Iranian culture is by no means alone in making huge affairs out of weddings, rites of passage and other celebrations. But rarely are the stakes as high as they are for Iranian Americans, particularly in Los Angeles, home to the largest–and one of the most affluent–Persian communities outside of Iran.
During the 1980s, the initial years of the Iranian diaspora, many were unsure whether L.A. would be any more than a temporary home, and were wary of spending extravagantly during a time of transition. But as members of the immigrant group began to settle down and prosper, there was a shift.
“They said ‘If we are living in this country, let’s live,'” Shabpareh said. “It used to be only one cameraman with the camera on his shoulder. Now there are four or five camera crews at parties and they have a 25-foot crane over the dance floor.”
The festivities often double as enormous family reunions, with relatives flying in from the East Coast and abroad. Open bars, fully stocked with top-shelf liquors, are the norm. Guests dance to live musicians so well-known in the community that many go by one name. Festivities continue into the early morning, fueled by cups of black tea and sugary Persian pastries.
Sheila Kharrazi, 32, of Beverly Hills would have preferred a smaller ceremony, maybe even a destination wedding at some far-flung locale. But with Persian weddings, she said, the bride and groom don’t always get to choose.
“In the Persian community, your wedding is not so much your wedding as it is your parents’ wedding,” she said. “My mom’s response was ‘Your kid’s wedding will be your wedding.'”
Her mother’s desire to have a large affair trumped the wishes of the bride and groom. Kharrazi and her husband, an orthopedic surgeon, ended up getting married at the Beverly Hills Hotel with some 450 guests.
Sepehr Jourabchi, 40, a textiles wholesaler, began saving–for his wedding and other big expenses–long before he’d even met his wife, Mehrnoush Salim, 30. When the Beverly Hills couple decided to marry, he said he was prepared for the hefty price tag.
Some 400 guests attended their wedding, featuring a live band, a sushi station before dinner and an elaborate series of giant trees composed of white orchids, roses and hydrangeas. Crystals and candles hung from the branches.
The bad economy has challenged the culture of the lavish Persian wedding, forcing some hosts to cut back, at least a little.
Still, many in the Persian community are loath to leave out even the most distant of relatives–a reality Akhtarzad says is on full display at mixed-ethnicity wedding receptions, where the vast majority of guests will be from the Persian side of the family.