Cooking up some wedding fusion

Blending traditions and cultures for an inclusive wedding

I’m often asked about this. When a couple comes from two different cultures, ethnicities or religious traditions, how do I blend their backgrounds into a cohesive ceremony? First and foremost, I am always deeply mindful that there be an absolute sense of equality and balance. No one is leaving any ceremony I created saying ‘it was all about her,’ or ‘it was all about his family.’

Here is a fairly typical scenario – let’s take a couple, one partner is Puerto Rican and the other Italian. Both come from Roman Catholic backgrounds, but do not actively practice their faith, but many of their parents and grandparents do.

When you explore Italian traditions for the ceremony itself, it is exclusively the celebration of the Catholic Mass. I am not a priest and obviously I would never attempt to mimic communion. Instead I might suggest a wine sharing ritual that references both the religious connections of wine, using an Italian wine. There’s a lot of history to draw from. I explain the connections, connotations and symbolism, and then the couple drinks the wine, sharing the ‘cup of life’ together. I hope you get the idea.

One of my favorite Hispanic wedding traditions is the lazo, which is like a giant rosary and used to join the bride and groom by draping it over them during the ceremony, while the priest blesses the marriage. Again, I’m not a priest, but I love using a lazo in a similar fashion. The officiant doesn’t have to do this, by the way. In fact, it’s a great honor to ask one or two people to wrap the cord – a favorite relative, god-parents, or anyone special to the couple.

A lazo can be made of many materials, besides being beaded like the rosary. I have seen floral lazos, and ribbon lazos – do what works for you. Some couples create their own lazo. By the way, lazo literal means lasso, for obvious reasons, and sometimes is even called a lasso – so if you see these two terms, they are the same thing.

I also love the 13 Coins ritual, which could be used instead, and I promise to write about that one soon. But you probably would not want to use both.

Michael Straub Photography

Readings can bring a lot to the table. Look for scriptural passages or use the wisdom of writers from the country you are honoring. In some instances, you might even have the reading performed in two languages. That infuses a lot of flavor. Find authors or poets from each heritage, and make sure to mention why you chose it.

There are other, and probably easier places besides the ceremony, where couples can honor their backgrounds. One of my very favorite Italian wedding traditions is done at the reception. It is when the couple breaks a vase, plate or glass, and the number of pieces symbolize how long they will be happily married. Because of its similarity to the Jewish ‘breaking the glass’ at the end of the ceremony, I find this especially wonderful, because it speaks to the universality of symbols!

For the Puerto Rican side of the family have the couple’s first dance be a danza criolla, a Puerto Rican waltz.

Have a band or DJ who are versed in Latin music, such as salsa, merengue, mambo, samba, and can also toss in an Italian Tarantella, along with some great Italian-American crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Vic Damone, Jerry Vale, and Tony Bennett.

And food, food, food. Both cultures have many specific and fantastic dishes to enjoy. Don’t worry if you think they don’t ‘go together.’ Do it anyway! Food always brings people together.

These are just a few examples of how two cultures can successfully be brought together for a wedding ceremony and celebration. There are countless ways to infuse an important milestone like this with history, culture, religion, and most importantly – meaning.

(this column is dedicated to Ashley

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  and Michael Straub  for the use of your photography

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