How to Plan a Wedding When You're from Different Cultures

My now-husband Jon and I used to live in Washington DC, and it was there that we met via a mutual friend who organized a group outing one night. Jon had never said "I love you" to anyone before, but earlier that evening, he happened to tell his friends, half-jokingly: "Guys, I'm going to fall in love tonight, I know it." Oddly enough, he was right!

Later, we both admitted that we had it bad for each other since day one. When Jon moved all the way across the country to California for school, we were both ready to take on the challenge of a long-distance relationship...but what made it a lot easier was that he proposed during my first visit out to see him!

We quickly decided that we wanted to celebrate with two weddings: an Indian ceremony and reception, and a traditional Christian ceremony with a separate reception as well. So we kicked off the wedding planning while being engaged long-distance for six months before I moved to California myself. In March, we had wedding #1, which took place in Seattle, Washington. In late September of this year, we'll celebrate our six-month anniversary with a second wedding in Columbus, Ohio! Here's what I learned from planning not one, but two different cultural celebrations.

multi cultural bride and groom 
Photo Credit: Jaquilyn Shumate Photography

1. Weigh your options.
There are many ways that couples from different cultural backgrounds can choose to celebrate their union. For us, it just made sense to have two separate weddings in order to do justice to each. Being born and raised in Ohio but having come from an Indian cultural background, I knew that I wanted to have both a Christian ceremony in a white wedding dress, as well as a ceremonially traditional Indian one in a saree (or sari) — and I was really excited to plan both! The customs are so vastly different (and beautiful) that we didn’t want to attempt to merge them together.

But this is by no means the only way to do it. Often, I’ve seen couples hold an Indian ceremony just prior to (or after) a Christian ceremony on the same day and throw one joint reception. I’ve also seen couples fuse different elements of their cultural heritage or religion to come up with their own unique ceremony. The decision may depend on a matter of logistics—timing, cost, location, etc.—more than anything else.

couple walking up stairs
Photo Credit: Justin Page Wood

Cost: From my experience, blending two different cultures together is always more expensive, no matter how you slice it. Depending on who's paying for what, money can be a significant factor when deciding how your wedding will play out. If you get an amazing deal with a venue that you've fallen in love with, it might make more sense to go ahead and hold two ceremonies there on the same day. Or if your funds are limited, and you'd rather get the best possible vendors for the money that you're spending, it might just make more sense to concentrate finances on one wedding.

Location: Considering that Jon’s family is based in Seattle, all the way across the country from Ohio, we agreed that hosting two separate events was the best option for us. That way, we wouldn’t feel as if we were excluding friends and family by picking one location over the other. If the bride and groom have families in closer proximity, if one side has a much larger guest list than the other, or if a destination wedding is the right fit, it might be easier to just throw one multicultural wedding.

couple standing on bridge
Photo Credit: Justin Page Wood

2. Plan ahead.
If you’re thinking about planning two separate wedding celebrations, I'd recommend hosting them six months apart. It’s not too long that it seems strange to have your second wedding and not too short that you end up planning both simultaneously (and possibly losing your mind!).

Even if you're hosting just one event, still leave enough time to incorporate everything from both cultures. While this option might seem easier at first, it still requires a lot of careful planning and tricky logistics.

3. Engage both cultures.
There are so many fun and creative ways to incorporate details from each side and help the families understand more about each other. Here are a few areas to consider —

Food: At the reception, presenting a fusion of food from both backgrounds is a great way to make guests from both sides feel comfortable with familiar tastes, as well as explore a new cuisine.

Rituals: Many cultural weddings, especially Indian weddings, involve a lot of rituals unfamiliar to those outside of the culture. It's always a good idea to explain what's happening in each stage of the ceremony (maybe in the program), so that none of the guests feel left out.

Music: The reception is a great time to break out top 40 dance hits, but also infuse traditional wedding dances into the mix. 

couple wedding entrance
Photo Credit: Jaquilyn Shumate Photography

4. Infuse your own style.
In the midst of incorporating two cultures, it’s easy to forget that you and your groom have your own unique style, too. Don't let it get lost in the mix! For example, I love all things vintage, lace, romantic, and elegant, and I incorporated all of those different elements into my first wedding.

For our second gathering, I know we have to use traditionally brighter colors, and I'd like to create an Eastern-inspired design for everything from the escort cards to the programs. The wedding "theme" doesn't necessarily have to revolve around your culture — it can also include your own personal tastes as a couple.

5. Get help and stay organized.
My Mom and mother-in-law were absolutely indispensable during the planning process. At the time Jon and I got engaged (and for most of our planning), we lived thousands of miles away from each other and were planning a wedding in Seattle! Now we're planning an Ohio wedding from California, and relying heavily on my parents to lay the groundwork for this event. Having this kind of help is key when you're on the hook to pull off not just one, but two big events.

For the first wedding, we did all of the planning ourselves, but we ended up hiring a truly amazing day-of coordinator to take the reins, direct the show, and execute on the wedding day. This was easily one of the best wedding investment decisions we made and a really great idea (even if you plan the rest of the wedding yourself).

And, whether you’re a laid back bride or a super-planner bride, staying organized is key. Everything from labeling emails to spending time on vendor research and creating checklists can make a huge difference to help things run smoothly. 

multi-cultural bride and groom
Photo Credit: Jaquilyn Shumate Photography

6. A little goes a long way...
In my opinion, subtlety and simplicity in design is a lost art when planning a fusion or multicultural wedding. You run the risk of quickly taking a turn for the tacky; it's not always easy to incorporate the vibrant colors, flashy designs and elaborate proceedings of an Indian wedding into a more naturally understated Christian or Western wedding.

However, adding just a few touches to the latter can be stunning when planning décor for a fusion wedding. And it doesn’t need to be an outrageously expensive endeavor to design one! For example, you can select tropical flowers from your place of origin. Or you can weave a single cultural design element into everything from your cake to place cards to centerpieces to lighting and more. It is possible to integrate elements from another culture without going overboard.

romantic multi cultural wedding
Photo Credit: Jaquilyn Shumate Photography

7. Communicate!
For most brides, a wedding is inherently an affair that involves spending a lot of time interacting with friends and family members. And they all seem to have a ton of advice for you. When dealing with family (especially soon-to-be family!) it's important to take your loved ones' feelings into consideration but also have the final say in decision-making. Taking the time to reach out and listen to what's important to them prevents any misunderstandings or unfulfilled expectations later on.

This is doubly true when it comes to multicultural weddings. There's a lot of potential for one side or the other to feel neglected or hurt, even if it was unintentional on your part. So make sure you chat with trusted family members on both sides about every part of your event to ensure that everything is executed in a way that respects and honors both of your backgrounds.

8. Keep things in perspective.
Until I started planning my wedding, I didn’t realize how much weddings have come to resemble a competitive sport. Some brides may feel like they need to have the best, most creative, unique, stunning, and perfectly-crafted wedding that will unfold flawlessly, like a movie. It's easy to get wrapped up in this mindset and start hunting down vintage typewriters, thousands of mason jars, the perfect shade of mint everything, and refuse to rest until it's all "perfect."

This pressure can intensify when you're planning a multicultural wedding. While there's nothing wrong with having cool wedding details, it's important to remember that all of that detail "stuff" is secondary to the reason why you're doing all of this in the first place: To celebrate spending the rest of your life with the person you love.

So as hard as it is, try not to get sucked into this competitive nature and remember that on this day, you’re marrying your perfect other half. And that matters more than anything else.

couple love by sunset
Photo Credit: Justin Page Wood

 —Piyali Flugstad