Could it have been a case of cold feet? ‘Not at all, there was zero hesitation on my part,’ recalls newlywed Arezou Hosseini, laughingly. As it turns out, the scene is set up for dramatic effect. ‘It’s an Iranian wedding ritual to deny the bridegroom a rapid-fire yes,’ she explains. If this strategy of ‘playing hard-to-get’ is meant to keep the groom on his toes, it works. ‘I was full of nerves, but happy beyond description,’ says her new husband, Farbod Hashemi, with a smile.
An Iranian wedding ceremony begins with the signing of the legal contract, the aghd (which means ‘knot’ in Farsi), followed by the reception, jashn-e aroosi. Many of the wedding rituals can be traced back to Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian roots, though some present-day couples do incorporate modern elements.
An inventive spin on tradition, Hosseini commissioned her own termeh, a hand-woven silk or woollen cloth that dates back to the very first ancient Persian dynasties as a wedding custom, out of the fabric of her wedding dress. ‘We wanted to do something slightly different,’ she says, adding, ‘most couples in Iran today do not stray too far from tradition for fear of bad luck.’
The termeh is placed in the centre of a sofreh-ye aghd, a lavish spread which contains many symbolic herbs and spices to guard against the evil eye: poppy seeds, wild rice, angelica, nigella seed and incense. Also included is sangak, a large flat bread with a blessing written on it in saffron calligraphy, as well as a basket of decorative eggs and walnuts to symbolise fertility. The spread also features a Quran and a mirror, which is lit by two candelabrum on each side, a symbol of purity and renewal.
In the past, when arranged marriages were more commonplace than they are today, the bride’s reflection in the mirror, after she lifted her veil would have been the very first time the groom caught a glimpse of his future wife’s face. While many contemporary brides tend to forgo a full-face covering, Hosseini fashioned a modern veil out of silk tulle, accented with lace trim and hand embroidery. ‘Choosing what to wear was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make,’ says Hosseini. She eventually settled for a Spanish design with Dantel lace detailing. ‘I wanted something romantic, simple and feminine,’ she says.
Convention demands that the procurement of the wedding dress, clothes and jewellery related to the bridal trousseau lies with the groom and his family. The bride’s family, on the other hand, is responsible for acquiring items for the marital house: furniture, appliances, bed linens, curtains, rugs and so on. This is such an important part of the wedding ritual that, in the past, some mothers would begin to gather such items for their daughter or future daughter-in-law well before their children were even of age to marry.
Central to the Iranian bridal trousseau is providing the bride-to-be with a full set of cosmetics. This ritual dates back to ancient Iran, when forms of make-up included rose water for the face, kohl to line eyes and henna to decorate the hair and hands. In the past, a woman’s first experience with make-up only occurred when they were engaged. Regardless of the fact that modern Iranian brides tend to already have their own beauty products, the ritual of buying a complete set of cosmetics, toiletries and beauty products for the bride-to-be remains a popular ritual.
Today, most young brides make sure that their bridal trousseau features the latest fashions in order to make a lasting impression at the countless dinner parties they will be invited to after the wedding. A sophisticated black and white cocktail dress, spread out on the bed, is well suited for a honeymoon abroad, while a mini dress, with petal-strewn prints, is the perfect piece to be worn at the Iranian bridal shower a few days after the wedding ceremony (brides classically wear floral prints on this occasion).
When it comes to weddings gifts, Iranians have a long tradition of presenting gold coins to the bride and groom, typically eight gram coins minted by the Central Bank, placed in holder cards. Iran, in fact, is one of the largest gold-consuming nations in the world. As well, elaborate matrimonial jewellery, especially gold and white gold pieces, are an essential element in the betrothal process. ‘Iranians view this as a way to mark a milestone, but also as an investment,’ says Hosseini.
The presenting of jewellery to the bride is done in true exhibitionist style, as gifts are flaunted with pride and held up for all to see. The gifts range from modern luxury – such as Hosseini and Hashemi’s his-and-hers two-tone Rolexes – to those that evoke a certain whimsical spin on cultural symbols, including a gold and ruby pomegranate pendant, a nod to Persian culture since the berry, which originates in the country, is a national fruit.
Beyond gold coins and jewellery, sugar also plays a treasured role in the day’s events. ‘Iranian weddings are nothing, if not sweet,’ says Hosseini. During the course of the ceremony, happily married women – tradition bans unhappy wives from participation, for fear they may ‘jinx’ the couple – are asked to grind two large loaves of crystalised sugar on a piece of white silk held over the couple’s head; an act which represents the wish for a prosperous future.
Perhaps the sweetest moment of the wedding ritual is when the bride and groom delicately dip their pinky finger in honey and lovingly place it in one another’s mouth. According to Zoroastrian lore, this act represents a wish for happiness and prosperity. Adding to its special significance is the fact that honey, in Islamic culture, is viewed as a gentle cure-all, similar to olive oil’s status in Mediterranean countries, and so serves as a powerful symbol of longevity and health.
The bride is then requested to remove her right shoe and put out the candles that adorn the mirror, an act which represents that the bride and groom are in control of their fate. Friends and family then shower them with coins, rice and sugar- coated almonds.
This article appears in the Fashion Directory: Weddings of the Middle East and North Africa.