We want it all
The ever-changing Persian wedding
April 29, 2004
Regardless of how many weddings I attend, each time
the thrill is there. Weddings are an emotional event that
bring out the best in me. While among Persian Moslems weddings
altered, in other cultures they appear to have remained the same.
For instance, when I watch old movies, although the
dress styles and car models date it back, the ceremony is still
the same, someone
walks the bride down the aisle, the couple say their vows, rings
are exchanged, and they are pronounced man and wife. They kiss
and that's it.
Next scene is usually a getaway car for the
honeymooners and cans that jingle and the "Just Married" sign
fades away in a distance. My American friends tell me that
is how their grandparents were married, too.
I look at the Persian-Moslem
weddings and wonder how much more a
ceremony could change before it settles down and becomes a fixated
I look back at my grandmother's. She was engaged
to be married when she was two. My great grandfather announced
at a family gathering
that Touron should grow up to marry Mohammad -- a cousin five
years her senior -- and that was that. Grandma told me later
that before her wedding ceremony, my great grandmother managed
to sneak the bride's dolls into her hope chest. At age twelve,
that mattered more to the child bride than the outcome of her marriage.
day of her wedding, women relatives took her to the bathhouse for
a prolonged bathing ceremony. As she came out of the bathhouse,
tambourine players surrounded her and a lamb was slaughtered before
her. She had the red tone of henna in her hair and nails,
dark sormeh brought out the best in her hazel eyes, and her skin
shone after all the scrubbing.
She was married in a lovely velvet
gown and among women while the groom stayed among men in another
building at the opposite end of the garden. A clergy went back
and forth to perform the ceremony and to have the documents signed
by their parents. No rings were exchanged, but the bride received
a beautiful emerald ring from her mother-in-law and the young
couple joined hands.
After dinner they were sent to their bedroom
while women relatives waited around to snoop and eavesdrop. Grandma
hated her wedding, but in time she grew to love her husband. They
stayed married till he died sixty years later. There are no photographs,
but the smell of burning wild rue -- esfand -- always brought
her the memory of her wedding night.
My parents had it a little easier, even though they,
too, were matched by older relatives, they had the advantage of
in their teens. Thanks to that gold band, they were allowed a hand
holding here and a chat there without causing any scandal. At her
wedding, my mother wore white and a beautician applied layers of
makeup on her face and curled her hair with a hot iron. She held
a silk bouquet that someone had brought from "Farang" and
a white flower adorned her hair.
Men and women joined for dinner
after the ceremony, although they were seated at opposite ends
of the room. I heard the bride danced once, it was a Persian dance
and among women. A band played and a dancer performed before the
acrobat show began. Late at night, servants held lanterns to show
the way as the bride and groom, followed by guests, walked to their
new home, located at the opposite end of grandfather's garden.
Someone carried a brazier of burning esfand to ward off evil eyes.
A few days later, the young couple went to a photography studio
for a black and white picture.
When my oldest sister -- who grew up in England
-- got married, I was ten. She met her husband at work and they
love. When he made an appointment to come with his parents and
ask for my sister's hand, my father wasn't so thrilled.
But, in time he managed to impress my father enough to receive
At her wedding, my sister wore a beautiful long white
gown and a veil to cover her bare shoulders. She insisted on having
bridesmaids. Upon her instructions, another sister and I wore
the white dresses she had picked for us. I liked the red chiffon
with a bow on the side. We held the train of her dress while she
walked around. The aghd ceremony was at our house, but young girls
were forbidden to attend -- believed to jinx their own chances
After the ceremony, the bride and groom did their
waltz as everyone watched and then a cha-cha while a few others
joined in. The smell of burning esfand filled the air and a photographer
took many color pictures. Twenty four cars blew their horns at
midnight to follow the young couple to their apartment.
The first ceremony I attended was in fact my own. Even after all
the modern changes, the room was filled with women only. While
I tried to read verses from the holy book, Koran, my aunt grinded
the sugar cones on a white cloth over my head, .and my sisters
jokingly used seven colors of silk to sew the mouths of anyone
whose words could harm me. I did as instructed, saving my yes for
the third time the clergy asked.
I don't remember the
band, the dinner, or any other details. In fact my most vivid memory
comes from the many jewels our relatives put on me which made me glitter
like a Christmas tree, and the strong smell of burning wild
rue -- esfand.
I moved to the United States way back then.
Over the years I began to notice that as lifestyles changed so
did the Persian weddings.
Now each time there's a wedding, I look
forward to it as if it is a first. No two Persian weddings are
aghd -- now more like a table -- no longer resembles what
it used to be. The mirror is sometimes as big as the table itself.
The bride and groom sit together from the beginning and no one
tells the bride to keep her veil over her face until after the
The ceremony often takes place at a hotel. Mothers
work, so the sofreh is prepared by professionals who, in an attempt
justify the cost, overdo the flowers. They also do away with some
traditional items. For instance, no one seems to care about putting
a sac of henna on the sofreh which in the old days used to be a
must. The bread, done by a fancy baker, looks anything but edible,
and the tray of esfand is often decorated in a modern fashion.
Most of the responsibilities fall on the young couple's
shoulders. They begin with selection of cards and place and to
the last minute worry that it may all turn out to be a disaster.
There are brides or grooms who need to learn how to say baleh --
yes -- for the first time. The ceremony is open to all guests,
men and women.
There are bouquets to be thrown and I can't help but wonder
how my grandmother would feel if anyone tossed her garter to
crowd. We want it all! We want the baklava and the cake, we want
the aghd and the cocktail party, we want not only noghl and
coins in the air, but rice, rose petals, and confetti, too.
work and tons of money goes into one night. Videos are taken
and disregarding an army of photographers, guests turn into
paparazzi themselves. The dance floor is too crowded and Persian
American music is mixed to form a jumping rhythm. In the end,
smell of burning esfand and soon there will be nothing left
of the night but a sweet memory captured in a silver frame.
Last night's wedding was great and as a close friend,
I did my share to help. I close my eyes and think of the one
item that time has failed to change. I hope they keep this
brings the weddings of the past and future together, what
closes the time lapse between our weddings, and what will always
the memory is the distinct aroma of burning esfand!
Someone has to stop the wedding race. The way this
is going there's no limit. The hotels are so booked that if you
to be accommodated
in your ideal place, you need to make a reservation while
you're in kindergarten. We strive to make every wedding
the last, and everyone feels they have to do something
new and improved.
We become more and more American while struggling to preserve
our Persian-ness, and meanwhile the cost continues to escalate.
I soak my aching feet in warm water and wonder if
there is a kind way to talk to my three children about the wedding
chapels in Vegas.
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance
poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.