Two months ago, Capsule’s Emma Clifton married her partner, Shahab Ramhormozian. She talks about hosting a small backyard wedding ceremony, incorporating Persian traditions and why she recommends waiting until your mid-thirties, minimum, to get married.
In our new series ‘Let’s Normalise…’ we’re going to be looking at people who make major life decisions on their own schedule. Beginning a new career at 50, starting a degree at 40, doing an OE at 60… life only gets better and more interesting as you get older.
It’s hard to think of an event that inspires equal amounts of romanticism and cynicism as a wedding, but, personally, I actually think it’s quite good to head into your own wedding with a balanced level of both. The thing is: weddings are insane. I mean, the language used to describe them is nothing short of bonkers. “The best day of your life. The most important day of your life.” The expectations. The rules. The money. It’s… a lot.
People always talk about planning their dream weddings when they were kids but I’ll tell you, my teenage self was an A-grade idiot when it came to her hopes and dreams.
Luckily, when my husband Shahab and I got married two months ago, we had some factors that helped keep things in perspective. Firstly, I’m 35, Shahab is 38 and even then, frankly, we still felt too young to get married; I referred to myself as a ‘child bride’ with only a hint of irony. People always talk about planning their dream weddings when they were kids but I’ll tell you, my teenage self was an A-grade idiot when it came to her hopes and dreams. I can distinctly remember when I was 15, planning my wedding to Josh Hartnett and it involved a tropical island at sunset, with a white plane flying overhead sprinkling pink rose petals over us. Luckily, 20 years later, I have outgrown all of these things (wherever Josh Hartnett is now, I hope he’s well) and there’s nothing like a global pandemic to help streamline your options.
Our actual wedding planning was done very quickly – we knew that none of Shahab’s family (based in Iran and Australia) or most of our overseas friends or family were going to be able to come to New Zealand for the wedding for at least another year, so there was no point planning a giant wedding. Living in Auckland, with lockdowns happening on a semi-regular basis, I knew we would absolutely be chancing it in terms of planning a wedding so by having it at our flat, that was one less variable – and also it meant we didn’t have to worry about losing our deposit on a venue.
Also – and I cannot stress this enough – keeping our budget minimal was a) our only choice, lol, and b) the greatest way to keep things simple. When the Notorious BIG rapped about Mo Money, Mo Problems, I can only assume he was planning a wedding because low money, low problems: when you don’t have a lot to play with, you have to get creative. The average NZ wedding costs $35k and that is, frankly, a staggering amount of money to spend on one day. Luckily, 15 years working in magazines has given me plenty of experience at creating a lot out of a little. Planning an afternoon event with a group of my favourite people where, even if shit hits the fan and things goes wrong, we still end up married? Piece of cake.
Keeping our budget minimal was a) our only choice, lol, and b) the greatest way to keep things simple.
I mean, sure, was I averaging a migraine every two days in the fortnight before the ceremony? Absolutely. Did I hiss at my husband-to-be and my mother ‘get out of my way’ while styling the backyard just four hours before the wedding, while wearing pyjamas and a gardening hat? You BET I did. But look, it all worked out.
The most important part of the wedding planning was that it represented both of our families: Shahab is a very proud Persian and this is a culture that is swooningly romantic when it comes to weddings, so there were so many beautiful aspects that we were able to incorporate. We fossicked our way through the Wedding Internet – Pinterest, YouTube, blogs – and worked out what would work for our little backyard ceremony.
Persians are spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful traditional poets, so we had a lot to pick from. Shahab’s father, Mohammad, sent through a lovely poem, which we used on our wedding invites (beautifully designed by my talented friend Lisa Smith). And in a lovely bit of kismet, a decade ago I had pinned a poem by the poet Hafiz on my ‘Words’ Pinterest page (yes, that IS cheesy but weddings are nothing if not a time for cheese) and Hafiz turns out to be Shahab’s favourite poet. My best friend Lucy shared it as a reading and it was short and emotional, a perfect wedding combination.
We also incorporated some traditional Persian music with Shahab playing his kamancheh – it’s a suuuuper old-school Iranian instrument, known as the ‘grandfather of the Western violin’ and what I personally refer to as ‘the sad violin’, because it produces the most exquisitely mournful sound. True story: Shahab played me Happy Birthday on it once and I cried because it was so emotionally devastating to listen to. Yes, the jaunty Happy Birthday tune you are thinking of.
If you don’t make your guests cry regularly throughout the service, what are you even up to?
So we knew that it was going to be a highpoint of the ceremony, because if you don’t make your guests cry regularly throughout the service, what are you even up to? Shahab is a low-key musical genius and combined an original piece of music with a traditional Persian wedding song, mixed in the Wedding March, and included Pachelbel’s Canon in D for good measure.
