How to Celebrate a Multicultural Wedding

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In a country as culturally diverse as Canada, it should come as no surprise that combining two religions and/or ethnic backgrounds in marriage is becoming increasingly common. You were born and raised in South Africa while his family is from Canada. You both feel strongly about your heritage and your culture’s wedding traditions. So how do you blend the two cultures without offending one side or another and starting your new life together on the wrong foot?
Planning a major family event like a wedding that combines two cultures (often called fusion weddings), can have its challenges and place additional stress on a couple and their families.
Here are some suggestions that will help you, your families and guests appreciate, enjoy, and understand more about your distinct cultural backgrounds:

Decide What’s Important to You as a Couple
Before announcing your wedding plans, decide which traditions are most significant to adopt as the foundation on which you wish to build your marriage and bring into your new life together. Once you have decided which elements are important, you will be able to begin planning the best way to incorporate those traditions into your wedding ceremony.

Communicate
Planning a wedding inherently involves interacting with many people especially family members, each offering their well-intentioned advice and sometimes expressing unwarranted concerns.
Compromise and flexibility are the keys to a fusion wedding. Although you and your fiancée probably won’t get everyone’s approval when it comes to certain cultural and/or religious traditions, you may find a middle ground that will appease both families. When dealing with family differences, it’s advisable to reach out early in the process and listen to what’s important to them. Consider your loved ones’ feelings, but remember your ceremony should reflect your current spiritual beliefs. In reality however, it is also important to your families. So if you are not willing to die on a particular hill, and it’s really important to your families, then go with the flow. It greatly increases the chances that those who matter most to you will be supportive of your decisions.
Taking the time to seek other’s opinions, and support of your decisions, will reduce the possibility of misunderstandings or unfulfilled expectations. Hopefully talking about what traditions are important to you to incorporate or exclude from your ceremony, will minimize the potential of one side or the other feeling neglected or hurt, even if it was unintentional. This will ensure that your families are not surprised on your wedding day, and that your ceremony will reflect your wishes while honouring your heritage. If you are open to compromise, you will likely find that most family members will support your decisions rather than oppose them.

Blend Rather Than Differentiate
If time and money are not a consideration in planning your wedding, you may choose to have two separate ceremonies, each focused on the bride and groom’s cultural/religious heritage. Having two distinct ceremonies affords the opportunity for the bride and groom to express and showcase their individual cultural backgrounds. If you do choose two separate ceremonies
allocate more time and finances in order to include those cultural or religious elements that are important to you. Also be sure to tell your guests, in the invitation, to prepare for two ceremonies.

If however finances are a major factor, and they usually are, create a ceremony focusing on the traditions that each religion or culture has in common. For example, in the Hindu and Jewish cultures the bride and groom marry under a structure. In Judaism it’s called a Chuppah, in Hinduism it’s termed a Mandap – each structure represents the bride and groom’s first house.

Another tradition that is common to several religions, including Jewish, Hindu and Greek Orthodox is the breaking of something at the end of the ceremony. Jewish grooms stomp on a glass; Greek couples drink a glass of wine and throw the glass, while Hindus break a pot.
A common element of various cultures is the exchange of something during the ceremony. Indians exchange garlands, Jews and Christians exchange wedding rings and Buddhists exchange white scarves.
Finding commonality between religious traditions will make your ceremony more personal and inclusive. To do this effectively, it’s always a good idea to explain the significance of the tradition in your program or by the officiant, so that none of your guests will feel left out. Including some meaningful elements in your interfaith ceremony will establish a commonality between religious traditions.

Dishes, Dance and Dress
During the cocktail hour and at the reception, serving fusion cuisine is super popular and easy way to demonstrate how two cultures can blend well together. It will also introduce your guests to a new cuisine they may not have tried before while offering guests from both sides the comfort of familiar tastes.
A big part of any celebration is the dance music and your reception is not only a great time to break out your favourite playlist, but also an opportunity to introduce and infuse some cultural wedding dances into the mix.
Some cultures and religions hold traditional clothing and flowers as an important aspect of the wedding ceremony. Choose to respect those rituals especially if one partner has strong feelings about honoring them. Some consider flowers to be the most important decorative element of a wedding, so why not inject your culture into the floral arrangements?

Moving forward as a Couple
Maybe your wedding day is a time to introduce a new family tradition, different from your separate pasts. Because you are both concerned about the environment, you may consider planting a tree as part of your wedding ceremony – a tradition you plan to continue on each subsequent anniversary. Just because an element isn’t part of you or your spouse’s heritage doesn’t mean that you can include it in your wedding celebration.
However you choose to handle your cultural and religious differences, remember that your wedding day is about you and your fiancée and what’s most meaningful to you. Listen to the well-meaning advice of family and friends, hold firmly to what you both believe, but be willing to compromise when prudent to do so. If you show sensitivity to those who love you, your efforts will be appreciated and embraced in love and respect. After all, isn’t that what really matters?

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About the Author: Rinette Emerson
Prior to Enduring Promises, Rinette worked with clients on strategic communications, online development programs, corporate branding and helping clients “get found” online. After officiating her first wedding, many years ago, Rinette was hooked – and now she is a sought after wedding Officiant. A little-known fact about Rinette…she is an amazing artist! You can follow her on LinkedIn or www.enduringpromises.com.