Planning a wedding, no matter how big or small, can be time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. Add different cultures and languages into the mix, and you've got more on you hands than just deciding on décor and finding a venue.
My now-husband and I had lived in a number of cities around the globe. Before we met in Shanghai, he had lived and worked in Belgium, France, and Russia. I had lived in London, Hong Kong and Cyprus, where I am from. Did I also mention I am half Malaysian Chinese?
This May, we had our civil wedding in Belgium, followed by a church wedding in sunny Cyprus later in June. Here's what I learned from planning not one, but two different cultural celebrations:
Silver plated "kapnistiri merecha" set, traditionally used in Greek orthodox weddings used to bless the bride and the groom.
1. Do your research:
Although I had been to my fair share of Greek Orthodox weddings in the past, I was still unaware of the actual traditions and rituals that needed to be taken into account. Especially for interfaith marriages, there are a lot of things that need to be clarified from the beginning, and a lot of things that are not allowed, with little or no room for negotiation. For instance, unless you are Catholic or Russian Orthodox, you will not be allowed to get married in a Greek Orthodox church. My then Protestant husband, for example, needed to go through 50 hours of catechisms, to then get baptised Greek Orthodox, and finally to be able to get married in a Greek church!
The tradition of walking down the aisle with parents is not normally permitted in Greek Orthodox churches, and the bride's parents had to convince the priest before being allowed to do this!
Crowns or "stefana" are joined with a ribbon and placed on the heads of the bride and groom, symbolising their new status as king and queen of their kingdom and their official union
2. Weigh your options:
There are many ways a multicultural couple can choose to celebrate their union. For us, it just made sense to have two separate weddings in order to do justice to each background. In addition, we wouldn’t feel as if we were excluding friends and family by picking one location over the other. Being born and raised in Cyprus, and being half Malaysian Chinese, I knew that I wanted to have a Christian ceremony in a white wedding dress with some traditional Chinese elements. For my Belgian groom, it was equally important to have the intimate, casual wedding he was used to —and I was really excited to plan both! The customs are so vastly different (and beautiful) that we wanted to pay homage to all of them.
The wedding in Belgium took place in a refurbished barn, mins from the groom's childhood home
This was what worked best for us, but there are many ways of doing it. I've seen couples hold two different religious ceremonies on the same day, followed by one joint reception. I’ve also seen couples fuse different elements of their cultural heritage to come up with their own unique ceremony. The final decision depends on a matter of logistics—timing, cost, location, etc.—more than anything else.
The couple opted for a casual buffet style dinner and no seating plan for a more casual affair in Belgium
3. Plan ahead and stay organised:
If you’re thinking about planning two separate wedding celebrations, I'd recommend hosting them six months apart. It’s not too long that it seems strange to have your second wedding and not too short that you end up planning both simultaneously (and possibly losing your mind!).
However, our weddings took place a week apart because we were unable to take frequent trips to Europe, being based in the Philippines. I don't think we would have been able to pull it off without the help of a professional planner! Hiring a wedding planner is highly recommended. More than just someone who could give us ideas, it was important for us to have a confidant who who could act as an intermediary between families, while being 1,000 miles away.
A total of t13 Jordan almonds, or "Koufetta" as they are called in Greek are placed on a silver-plated tray. Prime numbers like 13 are chosen to symbolise the couple's indivisible love
4. Get creative with food and drink:
Replace the standard menu with a fusion of food from both backgrounds! This is a great way to make guests from both sides feel comfortable with familiar tastes, as well as explore a new cuisine. We created a "Desserts corner" where guests could sample sweet delights representative of our cultures. Atop wine barrels, we had three different jars filled with fortune cookies, Belgian chocolates, and Greek "koufetta." I recommend looking for restaurants and caterers that embrace fusion ideas from the start and have fun brainstorming.
Jars of Belgian Leonidas chocolates accompanied with a sweet note at the "Desserts corner"
It's not a Greek wedding, unless some souvlaki is served!
Red heart-shaped cookies imprinted with Chinese "Double Happiness" characters were given as guest favours, along with personalised coasters
5. The right details can go a long way:
Decorative elements that evoke the theme of the wedding, like sculptures and furniture, can be a great way to fit and showcase your background. Our wedding's theme was "rustic meets the beach" inspired by our two hometowns: the sunny beaches of Limassol and the woodlands of Kampenhout.
Lanterns lit with candles hung from the trees, lending a countryside atmosphere to the standard lawn backdrop
We opted for a hotel venue that was near the beach and, more importantly, had the space to accommodate the vast amount of guests we had at our Big Fat Greek wedding. But instead of the standard reception, we incorporated elements like fairy lighting, lanterns with candles, and wine barrels for a rustic touch by the sea.
Wine barrels served as an on-theme stand for the array of sweets and decorations
Greenery weaved through the Chinese-inspired vases, geometric lanterns and tea lights, adding plenty of texture and visual interest
Wooden doors and Oriental vases filled with purple and pastel flowers greeted guests, representing the couple's melting pot of cultures
All the wedding stationery, including the invitations, were custom made to continue the rustic theme and colour palette
Custom made table number cards each featured a city or town the bride or groom had travelled to or lived in, complete with an hand-drawn illustration and short story
The couple coordinated with the DJ to incorporate a mix of English and Belgian dance hits, as well as traditional Greek zembekiko, to get our guests from around the world on the dance floor!
6. Educate your family and guests
Get your relatives and guests on the same page, whether it's how much you want to spend or who is comfortable (or not) participating in cultural norms. Without similar expectations, couples set themselves up for disappointment throughout the planning process. For your guests, add an area on your website or wedding program with details on ceremony etiquette.
Special order of service booklets were given to our guests, especially those coming from abroad, to explain the symbolisms and meanings behind the rituals of a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony
Traditionally, the groom's best man helps him get ready before his big day by shaving him, an important event that is witnessed by his friends and family
How will you incorporate traditions in your wedding? Have you been to any multicultural weddings lately? Tell us in the comments below!