News & Politics

Marrying Traditions: An American-Kurdish Wedding in London

From circling a fire to tossing chestnuts, weddings can bring together a variety of customs

By Lindsay Moran

Washington is an increasingly diverse area, and so is its wedding scene. The number of foreign diplomats, World Bank employees, and second-generation immigrants means that multicultural nuptials are common.

“It’s actually rare for me to plan a wedding where the bride and groom are the same religion or have the same ethnic background,” says Laura Metro, president of M Street Agency in Bethesda.

Throwing a multicultural affair has its challenges. Some couples host two events, each reflective of a different culture. Others design a ceremony and reception that incorporate divergent traditions.

Here is one couple who managed to pull off such a wedding, each in their own way.


An American-Kurdish Wedding in London

After Keylan Qazzaz married Guy Wolcott in Silver Spring in 1997, the couple followed their American wedding with another three months later in England—in deference to the bride’s Kurdish father.

“I was nervous about so many unfamiliar people and customs,” says Guy.

Keylan’s father, Shafiq, who’d lived in London amid the city’s sizable Kurdish population before moving to Iraq, had always imagined his daughter would marry a Kurd—but later realized that was unrealistic because she grew up in America. “I asked for his blessing before saying yes to Guy,” says Keylan, assistant director of the Silk Road Dance Company, which performs at Middle Eastern weddings and other events in Washington.

Like most Kurds, Keylan’s father is Muslim, and a ceremony at a mosque is tradition. “There was no way to have our marriage sanctioned by a Muslim cleric since neither of us is Muslim,” says Keylan, 39. “They wouldn’t even agree to do a blessing.”

Instead, the couple entered a London social hall in a procession—a mirror carried in front of the bride, a custom once thought to assist in fertility—led by a musician beating a dahol, or large drum, and one playing a zurna, a wood-reed instrument.

The 120 mostly Kurdish guests enjoyed line dancing and traditional cuisine including yaprakh, grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, and kifte, shells of rice stuffed with meat and nuts. There was a presentation of “gifts of gold” to the bride: She and Guy sat side by side while guests approached with gold items. The couple had already gone gold shopping together, as is Kurdish custom, and picked out the bride’s jewelry.

“I wasn’t sure what my demeanor should be like,” says Keylan, who’d never been to a traditional Kurdish affair. “Western brides are expected to be glamorous hosts, greeting and kissing everyone. I didn’t think that was appropriate. I erred on the side of being reserved—but obviously delighted.”

Guy, who co-owns Flex Funding mortgage company in DC, wore the Versace tux he’d worn for their American wedding, while Keylan donned her white gown again. She’d intended to change into Kurdish costume later, per tradition, but had to do that sooner than planned. Bending over to greet guests, she didn’t notice a large kerosene heater. The tulle layers of her dress ignited, and Guy extinguished the flames.

With all eyes on her, Keylan laughed and excused herself. She returned wearing billowy gold pants, a sheer red dress and slip, a headpiece, and a long red coat woven with gold flowers she’d made herself.