Our country is a nation of immigrants—a melting pot made up of people from all over the world, who in addition to sharing common American values, also strive to preserve the culture and history of their ancestors. And that's nowhere more obvious than in wedding ceremonies and receptions.
"America has a multitude of ethnicities and couples are pairing up harmoniously, so when it comes to planning their wedding, they are wanting to make it uniquely theirs by adding their rich cultural traditions," said Brit Bertino, a longtime wedding planner who is currently doing research for her book Unveiled, Weddings from Around the World.
"Every couple is looking to pull in some unique aspects to not only share their cultural traditions but to have all the guests experience things they may not have before and not to mention that you may even get a few brownie points from your parents and or grand-parents," she added.
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We asked Bertino for her expert advice on how to honor your or your S.O.'s heritage by incorporating the family's culture and traditions into your special day.
This can be the part you have the most fun with.
"Music and dance are great tools for engaging your guests," said Bertino. "In the Chinese culture, the couple and their guests will tune into the lion dance. Performers sway to the beat of drums, gongs and cymbals used to scare away evil spirits."
And in Arab culture, the bride and groom are ushered into the reception with a march called the zaffa which has flaming swords, dancing and music.
In most Eastern European countries, people have traditional dances that they perform at weddings. Some of them have a pretty easy choreography so even if your guests are not professional dancers, they will be able to follow along.
Food and Beverage
"Many of our couples ask how some of their cultural foods can be showcased at their weddings and it’s normal for us to ask the chef to accommodate these requests," explains Bertino. "I always encourage the couple to taste the food prior to the wedding day to make sure that it’s up to your families’ standards. If for any reason the caterer cannot accommodate and your budget allows, ask them to partner with your favorite restaurant or share grandma’s favorite recipe with chef."
For Ukrainian weddings, for example, a sweet bread, korovai, is prepared by both members of the bride and groom's families to symbolize the blending of the two families. In Brazil, couples are given sweet cookies called bem casado (well married) and in Italy guests are gifted with sugar-coated almonds.
The tradition to wear "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe" actually originates in 19th century England. Each one of these items is supposed to bring good luck, happiness, prosperity, and ...a baby to the bride.
"Having henna-painted hands for the wedding party would acknowledge a Hindu tradition. In Ireland, brides carry a handkerchief," explains Bertino. "Handfasting cords are used in several cultures which represent the commitment of the bride and the groom. This element can be sponsored by a family member and can be custom designed and worn as bracelets whether the the actual handfast ritual takes place or not."
Indian weddings require very colorful attire so you can consider dressing the bridal party in traditional Sarees and the men in Sherwani suits. You can also mention to your guests in the formal invitation to participate as well by wearing "Indian-inspired attire."
Many cultures have their own wedding attire that isn’t always the white gown.
"In Korea, brides wear bright hues of red and yellow during the ceremony," said Bertino. "And in Japan the entire wedding party wears white."
When it comes to bringing good luck to the couple, it seems like the world has put all its creative energy to work.
"In a Guatemalan wedding reception, the groom’s mother will break a white bell filled with flour, rice and grains and this is meant to be good luck and prosperity" she added. "In the Filipino culture, doves are released to represent a long lasting, peaceful and prosperous life together. In Australia, guests are given small stones and are asked to hold them during the ceremony and at the end, guests place the stones in a decorative bowl that the couple will keep to remind them of the support of friends and family."
There is nothing more thoughtful than honoring your ancestors' traditions on your most special day and however you decide to do it, one thing is certain—it will make your wedding a lot more memorable and fun.