Wedding customs from around the world: Persia

A guest post by Nilou Nouri

Nilou has been serving as a Persian wedding officiant for many years – and has frequently done so for weddings by A Day Like No Other.

All weddings, as celebrations of union between two individuals, are filled with ritual.  Some rituals are, for the most part, universal, such as wearing white by the bride, or the exchange of rings and exchange of vows.  Some rituals vary depending on the cultural backgrounds of the families.  Many rituals of food are used during the ceremony, to symbolize sweetness (sharing honey) or the bitter-sweetness of marriage (sharing sugar-covered almonds), etc.  Some rituals symbolize the binding of the union of two individuals (hand-fasting, lasso-ceremony, chuppah or the sugar-rubbing cloth held overhead the couple) and some rituals highlight the coming together of two families and communities (unity candle lighting, ring warming ceremony, etc.).

The Iranian (Persian) ceremony is full of beautiful, meaningful rituals, all of which point to nature, love and the spiritual world.  And, unlike many wedding ceremonies worldwide, where religion plays a central role, the Iranian (Persian) ceremony is entirely secular.  All of its elements point to nature, beauty and love between the couple.  Additionally, there is great emphasis on the importance of literature by reciting beautiful love poetry of classical Persian poets such as Khayyam, Hafez, Rumi and others.

During their nuptials, the couple sits in front of a decorative spread, Sofreh Aghd, with items symbolizing well-wishes for their married life.  These include a mirror (for reflection), candles (light in the universe), crystalized sugar (sweetness), eggs and nuts (fertility), flowers (beauty), herbs and fruit (health), bread (sustenance), spices (to ward off any negative energies) and a book (usually poetry or holy book depending on the preferences of the couple).  In addition to these items, two large sugar cones as well as a container of honey will adorn the Sofreh and will be used during the ceremony.  The cones (which represent the couple) will be rubbed together over a cloth held over their heads, in the hopes that every contact between the couple will result in sweetness!  The honey will be used by the couple to take turns feeding to one another with their pinky fingers and also symbolizes sweetness for their marriage.

During the Persian wedding ceremony, the Officiant asks the couple for their declaration of consent.  While the groom answers with a loud and resounding “ba’leh”, or “Yes!”, the bride traditionally would not respond the first nor the second time that the question is asked.  During this silence, her girlfriends would chime in and say, “the bride has gone to pick flowers” or “the bride has gone to bring rosewater”.  In the old days, the groom would be seated outside of the ceremony room (which was traditionally a female space) and the bride’s girlfriends would tease him and say “she’s not here, she’s gone to pick flowers”!  Another reason for this delay may have been to allow the bride to consider the decision that would forever change her destiny.

After the couple has given their consent, they share their vows and rings and feed each other honey!  At the end of the ceremony, the close relatives of the couple will present their ceremony gifts (usually jewelry or envelopes with cash) before the couple is announced and shares their first kiss as married!

Today many couples choose to modify the ceremony to fit their wishes, beliefs, budgets and preferences.  Some will have an elaborate Sofreh of considerable proportions, and some will display a modest version with a few key items.  For couples who are celebrating a mixed union, coming from different traditions, many times on the Sofreh will be displayed items reflecting their backgrounds.  For example, in my work with mixed/fusion couples, I have seen everything from an Irish horseshoe and Child of Prague statue, to a Mexican lasso and coin, to the Native American basket, to the Jewish wine glass and the African American broom, among other items.  These objects fit beautifully together and are a testament to love, union and mutual acceptance between two individuals, their families and communities.

Every wedding is so very special and such a happy occasion.  Afterall we are celebrating the greatest force in the universe, Love!  So regardless of size, venue, expense and any fanfare, the true essence of every wedding is the celebration of a union, and the coming together of families and communities.  Rituals help to make this special occasion even more meaningful and memorable.

All photos show sofreh set-ups by Nilou

The most beloved wedding songs of all time

Call me old-fashioned – but when it comes to the wedding ceremony I always recommend “classics.” And the most beloved ones of them all are – Canon in D (chosen by at least 80% of all my brides for their processional), Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (a favorite for their recessional) and “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles.

Here they are!

The oldest one of them all is Pachelbel’s Canon. Johann Pachelbel was a German Baroque composer and organist who enjoyed tremendous popularity in his lifetime (1653 to 1706). Most of his extensive body of work is nowadays forgotten outside of musicologist circles – some of you may know his Chaconne in F minor and his Toccata in E minor for organ – but the one piece of music that has survived is his Canon in D – it has literally become synonymous with wedding music.

