Most cultural communities around the globe have distinct traditions associated with marriage and weddings. Some may seem charming and some may seem downright wacky to North American brides and wedding planners. But incorporating international gestures and customs that honor the bride and groom’s cultures has become popular for good reason.
Where Can International Wedding Traditions Be Incorporated?
Done with sensitivity, these symbolic rituals can add great beauty and meaning to the standard wedding ceremony. They also go a long way to personalizing what can sometimes feel like an event that belongs to everyone but the couple themselves. Here are few examples of when and how to include unusual traditions to your wedding.
In some international cultures (Indonesia, Shetland Islands) tradition dictates that literally everyone in the community is invited to the wedding. In others (Taiwanese, North America), different groups attend different aspects of the wedding. For example, immediate family and close friends attend the religious ceremony, a wider circle of acquaintances and work associates attend the reception. The place to make clear what kind of tradition you are following is the invitation. It should contain all the important details as to what will transpire and offer simple calls to action for the invitee. At the wedding itself, expand upon the meaning of any customs and traditions you plan to follow with a note or program at the ceremony or reception.
Dress and grooming for both the bridal party and for guests are subject to many traditions, both large and small. This is a good area in which to incorporate a simple nod to your family’s culture. For example, instead of, or in addition to, the North American edict for the bride to wear “something borrowed, something blue”, a bride of Irish heritage might carry a linen handkerchief, henna-painted hands for the wedding party can nod to Hindu tradition. Or, the handfasting cords used by many cultures to represent the union of the bride and groom can be custom-designed and worn as bracelets whether the actual handfast ceremony is followed or not. The important thing is to be respectful to the original tradition; if it has religious connotations, use extra sensitivity. A few more customs around dress:
- In the elaborate Indian wedding ceremony (which can last days), it is the tradition for the bride’s family to try to hide the groom’s shoes when he removes them at the altar. The groom’s family steps up to prevent this.
- In Spain, the Cortar la corbata del novio (literally, cut the groom’s tie) custom sees the groomsmen cut off the groom’s tie at the reception and auction off pieces to the guests for good luck.
- In Korea, brides wear bright hues of red and yellow when they take their vows. In Japan, the entire wedding party wears white.
- The exchange of rings before and during the wedding ceremony is a common tradition in most cultures. Some societies – the French, some Native American tribes – opt for semi-precious ring stones rather than diamonds, currently the standard for engagement rings (as gold is for wedding bands). Stones such as sapphires and aquamarines represent different qualities such as marital happiness and longevity.
In the English tradition, Wednesday is considered the “best day” for couples to marry. Saturday is both the unluckiest and the most popular day of the week to marry. Here are a few other time and date related customs that would be easy to adhere to – just be sure to explain their significance to guests and loved ones.
- Chinese weddings traditionally take place on the half-hour versus the top of the hour. This is so the marriage will begin on the “upswing” toward the next hour.
- Filipino ceremonies are planned around the time of the new moon to encourage growth and good fortune.
- Moroccan weddings are traditionally held on Sundays in the fall at the end of the harvest when there is plenty of food for guests to feast on.
Good Luck Charms
Most wedding ceremonies around the world include small rituals or customs aimed at bringing good luck and/or fertility to the newly married couple. Here’s a selection, all of them easy to incorporate within North American wedding conventions:
- At traditional Filipino wedding receptions, doves are released to represent a long, peaceful, and harmonious life together for the bride and groom.
- At a Guatemalan wedding reception, the groom’s mother breaks a white bell filled with flour, rice, and grains – it is meant to bring luck and prosperity.
- The Unity bowl is an Australian custom. Guests are given stones and asked to hold them during the ceremony. At the end, guests place the stones in a decorative bowl that the couple will keep to remind them of the support of friends and family.
Cake And Food
One of the easiest ways to incorporate different cultural traditions into a wedding event is a delicious one. There are many ways to serve food at a wedding reception and guests can be treated to special dishes and rituals that represent luck and prosperity. The centerpiece of most North American receptions is the serving of the wedding cake and there too are opportunities to honor diverse customs. Here are a few lovely international traditions involving food and drink:
- In Bermuda, wedding cakes are decorated with silver leaf and gold. The cakes are topped with a live cedar sapling, which the bride and groom can plant to ensure their love will continue to grow.
- Many wedding traditions involve a small gift of food or a sweet that guests take away for good luck. In Brazil, this takes the form of sweet cookies called bem casado (“well married). In Italy, guests are given sugar-coated almonds.
- Korovai is a staple at any traditional Ukrainian wedding. It’s a sweet bread that is prepared by members of both the bride and groom’s families to symbolize the blending of families.
Music And Dance
Most weddings involve a reception of some sort for guests following the civil or religious wedding ceremony. This is a great time to incorporate traditions from other cultures in a way that is least likely to offend. Use music for a march, processional or first dance that speaks to your cultural affinities. Music and dance are great tools for engagement and many traditions work to bring guests and the bridal party and family together in celebration. Consider these traditions from different cultures around the world:
- At more elaborate Chinese weddings, the couple and their guests watch the lion dance, in which performers sway to the beat of drums, gongs and cymbals used to scare away evil spirits.
- According to Moroccan tradition, the bride and groom are ushered into their reception with a march called the zaffa, complete with music, dancing, and flaming swords.
- In French-speaking Canada, the unmarried siblings of the bride and groom perform a dance at the reception while wearing brightly-colored socks. Guests toss money at the dancers, which is then given to the happy couple.
Incorporating wedding traditions from your own or other cultures can add to the magic of a special day. Just be sure to explain to guests what the custom or ritual represents to you, in a program note, on the wedding invitation, or in person.