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Wedding Traditions: Incorporating Multiple Cultures Into Your Wedding

Photo: Audrey Goforth Photography

We're a melting pot society or a mosaic, depending on how you see it, so it only makes good sense that our nuptials reflect who we are. We've found some traditions that can enhance any wedding—whether it’s a custom that holds special meaning for you because of your background or something you choose to adopt for its symbolism or just because it's fun.

Equal Opportunity Engagement

Brides aren't the only ones who deserve jewelry. Prospective grooms in Italy, Germany, and Greece sport simple gold bands upon their engagement, to be joined by another ring at the wedding ceremony. In Greece the ring, which often has special inscriptions, is worn on the left hand until the wedding, at which time it's moved over to the right.

Setting the Date

While some people might pick a wedding date based on when their favorite reception site is available, if you're flexible you can let the stars decide. In India and various Asian countries, a wedding date is chosen for the couple. To ensure a happy marriage, a knowledgeable family member, fortune-teller, priest, or astrologist determines the most auspicious day, taking into consideration such things as birth dates and phases of the moon. Should the date fall on a weekday, many couples in America hold dual marriage ceremonies: one with family on the lucky day, and a larger celebration that weekend. Once you've settled on the perfect date, follow in the footsteps of many Asian cultures and send out invites in red and gold—the combination of these two bold colors represents good fortune and prosperity.

Prewedding Prep

Brides who calm their nerves through a trip to the spa may instinctively be partaking in a Moroccan custom. To prepare for the wedding day, Moroccan brides luxuriate in a milk bath to purify themselves before the ceremony. This is followed by a body massage with aromatic oils. What better way to gear up for a wedding?

In Latin American and Asian cultures, the betrothed choose sponsors to offer guidance and support for their union. Sponsors lend a hand with the wedding planning, host prewedding events, participate in the ceremony, and stand beside the couple throughout their life together. Plan to have someone special in your life participate in your wedding ceremony, through a reading or the singing of a song, as a wonderful way to share your new life together with those who have been there for you over the years.

Dress Code

The bride wore white -- and red and purple… Having trouble choosing between two wedding dresses? Wear them both. In Asian cultures guests consider the highlight of wedding festivities to be the bride’s multiple dress changes. Decades past, American brides, too, changed during the reception into their going away outfits, which tended to be beautiful suits with matching hats. Luckily this classic exit is back in style. But you don't have to leave the party in order to change. As bigger ball gowns come back into vogue, more and more brides are changing into a dancing dress for the reception -- still white, but slinkier. Weddings in which two cultures come together often find the bride acknowledging this through her attire, be it wearing a traditional Western wedding dress during the ceremony, then changing into a Japanese kimono, Mandarin Qipao, South Asian sari, or Western-style evening gown at the reception. Fashionistas would approve.

If a veil isn't quite your thing, consider donning a rosemary wreath as Czechoslovakian brides do. Guests also get to join the fun when bridesmaids give them sprigs of the flowery herb to wear as a symbol of fertility. Should a crown seem more fitting, go the way of the Finnish and Norwegians by topping off your attire with some silver and gold.

Your shoes may play an important role too. English brides place a sixpence in one of their shoes for good luck before walking down the aisle. And instead of using a bouquet toss to determine the next single woman destined for marriage, the bride’s shoes are used in Turkish weddings. Single female guests sign the bottom of her shoes, and at the end of the evening the name that is the most worn is the prospective bride.

Bored with calla lilies? We are too. When it comes to your bouquet, consider including lavender as English and Irish brides do. The stalwart flower signifies survival through the toughest of times in marriage. In lieu of a bouquet, consider carrying an ornate Asian fan or carry a family Bible or heirloom handkerchief as some Southern brides do.

Get Ceremonious

Step aside, Liberace! In Scotland couples know how to make an entrance without a piano. Bagpipes herald the dynamic duo as they come and go. What better way to prime guests for the revelry that awaits at the reception?

The beauty of the Jewish huppah, a canopy held aloft by four poles, has caught the eye of couples of all denominations. One Christian bride we know used the huppah to incorporate her brothers into the nuptials -- each one held a support beam to keep the canopy aloft. Seen more frequently is the modernized version, an arch of colorful flowers that the betrothed stand beneath as they exchange their vows.

Following a Moravian custom, the bride and groom light a candle, then pass the flame onto guests who hold their own beeswax candles. Imagine a dark space completely lit up by the candlelight passed from family and friends -- a gesture so beautiful any culture can relate.

Going a step beyond the exchange of rings is a physical uniting of the bride and groom. Filipino tradition includes draping a lasso and veil around the couple to signify their joining as one. Similarly, African couples tie the knot by having their wrists bound together.

After the exchange of vows comes the pronouncement of the wedded pair. In Jewish weddings the groom stomps on a wineglass wrapped in a cloth to ward off bad luck from the marriage. African-American couples include the custom of jumping the broom, in which the betrothed jump over the threshold into their future together. In the Philippines, doves are released to symbolize a couple’s undying love.

Eat, Drink & be Merry

In China the newlyweds drink from glasses joined by a red string to signify their union and good luck. In France couples sup from the coupe de marriage, a goblet that has been passed down through generations.

Not to be outdone in the dessert department, the French serve croquembouche, a pyramid of sugar-dusted cream puffs, in place of a wedding cake. Their British neighbors offer a fruitcake -- chock-full of raisins, almonds, and cherries -- the top layer of which is saved as a christening cake for the birth of their first child. At Italian, Asian, and Latin American weddings, beloved aunties prepare special pastries in addition to the wedding cake to add sweetness to a couple’s marriage. You, too, can entice guests with a dessert table offering biscotti, pizzelles, and cookies from any culture.

You can also offer truly customized wedding favors. For example, Welsh grooms once
crafted lovespoons for their betrothed as engagement gifts. The intricately carved spoons each hold their own symbolism, such as a double spoon signifying togetherness.

Don't let your wedding end at the reception site. Continue celebrating like the Italians do: The wedded couple is paraded through town to their honeymoon hotel amid great fanfare.

-- The Knot

See More: Wedding Customs