There’s no predicting where we’ll find love. For many of us, our lifelong partnerships will involve relationships that bring together different traditions, heritages and sometimes religions. Planning a wedding under these circumstances can be a sensitive process, but when it’s well thought out, it can be a joyful celebration that pays tribute to bride and groom, and their respective backgrounds.
“Canada is a very multicultural country, so multicultural weddings are extremely common,” says Genève McNally, founding partner and principal planner at DreamGroup Productions in Vancouver.
Over the years, her company has orchestrated weddings for couples from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, including South Asian and Canadian pairings, Scottish and Chinese, and Jewish and Catholic. “The best multicultural weddings are ones where the couples were respectful of the traditions that needed to be included and, most importantly, didn’t overthink it or allow it to become bigger than it needed to be,” she reflects.
The question is, where do you begin this potentially daunting process?
Rule Book, Be Gone!
McNally advises her clients to throw away the wedding “rule book” and allow their celebration to reflect who they are, including the things they love. “Be authentic and lovingly include those specific traditions from each side that matter most,” she says. When necessary, some traditions can be slightly altered or modernized while remaining respectful.
She suggests that couples be very honest with their families about what’s important to them and what they want to do with the wedding plan. “Be respectful and confident in your decisions, keep communication lines open with each other and the involved families, and don’t brush things under the rug to be discussed later — as that will only add to the stress down the road.”
Two Cultures, Two Days
Pardip Narwal has found that separating the ceremonies of two distinct cultures over two days is a strategy that works well. She should know. The owner of Big Phat Indian Weddings, Narwal is a Vancouver wedding planner specializing in cross-cultural weddings. “Most of our weddings are a combination of cultures. We do one of the ceremonies on day one, and on day two we start with the second ceremony and follow that with an evening wedding reception,” she explains. “It’s gone off well, as both families are excited to learn about the other culture.”
By not holding both ceremonies on the same day, the couple and their family and friends have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s traditions without feeling rushed, she adds. Often, etiquette classes are needed to educate both sides of the family about one another’s traditions and rituals. Narwal, who provides these educational sessions herself, says they allow both sides to feel prepared, informed and comfortable on the day of the wedding.
For South Asian weddings, she also offers her clients a temple etiquette sheet that they can email to their friends or co-workers or include in their invitation. This way, all guests can be informed about what to expect and how to dress appropriately for each ceremony.
McNally has found that usually the bride and groom know exactly what types of traditions they want included in the wedding. “Sometimes family will have more of an opinion and play a larger role in bringing that tradition to life. For example, an auntie might be put in charge of overseeing the tea ceremony for a Chinese wedding, ensuring that all the authentic inclusions are accounted for and carried out accordingly,” she says.
In McNally’s experience, it’s frequently sisters, mothers and aunts who have a stronger opinion about how things should be done. “It’s important to hear them out and communicate with them clearly about how the couple wishes to include certain elements,” she advises.
But sometimes it can boil down to picking your battles. “If something is extremely important to the family and doesn’t cause the couple too much concern, then let it happen! That way, when you do feel strongly about something or forgoing a particular tradition, you will be able to say that it’s a give and take.”
Be True to You
Unfortunately, it’s almost unavoidable that someone will be offended by a decision the bride and groom have made in a cross-cultural wedding. That’s because sensitivities in some families will be more elevated than in others. All you can do is be mindful of sensitive topics within your particular families, McNally says.
“The best advice I can offer is to be honest, communicate clearly one’s desires, be authentic and true to who you are in the present day, and confident in whatever choices are made. Ideally, the families are supportive of the couple’s decision to honour both heritages and traditions and look at it as a modern and respectful way of uniting two people in love.”
Because that, essentially, is what the wedding is all about: an announcement to the world that love knows no boundaries. “In the end, it’s about two people coming together creating their own family and version of their ancestry in a modern time,” McNally reflects.
Be warned, there may well be stress and family friction on the road to organizing a cross-cultural wedding. But the learning curve can be a useful one for couples as they prepare to face the future together. “Back each other up and remain united in your choices and decisions,” McNally advises. “That’s what marriage is about — a strong, united front.”