Here comes the bride – Frank Lee Photography

For the recessional, the “classic” choice is Felix Mendelssohn’s Bartholdy’s Wedding March (from his incidental music to Shakespeare’s play A Midsummernight’s Dream).

Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. A true prodigy, he performed as a pianist at the age of nine, and he wrote his first symphony at the age of 15!! Mendelssohn’s compositions include symphonies, concertos, piano music and chamber music which are all still part of the standard concert repertoire; but even those without ties to classical music love the Wedding March! Here it is, played by the Berlin Philharmonic.

And for those who’d rather go a little more contemporary – but still stick with a timeless classic – for their wedding music, there is the last word on love from The Beatles, here played for us by our own Synchronicity Strings!

Venue Spotlight: Thomas Fogarty Winery

Many of you will know (and love) Thomas Fogarty Winery as an elegant wedding venue – a good number of you will even have worked there at one or more weddings.

It’s spectacular – on clear days the view encompasses everything from the Bay Bridge to the North, all of Silicon Valley to San Jose in the South. Sunsets – and even the fog rolling in – are sheer beauty.

I am certainly one of Fogarty’s biggest fans! And so I would like to share with you how all this came about – there is backstory to it!

The founder of Thomas Fogarty Winery is actually a famous physician, Dr. Thomas Fogarty Sr., who worked at Stanford University and who made an invention in 1961 that has literally saved countless lives around the world ever since: the Fogarty catheter. This device allows to remove fresh blood clots from arteries without surgery, and it has become a staple of cardiologists everywhere.

Charmed by the natural beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Dr. Fogarty built his family home up on Skyline Boulevard and began acquiring the surrounding land.

By 1977, he had accumulated over 300 acres of land, and in 1978, he planted his first vineyard – with that, Thomas Fogarty Winery was officially founded! The winery is now producing mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and they are fantastic!

With the construction of the architecturally stunning open Pavilion,

where the majority of festive dinners are now hosted, the winery developed into an elegant event space with a capacity of over 200 guests, indoor/outdoor options and beautiful ceremony lawn.

And we all can absolutely not wait to be back there soon, celebrating love and the beauty of the gorgeous setting. You need not take my word for it: watch this video of one of my weddings at Thomas Fogarty Winery!

Wise advice to engaged couples

A guest post by photographer Anna Hogan

Planning a wedding in the era of the Coronavirus

Photo credit: Anna Hogan Photography

The world around us has taken a long pause due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, forcing most of us to shelter in place and practice social distancing. While the essential businesses are still operating, the wedding industry has literally stopped in its tracks. All events have been cancelled or postponed to the near… or the far future…? The couples who spent months navigating the wedding planning process are now facing a new set of challenges. All small business owners who cater to the wedding industry like photographers, florists, caterers, hair and make-up artists are without work for possibly months. 

When the shelter-in-place order gets lifted, the return to normal life will likely be a multi-stage process, and eventually some gatherings will be allowed.

Below are a few ways how to make your wedding safer for you and your guests. 

  1. Keep it small.

Looking back at the last couple of months, events with over 50 attendees were the first to be cancelled, so it is likely that the return to normal will follow a similar path.   Keeping your guest list small will likely help to “make it happen” as it will be safer for everyone – and as a side benefit in these uncertain times, it will be cheaper, too. I know, you tried to keep that guest list small from the beginning, but in the current situation I think everyone will be much more understanding.

If you are local to San Francisco Bay Area, have you considered getting married at San Francisco City Hall once it reopens?

  • Keep it local and minimize travel.

Even without a pandemic, planning a destination wedding presents its own set of challenges – but risking to contract the virus on a plane or getting stuck somewhere en route is not fun at all. 

  • Keep it outdoors.

The chance of catching a virus in an open space is much smaller than in an indoor space, so take advantage of the beauty of our nature and get married outside! Vineyards, parks, backyards, and beaches are all great options.

  • Streaming your event.

One of the ways to keep your most vulnerable guests safe is to live-stream your wedding.

It could be just the ceremony, or it could include more key events like your First Dance, Cake Cutting or speeches. 

Hiring videographer to document your celebration is a great idea as well.

  • Avoid buffet or family-style served meals. 

Having all guests use the same serving spoon is probably not the best idea in these times, so if you decide to have a buffet make sure that all food is served by catering staff.

