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Last spring The Sous Chef and I had a Persian Wedding Ceremony.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much interest there was in the ceremony and how every time I shared the details with anyone, they simply looked at me mesmerized by how beautiful and symbolic the ceremony is. OK I will admit it; I felt and still feel all peachy, fuzzy and giggly inside for the interest!

It is important for me to share our rich culture along with our wonderful recipes on this blog. I am planning on sharing the beauty of Aghd, Persian wedding ceremony, on this blog, however, I would like to start from the very beginning. What I mean by the beginning is the process of getting engaged, Persian style!

I had a conversation with my mom recently about this whole subject matter and asked her how her generation and that of my grandmother went about it.

My grandmother’s generation operated in such a different way. For us modern Iranians it’s hard to believe that their marriages were actually arranged and often took place with members of their own family.  Indeed, my maternal grandparents’ marriage was arranged. My grandmother and my grandfather were actually first cousins; their fathers were brothers.  It blows my mind every time I think about it!

Maman Fakhri and Baba Hashem were married when they were young and had two kids together, my mom and my daee, uncle.  Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet my grandfather as he passed when my mom was little. However, he had a presence in our house and was remembered fondly.  I loved asking my grandmother about him and hearing her stories.

Still to this day, I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that they were first cousins and grew up together and eventually got married to each other.  I often joke that my wacky personality is a side effect of my grandparents’ marriage!!! Seriously though, my grandmother didn’t even need to change her last name as her husband had the same last name!!! It.blows.my.mind!

I can’t even remotely imagine being married to any of my first cousins, seriously!

Fast forwarding a couple of generations the rules of the games have changed in some aspects but certain traditional customs have remained the same.

Traditionally, a man’s parents will call and arrange a meeting with the girl’s parents. At times the young duo may be strangers, their parents may know each other, or the two may have actually met on their own. Persian mothers are not shy when it comes to networking for marriage purposes.  It’s not uncommon to hear Iranian women talk about their children and tell each other “about how so and so has a nice son or daughter.”

Regardless of the circumstances the parents of the man make the first step in arranging a meet with the girl’s parents. This is what Persians refer to as Khaseghari.

This first meeting generally takes place in the afternoon over some tea and sweets at the girl’s home. This small and intimate gathering is attended by the parents and siblings of the interested parties and at times the grandparents.  Traditionally, the girl who is the object of the khasegari serves tea and offers sweets during the gathering.

The man’s parents will express their son’s interest in wanting to marry the hosts’ daughter and will ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage. If all parties are agreeable to the union, then the parents proceed forward and talk about the announcement of the engagement as well as when the wedding will take place.

In the past one of the topics discussed of imperative importance was Mehrieh, a certain sum of money or valuables that the groom promises to pay to the bride. Mehrieh becomes the sole property of the bride that she can spend at any time and any way she wishes. It can also be a sum of money that the groom agrees to pay if the marriage ends in a separation or divorce. These days more traditional families might still discuss Mehrieh; I suppose in today’s society Mehrieh can be compared to a prenup.  Regardless, the concept of Mehrieh was simply to provide some type of financial security for the bride.

My mom shared with me that more modern and independent women of her time would not ask for money as a Mehrieh, but for the sake of agreeing to be given something they would, for example, say that they would take: Yek shakheh nabar va yek ketab Koran, a stem of crystallized sugar and a book of Koran.

Once such formalities are hashed out the celebrations begin! Many families opt to have an engagement party for their children. Generally, these parties, as any other Persian gatherings, are held in the evening and are very festive where good food is abundant and there is plenty of dancing and merriment that takes place. Generally, during the party the father of the bride-to-be will announce the engagement news and the groom-to-be will present his fiancé with an engagement ring.

There is no set waiting period between the engagement and wedding itself. Some people choose to get married within a few months of their engagement while others will wait a little longer. Nevertheless, the families during this time will discuss yet another element of khaseghari which is Jahaz, dowry.  Jahaz refers to any item(s) that the bride will take with her to her husband’s home. The items range from the most basic household necessities, such as linens, towels, pots and pans, and furniture, to more expensive items of choice discussed and agreed upon by both sets of parents.

In more recent years Iranian couples who get engaged may not necessarily go through all the steps that I have written here. However, there are some aspects of our traditions that remain the same. It is still customary for a man and his parents to ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage. I find this to be such a wonderful gesture that shows a lot of respect for the parents. Some people may have an issue about this tradition, which by the way it’s observed in many cultures.  It is true that we are our own entities, however, I find a lot of charm and respect in the whole process of asking a girl’s parents for their blessing.

