Sorting through wedding traditions is a Sisyphean task. American wedding traditions are a conglomeration of hundreds of different cultures, not to mention the endless traditions from our individual backgrounds. My family is Eastern European Jewish and my fiancé's family is South Asian Muslim. We want to make sure we include elements of both of our families' cultures, but how do we figure out what to include and what not to include? Here was our thought process…
Meanings and relevancy
Some wedding traditions have obvious meanings that are still relevant, such as a candle lighting unity ceremony, which represents two families coming together. That's sweet and accurate. Some traditions have meanings that have long been forgotten, or maybe never had a meaning; we just do them because we can't remember a time before that was a tradition. Why should I have anything old, new, borrowed, or blue if it doesn't mean anything to me personally?
Some traditions still have an obvious meaning, but they may be outdated or offensive today. Wearing white to represent purity seems anachronistic to me. Also, white just isn't my color. (It's totally okay if you want to wear white, though!) Taking off a garter doesn't sound like something I want to do in front of my, or anyone's, grandparents. I've never worn a garter before anyway and I'm not sure why I would want to. The idea of throwing a bouquet into a crowd to see who will get married next leaves me cold, but so does the idea of having a bouquet at all. They just obscure the prettiest part of the dress, in my opinion.
To me, the idea of being given away always seemed a little too much like trading a goat for a bundle of grain. I have never belonged to my parents nor will I ever belong to my husband. I am not being given, or even giving myself. In fact, I'm marrying him for largely selfish reasons: he makes me happy! My dad can't walk me down the aisle because he's not invited. I know my mom would really love to walk me down the aisle, and I do want her to be an important part of my wedding, but its important to me personally to walk down the aisle by myself.
Breaking down the traditions
Throwing a party for 170 people is hard, and doing the expected helps keep things simple.
If you break down wedding traditions even further, why even have an aisle? We considered a waterfront location where we could kayak up to the altar, which would symbolize our love of kayaking. We also considered walking in at the same time from opposite sides of the altar, or riding in from opposite sides on longhorn bulls, to represent Austin, Texas. In the end we decided that we don't want to smell like cows for the rest of the evening, and the ceremony space we chose doesn't lend itself to walking in from opposite sides. So we will probably walk down the aisle in the typical way, not that there's anything wrong with being typical. Throwing a party for 170 people is hard, and doing the expected helps keep things simple.
Which represent US?
My fiancé and I are thinking a lot about which traditions actually are meaningful to us personally. For me, the most fun Jewish wedding tradition is the hora, a dance where everyone holds hands to form a giant circle. We are also going to break a piece of glass, which, depending on who you ask, represents the end of your old life, the beginning of your new life, the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, or the bride's hymen breaking on the wedding night (yikes, TMI). I'll take that first representation please, and break the glass to symbolize entering a new phase of life. I wanted to have a chuppah, a traditional altar, but there wasn't enough room at the ceremony space, so we scrapped that idea with no regrets. Keep it simple.
For my fiancé, the most important part of his culture that he wants at the wedding is the traditional aesthetic. He wants traditional Bengali wedding colors: red, yellow, and gold. Red represents love and fertility, and yellow and gold represent success and prosperity. Can't hurt! We hired a South Asian florist, who will make us long strings of red, orange, and yellow flower garlands to drape around the room. We are also going to serve traditional Bengali wedding pastries, called mishti, imported directly from Houston.
When traditions are family traditions
There are so many more traditions we have to navigate and consider. Do we want bridesmaids and groomsmen? No, it would be too hard to choose which of our friends and cousins get to be in the inner circle and which get excluded. Do we want a flower girl and a ring bearer? My little cousins had those jobs for both my brother's and my sister's weddings, so they would be heartbroken if they don't get the same jobs for this one. It's now a family tradition! Do we have to do a first dance? We don't even like dancing, but that might be fun if we can agree on a song. Should I wear a veil? No, he already knows what I look like. Should anyone wear a boutonniere? What even is a boutonniere? Who cares? Not worth the six bucks. Keep it simple.
Once we figured what a guest book was, it seemed like a cute and easy idea, so: yes!
People keep asking us questions that have never even occurred to us. Are you going to keep your dress a secret from him until the wedding day? No, because we want to coordinate outfits. Are you going to have a guest book? Once we figured what a guest book was, it seemed like a cute and easy idea, so: yes! How are you going to commemorate loved ones who have passed? Good question! We still need to figure that out. Are you going to give guests party favors? No, we're giving them music and a free meal! Are you going to wear beige because it's your second wedding? Go jump in a lake. Do you have a family heirloom cake stand and cake cutter? Huh? The traditions really are endless.
Traditions, especially ones associated with major life events, connect us with our past, reinforce our cultural values, and hold our communities together. We can look at wedding pictures from our grandparents', parents' siblings' and cousins' weddings and see the connecting elements. I know my ancestors have been married under a chuppah and then danced the hora for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Wedding traditions can be beautiful and fun, but there's no way anyone could do all of them, and no reason we should want to.
Just like we will for the rest of our lives, we are figuring things out one step at a time, trying not to offend anyone, and just trying to be ourselves.