Every culture has its own traditions and nowhere do these customs come through more than at a wedding. Recently, we got the chance to assist one of our wedding planner friends for a Nigerian wedding.  The wedding was beautiful and honored the traditions and culture of Nigerians that are part of the Igbo tribe. The music, food, colors, and magnificent dresses made us proud to be a part of this very unique wedding.  Despite the guest count being well over 350 people, the newly married and their families got to enjoy a wedding that was truly special to them and their culture.

After working that wedding, we got to thinking about the many traditions that different cultures have for their weddings. It brought to light how unique a wedding can be depending on the couple’s background, but also how, deep down, there are a lot of familiar roots.  We grew up in a Haitian household and have attended many cultural weddings that were memorable and honored family traditions. For those of us who are from a culture outside of the American mainstream, it can be difficult to stay true to your family’s traditions for a ceremony and reception in the states. Perhaps your future spouse may come from another culture and you want to incorporate traditions from both families. Whatever your plans are, it is important to stay organized for a stress-free and memorable day. Here are some tips to help you put together your cultural wedding:

Know the traditions

If you and your betrothed are not used to going to a lot of weddings, there might be a few things that you are not aware of concerning your ceremony and maybe even reception.  Find out from friends and family what traditions – if any – you might be expected to adhere to. Will you have to wear a certain style or color of dress? Do you have to don on traditional clothing for the ceremony or reception?  Is there a prayer or other rites that must be performed by anyone? Weddings are ceremonies that are steeped in tradition and honoring them not only makes your union or special, but it reinforces your connection to your heritage and who you are.  

Get the guest list done early.  

Everything really depends on the guest list.  The number of tables you have, how large of a room or venue space you’ll need to hold the ceremony and reception, the number of gifts or favors that need to be purchased, and – most importantly – the cost of doing it all will greatly depend on your guest count.  In many cases, couples may think that they will have a small wedding, but once the parents and other relatives get involved, that original number can double or even triple in size. Make sure that this is hashed out as early as possible in the planning process. Have a dinner party with key decision makers and spend time working on a list together.  Do you need to invite everyone from church? Can you ask adults to leave their children at home? Should you invite people that you haven’t seen in ages? Speak up and be honest about what you expect from your guests. If there are any doubts, always round up for the guest list and tweak it as necessary as the days go on.

Do one thing for you.

With weddings, everyone gives their own opinions to the couple as if it’s their own wedding. Very quickly, especially if the whole family is pitching in to pay for the wedding, it can turn into an event for others and you are just showing up.  In some instances, that might just be how things are done and there is no getting around that. Nevertheless, the wedding is ultimately about the two of you, so make sure that there is at something that you can include that you’ll enjoy. Do you have a favorite DJ that you’d like to hire for the wedding? Go for it.  Do you have to wear a traditional gown for the ceremony, but can switch it up for the reception? Use that opportunity to let your fashionista side loose. Does your family always use the same venue for receptions, but you can have an after party someplace else with your close friends? Throw an epic fete to dance the night away.  Whatever it is, no matter how small, seize that chance to add your own personal touch to the big day. And who knows? It might just become a new tradition that others after you can incorporate when they get married.

Have a honeymoon.  

What? A honeymoon?  Yes, family and friends are great.  In fact, they are awesome. But weddings are already stressful and dealing with everyone all at once is enough to make you question your sanity and then some.  Having time after the wedding to just relax, recharge, and recuperate is not only ideal but necessary. This is the start of a new life, and after all of the songs are song and the champagne and wine are drunk, some quiet time to just connect with one another is needed to just breathe.  The good thing is that no one will fault you from going away with each other and in many cases, it might be encouraged. Plan out your honeymoon and if you want to keep it extra special, tell no one where you are going until you come back. Whether you choose to go away for a weekend or a full month, go and enjoy yourselves.  Trust me, you’ve deserved it.

Hire a day of coordinator.

Most traditional weddings have so much cultural meaning and significant  details leading up to the event that family elders and other leaders who are in the know naturally step into the role of putting the whole affair together.  The planning of the ceremony and other major decisions prior to the wedding may be made by the family as a group, but what happens the day of the wedding when everyone is now playing an active role in the wedding rituals and celebrations?  How can one be both a participant and an organizer during such an important day? The long and short of it is that it is very difficult to wear both hats and that usually leads to stress or missing out on special moments because one is trying to coordinate the first dance with the DJ or dealing with design issues.  Hiring a day of coordinator will help you and your family to put together the finishing touches for your wedding, deal with guests and the venue, create a timeline and be on hand to keep the stress and headaches of the day away from you so that you can enjoy yourself. An added bonus with hiring a day of coordinator is that they are able to speak up and say “No” to relatives or guests that are being unruly.  It’s a lot easier hearing “No” from a professional rather than your cousin or aunt.

We know what it means to have a big, crazy, loud cultural wedding.  Our family is primarily from Haiti and if you know anything about Caribbean people, we travel in packs and love a good wedding.  With that experience, we find that Haitians are not that different from Nigerians, Puerto Ricans, Jewish, Indian, or any other culture that takes pride in anything that they do.  We get it. We know that pressures that family and homeland and religion can put on a couple that is trying to get married. You might feel that all you are doing is either stepping on toes or walking around on eggshells, but it doesn’t have to be like that at all.  If you are in the midst of planning your own big wedding, let us be the first to wish you congratulations and we hope that you’ll reach out to us to help you on your special day.

My Big Fat Cultural Wedding