You may recognize this pair from Alexa's Nigerian engagement ceremony bridentity crisis.
The Offbeat Bride: Alexa, Elementary School Data Coordinator (and Tribesmaid)
Her offbeat partner: Wale, Systems Manager/Programmer
Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We had two ceremonies, which is traditional in Nigerian culture. The engagement ceremony took place in St. Louis, where we both grew up. The wedding took place a week later in Chicago, where we have both lived since graduating college. In many ways the two ceremonies could not have been more different, but they both focused on the importance of family in our lives.
Wale's mother planned the engagement ceremony. Traditionally the bride's family plans it, but that seemed impractical since my parents didn't know the customs, they now live in California, and Wale's mom is much more interested in party planning than mine. His mom also provided traditional Nigerian garb for my parents, brothers, and aunts, including geles (Nigerian head wraps) for the women. The ceremony was a mix of Yoruba and English, and I wrote more about it here.
Wale and I planned the Chicago wedding. He likes a very minimalist aesthetic and I love nerdy details, so we chose xkcd.com as a source for a lot of our inspiration. We used a modified version of a quote from this comic for our invitations and programs: “At the edge of the bell curve I found the one for me.” Our logo was a normal curve with a small, red heart at the far end, and I threw a normal curve plushie with the quote on the back instead of a bouquet.
To emphasize the importance of joining families, we each had the other's siblings in our wedding party. The girls carried books instead of flowers, and the boys had flowers made from book pages for boutonnieres. The tables were labeled with nerdy love quotes (everything from Cowboy Bebop to Tolkien) and decorated with comic book flowers.
Our color scheme was “sunset colors,” inspired by the church's awesome stained glass windows. Our food was from a Mediterranean restaurant we lived near when we first moved to Chicago. We are big dessert people, so we had a dessert buffet: rice pudding from the restaurant, pie from a place in our current neighborhood, and cake from an amazing place that we discovered while planning the wedding (something from our past, present, and possible future.)
Tell us about the ceremony: We started with a sample ceremony given to us by our Unitarian minister and adjusted it to work for us. For me, the most important part (besides the vows) was the candle ceremony. This is what we wrote for the minister to introduce the ceremony:
Fire is a symbol of life, love, and hope. The care and support of this community has provided a sustaining source for the flame of Alexa and Wale's love. Please stand, light your candle in turn, and join us in singing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. As the flame is passed from one of you to the next until it fills this hall, may your love and hopes for the couple be passed with it.
The spreading flame is one of my favorite images from childhood, and watching it move towards us from the back of the church and lighting the unity candle together felt really special. The singing was a little awkward because people were not completely clear on when to start, and none of us at the front of the church actually had the words to the song… but in some ways those imperfections made it feel more perfect.
Our biggest challenge: The biggest challenge was negotiating the differences in cultural assumptions. Wale and I grew up in the same area with overlapping friend groups. We share a lot of values and points of reference, which makes it easy to forget that our parents come from dramatically different cultures. We learned to work with many of those differences in our years of dating, but planning the ceremonies brought to light differences that we had never considered. These included opinions about acceptable venues for receptions, the value of limousines, how to choose a cake, and whether girls should wear black.
Communication was essential to working through the conflicts, but it was often difficult. Even small details could be unexpectedly emotional topics. We tried to agree that if something was particularly important to one person then we went with that person's preference. The corollary for Wale and myself was this: if you cared enough to critique the current plan, then you needed to care enough to make an alternative happen. Having two ceremonies was also incredibly helpful in resolving the different sets of expectations. It meant that for many issues one option could happen in St. Louis and the other could happen in Chicago, which, while not always satisfactory, was at least a fair compromise.
My favorite moment: The vows were both the funniest and most meaningful part of our wedding. We worked together to assemble them using inspiration I collected from the Offbeat Bride Tribe:
Alexa: I, Alexa, choose you Wale to be no other than yourself. Loving what I know of you, trusting what things I will discover. I will respect you as a person, a partner, and an equal. There is little to say that you haven't already heard, and little to give that is not already freely given. Before you asked me, I was yours and I am devoted to you in every way. I marry you with no hesitation or doubt, and my commitment to you is absolute. Do you take me to be your lawfully wedded wife?
Wale: I do.
And then he says the reverse, and I say, “I do.” It seemed simple enough in theory. But we ended up reading off of the minister's script instead of our own copies. There was a long pause as the script was turned around before Wale said, “I do.” This lead to my characteristically snarky comment that “You really shouldn't need the script for that part,” and then some exaggerated relief on my part when he finally said “I do,” which brought laughs from both him and the audience.
Then he started to read his part, and I suddenly got worried that we hadn't switched husband and wife when we copied the vows in the script. I refocused just in time to hear him say “lawfully wedded husband” and tilted my head at him in confusion. After a pause I said, “I'm not your husband.” More laughter. He paused briefly before gamely asking, “Do you take me to be your lawfully wedded wife?” And I said, “I do.”
My advice for Offbeat Brides: Try to always assume best intentions. Especially when you encounter conflict or differing opinions, it can help a lot to remind yourself that people are usually trying to help and do what they think is best. Acknowledging their good intentions can help smooth over arguments and maybe help you find a compromise that works for everyone (or, at least, minimize the animosity over whatever you end up deciding to do).
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
- Photographer: Genevieve Burruss
- Chicago dress: Alexa's aunt, Linda Clark
- Chicago hat: Miriam Wiegand
- Chicago necklace: Arthlin
- Arm warmers: Design Room London
- Rings: Stonebrook Jewelry
- Normal curve plushie: Nausicaa Distribution
- Chicago caterer: Cedar's Mediterranean Kitchen
- Chicago cake: Sweet Mandy B's
- Pies: Hoosier Mama Pie Company
Enough talk — show me the wedding inspo!