At Their Wedding Reception in St. Petersburg, This Couple Melded Their Palestinian and Colombian Cultures
Bassam and Michele met as undergrads at the University of South Florida in 2011—and seven years later, on the rooftop of Hotel Zamora in St. Petersburg, he was down on one knee, asking her to be his wife. He wasn't alone, however: He'd invited all of the couple's closest friends and Michele's immediate family to witness the major life step. "It was a gorgeous summer evening filled with laughs, tears, and memories shared," reflects the bride.
A few months later, at the start of 2019, the couple tied the knot in Ocala, Florida, with an intimate ceremony attended by their nearest and dearest—and then spent the remainder of the year planning their larger celebration for February 16, 2020, inviting 120 guests to join in on the fun. The duo knew they wanted to return to the place of their engagement—St. Petersburg—for their official event, and The Birchwood was ultimately an easy choice. "We have always had a special love for St. Petersburg and loved that The Birchwood was by the water and in the heart of downtown, so our guests could enjoy themselves," Michele explains.
Their venue wasn't the only easy choice made during the planning process: The prep work was "smooth for the most part," says Michele, namely thanks to their planner, Albriana of Albriana Shante Events. (As for the most difficult component? "Nailing down our guest list," the bride says). Albriana helped give the couple's event shape, arranging and designing it around their ultimate goal—which was ensuring both of their backgrounds were represented on the big day. "We wanted our wedding to be a fusion of both of our cultures. They mean so much to us and we wanted that to be reflected in every part of our wedding," shares Michele. "Bassam is Palestinian and I am Colombian, so we wanted to merge our cultures and have our wedding be a celebration of both."
Michele worked with her seamstress, Suny at The Fancy Frock Boutique in Wesley Chapel, Florida, to completely overhaul her label-less lace wedding dress from Bearer of the Bling in St. Petersburg. Together, they closed the open back, brought up the off-the-shoulder sleeves, added new buttons, changed the neckline, and recut the hem. "It was definitely customized," says Michele.
Orchids were the defining bloom in the bride's bouquet, which was arranged by Jennie's Flowers; peonies, roses, and hydrangeas in tones of blush and white rounded out the loose, hand-tied arrangement.
Love You, Mom
Before rejoining his bride for their first look, Bassam—wearing a navy tuxedo from The Black Tux and a traditional Palestinian headdress—posed for a few portraits with another important woman in his life: his mother.
A First Look
The bride felt "anxious and excited" before meeting her groom on The Birchwood's ballroom balcony. "It finally felt like we were making this happen," she explains. "Coming from different backgrounds, the journey to get married was not easy, so our first look felt like we had made it!"
Find Your Seat
Guests were directed towards their seats in the Birchwood's ballroom via classic escort cards accented with gold foil.
The reception was designed around a blush, ivory, champagne, and gold color scheme. Round tables were dressed in white linens and topped with gilded chargers; shiny brass compotes held petite floral arrangements that spoke to the bride's bouquet.
"Getting out of the elevator with our drummer and hearing everyone chanting for us and clapping" was one of the couple's favorite parts of the day. Their debut marked the beginning of the event's zaffa ("Traditional Middle Eastern weddings include a 'pre-party' before the wedding actually starts," Michele explains) and signaled the opening of the festivities.
"We had a private ceremony with immediate family only in Ocala, Florida, a year before our 'wedding,'" explains Michele, but that didn't stop the bride and groom from exchanging rings (again!) in a short Islamic service, which took place in the middle of the dance floor.
The couple incorporated music—courtesy of Arabic DJ in Florida—from both of their cultures, along with traditional dances like the Palestinian Dabke. "Bassam's mom is super creative and made us traditional dancing batons in the colors of both of our nationalities' flags: The Palestinian batons were green, red, and black and the Colombian ones were yellow, blue, and red," says Michele. "Our guests loved dancing with these throughout the night, in addition to Hattas (scarves) and the Palestinian dancing swords."
On Top of the World
Watching their families dancing together to songs across their respective cultures was particularly poignant, notes Michele. "It was so touching to see Bassam's very traditional Palestinian grandparents dancing to Marc Anthony and my sister dancing to Arabic music alongside me," she says. "We'll always remember those moments."
So Much Love
After taking their first dance to Sam Smith's "Latch" ("We practiced so much to nail the finishing move and were so ecstatic when we finished and realized we did it!" recalls Michele), the couple enjoyed mingling with their loved ones during dinner, which was catered by The Birchwood and started with one of their favorite sweets (baklava!).
Michele and Bassam ordered a neon sign from Etsy to put their last name on display during the reception—today, it hangs in their home office.
The First Cut
The newlyweds cut into a simple three-tier wedding confection composed of almond cake with raspberry, coconut, and pineapple cream by Cakes by Carolyn to kick off dessert.
Leaving the reception, says Michele, was transformative—just like that, they were married. This is, she says, what all couples should focus on as they plan their celebrations: "Remember that you're getting married to celebrate the love you have for one another," she shares. "The minor stresses of the day and everything leading up to it will all be worth it once you both walk out of your reception at the end of night and can look at each other and say, 'You're my husband! And you're my wife!'"
Photography, Kismis Ink
Venue, Catering, and Lighting, The Birchwood
Wedding Planner, Albriana Shante Events
Videography, Ricci Ocampos
Flowers, Jennie's Flowers
Veil and Jewelry, Dareth Colburn Designs
Shoes, Badgley Mischka
Hair and Makeup, Lauren Edwards
Groom's Attire, The Black Tux
Engagement Ring, Jared
Wedding Bands, Kays (Bassam's); Macy's (Michele's)
Music, Arabic DJ in Florida
Cake, Cakes by Carolyn
Rentals, Amazingly Creative Events