Around the globe wedding traditions vary greatly. Traditional dances, readings, roles, ceremony organization, and even who is responsible for the bill will differ based on where you are. As the world seems to become smaller as we all become more connected, frequently people are finding love with those from different backgrounds than themselves. When these couples are preparing for marriage, they often find roadblocks emerging as their own expectations and those of loved ones collide.
Here are some tips I have learned over the years from people I have witnessed tie the knot in intercultural settings.
The first obstacle couples need to tackle is religion. If both partners are from two different faith backgrounds, they need to have some serious discussions about the role of religion in their marriage, both on the wedding day and in the future. Some questions that should be considered when thinking about wedding location are: whether or not one religion has more established rules about the location and minister of the ceremony, whether one partner practices their religion while the other does not, and whether the religions allow ceremonies of mixed traditions. To help answer some of these questions, and for guidance about how to establish a compromise, the couple should seek council from religious or spiritual leaders in their community willing to help them.
When the venue and minister of the ceremony have been established, couples should then work on organizing the ceremony itself. Each partner should discuss what traditions are the most valuable to them to have included. The marriage is a joining together of two people from different cultures. Their lives in many ways are going to reflect that, and the wedding should as well. If the ceremony has various positions of honor, such as readers, use members of both families. Incorporate as many special prayers, symbolic actions, or decorations as the minister of the ceremony allows.
In instances where protocol limits how much compromising can be done, for example if the tradition in which the wedding is being performed does not leave room for improvising, move some symbolic actions to the reception. Consider beginning the reception with a special blessing or prayer said by the partner’s religious leader or family member. Use a traditional dance as your first dance. Throughout the reception play music from both cultures. At your wedding reception, try to teach guests dances and incorporate them into reception customs.
If you and your fiancé have two different native languages, work on ways to incorporate both into the wedding. Consider sending out bilingual invitations and RSVP cards. See if portions of the ceremony, such as a reading or the vows can be done in the second language. While at the reception, play music in both languages, use traditional songs and dances, and whatever else may be appropriate.
When deciding on food, take both cultures into consideration. If the family of one partner has strict dietary regulations, pick food that is prepared in the required way, but is of wide enough variety to please all palates. If one family has issues with alcohol being present, while the other expects it, consider having alcohol available in a separate room, or perhaps only open the bar after a certain hour.
Once you have decided how your ceremony and reception are going to run, it is important that each of you sit down with your respective families and explain it to them. Remember that the ceremony coming up is your wedding, and together with your fiancé, you have compromised and agreed how it is going to go. Remind your families that this is going to be an inter-cultural marriage, and that your ceremony and reception are going to reflect that.
It often works extremely well to make an effort to prepare your families for the customs that may seem foreign to them. If you and your fiancé have a website to tell your guests practical information about the wedding, include a section explaining how the events are going to take place. Explain the customs they will see and the meaning behind the various traditions. This will help greatly in increasing their comfort and appreciation. If the ceremony is going to be strongly dominated by one tradition, consider making pamphlets available at the door to guide the guests through what they are witnessing, translate any portions said in another language, and help them to participate in any responses.
Intercultural marriages are challenging, exciting, and fulfilling ventures, planning the wedding day is just the tip of the iceberg. The ability of you and your fiancé to compromise on these key issues, which often relate so strongly to family expectations and culture, will greatly guide you for any obstacles you encounter in your future. Good communication and respect will help you plan this important day. Hopefully this guide has given you some starting points as you begin your wedding planning adventure.
Finally, check out this great intercultural wedding video: