Inside Customs and Rituals Traditionally Included in Persian Weddings
If you've been invited to a Persian wedding or Iranian wedding for the first time you might be wondering what to expect. Educating yourself before attending a wedding of a culture you're less familiar with is not only respectful, but it's a great way to ensure you'll be able to fully appreciate the traditions and elements woven throughout the wedding day from the wedding ceremony through the wedding reception. Or maybe you're marrying into a Persian family and want to learn about your partner's heritage. Either way, we're here to dive into the beautiful customs associated with traditional Persian weddings.
We connected with wedding planning expert Sarah Kazemburg, owner and lead planner of DC-based Sarah Kazemburg Events & Styling since 2016, to bring you an in-depth look at Persian wedding traditions and frequently asked questions you should know.
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Persian Wedding Traditions
So, what happens at a Persian wedding? "Similar to Western weddings, in Persian culture weddings are broken into a ceremony and reception," notes Kazemburg. "The most notable tradition in a Persian wedding ceremony is the sofreh aghd." However, the rich cultural traditions begin even before the sofreh aghd at a traditional Persian wedding. Below, we dive into the most notable Persian and Iranian wedding traditions.
1. Khastegāri and Baleh Borān: Courtship and Proposal
Historically, khastegāri was the first step in the traditional Iranian courtship process. The Persian wedding custom has changed and evolved in modern times—now khastegāri marks a couple's unified decision to marry and their announcement to that end to their families. Following the couple's decision to wed, baleh borān is the public announcement of their engagement.
2. Sofreh Aghd: Wedding Table
During a traditional Persian and Iranian wedding ceremony, the couple will be seated by sofreh aghd which is the Persian wedding table. It is laden with many different elements that each carry rich symbolism.
3. Kelling: Consent & Persian Wedding Noise
If you've ever heard of Persian wedding noise, that's what kelling is. During this part of the wedding ceremony, the officiant asks for the couple's consent to enter into a marriage contract. Traditionally, the officiant will first ask the groom to which he responds balé, or yes. Following that, the officiant will ask the bride for her consent and this part of the ceremony is filled with some jest. The goal is for the bride to make her partner nervous about her answer, so she will stay silent and withhold a yes for a moment. Once the bride does respond in consent, the wedding guests will start joyfully kelling (or cheering with a lee-lee-lee sound) and clapping.
4. Jashn e aroosi: Reception
Following the Persian wedding ceremony, the couple will invite their guests to celebrate with a wedding reception. Persian wedding receptions are generally filled with lots of merriment and plenty of dancing.
5. Persian Love Cake
Persian wedding receptions often have Persian wedding cakes that are flavored with rose water, cardamom, almond and pistachio. These cakes are often called Persian love cakes.
6. Ragsheh Chagoo: Persian Wedding Knife Dance
The Persian wedding knife dance is a tradition where the couple must retrieve a knife from dancer so they can cut the wedding cake. During this lighthearted tradition, dancers, usually a bridesmaid, groomsman or young guest, will tease the couple and keep passing the decorative knife around to other attendees. Sometimes the groom may bride the dancer to obtain the knife. The good-humored Persian knife dance continues until the dancer hands over the knife.
"The bridesmaids held the knife and danced around [my husband]," recalls one bride of the Persian knife dance at her wedding. "He needed to tip them and offer gifts in order to show his love for me and that he could provide for me. Once he had proven himself, they finally gave him the knife and we were able to cut the cake."
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7. Shirin polo: Persian Wedding Rice
A spectacular rice pilaf dish, often called Persian jeweled rice, is traditionally served at Iranian wedding receptions. The popular Middle Eastern rice dish is made of basmati rice cooked with saffron and is typically topped with colorful gem-like fruits and nuts (candied citrus zest, sweet carrots, almonds, pistachios, and raisins). In Farsi, shirin means sweet and polo means rice.
A Persian wedding menu may also include an assortment of meat kabobs, ranging from beef and chicken to lamb.
8. Gol baroon: Petal Toss
After an evening filled with lots of fun on the dance floor, a petal toss is the preferred wedding exit at Persian weddings. "Persian weddings often include tossing petals at the end of the reception as the night comes to an end," notes Kazemburg.
