You and your groom probably weren’t raised in the same household. So whether your cultural differences are as subtle as different family traditions, or as significant as a language barrier, your wedding can celebrate the combination by bringing your families together in a way they can both appreciate.
While you’ll need to compromise and meet in the middle on some parts, the key to a festive wedding is to fully embrace both cultures as much as you can. Sit down with your spouse-to-be and make a list of all the cultural traditions that mean the most to you. This should be the major concern when planning your ceremony, although you should also take into account what will make your families feel the most comfortable.
If one family is paying for a large percentage of the wedding, it is polite to allow them a say in what customs are honored in the ceremony. However, you may also firmly remind them that the wedding is, in fact, your celebration, and both sides of your new family should be taken into account.
If possible, get one or two sympathetic family members together from each side and go over compromise ideas with them. Not only will it help your family to feel more invested in the ceremony, but it will be easier to win over more stubborn relatives if they see the rest of the family making the effort. You can also enlist family members from each side to help prepare elements of the other side’s tradition, such as non-Jewish relatives making or holding the chuppah.
Resist the temptation to become exasperated or argumentative. Instead, meet with the “problem relatives” when you’re both feeling calm, and try to explain to them how much it means to you to be able to honor your new spouse’s traditions as well as your own.
If religious differences are creating strife in your wedding planning process, it’s slightly trickier than meshing competing cultures alone, so you’ll need to tread carefully. Consider holding your wedding in a neutral location, such as a beach or garden, and getting married by a non-denominational officiant. Many officiants are also happy to work in tandem with officiants of different cultures, so you can combine your traditions by celebrating both.
If there is absolutely no way to compromise your families’ separate needs, consider getting officially married in a small, private ceremony, and holding two celebrations in the two cultural styles instead. This approach is also useful when the two families live in different countries and can’t travel easily.
Get your guests onboard early by incorporating your two cultures in your invitations. If there are two languages, write the wedding information in both. Do the same for printed programs on the day of the wedding. Additionally, if family members will be attending who do not understand one of the languages being spoken, arrange to have the ceremony translated so everyone can appreciate your carefully chosen words. (It goes without saying, but take care with translation barriers when planning the seating arrangements, too.)
One of the most fun things about being introduced to a new culture is discovering delicious new foods. What tastes make your culture unique? Paella? Fruitcake? Kugel? Haggis? It’s probably easier to serve dishes from both cultures, although you can brainstorm with your caterer about ways to incorporate both cuisines into custom fusion dishes. Be sure to serve a few familiar foods for the picky guests, too.
Music is another place where guests of different cultures can easily come together. Alternate song styles in order to get everyone on the dance floor. Don’t worry about whether the musical styles mesh well; the right DJ will be able to read the room and get everyone on their feet. Whether you and your fiancé are represented best by bagpipes and polka, or J-pop and mariachi, if it meshes well in your relationship, it will mesh well in the wedding mix.
Does your family expect a certain kind of wedding dress? If the groom’s American family is expecting a white gown, while the bride’s Hindu side has their heart set on a colorful sari, there are a few options for compromise. You can opt for two dresses, wearing one to the ceremony and one to the reception. Or you can combine the styles (for example, a white sari; although the color can represent mourning, it is also becoming more common in Western-style marriages). You can also symbolize your dedication to your new spouse’s culture by each wearing the other’s traditional garb (a white gown on her; a dhoti for him). You can also dress from one culture and accessorize from the other, as in an American dress with hennaed hands and feet, or red trim on a white gown.
Your wedding is a time for celebration, so however you choose to combine your cultures, remember to emphasize the positive elements of each. It’s easy to get bogged down in arguments about specific details, so look past any small sticking points to the deeper meaning behind the tradition. After all, most wedding traditions are there to wish the couple good luck and happiness, which is something every family can get behind.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.