Lumley Castle in County Durham is a fairytale wedding venue.
With Cyrus non-stop into everything, he is certainly ruling our house at the moment. He delights in opening drawers and throwing CDs all over the floor and trying to stuff them into the DVD player.
While he’s just doing his job and learning all about the world around him, I decided to steer him clear of trouble today by letting him press play on the DVD player. It just so happened that he’d picked out our wedding video and it seemed to be something he engaged with (for all of a few minutes).
I hadn’t watched it for some time, so cold cup of coffee in hand I left it playing and started to reminisce what life was like pre-baby!
Now wedding etiquette used to be so straightforward. The bride’s family paid for the wedding and reception; the groom’s family paid for the honeymoon; and the bride’s mum got involved in everything else…here in the UK that is.
But that was when the average age of a bride was 20 and the two families lived within a car journey of each other. There weren’t air fares, Visas and 4,000 miles between the two parties to consider.
As an older bride and groom in our early 30s, we were independent and knew we’d be footing the entire tab. Looking back, it was certainly not a bad thing because we had more say on who to invite, how the wedding was structured and EVERYTHING in between.
Now you may have read my previous post on blending cultures, values and traditions? Well, this is where it all began.
We decided together early on that our wedding (aroosi) here in the UK would follow a Persian theme with some traditions. H really had no choice – given that he was marrying the “creative type.”
I did assume wrongly that with the popularity of Persian weddings, there would be a wealth of information online telling me everything about them. Sadly, I was wrong and was certainly not going to base my knowledge on the one Wikipedia article I did find at the time.
The all-inclusive “How-To” guide for someone who wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself into when deciding on a Persian wedding theme was missing.
So, as I always do when I find a lack of resources, I put my thinking cap on, urged family and friends to help out and came up with the following. I’ll add now that I had a four-week deadline for all of this, despite being engaged for the best part of two years by this point.
Why the quick turnaround? It just felt like the right time. If H and I want to do anything, we do it. So just like that we picked a day within our four-week time slot that we could fit into our work schedule and got planning.
Now weddings are one of the most important occasions in Persian tradition – but while it is an event in which all are invited, no expenses spared, and a lot of food is eaten – there was no way we could get all 200 guests to the UK in time. Instead we split our wedding celebrations between the two countries. We had one party here in the UK and another in Persia so everyone could celebrate with us.
Planning a wedding is hard enough, but when you only have a month to do it in, it suddenly becomes a real challenge. It was a massive project with a very short deadline. If it had been anything but OUR BIG DAY, I’d have pushed back on the timeline, but the compensation for getting it all done on time was so rewarding that I took it on!
Here is how we did it:
1. Stripped away unnecessary expenditure. With our Persian theme, there were a lot of “nice-to-haves.” I really wanted a large screen at our reception so we could play videos of well-wishers overseas. Sadly the venue didn’t have a screen and getting that as well as a CD containing all the messages from loved ones in time proved problematic. I also wanted tiered cake (shirini) and fruit stands on each table – which the venue didn’t have. It wasn’t just because I wanted my guests to be healthy, far from it. It was because apples (seeb) and fruit in general represent a joyous and fruitful future for a couple.
Our UK venue couldnt provide tiered fruit and shirini stands – so we made sure we had them for our Persian celebration abroad for our guests!
2. Planned slowly to move quickly. Some people just jump in, then hit a dead end because they didn’t think things through or they didn’t have the right resources. We spent a few days talking things through and then organised priorities based on available time and resources. We had already stayed at a number of venues in the North East which were worthy contenders when it came to staging our reception (mehmoonee). They included Matfen Hall in Northumberland, Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle and Lumley Castle in County Durham. We didn’t set our hearts on one and instead got a last-minute deal with Lumley in a truly grand setting…for half than what we would have paid if we’d booked months in advance.
Our wedding venue, Lumley Castle, County Durham
3. Grabbed the right team. I picked our team carefully. I knew some of our friends and family would panic if I asked them to say a speech or dance, I left these friends outside our little ‘working’ group. I enlisted only the creative players that could take on the jobs in hand. As the knife dance is a Persian wedding ritual, we enlisted the help of an expert friend first. It was her job to steal the cake knife and start dancing with it. This would then be followed by friends and then me. The groom has to pay up to get the knife back – which in our case was with gold jewellery.