  • Offer hand sanitizer and reusable face masks with fun designs to your guests.

I know that hand sanitizer is “worth its weight in gold” right now! Still, try to find it for your celebration. There are also a lot of cute face masks available these days; the skilled craftspeople making them would certainly be happy to help you.

We are sheltering in place to “flatten the curve” – but after a few months of confinement at home we will all go back to our “normal life,” whatever that means. It will certainly take time to recover and life might be different than before, but the world will start spinning again and people will start getting together again and celebrating.  No matter how scary things are right now – the most important things are that we have our health and that the people we love are close. If this continues, then we are winning. 

Written by Anna Hogan

Katie and Marcelo – International High Elegance at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club

Here’s to International Relations! Bride and groom actually met while studying – you guessed it! – International Relations (plus an MBA on top of that…), and what they entered into was, in fact, a very international (and for the longest time, long-distance) relationship: Marcelo is originally from Argentina, studied in Philadelphia, where he met Katie, originally from the SF Bay Area – but she had lived in West Africa for four years for her work… in no time, the two bridged any international issues and became inseparable, albeit in separate locations; only a few months before their wedding, they actually, finally, were able to move into their first shared home.

Given that they both were living and working far apart and far away, Katie’s parents and family friend Alice stepped in to take the lead for a truly memorable, truly big (280 guests) and extremely elegant wedding celebration for their only daughter, and they brought my company, A Day Like No Other, on board to come up with ideas and make them a reality for that one glorious day in October when all our yearlong hard work came to fruition.

Katie and her bridesmaids got ready at the house of Katie’s parents.

Fiona Tsang of Urban Beauty Loft and her assistants worked their magic on the bride, bridesmaids and mothers, and photographer Taralynn Lawton (all photos in this feature are by her!) and videographer Jesse Eckel of Owl & Tree Films captured it all, including Katie’s diaphanous wedding dress…

… and all the pretty details.

And here is a timeless mother-and-daughter moment…

Florist Janelle Jacky-Litt of Green Petal Designs delivered Katie’s bridal bouquet and all other personal flowers (and then started floral installation for the festivities)…

Marcelo and his groomsmen were also dressing up…

With that, bride and groom were ready for their First Look at the Municipal Rose Garden in San Jose…

Isn’t it romantic?!

While bride and groom were busy taking many, many pre-ceremony photos, my team, multiple vendor crews and family friend Alice were hard at work (actually, everyone had started work in the early morning hours…) to transform the chosen venue – the Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club – for Katie’s and Marcelo’s ceremony and reception. Annette Boyd Kevranian of Method42 Productions and her crew were rigging suspended floral decor and string lights and installing draping; the venue team led by onsite manager Brittany Rieland set up tables, chairs and lounge furniture and set the dining tables; my assistants and I were setting up signage and completing table settings; and…

florist Janelle brought the beautiful parklike surroundings inside by adorning every easel, railing and surface with trailing vines, visually connecting the outdoor ceremony setting with the indoor spaces for the reception.

Golden October sun bathing the rolling hills of the PAHGGC
A detail of the lush floral decor of the arch – a rich texture of hydrangeas, roses, dahlias, lilies and wildflowers, in shades ranging from ivory and blush pink to peach, mauve and wine red

Once the ceremony setup was in place, DJ Henry Kim of BIG FUN Disc Jockeys installed a sound system, and the Synchronicity String Quartet arrived to serenade the bridal party and the guests at the ceremony.

Hand fans doubled as ceremony programs…

… and soon enough guests were arriving (shuttled in style by Le Grande Affaire), and the ceremony began. Officiated by a longtime friend of the bride’s family, it was heartfelt and authentic – it does not get more personal than that!

The bridesmaids were wearing subtle shades of mauve and pale lavender, accentuated by their bouquets which picked up this color scheme and complemented it with deep burgundy, magenta and ivory.
You may now kiss the bride!
Just married!

The newlyweds had more photos to take…

… while their guests were treated to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the elegantly appointed patio.

Cozy lounge furniture and color-coordinated blankets beckoned; living green trees were literally bringing the gardens to the patio… and built-in heaters provided warmth against the late Fall evening chill. To keep guests well entertained, a photo booth by The Laugh Box provided unlimited fun!

