A marriage of two cultures

Following Persian tradition, Alex Saify gives Suzannah Simmons a taste of honey during their wedding ceremony.

Suzannah Simmons and Alex Saify almost eloped to Vegas, but there was just one sticking point:

“He wanted the fat Elvis. I wanted the skinny Elvis, so we never came to an agreement on that,” Simmons said.

The couple met in Washington, D.C., where Simmons, 35, a Charleston native and Wando High School graduate, works in small business development and Saify, 37, who was born in Tehran and grew up in Virginia, works in tech. They celebrated their union at Carolina Yacht Club in downtown Charleston on June 20 through an elaborate, multicultural ceremony, combining Persian and Western traditions.

“We knew this was the only time in our lives that all the people who are so close to us could all be in one place because our friends and family live all over the country. His family lives all over the world,” Simmons said. “Having these sides meet, we thought, what better way to highlight that than having an amazing ceremony and showing this coming together of two families with two very different backgrounds?”

They married in a traditional Persian wedding ceremony called the sofreh aghd. The sofreh is an intricate spread of several food and ornamental items with symbolic importance.

At one end sit a mirror and candelabras. On the other, sit the bride and groom on a bench. They gaze at each other for the first time during the ceremony through the mirror. The spread usually consists of ornately decorated eggs, which symbolize fertility; pastries; fruits such as apples and pomegranates; and sacred texts, such as the Zoroastrian Avesta or Koran.

Since neither are religious, they chose the “Shahnameh,” the epic “Persian Book of Kings,” and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”

The bride’s father read a passage from “Paradise Lost,” while the groom’s father read several Persian poems in Farsi.

After the readings, and per Persian tradition, the bride and groom fed each other honey, a symbol of sweetness and life, from a glass bowl using just their pinky fingers. Then the bridesmaids held a silken cloth, sewn by Saify’s grandmother, above them. The women took turns rubbing together a pair of sugar cones, wrapped in tulle and covered in glitter, so the granules sprinkled over the couple’s heads.

They also injected a little rock ‘n’ roll into the ceremony. Simmons walked down the aisle to The Cure’s “Just like Heaven” on cello, wearing an exquisite bead-embroidered Sottero and Midgley gown. Saify teared up when he saw her. They walked out together as man and wife while a DJ played “All My Love” by Led Zeppelin.

“We got very positive feedback and people said it was an educational and cultural experience they’ve never had before, at least for people on my side. For the Persians, they said it was the best mixed ceremony they had ever seen,” Simmons said. “I wouldn’t have changed anything that happened.”

Her new husband agreed.

“We really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect wedding,” he said.

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.