It can be a truly beautiful thing when cultures collide, and Saja and Aaron are living proof!
Saja, a Palestinian American and Muslim, and Aaron, a Southerner who grew up on a Eastern North Carolina farm, were acquainted by a mutual friend, Saja’s co-worker and Aaron’s roommate, Adam, at N.C. State University in Raleigh. They continued to get to know each other as they spent time with the same group of friends. Eventually, Saja graduated and took an AmeriCorps job in Elizabeth City, NC, while Aaron remained in school to finish his degree in food science. As good friends, they kept in touch despite the distance, and since Saja’s family lives in Raleigh, she was able to visit somewhat often. Aaron frequently attended her family gatherings, particularly during Muslim holidays.
In December 2011, soon after Saja moved to Charlotte, NC to continue her work with AmeriCorps, Aaron converted to Islam and asked Saja’s father for his permission to marry the woman with whom he’d fallen in love! After many discussions with most of Saja’s family elders, he received the blessing he desired.
On New Year’s Eve, they celebrated their engagement (Katb el Kitab) at Saja’s parents’ house, where an Imam (kind of like a Muslim minister) arrived with a marriage contract, which they signed, as is Islamic tradition. The celebration continued later at her grandparents’ house. At this point, S + A were religiously married, but not yet culturally married. They still needed to set a date for their big wedding ceremony and reception.
Saja’s cousin had gotten engaged recently, and their Dubai family members were already slated to arrive in the states for her early July wedding. Since Saja loved the idea of her overseas family attending her wedding and knew they probably couldn’t travel to the U.S. twice in one year, she and Aaron chose the weekend beforehand (July 1) for their wedding.
Mere days after their engagement, Aaron had to leave to begin a graduate program at Colorado State University. Saja remained in North Carolina with only a few months to plan their summer wedding!
In March, Saja wrapped up her AmeriCorps duty and moved back in with her family in Raleigh. With only 3 months left to pull all the wedding details together, she was in a little over her head! Luckily, she is the sweetest girl alive and has a wealth of multi-talented friends and family who would drop everything to help her, anytime.
Once she booked a venue — Brier Creek Country Club – she entreated her designer friend at The Green Kangaroo (yours truly) to whip up some custom wedding invitations, lickety-split! As far as the theme, Saja had envisioned some kind of blend between Aaron’s background in science and her background in journalism. For colors, she elected to include her favorite, red, and Aaron’s favorite, purple, with bits of teal thrown in. With little else to go on besides “simple, modern and ‘us’,” I managed to come up with a few options for her, and pretty soon we had a winner (see Saja + Aaron: The Science of a Custom Design (Part 1))! It may look familiar, because this design eventually made its way into the TGK collection as the Chemistry Wedding Invitation.
The two of them wanted to celebrate cultural traditions of both families and managed just that… with finesse, too!
On the Friday before the wedding, Saja’s parents threw a women-only wedding party (at which Aaron made a brief appearance) for family and family friends at the Millennium Hotel in Durham. It was a large party aimed at celebrating with everyone, since they’d opted for a smaller wedding with only close friends and family. Her mom, visiting Kuwaiti aunt, and neighbor pretty much planned this from start to finish. Saja’s male family members walked she and Aaron into the banquet room; they danced to a few songs together, including a traditional Kuwaiti dance. Then Aaron left to have dinner with the male members of her family. And that’s when the women busted out their best dance moves! Attendees also had the chance to get henna tattoos on their hands, arms, feet and/or legs. Arabic and English songs played all night.
S + A definitely wanted to incorporate the two traditions on the wedding day as well. They had a traditional American ceremony with a Muslim twist in the form of a Quran reading and translation by dear friends Yasmin and Tyseer. Other friends performed readings and Saja’s cousin, Runda (the one getting married the following week) recited a poem she’d written for the bride and groom. Saja’s little cousins from Dubai walked in together during the procession with Aaron’s nieces; Saja’s cousin Dawoud (David) from Dubai was their sweet ring bearer.
The reception was also a mix of Arab and American traditions, including the first dance, which was an Arabic and English song. Some of Saja’s relatives did a traditional Palestinian dance as well, which was very lively and entertaining!
The couple managed to incorporate journalism and science in the reception decor: newspaper flowers in the centerpieces, Periodic Table elements as table numbers, and a typewriter for their guest book.
During her years at N.C. State, Saja immersed herself in the Student Media Association and came out with loads of creative friends! Two old co-worker friends, Dreier and Christin, from the N.C. State student newspaper, Technician, happily agreed to photograph the wedding. The Technician buddy list goes on: Josh served as videographer, Ben officiated the ceremony, and Kate made the cakes and cupcakes. Also an alumna of the N.C. State student radio station, WKNC, Saja called upon her old co-worker (and my brother) Robert to DJ the reception.
As a young, hip couple, S + A utilized social media on their big day! They subscribed to an app called Wedding Party that allowed guests who downloaded the app to post their snapshots of the wedding for other app-using guests to see and comment upon. They also created a wedding Twitter account for guests to reference in tweets.
Aaron and his father planned a romantic “grand exit” — the newlyweds left the reception hall in a horse-drawn carriage. The guests were stupefied and delighted at the sight!
But the party wasn’t quite over yet! After the ride, they came back for another women-only dance party and Saja could finally remover her jacket (on the hottest day of that year!) This last part of the celebration ended up being mostly family, which made for a really good time to catch up after how fast it felt like the evening went!
As one can imagine, their favorite part of the wedding day was seeing their families and friends together having a great time.
“It all went by so incredibly fast and I hope people enjoyed themselves! It was so wonderful to be able to celebrate with all our loved ones, and I was so thankful relatives from Kuwait and Dubai could be there to celebrate. Seeing everyone on the dance floor having a good time was really special. I can’t thank my friends and especially my family enough for everything. My parents were awesome throughout it all, especially since this is not the traditional wedding they were expecting to host!” Saja said.
S + A now live in Colorado, where Aaron continues his graduate studies in Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods for Health, conducting research for colon cancer treatment and prevention, and Saja works as a freelance journalist and development assistant at ChildSafe, an organization that provides treatment for children who have been sexually abused and their non-offending family members. Let’s hear it for this adorable power couple!
All photographs courtesy Dreier Carr and Christin Hardy.
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