Real Weddings: Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

Real Weddings: Sana and Bassam

Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

As told to Andrea Yu| Photography by Nihal Motha
| May 1, 2023

Sana Sikander, a family doctor, met Bassam Ul Haq, a software engineer, on a dating app in January of 2021. Because of Covid lockdowns, they waited two months before going on their first in-person date, but their relationship progressed quickly from there. In March of 2022, the couple got engaged, and they were married in two intimate, foliage-filled ceremonies months later. Here’s how it all came together. 

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

Sana: I came across Bassam’s profile on Minder, which is like the Muslim version of Tinder, in January of 2021. I could see that he was well-educated and had a good sense of humour. In one prompt on his profile, he said: “Must love cats because I come with one.” I’m afraid of cats, but I liked that he was direct. 

Bassam: I thought Sana’s prompts were cute. She described herself as “an over-caffeinated Slytherin on the loose.” So I swiped right, and a day later, we matched and started talking. Pretty soon afterward, I got Covid. I could see on Sana’s profile that she was a doctor, so I asked her how long it would take to recover my sense of smell.

Sana: I get Covid questions on dating apps all the time, and it’s kind of a pet peeve. But I let this one go.

Bassam: I was just trying to be resourceful!

Sana: After a month or so, we were exchanging texts every day, throughout the day. We talked about our families—he’s the oldest of four siblings and I’m the oldest of five—and food. We’re both big foodies.

Bassam: I tried to convince Sana to go out for a ride on my motorcycle, but she kept turning me down, politely. As I got to know her better, I realized that we’re polar opposites in some ways. I’m outdoorsy, and I love hiking. Sana is a bit of a couch potato and prefers to stay indoors to read or paint. But what drew me to Sana was her passion and drive. Our conversations were always easy.

Sana: In mid-February, we decided to meet over FaceTime. We spoke for 45 minutes, and I honestly don’t remember much of it. I had just gotten home from work, and I looked like a mess, but Bassam was way better looking than in his pictures. It made me nervous.

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

Bassam: At the end of the call, I invited Sana on a walk by the lake so we could meet in person. She said, “Oh, well, we’ll see.”

Sana: There were still Covid lockdowns. Only afterward did I realize that it might have come off like I was rejecting him. So, a few days later, I invited him on a walk at Trillium Park.

Bassam: It was a freezing cold day in mid-March. 

Sana: I was trying to look cute, so I wore a summer jacket.

Bassam: Her teeth were chattering, so I suggested that we hang out in my car instead. We ended up talking for five hours. 

Sana: I’m an oversharer, so I dumped my entire life story on him. I told him that I was looking for something serious and that I wanted to get married. Surprisingly, he wasn’t scared off. He was a great listener. 

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

Bassam: Sana’s vulnerability was a good change of pace from what I normally experience on a first date. I was looking for something serious too. We have a lot of similarities. We both moved around a lot and spent time living in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. We even lived in adjacent apartment buildings in Scarborough for a few years when we were kids. We also had similar values, like family being important to us.

Sana: We were officially a couple after the first few dates. At the time, I was living with my parents in Mississauga, and Bassam was renting a condo in Regent Park. A lot of our dates involved food. We would set out to find the best poutine or the best pizza in the city as an excuse to try new places. We still have a whiteboard list of all the restaurants we want to go to.

Bassam: In January of 2022, I met Sana’s parents. 

Sana: My parents are very reserved and have high expectations. After meeting Bassam, my mom said said, “I really like him. He’s very handsome and polite.” My dad was impressed that Bassam speaks Urdu so well.

Bassam: My parents were in Pakistan at the same time that Sana’s family was planning a vacation there, in March of 2022, so we thought it would be a good time for our families to meet. 

Sana: Bassam didn’t join them in Pakistan, so I met his family without him. I was nervous, but I had my parents and my sisters with me.

Bassam: They really liked Sana. There were positive reviews all around. 

Sana: That felt like a big milestone—our families meeting one another. 

Bassam: Seeing that our parents meshed well together was a positive sign, and with that out of the way, we were ready to take the next step and get married. I knew I loved Sana, and it seemed like the right time. 

Sana: I wasn’t subtle with dropping hints about the kind of engagement ring I wanted—a big solitaire on a white-gold setting. I also didn’t want a big public proposal where he got down on one knee in front of a bunch of people. 

Bassam: Shortly after Sana met my family, I bought an engagement ring from Al-Syed Jewelers in Pakistan. I picked it out over FaceTime with my mom, who was still in Pakistan. She brought the ring back to Canada for me, and then I waited for the right time. In late March of 2022, we were watching a Disney movie at my place and paused it to take a break. I said, “I’ll be right back” and went into my room to get the ring. When I returned, I asked Sana to marry me. It was totally spontaneous—the time felt right to me.

Sana: I was so excited. And he got the exact kind of ring I wanted.

Bassam: I’d sent a picture of the ring to Sana’s mom earlier to let her know that I was going to propose. She was really excited too. 

Sana: For South Asian weddings, the planning stage is quite short. My mom and I are also very efficient planners, and we wanted to get everything organized right away. I wanted to have all the wedding events at my family’s home. I love the idea of an intimate wedding. South Asian weddings are typically big and grand, with hundreds of guests. But we wanted to keep ours under 100, which is unheard of. Luckily, our parents agreed. 

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

Sana: We organized the nikkah, a religious Muslim wedding ceremony, for Victoria Day long weekend. We held it in my parent’s living room with about 50 close family members. Everything was planned and booked within a week: my parents’ restaurants—Salt & Pepper, a Hakka restaurant, and La Mill, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant that they’ve since sold—did the catering.

