Two Into One

By Cindy Cafferty

December 19, 2008 6 min read


How to plan a wedding incorporating one couple and two cultures

Cindy Cafferty

Creators News Service

Weddings celebrate the epitome of commitment: Two people uniting, marrying their lifestyles and ideals and sharing their love; two hearts cohabitating in one union.

What if those two hearts come from places foreign to one another? How does one couple from two different cultures glide into marital bliss without hitting a fork in the cultural cross road, all while still holding true to their traditions?

The first steps lie in communication, research and premarital planning.

According to Carley Roney, editor in chief of The Knot, Inc. (, intercultural unions can initially seem complicated and intimidating, but are usually thought provoking. Roney experienced this first hand as an American bride marrying into Chinese culture.

"When I was getting married, there wasn't a lot of information out there. Now, use of the Internet is putting couples in positions to have conversations with the families," Roney said.

She suggested Internet research for brides-to-be as a tool to initiate dialogue.

"Researching all the traditions gives brides a language to talk about the wedding," said Roney.

However, she said that the Internet is but a stepping-stone to successful intercultural coordination. To ensure that no stone is left unturned, communicating with both families is imperative, and for interfaith marriages, spiritual guidance may be warranted.

Rabbi Richard Allen, who conducts interfaith marriages across the globe, emphasized the importance of premarital counseling for those embarking on an interfaith journey.

"Premarital counseling allows for communication about values and issues that will come up later for interfaith couples. It puts the focus on the marriage ... and the love they have for each other." Allen explained.

Allen counsels couples before presiding over a ceremony and addresses all the C's of communication: Compassion, cooperation, compromise, caring, consideration, compatibility and comprehension -- an emphasis on listening and understanding. Among the questions he asks couples is how their families feel about the marriage.

"Individual couples' families vary and you have to judge your audience," explained Roney. "Some families have strong cultural ties and traditions that are respected and carried on. Others may be trying to assimilate or have assimilated to American traditions."

The key, she said, is to know how important traditions are to each family, then take steps to ensure that the ceremony celebrates the couples' heritages and makes the guests comfortable.

After taking the initial steps of research and communication, where does a bride go to ensure smooth sailing on the wedding day?

Roney suggests going to the real experts -- the parents or grandparents -- to get a better idea of the culture and find out how steeped in tradition the family may be.

"It's a good nod to them," she said. "It's respectful and takes the pressure off. Give them some authority."

By including the family in the decision making, it gives a bride more insight on how to approach the ceremony and eases the family's mind, which in turn often makes it easier for a couple to combine traditions. Simply including the family in the discussion can do wonders in making parents more receptive to and comfortable with an intercultural or interfaith ceremony.

Like Roney, Allen said that when it comes to intercultural and interfaith weddings, it's not just about the couple, but about the families as well.

He designs a ceremony that incorporates both familial traditions. One example of intercultural inclusion was to conduct a ceremony under a chuppah, a canopy on four poles symbolizing the creation of the bride and groom's home together in the Jewish faith, decorated with cranes, a sign of good luck in Japanese culture.

Roney agreed that combining cultures in a ceremony is one option to a successful celebration, but not the only option.

"Sometimes two faiths just aren't compatible or suited to an interfaith ceremony," she said. "Another option is to have two ceremonies and then a reception afterwards, or to have a single ceremony where both cultures are represented, and to have the reception tailored or themed to the more traditional culture or vice versa."

The key to combining cultures is the approach and making sure loved ones are as comfortable as possible.

"When cultures clash, try to approach the invitations with a sense of humor something like, 'Our heritages may not get along in the world, but we're coming together here,'" Roney said. "Also, remember to be patient with the parents and expect a little disapproval from the more traditional families. Show acceptance because in this case, it's not just about you."

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