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Ethnic and multicultural weddings - themes, traditions, and blending old and new

So, you’re marrying somebody of a different culture or nationality, and you’ve started to panic about it? Multicultural weddings are increasing common, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to organise. Here are a few suggestions and tips to make your day extra special.

Planning the day
In India, China and various Asian countries, a wedding date is chosen for the couple by a fortune-teller, astrologer or priest who determines the most auspicious day. Because this may often fall on a weekday, many couples hold dual marriage ceremonies - one with family on the ‘lucky’ day, and a larger celebration the following weekend. Once you know your auspicious day, why not follow the tradition of many Asian cultures and send out invitations in red and gold, the colours of good fortune and prosperity.

Asian cultures have wonderful pre-wedding ceremonies including mehndi parties. Mehndi is the application of henna to the hands (and sometimes feet) of the bride and her bridesmaids and also in many cultures, the bridegroom’s hands. There are lovely traditions to mehndi - the groom's name is usually written somewhere within the bride's mehndi; if he cannot find his name, the bride will have the upper hand in their marriage! In some places it is believed that the darker the mehndi design for bride and groom, the stronger the relationship the two will have.

To prepare for their wedding, Moroccan brides often take in a milk bath to purify themselves, followed by a body massage with aromatic oils. You can update this to a spa trip with your friends and family, to make a really superb experience out of a traditional behaviour – and milk powder baths are available at many good spas, so you don’t have to break out the gold top!

Dress to reflect your heritage
If you are Hindu, a sari always looks beautiful.

Jewish men traditionally wear a yarmulke (skull cap), so consider having one made for your man, to match your wedding dress.

Chinese brides might want to wear a red dress because red is a fortunate colour, and their partners might opt for a red shirt or cummerbund to harmonise.

Japanese brides often wear the kimono, and it looks superb.

Kente cloth is an African fabric which depicts the personal, social and religious culture of the wearer. It comes traditionally from Ghana but is worn by many African cultural groups now. The standard colours of red, gold and green represent different strands of culture. Red for liberation for the blood shed by millions in captivity, gold for prosperity, and green for the green homelands of Africa. Purple is the colour of African nobility, and may feature in some designs. Some brides chose a dress made of kente cloth while others opt for a white dress with a kente sash; and bridegrooms can choose a kente shirt or just to have a tie and cummerbund to reflect their heritage.

Slovak brides traditionally wear a wreath of rosemary, and break of sprigs of the herb after the ceremony to give to guests, it is said to bring good luck.

Grooms in Italy, Germany, and Greece traditionally start to wear a simple gold ring when the get engaged, which is 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 will be moved over to the right.

Consider carrying something culturally appropriate, like a fan, or tropical flowers from your country of origin.

The Service
You’ll need to clear any innovations with your celebrant, but most are very happy to reflect different cultures in their service. Ideas to consider include:

A four cornered Jewish wedding canopy or huppah that is held over the couple by four men, usually close family of the bride and groom. Jewish weddings often end with the groom, or the couple, breaking a wrapped glass underfoot.

A Scottish piper to play you out of church.

Having your wrists tied together, as in some African cultures, to show you are bound together for life.

Filipinos drape a lasso and a veil around a couple, to show they have become one.

Korean men end the wedding ceremony by giving their mother’s in law a piggy back called a pye baek. It symbolises their new responsibility as head of the household.

In Moravia, the bride and groom light a candle, then turn to light the candles held by the Chief Bridesmaid and Best Man, who in turn light the candles of the nearest guests who then light the candles of their neighbours.

The music that plays you out of church can reflect your cultural heritage too: bagpipes, a harp, an African chant ... whatever seems apt to you.

The Reception
This is the perfect place to express your cultures. Décor can reflect your heritage: tartan for a Scot, red, gold and green for African origins, red and gold for Asian cultures etc.

Your food too, can harmonise with your cultural roots, consider the following: Jewish challah, Asian longevity noodles, Italian confetti, Greek dolmas, Middle Eastern hummus and tabbouleh, Thai rice cones, the roast beef of old England ... the possibilities are endless, but remember that at a multi-culti wedding you may have many guests who have dietary restrictions and so good vegetarian options will always be acceptable.

There are wonderful traditions you can add to your reception too:

At a Turkish wedding, single women sign the bottom of the bride’s shoes. The name that has worn out most by the end of the evening is the next prospective bride.

A tea ceremony is a lovely way to end an Asian wedding reception, and gives everybody the clue that the evening is over!