Since Victorian times brides have always looked to mix old and new on their big day. But one person’s old can be another person’s new, with couples increasingly looking to other cultures and traditions for inspiration for a cultural wedding.
Liz Taylor, managing director of wedding planners the Taylor Lynn Corporation, has been organising special days for people of all cultures for the past 26 years. Of Jewish heritage, she understands the importance of recognising cultural wedding traditions when it comes to celebrating landmark family occasions. Aspects of the day, particularly religious customs linked to the cultural wedding ceremony itself, must be respected and upheld. Maintaining these traditions is fundamental to the success of the day. However, when it comes to the party celebrations, Liz finds that sharing ideas might just provide the magic ingredient you were looking for.
Finding the right balance
The multi-cultural society in which we live is clearly apparent in our musical tastes, clothing and food. So perhaps it’s not surprising to see our wedding traditions being open to its influences too. However, when it comes to cultural wedding celebrations, choosing to do things differently isn’t always easy. There are a range of age groups to keep happy and expectations to be met. But looking to other cultures for inspiration doesn’t have to mean moving away from your own traditions.
“Your wedding day should be a reflection of you and that includes your cultural wedding roots,” says Liz. “Our mixed society means that many couples have now experienced a cultural wedding in different cultures and traditions which differ from their own, and are open to taking ideas from these celebrations and giving them a unique twist to personalise their own celebrations. In this sense, rather than moving away from tradition, it is about embracing life in the rich variety we experience it day-to-day, choosing elements of other traditions which appeal, and embracing them in a way that suits. For example, we are seeing a real mix of traditions being embraced in same-sex civil partnerships, which are carving out their own style, which is often both elaborate and sophisticated.”
Putting on the style
The colour scheme you choose for your wedding is a good opportunity to place your unique stamp on the celebrations. Traditionally, north European wedding receptions have been decorated in muted, romantic tones, while Asian weddings were recognised by their bold colour palate. Today, such generalisations are not always so easy to make.
“Making your day unique is all about unleashing your creativity, and I find that once couples begin to think about styling their reception they become open to experimenting with colour,” says Liz. “At Asian weddings today it is common to see the conventional red off set with a splash of lime green or cappuccino with a splash of fuscia pink. At the same time, other cultures are increasingly opting for sumptuous colours, fabrics and textures, more commonly associated with Asian celebrations.”
Moroccan themes, with warm welcoming colours and elaborate styles, are particularly popular at the moment. “The secret is not to copy but to be inspired by general designs and have fun putting your own twist on them,” Liz explains. “Large bright cushions and rugs, light breezy fabric drapes, stained or recycled glass lanterns, mosaic candle holders and coloured candles can all work fabulously in most venues.
“You also might like to play around with a variety of styles. A good compromise is often to style one room in a traditional manner and to get creative with another for a more contemporary feel, with a ‘reveal’ dropped between the two areas for a truly dramatic element.”
As guests at a cultural wedding you probably never imagined how much time and effort goes into, not just the seating arrangements, but the chairs themselves and how they are dressed. If you really want to feel like the King and Queen on your big day, you can always opt for thrones, David and Victoria Beckham style.
“When the Beckham’s chose to sit on matching red and gold thrones at their wedding, there was a lot of joking that they thought they were indeed posher than royalty,” Liz laughs. “But couples have traditionally sat on thrones in both Jewish and Muslim weddings, and we are now seeing this tradition, of highly decorated chairs for the newlyweds, being taken out of the religious context and adopted in many secular and civil ceremonies.”
Since curry is one of England’s favourite dishes, it was naturally only a matter of time before it starting popping up on cultural wedding menus. There is no right menu for a wedding meal – the type of food, and how you serve it, is up to you. Rather than a formal sit down meal, many couples are now opting for a fork buffet which allows guests to help themselves to a variety of hot and cold foods, with some couples opting to create a variety of stalls serving cuisine from different parts of the world.
At the evening reception many couples are also replacing the traditional finger buffet with afternoon tea. “Serving afternoon tea in the evening has always been a ritual at Jewish weddings,” Liz explains. “However, it is a tradition that has being adopted and adapted, and is now very popular, particularly at civil ceremonies.”
Individuality can be introduced not just in the choice of dishes but also in the presentation and serving. “Recently my company has been fusing traditions to add a new dimension to the traditional buffet menu at Asian weddings – serving traditional food in a plated western contemporary style,” Liz adds. “Non-alcoholic juice bars, serving mango and lychee cocktails are very popular, as is the use of banana leaves as dishes to hold exotic rice. However, while it’s always fun to experiment, you’ve got to know which traditions can’t be veered from and, from years of experience, I’ve got an eye for which ones they are. If you try serving naan bread anything but piping hot, you’ll understand what I mean.”