The Ultimate Guide to Incorporating Multiple Cultures into Your Wedding
A wedding is the coming together of two individuals from unique backgrounds so there's a chance that your wedding also represents the coming together of two cultures, two faiths or two nationalities. Weddings are oftentimes steeped in rich customs and traditions associated with a given culture or religion. So when it comes to figuring out how to meld those traditions, which ones to keep and which ones to skip, or even what new rituals you may want to include in your vow exchange, things can very quickly start to feel complicated.
What is a multicultural wedding?
Multicultural weddings are a broad concept and, chances are, you're planning one even if you don't realize it. Merriam-Webster defines multicultural as "of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures." At the core, a multicultural wedding is one in which each partner brings a unique cultural heritage to the table. When planning a multicultural wedding, each wedding planning decision, from touring wedding venues to deciding on wedding invitations, needs to be approached through a lens of celebrating each partner's similarities and differences, and honoring the heritage that's contributed to the relationship.
Planning for a fusion wedding takes time to do well. Since the way in which you want to honor your culture will affect what wedding ideas you include in the big day, it's important to lay out a framework early on during wedding planning. Bri Marbais of The Bridal Finery says that "setting a realistic expectation of which cultural elements are important and must be included should be done early on in the planning process. This will allow for proper planning and give couples the time needed to figure out the best way to incorporate the must-have details."
2. Start by Making a List of Cultural Traditions You Relate to
When it comes to deciding what traditions to include, or skip, at the wedding, start by thinking through all the possible traditions you, your partner and your families might like you to include. Michelle Norwood of Michelle Norwood Events explains that having an understanding of all your options sets the stage for you to pare down based on what resonates most with you and your partner. "I encourage couples to make a list of all the cultures you want to honor from both sides and, based on that list, incorporate the ones that are meaningful to you," says Norwood.
3. Be Thoughtful and Tasteful With the Traditions You Include
Norwood goes on to emphasize that thoughtfulness is paramount when you're honing in on what traditional elements you may wish to incorporate into your wedding. Just because a tradition connects with your heritage doesn't mean it's necessarily the best fit for your wedding. She notes that it's crucial that couples "be careful with combining traditional elements as you want it to be done in a tasteful way that honors the culture and history of the tradition."
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John Campbell of John Campbell Weddings goes on to express that education is key, especially with traditions from your partner's family that you may not fully understand. "Educating yourselves is paramount! By understanding the culture of your future spouse, you're creating an environment where you can have respectful and thoughtful discussions about whether or not specific traditions fit into your relationship and the wedding you want to create."
4. Don't Be Afraid to Skip Traditions You Don't Want
Just because traditions are available to you doesn't mean you need to include each and every one of them in your nuptials. If something feels dated or simply doesn't resonate with you and your partner, feel free to skip including that element in your cultural wedding. "Choose what resonates with you most, and nix what doesn't," says Amanda Slater of Slater Events. "This is your day, and there really aren't any rules. Do what feels right, even if you haven't seen it done before." You want to have a chuppah at your Christian-Jewish interfaith wedding? Go for it! You don't want to have henna at your Indian-American wedding? Then feel free to skip the henna.
5. Include VIPs in the Decision Making
When deciding on what cultural elements to include in your wedding ceremony and reception, make sure all key stakeholders on the guest list, such as parents and close family members from both sides of the family, are involved and have space to voice their thoughts on how best to honor their cultural backgrounds.
And if you find yourself disagreeing with those VIPs or "you're having a hard time finding middle ground with parents, I always say to envision your wedding day and why you're hosting this celebration. Go back to the 'why' of the day," encourages Slater. "Are you going to look back and say 'I wish I didn't cut that wedding cake just because my mom wanted me to' or will you be happy you did it because it's only two minutes long and it made her happy? Try and make compromises in return for their compromises on items that are must haves for you." Campbell encourages to-be-weds to "be candid and advocate for your desires while also remaining compassionate. Yes, a wedding is about the couple getting married, but parents also get caught up in the event's emotion. No parent wants to feel like their child is rejecting the culture and traditions they were raised with, so having hard conversations lovingly and kindly that recognize a parent's values will allow for more healthy and constructive conversations."
When you start to book pros to help as you're planning a multicultural wedding, make sure they are well versed in the nuanced details that each of your cultures value. Whether you're planning a Chinese wedding, Jewish wedding, Indian wedding or you're celebrating another culture altogether, hiring a wedding planner and other pros who understand your cultural customs is key.
Jen Avey, VP of marketing at Destination Weddings Travel Group encourages nearly-newlweds to "work with a wedding specialist who has particular expertise in your cultures. This will give you peace of mind that no detail is spared, and each culture's traditions are incorporated in a way that you desire and envision for your big day. For example, someone who is well-versed in Indian culture can easily bring to life each wedding tradition required. They'll also know certain industry vendors or venues that are well-equipped to carry out a celebration of multiple faiths. This knowledge and expertise are invaluable when it comes to planning your special day."
7. Make Use of Pre- and Post-Wedding Events
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of cultural elements you and your partner want to incorporate into the wedding celebration, don't limit yourself to just the main wedding day. "If you are having multiple celebrations surrounding your big day, each of those festivities could speak to a different culture," suggests Tracie Simon of LeFeast. "For example, if one of the families is Scottish, you could invite the men to wear kilts to the rehearsal dinner and provide guests with shawls matching the family colors worn by the groom. Those with a Hindu background could invite guests to wear traditional saris to an engagement party. For those with a Hawaiian background, you could teach your guests how to make leis at the bridal shower."
Your menu is a great spot to bring in a variety of cultural influences. Slater suggests utilizing food stations to highlight a wide range of cuisines at your wedding reception. "One of my favorite ways to incorporate different cultures is through food! It's one of the many ways cultures are shared throughout the world, and people are always pleasantly surprised to be served something besides the traditional 'wedding food' of chicken and mashed potatoes," she says. "Try having food stations around the room with different culture themes, or having a sushi appetizer in lieu of a salad first course."
9. Consider Having Multiple Outfit Changes
"Fashion is one of the easiest ways to incorporate multiple cultures into a wedding," says Campbell. "Whether you want it to be bold or subtle, your attire can communicate so much about your special day. The most common way couples incorporate different cultural attire options is by having multiple outfits. For example, an áo dài, sari, or hanbok might be worn for part of the day, and Western attire might be worn at a different time. Other couples might wear coordinating attire in the style of each culture and allow their unique fashions to create a statement all their own. Alternatively, some nearlyweds opt for fusing different cultures into one look, like wearing a Western-style gown and a dupatta. Fashion is always a great opportunity for creativity, so don't be afraid to do something unexpected!"
10. Communicate Key Information on Your Wedding Website
While you and your partner will be well-versed in all the cultural elements of your wedding by the time the big day arrives, many of your guests won't be as well-informed about what you've included and the meaning behind it. Simon encourages to-be-weds to "remember to take this opportunity to also explain your cultures and the meanings of traditions to your guests. This could be printed on a program, sign or even on the wedding invitation. This will invite your guests further into your culture and relationship." Beyond printed stationery to communicate your cultural elements, you could even consider dedicating part of your wedding website to sharing some history and context that guests will find informative.