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Weddings blend cultures as well as families

By Helyn Trickey, Special to CNN
  • More multicultural and interfaith couples are creating their own wedding ceremonies
  • Husband: You have to be flexible and ... be on the same page with your wife
  • Minister: Focus on the traditions that religions or cultures have in common
  • Weddings

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(CNN) -- When Kavi and David Moltz tied the knot in summer 2010, the multicultural couple -- she's Hindu and he's culturally Jewish -- tried to honor both their traditions.

"I had to ride in on a horse ... a giant Clydesdale adorned in Indian raiments," recalls David of the Hindu wedding tradition. "But we gave a nod to my culture, too," he says.

In Hindu culture, friends and musicians playing traditional Indian music accompany the groom's ride to the ceremony. Instead, David had his friends play drums, and he wore a traditional yarmulke and tallith (prayer shawl) that had been his father's and grandfather's, as captured in photos by Justin & Mary.

The evening before, during the Mehndi party in which the bride and members of her party are adorned with henna designs (an impermanent skin ink) on their hands and feet, David wore a traditional Indian suit.

"(Kavi's parents) wanted me to wear a turban, too, but I'm a tall skinny white guy, and I thought that would look funny on me," he says with a laugh.

"The ceremony should ideally be all about you, but truthfully it is so important to the families and the parents, too. You have to be flexible and ... be on the same page with your wife or husband. (Wedding details) are some of the first things you have to pick and choose your battles about," he says. "If (a detail) is really important to the families, then go with the flow," he advises.

Today, more and more intercultural and interfaith couples are getting married. Finding meaningful ways to bring two (or more) very different cultures and religions together in one ceremony can be difficult.

"There's been a drastic change in the last 15 years in the way intercultural and interfaith marriages are viewed," says the Rev. Susanna Macomb, author of the book, "Joining Hands and Hearts: Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations."

"(Years ago) I would get calls from (engaged couples of different cultural or religious traditions) who were desperate and sad ... and after a ceremony I would secretly hear a family member or maybe the florist say (about the wedding couple), 'Oh, that's not going to work,' " Macomb says. "Today I don't hear that anymore."

His parents said, 'Not with a white girl'

Macomb, an interfaith minister who honors all religions, has been officiating weddings since 1996, and many of them have been for couples from different cultural or religious paths.

"Couples today want to be intimately involved in the wedding ceremony," she says.

Unlike prior generations, contemporary couples aren't afraid to tinker with the order of a ceremony or the wedding traditions that have, in the past, seemed intractable. Also, many contemporary couples are older when they marry, so they've had more time to travel, work and become more educated. Macomb says many interfaith and intercultural couples she sees care very much about highlighting the religious or cultural details that are important to them.

"They care about bringing forth a ceremony that says this is who we are, this is what we believe and this is what we want to celebrate," Macomb says.

Her job, as she sees it, is to step out of the way and let the couple choose every vow, blessing and prayer used in the wedding ceremony. "I'm there to tell them if the ceremony is not balanced or if there's any detail that may be offensive (to another culture)," says Macomb.

One trick to crafting a meaningful diverse wedding ceremony or reception is to focus on the traditions that each religion or culture has in common, advises Macomb.

For instance, both Hindu and Jewish traditions marry a bride and groom under a structure. In Judaism it's called a chuppah, and in Hinduism it's termed a mandap. Kavi and David Moltz married under a chuppah made from birch wood that was adorned with silk and fabric from both sets of grandparents.

"Both Jews and Hindus get married under something," David says. "It represents your first house."

One tradition that is common to the Jewish, Hindu and Greek Orthodox religions is the breaking of something at the end of the ceremony. Jewish couples break a glass with their feet, while Greeks drink a glass of wine and throw the glass. Hindus break a pot.

Another common symbol that transcends various traditions is the exchanging of something during the ceremony. Indians exchange garlands, Jews and Christians exchange rings and Buddhists exchange white scarves.

Finding commonality between traditions can make a ceremony meaningful, but make sure to have someone explain the symbolism to the wedding guests, or most will be in the dark, says Macomb. Also, she advises intercultural weddings can seem more cohesive if an officiant and readers incorporate some native languages into the ceremony as a nod to family members who have traveled from another part of the world.

In October 2009, Macomb married Rebecca and Jayant Menon in an intercultural ceremony that honored his Hindu background and her roots in Catholicism.

"We knew we wanted just one ceremony," says Rebecca. "We'd been to several weddings that had two ceremonies, and we knew we didn't want that. We wanted to incorporate elements of each, we wanted to be respectful of our families' backgrounds ... but we also wanted something that would reflect our current spiritual beliefs," she says.

Macomb wove in the traditions of candles and fire that are meaningful in both Catholicism and Hinduism to create a sublime moment in the Menon's wedding. The ceremony was photographed by Sara France.

Rebecca's mother lit an oil lamp with five wicks. In Hinduism each wick of the candle represents one of the five elements: wind, earth, fire, sky and water. In Catholicism, the lighting of candles is a symbol of prayerful intention. Additionally, Rebecca's sister read some words from Mother Teresa about love that includes the imagery of a burning lamp. By including these meaningful elements in the service, Macomb was able to build a bridge between religious traditions.

"I think a lot of weddings are ceremony for ceremony's sake," says Jayant. "It's so important to have someone who is knowledgeable about different cultures and knows how to explain (the rituals) to the guests," he says of Macomb's officiating. "She married our families together, and that's something that we really wanted that day," he says.

"I think people are very much owning their weddings these days, but I love that they are still honoring where they come from," says Kathryn Storke, founder of the wedding blog Snippet & Ink. "A wedding is your wedding forever, so it's important to do something that is true to you and not trendy."

One of Storke's favorite weddings featured on her blog was the union between Elizabeth Leigh McNeill and Stephen Jarrrett Wrenn of San Francisco. The bride's father is from New Zealand, and the groom is a sixth generation Southerner, so the couple wanted to honor each of their cultures without alienating anyone.

At the reception, each guest received a lapel button to wear with either a South Carolina state flag or a Kiwi bird, a national symbol of New Zealand. The Southerners were encouraged to wear the Kiwi pins, while those visiting from New Zealand were encouraged to wear the flag.

During the reception, the entire wedding party was surprised when a Maori warrior burst into the hall, all captured on camera by Greg Slick of Once Studio.

"The best cultural nod came by way of my dad," says Elizabeth. "During his toast he started talking about New Zealand traditions, which got me worried that he and my brother were about to throw on their grass skirts," she says. Instead, a Maori warrior clutching a spear and with a face full of paint came running into the hall and began a ceremonial war dance.

"It was a total surprise to everyone except my dad, and I think it was my favorite part of the wedding. The pictures are priceless," she says.

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