9. Postwedding Traditions
Couples will often enjoy mah-e asal, or a honeymoon, following the wedding. Additionally, traditionally mādarzan salām, or "hello mother-in-law," takes place after the wedding and involves the groom's family. During this ritual, the couple visits the groom's mother and presents her with a gift.
Persian Wedding Frequently Asked Questions
To better understand traditional Persian weddings, we're taking an in-depth look at some of the frequently asked questions associated with these Iranian marriage traditions. From what to wear to whether you should bring a wedding gift, consider this your expert-backed ultimate guide to Persian wedding customs.
Who pays for the wedding in Persian culture?
Traditionally, the groom's family is expected to pay for all the expenses associated with a Persian wedding. Customarily, a dowry may also be discussed (referred to as a mahr or mehrieh in Muslim weddings). While modern couples may eschew some of these practices, many women can still face difficulties after divorce in Iranian culture so the dowry arrangements are still taken seriously in many modern cities.
What religion is observed with most Persian weddings?
Most Persian weddings are conducted in accordance with the Islamic or Jewish faith. Since Islam is the national religion of Iran, most Persian weddings in Iran are Muslim. However, in the United States, Persian weddings may range from Muslim to Jewish and even Christian.
What do you wear to a Persian wedding?
Persian weddings are often formal affairs where suits and long dresses are appropriate. Notably, if the couple is hosting an Orthodox wedding, it is customary for women to have their shoulders covered. And if you're wondering, "What color do you wear to a Persian wedding?" then you're in luck. Guests are encouraged to adorn themselves in colorful hues ranging from blue to red and even black. Unlike many other cultures, black dresses are not frowned upon at Persian weddings.
First and foremost, it's best to refer to a couple's wedding invitations and wedding website for guidance on proper wedding attire. The couple tying the knot will also likely be dressed to the nines. Persian wedding dresses are often ornate ensembles, however, that's not always the case. Renowned Tehran-born designer Sareh Nouri is known for elegant and timeless designs.
Are gifts customary at Persian weddings?
The short answer: yes, a wedding gift is appropriate for a Persian wedding. If the couple has skipped a wedding registry, a cash gift is an acceptable present for the newlyweds at an Iranian wedding.
Is there alcohol at Persian weddings?
Alcohol is served at most modern Persian weddings, unless the couple is religious. Islam does not allow the consumption of alcohol so Persian Muslim weddings won't have alcohol.
What are traditional Persian wedding songs?
Here are some popular Persian wedding songs that may be played at an Iranian wedding.
- "Aroosi," by Leila Forouhar
- "Mobarak Baad," by Khaknegar
- "Beraghsa," by Mohsen Chavoshi
- "Namehraboon," by Fataneh
- "Toyi Entekhabam," by Benham Bani
Elements of Sofreh Aghd: The Persian Wedding Table
Persian wedding ceremonies traditionally feature a ceremony around a table, known as sofreh aghd, elaborately laid with materials that carry beautiful symbolism. Sofreh is the actual Persian wedding table while aghd is the ceremony involving the Persian wedding sofreh. In short, sofreh aghd is the wedding tradition where the couple sits in front of the table which is laid with meaningful elements to celebrate their union.
"The most notable tradition in a Persian wedding ceremony is the sofreh aghd, where the couple sits in front of a decorative spread that represents a symbolic connection between them and their families," explains Kazemburg. Each element included on the Persian wedding table is a reminder of the multifaceted nature of relationships and the depth of the couple's commitment to each other.
"After the couple exchanges their vows or give their consent to marriage, the groom may pick up a jar of honey and dip his pinky finger in it, feeding it to the bride," says Kazemburg. "The bride then does the same, feeding honey to the groom. Once this exchange has happened the groom will kiss the bride." This exchange symbolizes the couple's commitment to each other and sustain each other throughout their lives together.
Badoo, Gandem and Gerdoo: Nuts
Almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are included as a symbol of fertility.
The inclusion of a mirror symbolizes bringing light and brightness into the couple's future. During the ceremony, the couple typically looks into the mirror together.
