August 24, 2015

Bi-Cultural Wedding Traditions

Creating Your Unique Ceremony

One of my favorite movies of all time is My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)*. The premise of the movie is when Toula, a 30 year old Greek woman, falls in love with and eventually marries Ian Miller, a fun-loving but non-religious Caucasian guy. The movie explores how Toula struggles to get her family to accept Ian while she comes to terms with her own heritage and cultural identity. If you have not seen the movie yet, you’re in for a huge surprise. The movie was incredibly popular as bi-cultural and bi-racial relationships were only then emerging to become part of the American mainstream.

Multicultural weddings have been on a rise in the United States. A recent study reports that 1 out of every 10 weddings in the U.S. is an inter-racial or bi-cultural marriage. Personally speaking, it feels that I have taken part in more multi-cultural weddings in the last few years, than I have in the near 3 decades I’ve been in the wedding industry. Although these types of weddings are more common these days, they can still pose a few challenging dilemmas in terms of how to construct a wedding celebration that honors both sides of the engaged couples’ families. Balancing multiple traditions is a complex affair. For this reason, I have assembled a few ideas you can use when trying to create a unique, multi-cultural and traditional wedding celebration. The following recommendations derive from an online article titled, "21 Ideas for a Multicultural Wedding" (you can find the original article here.)**

Local Flowers
Choose floral arrangements that give a nod to your heritage. Rina is Filipino-American and her husband is Dutch. To honor the groom’s country or origin, they used tulips throughout the wedding and reception that they had flown in from Dutch florists. No national flower you want to use? Colors can also be meaningful in certain cultures. Chinese weddings weddings typically use red and gold hybrid daisies as a means of symbolizing themes of fortune and success. 

Bridal Attire
Wear culturally traditional wedding attire or find ways to incorporate elements from multiple cultures in your dress. For example, in a recent American-Moroccan wedding, Amanda wore an American-style wedding gown, and donned Moroccan slippers to go with it.

Consider adding cultural pieces or choosing traditional dress for your bridal party. Here’s a beautiful example of a bride who decided on a white dress for herself and a silk kimono for her bridesmaid. Stunning.

Recite Vows in Your First Language
The wedding I recently attended chose this approach, and I loved it! I wish I’d thought of it for our own ceremony. There’s something so special about making your promises to the one you love in your heart language.

Recite Vows in Your Partner’s First Language
One of my friends is American and her husband is from Slovakia. She learned her vows in Slovak and shared her promises to her husband in his first language. I love it! She speaks Slovak and was living there, but she still said it was a little nerve-wracking.

Cultural traditions like jumping the broom or the wedding lasso can be lovely elements of a multicultural wedding. I asked Billy about Guatemalan traditions, and his only suggestion was my father break a piñata of rice over my head during the reception. Um… we did not do that. I loved this post about a German-Latvian wedding that included the Latvian tradition of challenges for the couple to prove their compatibility.

Table Decorations
Consider ways to create centerpieces that reflect your cultural heritage. Here’s an example where the bride and groom named each table an attribute of a strong marriage in both English and Chinese.

Fusion Cuisine
Fusion food is amazing. In Atlanta, my favorite food truck is The Blaxican, which serves Mexican Soul Food. Superb. Go for mixed cuisine at your reception. In her Finnish-French wedding, Annika attests that they “joyously mixed the two culinary cultures” with positive results.

You can go with bilingual toasts or include traditions from other cultures. One of my favorite parts of our wedding was the toasts. Rather than a few select people offering public toasts, Guatemalan weddings allow for the couple to visit each table independently. In a more private moment, just the one table offers a toast to the couple while the other guests continue dining and talking.

Here are a few more tips for planning your multicultural wedding that I found on

Consider getting pre-marital counseling. It may be the differences that first attracted you to each other, but for a multicultural marriage to stand the test of time important topics like faith, finances, and childrearing should be discussed in detail before you walk down the aisle. Talking over the big stuff with counselors like Drs. Michelle and Patrick Gannon of Marriage Prep 101 can clarify expectations and help you avoid trouble down the line.

Don’t feel you have to put all your cultural eggs in one basket. If your backgrounds present too sharp a contrast to be equally represented during the ceremony, there are other opportunities to give each family its due. For example, reserve the ceremony for the bride’s heritage and turn the rehearsal dinner into a celebration of the groom’s. It’s the perfect occasion to explore the African custom of “Tasting the Spices,” or introduce guests to o-shaku, the Japanese sake pouring ritual that reaffirms the bond between friends. If you or your groom is South Asian, why not host a mehndi party for your bachelorette gathering? All the female relatives will enjoy expressing their inner artist through decorative henna designs.

Help your guests understand any special wedding rituals. If you’re including unusual elements in your wedding, such as the Hispanic custom of wrapping the couple in a lasso, provide brief explanations of their significance in your wedding program so that your guests can appreciate their symbolism. Alternatively, your officiant can clue everyone in.

Take advantage of ethnic traditions that do double-duty. Did you know that the breaking of a wine glass after the “I dos” is not only a Jewish custom, but an Italian one as well? And the canopy covering an Indian ceremony, called a mandap, looks just like a souped-up Jewish chuppa!

You can find the above article posted in its entirety by clicking here. Finally here’s one last article I enjoyed immensely by Lisa Edd, where she talks about her own mulit-cultural wedding. The name of the article is “My Big Fat Multicultural Wedding“.

* Special Note: Since this original posting, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has come out, and I encourage you to see it. The sequel is just as fantastic as the original! Seriously, go see it! It was recently released on HBO, but you can also view it on Redbox

** Special Note: I have taken the liberty of augmenting and abbreviating passages from this article for the purpose of this entry.  

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