Semhar M.
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My name is Semhar and I am an Eritrean-Canadian living in Toronto, working in marketing and communications in the public sector. My husband and I met in 2004. We attended different universities but were introduced by mutual friends. We were never in the same city most of the time but we stayed good friends and kept in touch. We began dating the fall of 2013 once Senai moved back to Toronto and he proposed the spring of 2016. After spending a year planning the wedding, I remember that morning feeling a mix of “YAY! Senai and I are getting married!” and “YES! This will all be over in T minus 48 hours!” In my opinion, too much unnecessary work goes into planning habesha weddings which makes it very easy to get into project management mode.

We wanted our wedding colours, gold and white, and overall theme to be classy and timeless. Our ceremony was held at Casa Loma, a gorgeous castle located in the city that literally needed no décor whatsoever. It’s considered a tourist attraction in Toronto and we had been to many concerts and events there. As avid readers we fell in love with the library inside and knew it would be a special place for us to exchange vows in front of our family and friends.

Our reception entrance was probably the most memorable part of the whole wedding! The palm leaves, flowers, koboros, family, friends, elilta’s – if you allow yourself to be present and have fun, it will absolutely move you. Our wedding weekend had so much rain it was canceling flights and breaking records. Seeing friends and family who took planes, trains and automobiles so they can make it was incredibly humbling. I don’t regret anything and I was never one that dreamed of what my wedding dress and wedding day would look like, but I did learn a few things. So here are some things I learned and some things I thought would be nice to share.

Invest in your community:

It was very important to us to support our habesha community and the greater Black community in Toronto. From suits, to décor, to makeup, to photography and video, we selected Black vendors where we could, and where we couldn’t – we selected local entrepreneurs whose business we admired. We would absolutely welcome an opportunity to work with all of them again. They were instrumental in getting us to the finish line!

Don’t be a afraid to go by yourself to buy your wedding dress:

Everyone wants that Kleinfeld moment where you have your family and bridesmaids gathered around as you finally find that perfect dress. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. I did that and found a dress that I felt convinced looked great on me. It wasn’t until I went back on my own that I found the dress I really liked best. I say “liked best” because there are so many to choose from and for me, they all looked sort of similar with some slight variation. For example, if you were to swap the top half of dress A with the bottom half of dress B, you would find dress C bears a striking resemblance.  But that could just be me.

Small wedding party is the way to go:

Our wedding party was 6 people – including my husband and I. Not to say we couldn’t have added more but we intentionally wanted to keep it small and people respected that. Teamwork makes the dream work and they were the DREAM TEAM. They were responsive, cooperative and unwaveringly supportive.  I think that has a lot to do with all our personalities but I believe having a smaller wedding party was the key. It allowed us to be easily accessible to one another.

The guest list will be your worst nightmare:

As typical habesha weddings go, your family will most likely want to invite everyone they know including their childhood neighbour they haven’t seen in close to 50 years. Weddings aren’t really about the bride and groom, it’s about reconnecting with old friends and family reunions. I don’t know one wedding where the guest list hasn’t been the bane of the entire wedding. It’s a rite of passage. I literally have no advice to give here. It was a nightmare. And personally, I quite often fantasized about finding a robot doppelgänger to fill in my place while I run away somewhere.

You will offend many people…:

Weddings are the perfect storm of family-feelings-finances. People will expect an invitation and not receive one, feel insulted and make it about themselves. In reality, cost of weddings, even when you’re trying to be conservative, have become the equivalent of a significant down payment on a home or the purchase price of a brand new luxury car. Many of our families have been in the diaspora for 3+ decades. As part of a thriving chosen family and community it makes complete sense they would want to invite everyone. But once you factor in family from out of town you become limited and it has nothing to do with feelings and everything to do with finances. If they don’t realize it now, they will once their children start getting married.

…and many people will offend you:

You will find some people who will have opinions closer to the wedding about various things you’ve chosen (i.e. hall, date, food, ceremony location). You may not hear it from them directly, but you will through the grapevine. If you’re a better person than me, you won’t pay it any mind. If you’re not, it will make you angry and hostile and it can break you. Choose to be better. To quote Dr. Seuss loosely, “those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”

If you can, have the melsi:

We were very reluctant to have a melsi for obvious reasons (additional costs for venue, food, alcohol, décor etc.). I wanted it all to be over in 24 hours and didn’t want to think about waking up the next day for kuno (braids) and henna. But we convinced ourselves that because it would be much more intimate than Saturday, it wouldn’t be that bad. Also, the reunion wouldn’t feel cut short. What ended up happening was something far greater and unexpected – I literally couldn’t take a bad picture if I tried. The kuno, zuria, make up, gold – Ladies, you will feel incredible. I would come across pictures from Saturday and I didn’t like my smile in some, my hair looked off sometimes. But not the day of the melsi. I felt, like I looked, like a queen. I kept my kuno for a whole week after. My hair was the main event and everything I wore was an accessory. And that’s just how I felt about myself. The party was so much more intimate and fun and relaxed, not to mention zurias are incredibly comfortable. So if you can, do it.

Don’t sweat the details:

Not everything will go according to plan and schedule. Some things may look out of place or not what you hoped for. WHO CARES! If you look hard enough you will find something. As long as the music is popping, there’s food in abundance and the alcohol is flowing, I promise you no one is noticing. But it doesn’t matter what others think, you want it perfect for you, right? Hear me out, you’ve planned everything in pieces, never really getting a chance to see how the timing and all the pieces fit together. Don’t focus on it. Allow yourself to revel in the moment. We were told many, many times we looked stress free and relaxed which allowed our guest to feel relaxed and comfortable. Our family and friends knew exactly how much planning this wedding took out of us, but we were determined to have an amazing time that weekend. We danced, we laughed, we sang along to our favourite songs. Nothing was going to stop us from wholly enjoying the weekend and reflecting back with warm, positive feelings.

Finally, choose each other:

Often times you will feel like it’s “us vs. them,” which isn’t great normally, but in this case it can make you and your partner stronger as you plan a colossal wedding that involves so many people and feelings. Both my husband and I made sacrifices and compromises as we were planning this wedding. We continued to make those compromises all the way to the end. And once it was decided, it was a decision that “we” both made. You see, it’s very easy to try to please everyone and get sucked in to the “well its just this one thing they want, it doesn’t hurt right?” It’s never one thing, its many things. And come Monday morning, when the elilta’s start to fade and that last guest has left to go home, it will just be you and your partner. You have chosen to build a life with this person and you both need to find peace with the decisions and compromises you both have made. Don’t give that up for anyone. You can’t make everyone happy – you’re not pizza!

 God Bless,



P.S. Take vitamins the week before and after your wedding. Wedding exhaustion is NO JOKE! Good Luck 🙂    

Vendor List

Ceremony Location Casa Loma
Decor including florist B-Younique
Photography and Videography Gamada Ali 
Invitations/Logo design Heshaka Jayawerdena
Caterer to cater weddings regularly)
Reception Hall Riviera Events & Convention Centre
Make-up Neo’s Beauty Instagram : @neosbeauty
Cake & Cookies The Cake Baker Instagram : @thecakebaker_c
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