Sticking to Your Roots: Tips for Planning Multicultural Weddings
As a certified wedding planner, you’re a pro at helping your clients get their wedding colors to harmonize—but what about their cultures?
When you’re working with a multicultural couple, you can end up with more on your hands than just helping them settle on décor that will work with their venue. Your clients will be faced with a lot of tough decisions on what cultural or religious traditions to include and how to include them—decisions that you’ll be there to help them through.
Will your Indian-Japanese bride wear a sari or a kimono? Should your Jewish-American wedding ceremony be conducted in Hebrew? How can you accommodate all the traditions of a Chinese-German-Greek wedding without dragging the whole event out for three days? While we might not be able to answer any of those questions (sorry!), we can provide some general advice for approaching and planning multicultural weddings.
Do some research
If you’re not familiar with the traditions of your clients’ backgrounds, take some time to look them up. Even if your clients are your main source of information, it’s good to read up on their cultures’ wedding traditions as well. It’s a thoughtful touch that will show them you’re committed to creating a unique and personal wedding. Plus, it can keep you from making embarrassing mistakes!
Don’t go overboard
You may have run into a couple who wants their wedding to have everything: they change their mind on the theme fifteen times or try to cram dozens of pages of Pinterest-inspired décor into their concept. Getting married is exciting, after all, so sometimes it’s easy to get carried away.
But your experience as a wedding planner has taught you overloading a wedding won’t get you anything but an unsightly mess—and the same goes for bringing in cultural or religious traditions. Cultural fusion can make for an incredible wedding, but trying to bring in too much from each culture just won’t work.
Watch out for the ceremony in particular. If your clients want to combine cultural or religious ceremonies, that’s great—you can even help your clients look for officiants who are willing to perform the ceremony jointly with an officiant from another religion. Just make sure that your clients don’t try to incorporate every aspect of each culture, or you’ll end up with a ceremony that goes on for hours.
Double check the venue
Many religious officiants are happy to participate in interfaith marriages—but not all of them. Make sure your clients’ officiant and their venue are open to interfaith unions in general, and to their particular religious blending.
Elements of the ceremony or reception might restrict your venue choice as well. Some religious weddings involve open flames—not something every venue is open to! And while keeping a ceremony from running too long is a good rule in general, some religions do involve lengthy ceremonies that your venue may not be able to accommodate.
Bring in the family
The trick to getting the right mix might be sitting down with your clients and their families to figure out what matters most to them. In many families, parents and older generations may be more closely in touch with their traditions, and may have stronger feelings about what should or shouldn’t be included.
Just remember that this is your clients’ wedding, so they’re the ones who should be making the final decisions, even if these don’t line up exactly with their parents’ wishes.
Divide and conquer
Sometimes you might find a cultural mix that’s just a little too different. There’s no reason to try to cram clashing cultures into every single part of the wedding, so why not just split them up? Rather than helping your clients settle on a general theme for the wedding, you could suggest that they follow one set of traditions for the ceremony and another for the reception.
There’s also no need to give each culture equal standing in your clients’ wedding, unless they’re set on balanced representation. For instance, the bride may feel a stronger connection to her background than her groom, who may be happy to learn more about his wife-to-be’s culture through a wedding rooted in her traditions.
Even if parts of your clients’ backgrounds won’t be as prominent, you can still create a wedding that celebrates the unique mix. Consider how you can use décor, music, or menu options to bring in subtler cultural elements.
Help out your guests
If you’re working with a multicultural couple, you’re probably looking at a multicultural guest list as well. To make the guests more comfortable—and to make the wedding more interesting for them—sit down with your clients and figure out how best to accommodate them.
Is the wedding ceremony going to be held in another language? Consider including a translation of the ceremony for guests to follow along with. If your clients are including unique traditions in their wedding—like the Jewish tradition of breaking a wine glass to end the ceremony—include a short explanation of the ritual and what it’s meant to represent in the wedding program.
As well as unfamiliar elements of the ceremony or reception, there may be customs or etiquette your guests are meant to follow. Make sure they’re prepared by including information about what’s expected of them on the wedding’s website or on the invitations. Most people aim to be good guests, but it’s harder for them to stay on track when they’re not familiar with the culture behind the wedding!
Look out for twin traditions
We just mentioned the Jewish tradition of breaking a wine glass after the vows, but did you know that there’s a very similar tradition in Italian weddings? Or that crowning the bride and groom is a tradition that takes center stage in both Greek and Russian wedding ceremonies?
Don’t count on getting this lucky, but do stay on the lookout for traditions that are the same—or similar enough to be easily combined—between different cultures and religions. As well as making your planning a little easier, a shared tradition can be a special point of cultural contact to build the wedding around.
Keep it personal
Yes, your clients’ cultures might be big parts of their lives, but that’s not all there is to them. As well as the unique cultural mixture that makes up their marriage, they’ve also got other interests, quirks, and traits that make them who they are. Just like any other couple, you want their wedding to reflect their individuality, so look for other opportunities to include personal touches.