A Persian wedding theme means a luxurious wedding filled with both traditions and culture. But since I grew up with Disney, my view is that if you’re going to live happily ever after, you also need an enchanting wedding venue and a Persian prince (albeit without the magic carpet).
Our wedding had a deeper significance: growth, health, wealth, protection from all evil, and all the good and beautiful things that people hope for.
Lumley Castle in County Durham is THE fairytale wedding venue if you live in the North East of England like us. It’s straight out of a storybook and I hoped it was where all my dreams would come true!
In terms of the Persian inspired wedding theme … it had to involve my favourite flowers and fruit – roses and anaar shirin (red pomegranates) and colour, arbei (Persian blue or indigo). Not only do they both feature in Persian cuisine, they are also extremely symbolic of Persia’s past. The pomegranate symbolises fertility, abundance and a blessed future. It was also a symbol of invincibility in battle by the Persians.
The magical Lumley Castle is steeped in history and offered us a truly beautiful place to celebrate the most important day of our lives. Set in glorious landscaped gardens and grounds, it epitomised both quality and luxury. The dedicated events team certainly made us feel like royalty!
Unlike here in the UK, where less make-up is more for the bride, Persian wedding make-up is dramatic, so I opted for M.A.C. But before any make-up was applied, I had been using saffron face-masks for weeks (rather than opt for expensive salon treatments). Saffron helps with dry skin, dullness and spots. Combined with yoghurt and honey, it can make your skin glow and I still use it now. I also used my kiseh and sefid-ab on a daily basis for velvety skin.
The eyes have it!
When it comes to Persian brides, it’s all about the eyes and having a glorious hairstyle. I opted for a Persian blue eyeshadow that was dark enough to attract people’s attention to my eyes and away from my teeth which I hate. I also opted for a dark moody lip colour to match my eyes. Persian women are not afraid when it comes to make-up on their wedding day, they ooze self-confidence and I hope I absolutely nailed it with my own on the big day!
We celebrated in The Garter Suite at Lumley Castle which is elegant and showcases tall window features, high ceilings and walls adorned with 16th century stuccoed decorations.
A multicultural childhood
Since I spent most of my childhood travelling in Italy and Greece, the Garter State Room offered everything I could have wished for. In ancient Greece, stucco was applied to both interior and exterior temple walls as early as 1400 BCE. Architects of ancient Rome stuccoed the rough stone or brick walls of huge monuments, such as the baths at Hadrian’s Villa, erected at Tivoli about 120–130 CE.
Candelabras or shamdoon
Candelabras or Shamdoon carry the symbolic weight of both light and fire. In the Zoroastrian (ancient Persian) world, fire is not a destructive agent but a purifying one, bringing illumination and removing all that which merely passes and all that is transient, leaving only that which endures and is eternal – such as the love of the bride and the groom.
There are always candelabra at Persian weddings because the candelabra is bought traditionally for good luck. We decorated each of our tables with one adorned with seasonal white flowers and cream roses to perfume the air during the reception.
Some unusual wedding guests!
With our wedding venue sorted, it was time to see if the events team would take on board some unusual Persian themed wedding requests for the day … including a bowl with goldfish in it. More on that later!
We decided together early on that our aroosi (wedding) here in the UK would follow a Persian theme with some traditions. However our English friends were bemused when we smashed eggs under the tyres of our Rolls Royce Phantom wedding car and had someone waft esfand (wild rue) incense above our heads as we set off – to ward off the evil eye!
A month until the big day …
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. The food was certainly better overseas …
Planning one wedding is hard enough, but when you only have a month to plan two 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 shirini (cake) and fruit stands on each table – which the venue didn’t have. This was because in Persian tradition, seeb (apples), other fruit and shirini represent a sweet and fruitful future for any couple tying the knot. With H’s pesar khaleh (cousin) travelling from London, we got him to nip to the local Persian pattiserie to pick up some sweet treats for our Sofreh Aghd (wedding table(s).
It was clear to us that our venue had never hosted a Persian themed wedding before and so we asked for the Sofreh Aghd items to be distributed around the room, rather than have everything in one place. They included gold coins on the tables to represent the future financial prosperity for the couple getting married, bowls of rosewater as well as almonds and walnuts, fruit, flowers and noghl (candy).
My beautiful sister-in-law even recreated a castle dessert for us, below.
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 mehmoonee (reception). 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 for half than what we would have paid if we’d booked months in advance.
Dancing with knives
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.
4. Made a clear division of labour. We created a clear checklist of the items to be completed with dates and times. Music for the DJ was going to be our own Persian mix only … which he wasn’t too impressed with having to play, but did so eventually out of respect. It did mean that no one left the dance floor 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 cream 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. But anyone who’s ever got married knows that there’s always something missed!
At least they got the rose petals on all of the tables right!
Let them eat cake
Our cake-maker, Bernadette of DreamWorld Cakes did us proud. 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.
We designed our own Persian pomegranate and rose cake ourselves. It included pomegranate flowers and roses in red, white and gold. The ribbon was Persian blue to represent the tanzanite stone in my engagement ring.
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 above was created by DreamWorld Cakes for us. The Greek key design around the bottom tier of our cake 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. Sabzi polo – rice with dill and saffron and lamb with green beans.
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 and so we also provided pomegranate juice for the non-drinkers.
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.
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.
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.
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
Isfahan – one of the oldest cities in Iran
Saveh – which is famous for pomegranates
Sari – which was where our photographer’s family were from
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. Albeit at Nowruz, Persian New Year a bowl containing two goldfish is displayed in our home. Although these are called mahi, they are a reminder of the mythical giant Kara fish, which dwells in the Vourukasha Sea and fends off all evil beings in the depths with its gimlet eyes! 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.
Our bridesmaids wore blue sashes around their waists in keeping with the Persian theme. Our chairs also had blue bows.
Wedding etiquette in the UK
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.
Where it all began …
Now you may have read my previous post on blending cultures, values and traditions? Well, this is where it all began.