy with a chosen menu.  Depending on the venue, you may or may not have the option of bringing food from outside, although most venues, even those with in-house caterers, will allow one or two dishes if they are traditional wedding dishes in a particular culture (shirin polo).

Sofreh Designer – As you know, every Persian wedding ceremony will have, at its center, a beautifully decorated Sofreh Aghd, or ceremony spread.  The spread will feature food and decorative items that are symbolic of well wishes for the couple’s life and marriage.  There are many talented and professional Sofreh Designers whose work can be found online or through word-of-mouth.  Once you have reviewed their photos and interviewed them, you can find one that fits with your style and budget.
These are just a few of the vendors you’ll be working with for your wedding!  Stay tuned for more helpful tips in the next issue.  And, as always, feel free to contact me for referrals, information or guidance!

Italian Renaissance in Miami

There are many reasons why I love my job, but getting to experience the amazing places couples choose to celebrate their love, definitely tops the list.  Lisa and Ahmad, whom I met the previous year at Ahmad's sister's wedding in San Francisco, asked me to officiate their Arab-American-French-Greek ceremony in the magnificent historic estate of Vizcaya, built a century ago, in Miami, Florida.

Kate Webber Photography

Kate Webber Photography

Vizcaya, which was built in 1914, offered the ideal setting for this romantic couple.  Guests enjoyed the Italian Renaissance gardens and the Mediterranean revival architecture, everything created with local materials to withstand time and the elements.

Kate Webber Photography

Kate Webber Photography

So, you've decided to get married! Congratulations.

Several decades ago, and especially in the Iranian culture, it was customary that the parents of the bride and groom make all decisions including purchase of rings and wedding attire, choosing a venue and even honeymoon location.  Bride and groom only had to show up and say “yes”!  Today, this custom has evolved and most decisions are made by the couple themselves.  If you are getting married in the U.S. there are a few things to consider!  

Today, this custom has evolved and most decisions are made by the couple themselves.  If you are getting married in the U.S. there are a few things to consider!  
irst of all, it’s important to make the distinction between getting married and having a wedding.  Marriage (consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law) is a personal and legal contract shared privately or with a small group of people to bind the union of two individuals.  A wedding is when you decide to hold festivities to celebrate your union with a larger group of people!

After you’ve announced your engagement, you can begin to consider what type of a wedding you would like to have.  With your fiancé, answer the following questions:
1.  What style wedding do we want (formal, semi-formal, casual, destination, etc.)
2.  How many people will we have at our wedding?
3.  What is our budget?
4.  What season would we like to have the wedding at?
5.  What is your ideal location/venue (hotel, winery, historic home, natural setting, etc.)
6.  What vendors/professional do you need to hire:  Officiant, florist, musician/DJ, photographer, videographer, catering, cake, drinks, etc.
7.  What kind of attire do we want to get (dress, tuxedo, etc.)
8.  Will you have a bridal party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, ring bearer, flower girl, etc.).

This is a general and preliminary list to consider!  Please stay tuned for future articles on each of these topics, and for questions or referrals to wedding professionals, please contact nilou@weddingvowsbynilou.com.

First Destination Wedding

You can imagine my excitement when Rana and Todd got in touch with me about their wedding in West Palm Beach Florida!  They were planning to celebrate their love, along with more than three hundred family and friends, in one of the most beautiful places in North America!  

Their Persian ceremony was held in a beautiful courtyard strewn with Chinese lanterns and fragrant flowers all around.  The couple sat in front of a gorgeous Sofreh which was designed by a family friend, and had their backs to a wall of lilies and jasmines which filled the air with the scent of heaven!  


BEAUX ARTS ELEGANCE

An Intimate Ceremony in San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall Persian Ceremony

San Francisco City Hall Persian Ceremony

What an honor to officiate the ceremony of Anahita & Mehdi in one of the most beautiful venues in San Francisco.  The couple had gotten engaged in Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris and continued in the same tasteful style by having a full reception at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.  The day we met at City Hall, the SF Opera was setting up for their annual gala.  The entire main floor was set up with spectacular seating, lighting, and flowers.  It was an amazing sight to see.  The couple, their witnesses and I, moved to the higher levels for a private spot with IQ Photography.  Once we found a quiet hallway, the bride and groom exchanged their vows, wrapped in love poetry of ancient poets and philosophers and sealed with their first kiss as a married couple.