Blending Cultures for One Wedding Ceremony
Food, décor, dress and music can all be customized to suit cultural variety among family and friends for the big day.
It was the hanbok that did it. There were other subtle representations of Kathy Rho’s background, but when she appeared in the brilliantly colored outfit and its ornamental headdress, there was no mistaking her Korean heritage.
She’d worn a Western bridal gown for the ceremony, but changed into the hanbok for the cake cutting. Rho looked resplendent in its bright-red and soft-pink skirt and jacket, accented with lime-green, marigold and navy-striped sleeves. But, she didn’t want to wear the whole thing all day—it’s actually quite cumbersome. So is the traditional Korean garb for the groom: a silk, robe-style jacket with wide, bell sleeves and a square, black hat. “We bowed to each set of parents, cut the cake, posed for pictures, then changed back into our Western-style clothes,” says Rho. “It was a great, brief, lovely way for us to pay our respects to my background.”
There were other Korean influences that came into play at the July 29, 2011, wedding of Rho and her groom, Matthew Reid, who has Caucasian and Afro-Caribbean roots. But the couple, who live in Haverford, also wanted a Westernized wedding. “We didn’t want to overdo it with cultural influences,” Rho says. “We wanted small but meaningful touches.”
Those touches included place settings made of Korean-style gift bags that matched the colors of Rho’s hanbok. Rho also decorated the wedding-cake table with wooden ducks, a Korean symbol of marriage. “We set them by the cake in the main hall, with photos of my family on one side and photos of his family on the other,” she says. “We thought it helped to signify the joining of our families—not just two individuals getting married.”
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That was the same goal of Rini Chakraborty and Wayne Dudley, who were married on May 1, 2011. Dudley is of German-Irish descent. Chakraborty’s parents immigrated to the United States from Calcutta, India. Chakraborty, a Haverford College graduate, and Dudley, a Havertown native, had two ceremonies—one in India and another at Elkins Estate in Elkins Park. “The wedding we had here was very American, but we included aspects from my background and Wayne’s,” Chakraborty says.
Like Rho, Chakraborty used traditional clothing to represent her heritage. Her bridesmaids and flower girls wore saris. Chakraborty donned a Western gown for the ceremony, and for the reception changed into a lehenga, an Indian wedding sari. Traditionally, an Indian bride wears a red and yellow lehenga; Chakraborty had hers made in a shade of white, to hew to her Western style. “During the ceremony, to pay homage to Wayne’s background, we did the Irish handfasting ceremony,” says Chakraborty. “The officiant tied a rope around our hands in a figure eight to signify tying the knot, literally.”
Chakraborty and Dudley also used food to exhibit the Indian influence. Hors d’oeuvres included lamb, pomegranate and scallion skewers and vegetable-date samosas with tamarind dipping sauce. The entrée was grilled salmon with raita yogurt sauce, and a Western-style wedding cake was supplemented with traditional Calcuttan sweets from an Indian bakery in New Jersey.
Food is one of the most popular ways to blend cultures, says Jeffrey A. Miller, the exclusive caterer for many local wedding venues. “There are three basic ways to add cultural aspects to the wedding menu,” he explains. “Hors d’oeuvres are the
most simple way—and a great option because we can do many different kinds.”
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Such flexibility can also carry over to the entrées. “If the couple wants to include their cultures in the main meal, we can do a buffet of stations with different traditional foods as well as typical American items,” says Miller. “We’ve done handmade Vietnamese spring rolls, a blini bar with several caviars, or a pierogi bar—and also had a hand-carved roast beef station.”
And if clients want plated entrées? “We do gentle combinations that won’t jar the palate, or for guests who might be unfamiliar with international foods,” says Miller. “To show Asian influence, we could do steamed salmon with jasmine rice and black-bean beurre blanc, or pad Thai with steamed salmon and long beans—then, to represent the other side of the planet, flat-iron steak with Yorkshire pudding or sauerbraten.”
With so many options, where should a bride and groom start? “If the couple doesn’t already have a list of things they want to include, I suggest that they have candid conversations with their parents,” says Karen Pecora, CEO of Main Line Event Planners in Wayne. “They may be second, third or 10th generation Americans, but their parents might have strong feelings about certain traditions.”
The planner for the Chakraborty-Dudley wedding, Pecora has experience blending cultures. She’s decorated the bridal table with Irish and Scottish plaids, indulged the Italian tradition of the bridal couple walking from table to table with a basket of cookies made by aunts and cousins, and arranged blessings for newlyweds delivered in the language of the family’s native country.
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Ilonka Comstock was the floral decorator for the Rho-Reid wedding. “People look for ways to make their weddings unique and memorable, and also heartfelt,” she says. “There are flowers and plants that are symbols of good luck, love and prosperity from different cultures. They can be incorporated into bouquets or table decorations.”
And there are also those who borrow traditions from different cultures. “I had one client who was a strong Christian, and she and her mother were looking through photos of my past work,” says Comstock. “They saw a beautiful chuppah I did with flowers and greenery, and the mother wanted it for her daughter’s wedding.”
At first, Comstock hesitated. “I said, ‘You know that’s from Judaism, right?’ she recalls. “The mother says, ‘So what? It’s gorgeous. And besides, Jesus was a Jew. We’re all one big family.’”