Indoors, a guest book table was used to display a personal photo gallery…

… whose backdrop, a natural stone wall, was filled with flowers in every niche and “overgrown” by gracefully trailing vines – all the masterpiece of florist Janelle.

Then it was time for dinner! The dining room had been transformed into an indoor garden scenery with string lights, living trees, a giant floral arrangement suspended above the Head Table, stunning tall floral centerpieces, white-washed Chiavari chairs and elegant place settings.

Every guest table enjoyed a giant version of the bridal bouquet as its exquisite centerpiece
Mauve velvet napkins were adorned with simple green sprigs and a little wedding favor: a personalized wine cork to commemorate the occasion

Once all guests were seated, the new Mr. & Mrs. opened the lavish dinner buffet with their Grand Entrance.

Over dinner, Katie’s Dad surprised everyone with an outrageous performance:

He expertly “decapitated” a bottle of Champagne with a saber!

The two clearly enjoyed the evening! What else was there to do? Cutting the wedding cake (from Studio Cake)…

… and opening the dessert buffet of Argentinian cake specialties…

… and dancing, of course! DJ Henry Kim – who also served as our bilingual MC – kept the crowd going with the perfect mix of Argentinian tunes and international favorites.

The newlyweds’ First Dance…
… was followed by a spectacular Father-Daughter Dance routine (which both of them clearly had sheer joy in performing!)

That opened the dance floor to all guests.

It truly was an “International Summit” and an epic party! Keep celebrating life and love on your shared journey, Katie and Marcelo!

Anna and Etan – a Fantasy in Blue and Silver

Anna and Etan had chosen Thomas Fogarty Winery for their wedding – a spectacular venue with endless views over all of Silicon Valley right to the San Francisco skyline – and brought my company, A Day Like No Other, on board to plan everything else – from vendor sourcing to design, ceremony planning to wedding day schedule. Our many months of planning time literally flew by, and on the first weekend of September, Wedding Day was upon us.

Anna and her bridesmaids got ready at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto where Felicia Chang of Bun Bun Bridal Lab had set up a veritable beauty lounge.

The girls REALLY had fun together… see here!

Then it was time for the bride to transfer to her wedding venue in style – we had reserved a stretch limousine from Le Grande Affaire – and to get into her dress…

… a delicate, diaphanous, lace-encrusted stunner!

Matching the blue-and-silver color scheme, Anna had chosen shimmering silver wedding shoes. Here are the rings….

… and the beautiful bouquets for bride and bridesmaids (by Marie Krick of Laurel & Vine)..

And here is the happy bride…

Groom Etan was also getting ready…

… and he and his groomsmen were outfitted with boutonnieres matching the bridal flowers.

Time was flying by, and guests began arriving (via shuttle by Destination Systems). Harpist Erica Messer began to play traditional wedding ceremony music.

Officiant Chris Thielen (of Personal Weddings by Chris) and groom Etan were awaiting bride Anna as she was escorted in by her proud Dad.

The arch was decorated with ivory roses and baby-blue hydrangeas, and the aisle was covered with ivory rose petals (all floral decor by Marie Krick of Laurel & Vine).

After the ceremony, it was time for many, many photos of the couple and their friends and family members …

… photographer extraordinaire Danny Dong and videographer Martin Meyer (of martinFILMS) captured it all …

… while guests were enjoying cocktails and my team and the team of Toast Catering put finishing touches on the dinner setup (with chairs, linens and elegant tabletop items by Hensley Event Resources, design by A Day Like No Other).

It all turned out exactly as bride Anna had envisioned it – until the weather threw us a curveball: a freak storm forced us to move dinner inside, and the catering team, onsite coordinator Kaitlin Brinton, my assistants Chrissy Wolfman and Stephanie Hui and myself, and even our DJ scrambled to carry everything inside. Incredible but true: it was all done in a mere twenty minutes, and guests could sit down in warmth and comfort to a delicious meal by Toast Catering. The rest of the evening progressed smoothly, including cutting the breathtakingly elegant (and super delicious!) wedding cake (by Cake Coquette).

The remainder of the festivities was dedicated to dancing to the rousing tunes of DJ Woody Miraglia of BIG FUN Disc Jockeys

… and the newlyweds just snuck out for a moment to take photos with sparklers, despite the howling storm…

A stunning vintage limousine (from Elegant Journey Limousine Service, chauffeured by owner George Rose himself) whisked the newlyweds away for their First Night.

What a celebration!

See it on film: https://www.martinfilms.com/etan-anna