- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Christine Stroh, 36, and Jayant Reddy, 37, come from different religious backgrounds and instead of choosing one or the other ceremony for their wedding last month, they alternated between the two.

Mr. Reddy’s parents are from India, and Ms. Stroh was raised as an Episcopalian. Hindu weddings use movement and ritual to represent the couple’s union, while the traditional Episcopal wedding involves readings, prayers and declarations.

“Essentially, we doubled up on everything,” Ms. Stroh says. “We wanted it to be one ceremony, but we wanted to honor both of our families, traditions and cultures without emphasizing one more than the other.”

Ms. Stroh and Mr. Reddy, who both are from Northwest, wrote a wedding script that combined Christian and Hindu rituals in a 1-hour ceremony. For instance, they had their hands lightly tied together at one point of the ceremony to symbolize their sacred union and walked around a sacred fire, called Agni, seven times to represent different aspects of their union, both Hindu rituals. They exchanged rings, and the reverend officiating ended the ceremony with the reading of the Lord’s Prayer — both Christian rituals.

“It’s a careful balancing act. We wanted it to be true to us, but not [go] overboard,” Ms. Stroh says. “We didn’t want it to feel like a costume show or play.”

Bridal magazines, wedding consultants, books and Internet sites provide couples like Ms. Stroh and Mr. Reddy with ideas for expressing their different cultures during their wedding ceremonies.

“People have come to the realization that, in this melting pot of America, everyone in this country, including the Native Americans, came from somewhere else,” said Gerard J. Monaghan, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants in New Milford, Conn.

Starting in the mid-1980s, couples began favoring personalized weddings over the traditional Victorian wedding, where the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses was the only difference from one wedding to the next, Mr. Monaghan said.

The couples wanted to celebrate their heritages, cultures, ethnicities and religious backgrounds, along with their individual family traditions.

“It’s probably a very significant way of looking beyond the hoopla of wedding planning and looking at what’s really important about marriage. It’s the merging of two lives,” said Diane Forden, editor in chief for Bridal Guide magazine, a monthly publication in New York City.

Couples can express that merging in subtle ways during the ceremony and reception, Ms. Forden said.

For example, couples can provide ethnic foods or family recipes through hors d’oeuvres, main courses or food stations that have different types of food available, bridal consultants suggest.

“Blending food types during the cocktail hour is the best value,” said Lois Pearce, director of ethnic diversity for the Association of Bridal Consultants and a professional wedding consultant for Beautiful Occasions in Hamden, Conn. “The portions are smaller and usually, if the wait staff is informed [and explains the foods], the guests will try a small portion of something they may be unfamiliar with.”

Ms. Pearce does not recommend ethnic food for the main meal, because guests who might not like it will go hungry.

“Although you’re trying to satisfy different ethnicities … you don’t want to see lots of food uneaten. It’s just economics,” she said. “Also, you want your guests to enjoy themselves. If they’re hungry, they’re not going to.”

Couples can combine traditions by incorporating their ethnic backgrounds or heritages through their music selection, the dress they choose for the wedding party and the decor for the ceremony and reception. They can read poetry, feature customary dances and distribute favors for the guests that are reflective of their traditions.

“Couples want to do this. They want to honor their families, and they’re very proud of their culture and of their traditions,” said Carol Marino, owner of A Perfect Wedding in Fairfax.

Ms. Marino warns about the fine line between expressing culture and tradition and creating a sideshow that, with too much happening at once, can take away the focus from the couple.

When she married last month, 22-year-old Alix van Opstal, who is Jewish, said she and her Methodist husband, David Ness, 26, used a few elements from their different religious backgrounds. “We wanted to make sure each of our traditions are incorporated into the ceremony, so it will be more meaningful,” she said.

The couple, who live in Nashville, Tenn., wed at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Va. — a near Miss van Opstal’s hometown of Great Falls — with both a rabbi and pastor officiating. The bride and groom signed a ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract — but with interfaith wording. They stood underneath a Jewish vine and flower arch, symbolizing the beginning of their life together and, at the end of the ceremony, Mr. Ness broke a glass with his foot, a Jewish tradition.

Couples can incorporate culture and heritage into a wedding in other subtle ways, including using:

• The traditional flower of ancestry in the bouquet table setting. For example, Hispanics used orange blossoms, which represent purity and fertility, while the Dutch consider lavender a good-luck charm, Ms. Forden says.

• Crossed flags to represent the couple’s nations of heritage.

• Colors that represent different ideas in different cultures.

“The important thing is when you do this in a wedding ceremony, have the wedding program explain what the meaning is, so guests can feel part of what is happening,” Ms. Forden said.

The program also can be written in the languages of the couple’s countries of origin, Ms. Marino suggests. The result is that the couple and the guests get a unique experience at the wedding.

“You’re always going to have a bride. You’re always going to have a groom in a wedding,” Ms. Pearce said. “The difference comes in style, culture and taste.”

Ms. Pearce compares expressing culture in a wedding to eating a “family comfort food.”

“It is familiar to a certain number of guests. In this familiarity, they relax and enjoy,” she said. “It is entertaining to those who are unfamiliar that enables them to tune in to this unique event.”

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