Some times things get a bit amusing when another culture collides with the Persian culture. As far as The Sous Chef and I are concerned we have many, many, MANY moments where West meets East and our cultural differences become so evident. I think many of you Iranians who are married to a non-Iranian will related.

The Sous Chef and I didn’t necessarily have a traditional Persian engagement, but it was perfect the way it all turned out to be!

I found out that The Sous Chef was going to propose by pure accident, even though we had talked about marriage and we both knew that we were each other’s soul-mates. We were at a jewelry store where he was looking for a present for one of his childhood friends’ mom’s 50th birthday bash. He spent many hours at her house growing up and she was like a second mom to him.  I was browsing the display windows looking at all the sparkling pieces when a gorgeous ring that was a replica, albeit much smaller, of Princess Diana’s engagement ring caught my eye.

Is there any girl in my generation that was not fascinated with Princess Diana’s beauty and sense of fashion? I have no idea when I first noticed her ring, possibly it was in one of the pictures in a book of hers that I own. Yes, I did say it; I own a book about Princess Diana with lots and lots of beautiful pictures of her.

Back to the jewelry store because I could totally get side tracked with Princess Diana. I started salivating over the ring and called The Sous Chef over because in that moment I needed to share my excitement over the ring with someone. And just in case you are wondering, yes, he did give me a “that’s nice…who the hell cares” look!

He then moved on going back to what he had come to the store for, because he is a task oriented type of fella, unlike me who gets side tracked smelling the roses along the path! The conversation that took place after my discovery is a bit blurry as it caught me by complete surprise. He asked me if I liked the ring and if I wanted it. I might have responded with a smarty pants answer involving the following words: “don’t buy me any ring unless you are planning on proposing.”  Low and behold he had been looking for a ring and was having a hard time finding something that was appropriate. Apparently, I had made things a bit difficult for him because he knew that I absolutely did not want a diamond ring.

Long story short he purchased the ring and he couldn’t be happier about having found something that I liked and wanted.  Talking about killing two birds with one stone!

Now here comes the West meets East part. Since he was not aware of Persian customs and what not, I informed him about what traditionally Iranians do during such times.

“Why do I need to ask your mom? I am not marrying her?” He said.

“But that’s what is customary to do. You ask for the parents’ blessing.”

“But I am not Persian!”

“You don’t have to be Persian to do it! Americans do it too! Think about it this way, at least you don’t have to ask your parents to ask my parents!”

“Well I don’t speak Farsi or Italian and your mom doesn’t speak English. How am I supposed to do this? It’s impossible.”

“We can ask Hamid to translate the conversation between you and my mom.”

And so my mom’s cousin Hamid indeed did a fabulous job of translating the exchange! The whole conversation left my mom all giggly and happy as she reminded me that many years ago she had mentioned that she envisioned me marrying a nice American boy, to which my response at the time was “I think not!” And that she knew that The Sous Chef was “the” good American boy when she met him the previous year.

Here is a little lesson for you gentlemen to learn, please do wow your future mother-in-law by bringing her flowers and her favorite wine.  I can’t even begin to tell you how lovely The Sous Chef looked when he showed up with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine for my mom when he came over while my mom was here visiting. And the wine bottles of her favorite wine kept on coming! They may have not spoken the same language but the gesture of bringing flowers and a wine that she enjoyed drinking spoke volumes!

A short few weeks later in early September of 2007, post ring shopping day, I was told we were going somewhere and that we had dinner reservations.  It took me forever to get ready that morning as I went through various outfits and it’s safe to say I had the worst hair day in my whole entire life time.

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We spent the afternoon in Dana Point at a festival that they were having. We walked around the grounds and chatted away.

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We made our way to the restaurant later in the early evening. We had a fabulous meal which I completely forgot to take pictures of as I was all giggly about the food presentation and fabulous taste.

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We later made our way to the big secret location which turned out to be the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel. My jaw just simple fell open as we drove up the drive way. It was by far the fancies place I had EVER been!

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We hung out on the balcony facing the ocean chatting and star gazing to the sound of crashing waves on the beach.  It was an amazing night and we even saw a couple of shooting stars make their way across the dark sky.  The rest is a little blurry as the next thing I knew he was down on one knee telling me how wonderful I am and asking me to marry him! Aaaww how cute!

We didn’t have a big Persian party for our engagement but Hamid made sure to have a small gathering to celebrate the exciting news!

Needless to say that The Sous Chef and I didn’t talk about Mehrieh or Jahaz.

The one question that we heard over and over and over  was “when are you getting married?” A shiver went down my back every time this question was asked because honestly, the thought of having to organize a wedding just didn’t appeal to me two bits and going to Vegas was completely out of question. I was right in the middle of grad school and planning a wedding was the furthest thing on my mind.

To be continued…

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