Mix-and-Match Matrimony: How to Navigate Multicultural Ceremonies

There aren’t many celebrations as intrinsically personal as a marriage ceremony. From the processional music to the vows, and every point in between, this is a chance for a couple to share what’s meaningful to them with their guests.

It wasn’t always that way, of course. Decades ago, most engaged couples shared similar backgrounds, and their weddings were guided more by convention and religious norms than by personal preferences.

As the number of multicultural couples has grown, though, so has their desire to bring their unique customs and rituals into the special day. Today, blending traditions is increasingly common. It’s how couples show they honor each other’s culture and history, and it helps both families feel included and respected. What’s more, it sets the ceremony apart like nothing else can.

When a Kenyan bride and Jewish groom planned their nuptials, they seamlessly mixed and matched the wedding customs each held most dear. They were married under a traditional Jewish chuppah, a canopy that signifies the home the newlyweds will build together, that was topped with a cloth handwoven in Kenyan rather than a prayer shawl. The ceremonial blessing of the couple over a glass of wine was recited in both Hebrew and Gikuyu, the language native to the bride’s region of Kenya. A final prayer recognized the sites holiest to both families — Jerusalem and the lands of the Gikuyu.

A couple with Scottish (her) and Thai Chinese (him) backgrounds had similar success weaving together their cultures to create a memorable wedding, including the Buddhist traditions the groom grew up with.

The pair’s civil service was followed by a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, and bagpipers played before the reception. The layered sponge cake created by a Scottish bakery was topped with two elephant figurines, representing the national symbol of Thailand.

In China, the color red is associated with joy, happiness, and good fortune, and it showed up throughout the wedding, including in the bridesmaids’ gowns, the groomsmen’s ties, and the flowers in the bride’s hair.

Top Tips for Success

Though experts — and couples themselves — say perfection is not required to make a blended ceremony a hit, there are some hints and tips to help your multicultural ceremony go smoothly:

1. Do your homework.

2. Pick the most important customs and leave the rest behind. Sure, it’s tempting to include everything that represents your cultures, but the risk is that the wedding becomes a hodge-podge. It’s okay to include “neutral” rituals and traditions.

3. Let your parents and grandparents have a say in what to include. This is your wedding, no question. But including the traditions that are dear to your families will make the day even more meaningful for them and help avoid conflict. You need to be clear upfront that your wedding might include traditions and rituals that are unfamiliar to some.

4. That said, it’s also fine to save some things for events other than the wedding. Think about sharing cultural customs at your showers, parties, and even the rehearsal dinner. (Just don’t forget to take dietary restrictions into consideration at any event!)

5. Consider having two ceremonies. Just no way to pack everything into one? Two ceremonies that showcase each culture individually might be your best bet.

6. Let guests know in advance what to expect and what’s acceptable behavior. The wedding program is a great place to note what will be happening and how to participate. Not only will this amp up excitement for what’s next, but it can also help avoid cultural flubs and faux pas. Some couples even provide a prelude to cultural customs in their invitation.

7. Don’t forget the dress code! Let your guests know well in advance if they will be expected to wear something special or avoid wearing something that is considered a bad luck symbol in one culture or the other.

8. Hire a planner who specializes in multicultural weddings.

9. Hire an officiant who will perform an interfaith ceremony or see if you can find two officiants who will collaborate. Prefer that a friend officiate? There’s a process to becoming ordained, and it can take time, so you’ll want to get things rolling months in advance.

10. Pick a non-religious or “neutral” venue. You don’t want to offend one side of the family by hosting your nuptials at a place that only honors the other side.

Like anything else that’s being “customized,” planning a multicultural ceremony often requires compromise — and isn’t that what marriage is all about? There’s no better way to start a life together than by honoring your individuality while also intertwining the cultures that made each of you who are.

About the Author:

Roger Igo is the founder and CEO of special events venue, The Bell Tower on 34th, along with Houston catering service Excellent Events, and research resource, Venues in Houston. He is the author of “Keep On Going, The History of The Bell Tower on 34th,” a former radio host, a graduate of CEO Space International, and an alumnus of The Disney Institute.

CEO: Excellent Events catering, The Bell Tower on 34th venue and Venues in Houston. Author of “Keep On Going, The History of The Bell Tower on 34th.”