Our friend performs the knife dance
4. Made a clear division of labour. We createda clear checklist of the items to be completed with dates and times. Music for the DJ was going to be our own #multicultural mix only…which he wasn’t too impressed with having to play, but did so out of respect. It did mean that no one left the dancefloor however, so it must have been OK.
5. Held regular check-ins. When you are in a rush, details can get lost in the cracks. While we were communicating regularly with our florist, the idea of having long-stemmed roses tied within the bows of the chairs definitely got lost in translation. I wasn’t impressed when she decided to cut them in half and stick them on all tables instead. We did spend more time with our cake-maker, Bernadette of DreamWorld Cakes however. She ensured we got everything we requested and more! What a lovely lady to deal with. She just got the theme and went out of her way for us to design a truly unique wedding cake with a Persian theme.
Our Persian pomegranate cake which we designed ourselves with the help of DreamWorld Cakes. photo courtesy of http://www.idene.co.uk/
The color Persian blue was used throughout our wedding celebrations. It represented the colour of some Persian pottery and the tiles used in and on mosques and palaces in Iran.
Our favours were Pomegranate flower biscuits created by DreamWorld Cakes.
6. Made use of friends and family. The challenge for me was that I needed to be everywhere at the same time, including work. My only choice was to throw friends at the problem. You need people behind the scenes helping out. While they weren’t able to be at our UK wedding celebration, my in-laws sent us some traditional gold coin confetti used to shower newly-weds with in Persia. They also sent special sweets called noghl and other table decorations to help out. No reception would be complete without it!
7. Built in time for testing/tasting. You don’t want anything to go embarrassingly wrong, so trying everything out first (especially the cake) will work wonders.
The pomegranate flower design created by DreamWorld Cakes for us.The Greek key design around the bottom tier of our cake (pictured above) symbolises infinity, combined with the Persian blue ribbon and Faravahar which represents ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds’.
The figure inside is that of an old man, representing wisdom of age. There are two wings either side of him in the picture, which have three sets of feathers. These main feathers indicate three symbols of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, which also represent the notion of flight.
The lower part of the Faravahar consists of three parts, representing bad reflection, bad words and bad deeds which causes misery and misfortune for human beings. There are two loops at the two sides of the Faravahar, which represent positive forces and negative forces.
The former is directed toward the face and the latter is located at the back. This also indicates that we have to proceed toward the good and turn away from bad. The ring in the centre symbolises the eternity of universe and soul. As a circle, it has no beginning and no end. One of the hands points upwards, indicating that there is only one direction to choose in life and that is forward.
The other hand holds a ring and some interpreters consider that as the ring of covenant and used in wedding ceremonies representing loyalty and faithfulness. This means when a true Persian gives a promise, it is like a ring and it cannot be broken.
8. Accept what is good enough. Even with a smaller budget, like ours, you don’t need to skimp on quality, we still got the Rolls Royce Phantom (H decided it definitely didn’t fall into the unnecessary expenditure category) and the grand setting we desired with sumptuous drapes and beautiful furniture, but not everything was perfect down to the last detail. Our wedding was no big affair as we had only a few family members in attendance. More than half of them were missing.
We focused our effort on what was truly important, which for us was not just to have a Persian theme, but to have real meaning behind what we set out to do. Something that tied our two cultures together with love. It was also vital that we provided hospitality to our guests. We hopefully wowed them with a truly magnificent venue with its high ceilings and elegant decorations and a stunning fireworks display set to music at the end of a great evening.
One of the things I would have changed given the chance was the menu. I would have rather opted for a more traditional Iranian spread at the castle. Instead our choice was limited and we ended up with a starter of galia melon, lamb and vegetables and then profiteroles. I had to wait until our Persian wedding party to get the food I longed for!
Our Persian wedding food – saffron rice with barberries, almonds and pistachios and saffron chicken
Our Persian wedding food – sabzi polo – rice with dill and saffron
Our Persian wedding food – lamb with green beans
My in-laws had this dessert made especially for us as it tied together our UK wedding party and our Persian one uniquely!