Esfand: Wild Rue Incense
Wild rue is an herb that is traditionally burned as incense during sofreh aghd as a means of purification. A manghal, or coal brazier, is used to burn the wild rue incense to help drive away negativity and keep evil at bay.
Golaab: Rose Water
Rose water is included to perfume the air.
Generally the Avesta, Qur'an, Bible, or Torah is included in the sofred aghd spread in front of the couple. Some couples may also choose to include a book of poetry such as Rumi's Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, Hafez's Divan, or the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi.
Kaleh ghand: Sugar Cones
Kazemburg explains that the sugar ceremony takes place "while the couple is seated at the Sofreh. Several women close to the couple, such as bridesmaids from the bridal party or female relatives, may spread a cloth of unity over the couple's heads, while sprinkling sugar onto the cloth to represent their wishes for sweetness in their life and marriage."
Khoncheh: Seven Herbs
Khashkash (poppy seeds), berenj (rice), sabzi khosk (Angelica), salt, raziyane (Nigella seeds), chai and kondor (frankincense) are included on the tabletop. They are said to help protect against the evil eye.
Fruit symbolizes the couple's commitment to sustaining each other and is said to represent a joyful future for the newlyweds. Usually, pomegranates, grapes and apples are included in on an Iranian wedding sofreh, but any seasonal fruit could be selected.
Shahkheh nabat: Rock Candy
As with the fresh fruit, the inclusion of rock candy is another symbol of a sweetened life for the couple.
Noon sangak: Flatbread
The decorative flatbread display symbolizes prosperity. It may be accompanied by naan-o paneer, or feta cheese, as a representation of the basic food needed to sustain life. These elements are generally fed to the wedding guests at the conclusion of the traditional wedding ceremony.
Seekeh: Gold Coins
Gold coins represent a wish for wealth and prosperity for the couple in their life together.
Shamdoon: Candles and Candelabras
The inclusion of candles and candlesticks as part of sofreh agdh is a symbol of purity, with the fire they produce representing energy and clarity of mind in the couple's new life together as newlyweds.
Soozan nakh: Needle and Thread
The needle and thread represent both prior generations as well as unity and two becoming one through marriage.
Sheereeni: Sweets and Pastries
Noghl, baklava, toot (Iranian marzipan), nann-e bereneji (rice cookies), naan-e badami (almond cookies) and naan-nokhodchi (chickpea cookies) are typically included in the spread. The pastries symbolize the sweetness of life and are enjoyed by the guests after the ceremony is completed.
Tokhmeh morgh: Decorated Eggs
Decorative eggs represent a wish for fertility for the couple.
At religious Persian weddings, there is generally a cloth placed at the center of the spread. For Muslim weddings, it is typically jaa-ye namaaz, a traditional prayer rug. Some couples may opt for a Persian silk or embroidered cloth that's been handed down through generations of family members as a way of including their loved ones in the display.
Persian Muslim Wedding vs. Persian Jewish Wedding vs. Persian Christian Wedding
Many elements seen in traditional Persian weddings date back to Zoroastrianism, which was the main religion of modern-day Iran before Islam became the country's official religion. So, while many modern Persian weddings are Muslim since Islam is the national religion of Iran, Persian weddings are as beautifully diverse as the multi-ethnic roots from which they originated. Especially for Persian weddings in the United States, not all are Muslim. Persian-Christian weddings, Persian-Jewish weddings and non-religious-Persian weddings are also frequently celebrated in the United States.
"Muslim and Jewish religions are what we see most commonly observed at Persian weddings in the United States," explains Kazemburg. "Many Persian weddings are also performed secularly and focus more on the cultural traditions than religious aspects, especially with fusion weddings." While there are many cultural details that the majority of Persian couples choose to infuse into their wedding day, if they're also honoring their religion, they may eschew some Persian wedding traditions or customize the day to fit their needs in the best, and most beautiful, way possible. Ultimately it's a couple's day to customize their way! Like with other Jewish weddings, a Persian Jewish wedding will likely include a ketubah signing and may take place under a chuppah.