Marriage is undoubtedly one of the most important events for Iranian families. The aroosi (or wedding) involves an abundance of perfectly-arranged florals, elegant fruit and dessert displays, lavish décor, and a perpetually packed dance floor. But beyond the extravagances Persian weddings so often entail, there existed (and still exists, to some extent) the ancient tradition of Khastegari (or courtship).
In the olden times, it was customary for Iranians to partake in this formality in which the man (the khastegar) and his family would search for potential brides who were from families of similar standing in the community. After finding eligible women, the families were to meet and decide if an engagement was the next step. In modern Iran, men and women are able to more freely date and arrange their own Khastegari. While Khastegari is not as common for Iranian-American weddings, they still maintain elements that pay homage to what's at the core of Khastegari: respect to the family.
Wondering what to expect at a Persian wedding? Here are some frequently asked questions, according to Persian wedding planner Sanam Enayati.
Meet the Expert
Sanam Enayati is a professional event planner specializing in Persian weddings. She is the co-founder of L'Amour Events and is based in Los Angeles.
- How many guests attend? Most Persian weddings, especially Persian Jewish weddings, have a 300 to 1,000-person guest count. It's typical for guests to range from distant acquaintances to close family members.
- Should I bring a gift? It is customary to bring a gift to a Persian wedding, even if the couple opted out of having a wedding registry. A monetary gift or gold coins are appropriate gifts.
- How long is a Persian wedding ceremony? Every ceremony is unique, but most tend to last approximately one hour to one hour and a half. While some bridal parties like to dance their way down the aisle to create an upbeat atmosphere, others take a more traditional approach with vows and prayers.
- What should I wear? In Persian Jewish wedding ceremonies, the men wear kippahs or to cover their heads. At Orthodox wedding ceremonies, it is customary for women to wear attire that covers their shoulders. Formal attire is usually appropriate for the reception for both Persian Jewish as well as traditional Persian weddings.
Keep scrolling to learn about some of the most popular Persian wedding traditions.
In Persian Jewish weddings, the signing of the Jewish marriage contract (or ketubah) is a ceremonial event that is led by the officiant and typically done right before the procession. The ceremony lasts about 30 minutes and has an assembly of close friends and family members—it is considered an honor to be invited to witness the couple signing their ketubah.
The contract defines the groom's duties and responsibilities to his bride as well as the rights and protection the bride holds in case of a divorce. Jewish ketubah signings only require the signature of the bride, groom, officiant, and two witnesses, however, in the Persian tradition, this is the opportunity to honor valued family members by allowing them to sign the back of the contract.
The aghd is the ceremony portion of the wedding in which the bride and groom sit in front of an assorted sofreh (or table) full of items that have meanings behind them. "The sofreh aghd represents the symbolic and traditional union of the bride and groom," explains Enayati. "It is an intricate spread of items that stand for the shared journey of life and marriage the couple is about to embark on." Some of the elements you'll find on a sofreh include a mirror that signifies eternity, two candlesticks that signify light, nuts, and eggs for fertility, and coins for wealth and prosperity.
Esfand (or incense) is a combination of spices and herbs that symbolize the unwelcoming of negative energy. Burning esfand is an important part of the Irananian culture that's meant to deter the 'evil eye' from causing any harm, particularly as one is about to embark on a new journey or milestone. At a Persian wedding, the esfand is burned just as the bride walks down the aisle. "As the flower girls are spearing the aisle with petals, someone from my team is lighting up the incense," explains Enayati. "After we walk around the bride a few times holding the esfand, we are to bring the bride out to get married."
A traditional Persian wedding procession includes the officiant, bridesmaids, groomsmen, siblings, parents, ring bearer, flower girls, bride, and groom. "Modern traditions have transformed the old-fashioned wedding aisle," notes Enayati. "It has become customary for the bridal party to dance rather than walk down the aisle."
After all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen dance down the aisle, the groom’s parents walk halfway down the aisle and await their son’s arrival. The groom then greets his parents who guide their son to the sofreh. Next, the bride’s parents walk halfway down the aisle, with the flower girls following. Just before the bride is about to walk down the aisle, all guests rise from their seats. When the bride reaches her parents in the middle of the aisle, she first turns to her mother who lifts the veil and hugs her. The bride then turns to her father for an embrace, and he then pulls her veil back down.
It is at this time the groom meets the bride and her parents in the center of the aisle. The groom pays his respects to the bride’s parents by hugging and kissing them, and the father of the bride proceeds to place the bride's hand into the groom’s hand—this symbolizes the father giving away his daughter. The bride’s parents leave the center of the aisle where the bride and groom have their last few moments together before walking to the sofreh.
Canopies have served as a long-standing wedding tradition for Jewish as well as traditional Persian weddings. "In Judaism, a canopy held up at four sides is called a chuppah and is what the couple stands under as the officiant carries out the wedding ceremony," says Enayati. "In traditional Persian weddings, the canopy symbolizes unity and is customarily held by four females in the family who are close to the couple." Many couples of today are taking a modern approach and extravagantly designing their wedding canopies with luscious flowers and designs.
The consent tradition is the "I do" part of the wedding. First, the officiant asks the groom for consent and he quickly obliges. Next, the officiant asks the bride for her consent. "It is customary for the bride to be asked for her consent three times before she answers—this is to symbolize the groom’s journey of earning his wife’s love," says Enayati. The crowd gets involved by yelling reasons why the bride can’t consent yet, such as "aroos rafteh gol behshineh!” or “the bride has left to plant flowers." Enayati explains that the consent tradition creates excitement and anticipation in the audience until the final moment the bride finally agrees by saying “baleh!” or "yes."
Dipping Fingers in Honey
At Persian weddings, a bowl of honey is placed on the sofreh aghd signifying sweetness for the couple. After the couple has consented and they are officially married, it is customary for the groom to hold the bowl of honey as they each dip one finger (the pinky) inside and feed it to each other. This symbolizes the idea that the couple will feed each other sweetness as they begin their lives as one.
At Persian Jewish weddings, the blessing of the challah bread is typically done either right before dinner is served or after the bride and groom make their grand entrance. It is a spiritual moment of the wedding reception where all guests take a seat as a short blessing is said over the challah. The challah is then cut and passed out to all of the tables of guests. It is considered an honor to be asked to perform the blessing, and the right is usually reserved for an elderly family member whom the couple chooses to give this role to.
Flower Petal Toss
Persian weddings have a tradition called gol baroon, which translates to raining flowers. This typically occurs at the end of the reception. The bride and groom stand in the middle of the dance floor with their guests circling them and throwing flower petals on them as they dance and kiss. Beautiful photos aside, the gol baroon signifies beautiful wishes for the bride and groom as the night comes to an end and they begin their life together.