Some of the colourful wedding gifts we received containing gold and money in Persia
9. Adding a personal touch. As part of the speeches, I decided to read mine out in Farsi and then translate it to English for the majority of our guests. Having only just mastered the basics of ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ at this stage, it was no mean feat and I resorted to reading it from a postcard!
Here it is below:
Setareh man (my star)
Donyah ye man (my world)
Ghalbe man (My heart)
Eshk-e man to hasti (My love you are)
H joon dooset daram barah ye hamisheh (H I love you forever)
Hospitality is very important in Persian culture. We also provided pomegranate juice for the non-drinkers.
The Garter Room at Lumley Castle in County Durham all set up for our wedding. Photo courtesy of http://www.idene.co.uk/
10. Have a theme – While we couldn’t get everything we needed for our theme, we made the best of what we could get hold of. The ayne va shamdoon (mirror and candlesticks) is probably the most iconic part of the Persian wedding. Usually the mirror and candlesticks will become a part of the couple’s home as a memento of their wedding ceremony. In our case we couldn’t take ours home! The mirror symbolises eternity and the candlesticks represent the light of the future and eternal passion.
ayne va shamdoon (mirror and candlesticks) photo courtesy of http://www.idene.co.uk/
While a bowl made of crystallised sugar was perhaps going a little too ‘bridezilla’ for our wedding venue planners, we displayed saffron rock candy, barberries, saffron and cardamom in front of the mirror to represent the sweetness in a couple’s life.
photo courtesy of http://www.idene.co.uk/
We placed a bowl of chocolate gold coins on each table (for the children) – this represents the future financial prosperity for the couple getting married.
photo courtesy of http://www.idene.co.uk/
Flowers, particularly roses, are used in Persian weddings as a symbolic sign of life, spring and beauty, so we ensured there was an abundance of them throughout our celebrations. Despite the fact that smaller hand-tied lily bouquets were all the rage, I opted for a larger than life rose bouquet because it’s one of the most beautiful accessories a bride can have. I wanted something fragrant, which had meaning and kept with the Persian blue theme too. As a girl I’d watched the fairytale wedding of Princess Diana and I’d always loved her iconic bouquet designed by Longmans Florist.
photo courtesy of http://www.idene.co.uk/
I wanted to try and educate my friends about Persia and places of interest in the country, so we named our tables after key cities in Persia. Everywhere in Iran is famous for something, so I used the opportunity to get creative with our tables and add a personal DIY touch to the wedding.
Rasht – which was where our best man’s family lived
Tehran – which was where H’s family lived
Shiraz – the birthplace of the Persian poet Hafez
Esfahan – one of the oldest cities in Iran
Saveh – which is famous for pomegranates
Sari – which was where our photographer’s family were from
Thanks to graphic designer Chris Faulder for the artwork and design on our invites and cards of the pomegranate flower.
One of the most unusual talking points for our guests was why we’d opted to have two goldfish in front of the top table. The fish are a symbol of purity and are said to keep the evil eye away from the happy couple.
A glass bowl with goldfish and a green leaf from a local variety of orange called Narenj used to be placed in the bowl, but such traditions are disappearing. The evil eye is a concept prevalent in the Middle East, and refers to people that look with malignant envy at success.
We also burned esfand (wild rue) outside of the castle – as it is said to prevent the evil eye of people from causing actual harm.
While we didn’t have rosewater to hand, we opted for white roses in our centrepieces on each table to perfume the air during the reception. The silver candelabras were also present on each table to symbolise a bright future.
11. Make it beautiful! While traditionally here in the UK, the au natural makeover is popular, I wanted to go all out for a Persian bridal makeover. Who better to do it than my lovely friend who worked at MAC, Sarah Stonehouse- Robinson.
Sarah gets to work in the salon after discussing a plan of action with me…
We picked a cornflower blue eyeshadow to keep with the Persian theme
For my hair, I kept with my usual stylist – Bobble in Jesmond
Persian blue crystals were sewn into my tiara and dress
Our bridesmaids wore blue sashes around their waists in keeping with the Persian theme