Over the past 15+ years, I have been blessed to witness the first moments of marriage for couples with amazing love stories, couples in different life stages, as well as many couples with differing cultural backgrounds. It is the most beautiful sight to see two sets of families who start out as complete strangers morph into clusters of joyous, dancing partygoers showering one another with hugs and kisses by the end of the evening.
Bringing families together who may represent two (or more) diverse cultures can create a fun-filled wedding day. With my 15+ years of experience, here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve seen work well at blending families on such a special day. First, we’ll take a step back so you can see just how common intercultural marriages can be.
You’re in Good Company
According to a May 2017 Pew Research Center study, in 2015 approximately 1 in 6 of all American newlyweds were in intercultural marriages. This is a significant fivefold increase since interracial marriage in America was decriminalized in 1967 by the historic Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling. The study also recognized that intercultural marriages seemed to be more common in metropolitan areas with Honolulu, HI topping the list, having the highest percentages of newlyweds being married to a partner of a different race or ethnicity.
In our beautifully diverse city of Houston, TX (including The Woodlands and Sugarland as one metropolitan area) 19% of all newlyweds married between 2011-2015 were in interracial marriages. This is +2% above the national average of 17%.
Among the major ethnic groups in the U.S., Asian and Hispanic women have the highest percentages of marrying a partner of a different race, followed by Hispanic and Black men.
As you and your significant other begin the journey of connecting your families, know that you are not alone. You are in great company!
You may have noticed that I’ve used the terms race, ethnicity and culture interchangeably; however, there are a few distinctions that I will address as we deepen our discussion. This is how I am differentiating between the three:
How do race, ethnicity and culture impact how you plan your wedding?
Due to historical events, the races, ethnicities and cultures that you will be uniting will greatly impact the additional sensitivity needed to make everything run smoothly. Learn your partner’s customs and traditions and global perspectives on other races and ethnicities. In the event that your partner is a part of ethnic group that they do not have strong ties to, don’t push the connection. Additionally, be careful not to make a mockery or spectacle of your partner’s background. Stay away from making suggestions that may be hurtful stereotypes for that particular community. And lastly, ask your fiance/fiancee (and their immediate family members) what types of customs are most important to them.
The moral of the story, plan with great sensitivity and respect.
Start with culture
When planning your wedding, I would recommend starting with what cultures you and your significant other will be bringing together. You may find that although both of you may be of different ethnic backgrounds, you may have lots of commonalities within your specific cultures. If you can find just one shared commonality across your cultures whether it be being a Texan, practicing the same faith, or even having similar hobbies or interest, give yourself a pat on the back---you are already one step ahead!
In the event of existing tensions, I find that families are much more likely to bond over cultures as opposed to bicker over race---start there. I always believe in starting with the positive and proceeding with finding solutions for possible areas of contention.
So how do you incorporate culture into your wedding? Begin with an area that typically always brings people together---food!
Begin asking both sets of families what foods they’d enjoy eating. Think of food selections not only for big day-of events, i.e the cocktail hour and reception, but also for pre-event festivities such as the engagement party, bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, etc.
Have two opposing ideas for food? Don’t worry, you will have plenty of opportunities to make sure that everyone is represented along the way. A word of warning, do not make any early promises to any one group about when these food items will be served. Wait until you’ve begun visiting venues and interviewing caterers to make sure that your budget allows it. Some venues may charge additional fees for having off-menu items prepared or for outside vendors to cater certain ethnic foods. In this case, it may be more cost effective to have a particular international food served at more intimate wedding events where you will have more control over your expenses.
Another way to infuse culture is through music, entertainment and traditions.
Before you begin interviewing DJs, bands and other performers, ask both sets of families to give you a quick list of their top 10 favorite songs. Ask them if there are any common cultural dances and/or presentations for weddings. Will there be a baraat parade? Will there be a Tinikling dance? Will we eventually need to hire professional dancers or musicians?
These are all things that you should begin “storing” in your mental (and financial) memory bank. Always think about how I can best pay homage to both sets of cultures and yet still keep the wedding true to who you and your fiance/fiancee are. Don’t forget, as much as your wedding is about combining both of your families’ cultures, you and your love are creating your very own culture. You are creating your very own beautifully unique culture that may be a mix of both old and new.
The Fusion Factors
I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times by now, but marriage is truly all about compromise. Whether you are yielding to your partner on a matter that you don’t feel as strongly about or both of you coming up with a completely different solution based on both of your beliefs, planning your wedding will not be the last time that this will have to happen.
So, what are some of major areas of planning where (1) one of you can stick to your guns, while the other “surrenders” or (2) both of you can come up with a new compromise? Here are a few categories that favor win-win situations for both you and your fiance/fiancee.