Bassam: Sana’s dad is a great cook, so he made some of the main dishes, like haleem, a lentil, barley and wheat stew. Sana’s mom made biryani. 

Sana: My cousin’s husband, who is an imam, was our nikkah officiant. In Muslim culture, a lot of people just have the nikkah as their wedding, but I was more excited about planning our wedding ceremony and reception—the rukhsati. We settled on a day in September of 2022. I already had a bunch of vendors I liked saved on Instagram. I sent out mass emails and DMs, and I had everybody booked within a week.

Sana: The aesthetics were important to me. I wanted to have the wedding in my parents’ backyard, in a clear tent, because their property is on a small cliff with a great view of the Credit River. I wanted to have a bunch of greenery, like eucalyptus, magnolia leaf, white roses and white hydrangea, to make it look like a greenhouse on the inside. In keeping with the theme, we booked our pre-wedding photoshoot at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.

Bassam: Even our wedding invitations were green. It’s Sana’s favourite colour, which goes back to her being a Slytherin. 

Real Weddings: Inside an intimate greenhouse-themed backyard ceremony

Sana: On the day of, I got ready in my childhood bedroom with my sisters. I did my makeup myself. I didn’t feel as nervous as I thought I would—it was like getting ready for a night out. I got my wedding dress in Pakistan, from the same place where one of my sisters got her wedding dress. Usually, South Asian brides wear red, but that didn’t feel like me, so I ended up getting a champagne-gold dress embroidered in gold and copper. It looked very regal.

Bassam: We have a family tailor in Pakistan who custom-made my wedding outfit. One of my uncles picked out the fabric, which, coincidentally, was a similar colour to Sana’s dress. I got ready at my apartment in Regent Park, then drove to the Royal Botanical Gardens for our first look. There was a heat wave, so it was boiling hot in the greenhouse. It felt like we were being cooked, but we tried to make it look like we weren’t dying.

Bassam: When my friends and I arrived at the wedding, we had a traditional procession for the groom called a baraat. It’s usually performed with music and drums, but we substituted it with a short dance chroreographed by my friend Dave to a snippet of a Pakistani song called “Kana Yaari.”

Sana: We planned for the event to start during golden hour, and the lighting in the tent was perfect. There were fairy lights strung from the ceiling. My brother walked me into the tent and up to the stage, where Bassam was already seated. According to tradition, my family is supposed to feed him a glass of milk, which represents his love and respect for me. 

Bassam: I’m lactose intolerant, so we used juice instead. Another tradition is that the bride’s family steals the groom’s shoes. He has to give them money to get his shoes back. Instead, Sana’s family asked me questions about her—like what her favourite chip flavour is or what she was doing in March of 2015—and, if I got a question wrong, I had to give them money.

Sana: I don’t even know what I was doing in March of 2015. 

Bassam: There isn’t a traditional exchange of rings or vows in a Muslim wedding. So, after the games, there were a few quick speeches from our families, and after that, we served dinner buffet-style inside the tent. People could eat inside or outside on the grass. 

Sana: My parents’ restaurants did the catering again. We had biryani, haleem, chicken tikka, paneer and cauliflower. We also hired food carts that were set up outside of the tent. There was one serving pani puri, which are puffy crackers filled with different sauces and chutneys. We also had a chai station and paan, a sweet dessert made of betel leaf and nuts. 

Bassam: There was a photo booth and a DJ playing a mix of traditional South Asian music with some latin, pop and house remixes mixed in. We spent half an hour at the photo booth taking photos with our guests. The wedding was really an opportunity for our family and friends to talk to one another. At one point later in the evening, we were inside the house, hanging out and playing pool. The wedding felt more like a house party, which we liked. The night wrapped up around 11 p.m. 

Sana: The whole day was surreal. Everything happened so fast, and we didn’t really have a chance to sit down and process it. People were coming up to me, referring to Bassam as my husband, and I thought, Wow, we’re actually married

Bassam: Sana and I didn’t have a chance to eat much during the wedding, so the first thing we did when we left her parents’ house was go to a McDonald’s drive-through. 

Sana: The day was perfect. People are still messaging me to ask where I got our decor or for the names of our vendors. I watch our wedding video from time to time and think, It went so nicely.

Bassam: Pakistani weddings can be more conservative and serious, but I liked that ours was relaxed and casual. We didn’t just stay on the stage the entire time, as is typical—we got to walk around and talk to our guests.

Sana: After the wedding, I moved into Bassam’s place in Regent Park, but a month later, we found a bigger place in Cabbagetown. It was an adjustment living with Bassam’s cat, Mano, but now I love this cat. It feels really good living together. I don’t think much has changed.

Bassam: I know I made the right decision marrying Sana. Everything has been easy, and I’m happy about that. 

Cheat Sheet

Date: September 3, 2022 Venue: Sana’s parents’ backyard, in Mississauga Tent: Vincent Tent and Events Decor, lighting and flowers: Soulmate Weddings Inc. Photography: Nihal Motha (Visuals By Nihal and Marigold Moments) Videography: Crystal Media DJ: Umair Khan Catering: Salt & Pepper Hakka and Shaheen Foods Pani puri and chai cart: Desi Street Food Co. Paan station: Royal Paan Cake: Fine Cakes by Zehra Groom’s outfit: The Saint Tailors (Pakistan) Bride’s outfit: Makkah Silk Emporium (Pakistan) Bride’s hair: Hairlicious by Maria Bride’s henna: Ashima Behl Mirror photo booth: Oh Snap! Photobooth

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