Wedding planner shares quandaries and joys of bringing cultures together
Throwing the bouquet, cutting the cake, the best man’s speech – time-honored customs like these make weddings one of the most prescribed events in any society. Each culture has its own traditions rich with meaning and symbolism for the newlyweds and their friends and families, but what if you and your spouse are different nationalities? How do you combine your traditions to make your wedding day a perfect start to your future together?
“It makes you feel better to have a piece of home in a wedding happening abroad,” said Petra Hofman, wedding coordinator and owner of Prague White Agency. Hofman is well-versed in intercultural weddings. In fact, the first wedding she ever coordinated was for a Swedish-Israeli expat couple. “We had to combine totally different cultures and people,” she recalled. “It’s a Jewish tradition to have a civil ceremony when the first star appears in the [night] sky, and then later on [the couple] had a typical Swedish dance where the relatives dressed in traditional clothing and taught people how to dance.”
The White Agency has coordinated hundreds of weddings over the past five years. As most of their clients are either local expats or from abroad, they’ve been exposed to a myriad of wedding traditions. One wedding Hofman remembers well was for a Norwegian and Slovak couple. Hofman says some Norwegians observe a custom where each time the bride leaves the room, all the women get to line up and kiss the groom, and vice versa, when the groom leaves, a queue forms in front of the bride. While the Norwegians were making a run for the bride, the Slovaks were a bit confused. This scene is a classic example supporting Hofman’s rule of always explaining traditional elements in the wedding to all of the guests. “You want to share the tradition so everyone then knows about it and has the opportunity to experience it if they want to,” she said.
A different Norwegian wedding held more surprises for Hofman. “Another Norwegian tradition is to have a lot of different cakes,” she said. “There were about 70 people at the wedding and, like, 12 cakes!” She added there was a separate room just for the cakes, and after dinner everyone queued up to try them all.
Zeynep and Hugh, a Turkish-British pair, met and married in Prague. They combined a number of elements to make their wedding one to remember. The bride organized a so-called “henna night” the evening before the ceremony. Henna is a plant that creates a burgundy dye and is used in traditional Turkish body art as part of the preparations for a bride to leave her village and join her husband’s family. “During this ceremony, traditional Turkish songs are performed, henna coloring is placed on the bride’s hand, and lots of dancing takes place,” said Ulrike Schneider, maid of honor at the couple’s wedding. “Since the couple has many international friends, we brought in other customs, as well.”
Schneider says friends of the couple organized surprise bachelor and bachelorette parties, performed a song in which the lyrics were rewritten to reference the couple, and, at the end of the evening, they sent lit candles down the Vltava River. She added that everything was well-organized and it was one of the best weddings she had ever attended.
“Because we brought in a number of surprises, the couple and the guests were very entertained,” she said. “The henna night was also a great success, as this was very different for the non-Turkish guests.”
Though neither of them is Czech, Zeynep and Hugh were inspired to include in their reception the Czech tradition of breaking a plate and then sweeping it up together. The plate pieces represent happiness and how the couple cleans up the pieces indicates how they will work together to solve future problems. Hofman says the White Agency always gives couples the option of including Czech traditions in their ceremony or at the reception. “For us, as a Czech company, it’s good we can pass our traditions to other countries, and it puts a Czech spirit into the day,” she said. “The most common Czech tradition people choose is the breaking of the plate.” She adds that eating a bowl of soup together, another custom that indicates cooperation, is also popular, and it’s a tradition that’s easy to incorporate into any reception. Hofman recalls a Czech-Australian wedding in which the couple wore the Australian flag as their “bib” while eating the soup.
Lucie and Robert Mitchell, a Czech/British couple, chose to break the plate at their 2009 wedding, held outside of Prague at Chateau Mcely. Lucie says they also had funny speeches, which she says is “very English.” She’s happy they had a little bit of both cultures on their wedding day and says her guests have wonderful memories of the day and talk about how perfect it was. “It is always interesting for the guests to experience something different and unknown to them; however, an explanation of the custom and its meaning might be useful,” she said.
Hofman’s advice to those planning their intercultural walk down the aisle is to always include traditions that are important and meaningful to you and your family. “Culture and traditions are alive, and they make the wedding more interesting.”