Food and beverages
With food and beverage selections, the number of compromises are limitless. You can select a specific type of cultural cuisine for various parts of your wedding day. For example, selecting a specific flavor for the cocktail hour and contrasting that with a completely different cuisine for the the reception dinner is one way to accomplish this. Typically, every culture has a generous selection of “small bites” to choose from when preparing a cocktail hour menu---if you wish to stay within a specific theme for the cocktail hour. There are also many opportunities to add cultural flair to the reception dinner via soup, salad, and main course selections. If you do decide to add flavor variety between the reception dinner courses, you may also want to introduce a palate cleanser between courses to “reset” your taste buds.
Additionally, selecting beverage options that compliment your food choice and/or give an additional “nod” to the cuisines featured is also encouraged. Clever, festive signature drink names displayed on creative signage at the bar beautifully reinforces the theme of your event as well.
Another great option is to create completely new flavors through the use of fusion foods. Fusion foods typically involve common foods that are associated with one particular culture that are “finished” in ways that may be akin to another culture. This may be done via the addition of native spices and ingredients as well as in the food preparation methods such as frying vs baking and/or serving the common food in an unexpected way. Below are a few ideas on how to combine the best of all worlds.
When mixing distinct flavors, make certain that when eaten together the food pairings are complementary to one another. If these items are plated together, you may also want to introduce an “anchor food” such as a traditional chicken or beef as your meat and a very conservative vegetable such as green beans. Both should be prepared without any overpowering or heavy sauces that could potentially clash with the diversity of flavors from the other sides.
Please note, if you choose to incorporate fusion foods into your menu(s), having printed menu cards and/or signage for your guests is recommended.
Once you receive your top 10 playlist from both of your families, begin thinking about how and when to use these specific titles. Will these music styles “fade” into one another seamlessly? Is one particular style of music too slow or too loud/fast for a given portion of the event? This is where a good DJ (and/or band) come into play. A great DJ will be able to recommend what songs are better suited for certain portions of a wedding based on what the purpose of that event is.
Soft and upbeat for the cocktail hour
For the cocktail hour, the purpose is for your guests to relax after being seated [for possibly an hour or more] during your ceremony and yet still keep them energized enough for what’s to come at the reception. Music for the cocktail hour should be soft enough for guests to be able to comfortably speak to one another within close proximity, but upbeat enough to encourage movement and mingling. Upbeat, instrumental music selections are a favorite here with many couples opting to play instrumental versions of their favorite top 40 titles.
Relaxed for the dinner
Dinner music, should be a little more relaxed than cocktail hour music. The reason, many say this “aids in digestion”. Typically, no one wants to eat with loud or fast tempo music blaring in the background. Ballads and instrumental music are great during this time. This may also be a fantastic time to add international musical influences that may spark conversation among your seated guests.
Time your cultural dances/presentations
For cultural dances and/or presentations during the reception, I would recommend first gauging your audience. If a majority of your wedding guests are people who will not understand or will not be participating, I would recommend doing the presentations in the earlier portion of your reception. More specifically, after they’ve eaten a majority of their dinner, but before they are served cake---people really like wedding cake, you would be amazed at what you can get an adult to do just for a slice of cake! This would also be before open floor dancing occurs.
After dinner and before cake is a great time for these types of cultural presentations (to this type of crowd) as you will still have a captive audience. Doing this too late (if everyone is not on board) may cause crowds of uncomfortable guests to leave not only the dancefloor, but possibly your event. If your guest list includes lots of revellers who will participate, feel free to build up to your presentation and allow your celebrations to go well into the wee hours of the morning!
The dance floor relies on the DJ
Lastly, a DJ’s objective for the open floor dance reception is to keep the dance floor packed! One miscalculation of playing “Bodak Yellow” followed directly by “Copacabana” can keep the dance floor cleared for hours---trust me I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty.
Communicate clearly with your DJ. Make sure that the DJ has a list of songs handy that are gradual tie-ins from one genre of music to the next. These songs are typically popular songs that many different cultures are familiar with. Based on previous weddings, Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, and any sort of group or line dances are usually a big hit.
Planning a wedding is an exciting time in anyone’s life. Furthermore, planning a multicultural wedding should be viewed as a unique opportunity to not only learn more about other communities but also strengthen your new family bonds. With respect, sensitivity and careful consideration as your guide, your big day will be equal parts excitement and beauty that will always hold a special place in your hearts. Stay encouraged, stay focused and enjoy every moment. You’ve got this!
Want to brainstorm? Schedule a call today!