Officiating weddings in New York brings surprises and treats on a regular basis. Such was the case when I was invited to do an impromptu ceremony for my lovely couple this weekend. The bride explained that they wanted to have a small, but meaningful ceremony in New York, with a group of family and friends, in advance of a much larger affair this summer in their home country of Iran. Having never worked with a couple of Persian ancestry, I was excited for the opportunity to be of service.
Although I had little time to prepare for the nuptials, I was able to draw upon my training at the Celebrant Foundation and my current work as a seminarian at the One Spirit Learning Alliance, an inter-faith seminary in New York, to offer some spirited personalization of their ceremony.
Although the ceremony was secular in its orientation, and we would not be including religious rituals, I was able to identify and integrate cultural connections to their homeland. Persian literary tradition provides a wonderful body of work from which to borrow beautiful and romantic poems. I selected two short readings from the Sufi mystics Rumi and Hafez.
As part of paying tribute to their home, my crafty couple had arranged to have their parents brought in to the ceremony, via skype, from Iran eight time zones away. During the vow exchange, my bride and groom honored their parents with words in English and their native Persian language.
Finally in research Persian wedding traditions I found two interesting rituals from which I drew inspiration. Persian weddings feature a vast, delectable feast called the Sofreh. One part of this meal is the bride and groom sharing sweets to symbolize their delightful future together. From this, I brought the traditional wedding cake for a post ceremony sharing, drawing references to the Sofreh. The second custom, which actually resembles similar rituals from other cultures, was showering the couple with coins and dates, representing a prosperous life together with wishes for fertility. Again, I rather improvised….I brought to the wedding a bag full of coins that I had collected over the last dozen years in my international travels around Europe, Africa and Central America. Each guest at the wedding, as well as the bride and groom, took a coin, making good wishes for the couple’s life together. As a group, we paraded from our ceremony location in Carl Schurz park, on New York’s Upper East Side, to the East River. In unison, we joyfully tossed the coins into the river, with the coins of all sorts warmed by our hands and good wishes.
The delightful and Westernized couple was still clearly connected to their homeland—and indeed a number of their guests were there from Iran. Knowing of their summer celebration back home and their welcoming spirits, my “takes” on their tradition were warmly embrace, for which I was quite thankful. Although I may never visit Iran in my lifetime (although I hope that isn’t the case), I was brought just one step closer to this exotic and mysterious land by my well-meaning couple.
To my lovely couple, I wish you peace and all good things. It is through warm people like my bride and groom that we can bridge the geopolitical differences that can separate these two countries–swirling about us in ways we cannot understand or impact, reminding us that love is always the answer.