Because the flat that we rent is the bottom half of a lovely house, with a big deck, a backyard and a huge old oak tree, we didn’t do a huge amount of decorating but we did rely very heavily on my mum’s creative talents for two things. Firstly, she had worked at the iconic London department shop Liberty’s in the 1980s and had a huge stash of the famous fabric, so she made 40 metres of bunting to string up around the garden and gazebo. And then she created the pièce de résistance, the Sofreh Aghed. The Persian Wedding table is both beautiful and hugely symbolic, with a whole range of specific items required that represent good wishes for a healthy, happy and abundant life.
We sat at the wedding table for part of the ceremony and performed two Persian wedding traditions there. First was the sugar ceremony where four female wedding guests take part in holding up a Cloth of Unity over the married couple, while two happily married female guests take turns in grinding sugar cones over the cloth. The second was dipping our pinkie fingers into honey and feeding them to each other, which was both adorable and – I’ll say it – quite sexy, and resulted in this inadvertently hilarious photo of my friend Claire cheering on our weird sexy act. Both of these represent a lifetime of sweetness for the couple and were really lovely parts to fit into the ceremony.
Shahab and I consider ourselves to be ceremony people rather than wedding people, so it was great to be able to incorporate non-Western traditions into our day. Luckily, our Wedding Captain (celebrant) Mel Stuart was an absolute legend and helped us design a ceremony that worked with the Persian aspects. As a result, everything felt very ‘us’ and despite me being, 95% of the time, an anxious nightmare of a person, I was a very calm and relaxed bride.
Everything felt very ‘us’ and despite me being, 95% of the time, an anxious nightmare of a person, I was a very calm and relaxed bride.
Perhaps even slightly too relaxed – I forgot a series of important details and it all just… worked out. Every single one of those ‘mistakes’ ended up being some of my favourite parts of the day because they made everyone laugh and all I ever wanted was a wedding day that was filled with love, laughter and so much cake that it became a storage problem. I consider myself to be a slightly chaotic but friendly person, and Shahab is a calm and loving soul, and somehow those aspects combined to create a day that really was the happiest day of our lives.
I know. I AM a cliché.
My wedding advice
– Instead of having a gift registry, we asked guests to bring a bottle or two of something to drink and they really went to town. We still have an entire cupboard dedicated to extra bottles of beer, wine and champagne, and it’s been two months since our wedding. This saved us a tonne of money and meant that we didn’t end up with a bunch of lovely stuff that we didn’t actually need.
– When we sent out the invites, we asked guests to include their favourite love song with their RSVP and then we added them all into our Love Party playlist. It was SUPER cute and a lovely way to get to know another aspect of our favourite people.
– Apart from each other and our loved ones, the thing that Shahab and I love the most in the world is food and so that took up a large part of our budget. Our total wedding budget was $10k, with food and the photography each taking up 1/3 of that. (The rest went on flowers from Kensal, our wonderful celebrant Mel Stuart, and a livestream for the wedding so that all of our overseas loved ones could watch the event live on the day.) We wanted the food to be a celebration of Middle Eastern food and so Ima’s, the iconic Auckland restaurant, was the obvious choice and BOY, did they deliver. Four team members came to our house and cooked, from scratch, an entire three-course Middle Eastern feast. We also ordered a ‘cake banquet’ from The Caker, so instead of having just one giant wedding cake, we paid the same amount of money and got a huge range of cakes in different sizes and flavours. Oh, and we got a giant stack of French cheese as well. We had so much leftover cake, wine and cheese that we ate only that for the next week and then froze a lot of the cake so we didn’t die of gout.
– I asked a wonderful photographer friend, Emily Chalk, for a recommendation for a bridal photographer – Emily couldn’t do it but I really recommend her – and she came through with the lovely Kate Little Photography. I didn’t want posed photos because Shahab and I are awkward people, so I just wanted a whole range of candid and lovely photos and she knocked it out of the park. Instead of a bunch of ‘wedding photos’, we got a selection of gloriously natural photos that really captured the magic of the day.
– You can make the day your own. I know we were very lucky as we had zero family pressure from either side but no-one batted an eyelid when we said no to most of the traditions. We didn’t have a bridal party. I didn’t wear white. We didn’t have an engagement party or kitchen tea. We were extremely aware that this is a time where most people are in shakier financial positions than they might have been a year ago and so it felt right to make this a simple but fun day (plus, with the ever-present threat of lockdown – i.e. we went into a mini lockdown just two weeks before the wedding – it seemed like having only one event to worry about was the best way to go). Also, I highly recommend getting married for the first time after 35 because, by this age, you really know what you like and what’s important to you. I have no doubt that my 25-year-old self would have still had a hankering for the white plane and the rose petals, but this 35-year-old just wanted a floral dress, the loveliest man and enough cake to feed a small, romantic army.