Planning a Multicultural/Interfaith Wedding

April 2018

Nick Khan and Dudley Baird celebrating their 20th New Year's Eve Together in New York

If you have met a loved one from another culture, you may have experienced some challenges when you first introduced your new partner to your family, some expected and others a complete surprise.

Nowadays, it is very common for couples of different cultural and religious backgrounds to combine their faiths, cultures, customs and traditions into their wedding. Unfortunately, many couples perceive that their religious ceremony is legally recognised in the UK and for many it is not the case. As a way of ensuring a marriage complies with UK law, many couples tend to have a civil ceremony in addition to their religious one.

When I married for example, I had the Islamic ceremony known as the Nikah which is not legally recognised. This was followed by the civil ceremony in order to ensure that our marriage is legally binding and we took the opportunity to intertwine the traditions and customs of our families to help bring them together.

It's important to ensure that you have done your research and check if your religious ceremony is legally recognised in the UK. As someone who plans multicultural/interfaith weddings, there are a number of factors that you need to consider in the initial planning stage. I will take you through the process step-by-step based on my knowledge, skills, and experience.

Wedding Ceremony

Firstly, you need to decide if you will have one or more ceremonies. If opting for multiple, you will then need to decide whether to hold them on the same day or over a period of time. There is no written rule on the format of your ceremonies, so it's important to remember that your wedding is how you choose it to be. It’s entirely your choice as to how you go about celebrating your big occasion. Once you have made these decisions, you will be able to explore in more detail the number of options available to you.

Venue

Identifying your proposed wedding date is crucial in your search for the perfect venue, particularly if you have chosen one significant to you both. For example, my husband and I decided that our civil cermony should be the same anniversary as our religious one. It was important to us and respectful to our families that the significance of one ceremony didn't outweigh the other. There is no point in finding the perfect venue which is not available on your chosen date, however, always remember that when you have a flexible date, it can be helpful towards your budget.

Another important factor are your guest numbers. If you do not know the exact number, approximation will suffice or even a simple range is a good starting point. This will help narrow down your search in terms of budget, location, theme and options.

However, you need to be mindful of the fact that when you are bringing together families from different cultures, you may need to be prepared for a lengthy drawn out process when building your guest list. There are many cultures that have lavish weddings whilst others have intimate ones. This can create a clash between you and your loved ones. This can often be overcome with good communication, managing expectations and good preparation in the initial planning.

Finally, if you have chosen to hold your civil and religious ceremonies on the same day at the same venue, you need to make sure that the venue is appropriately licensed and if there is flexibility to accommodate the religious aspects.

Guests

A decision has been made about the venue and format of your wedding. The next stage is to focus on how you integrate your guests into proceedings and there are a number of things to consider. Do you want all your guests to be at both the religious and civil ceremonies? Do all your guests speak the same language? Are there many cultural/religious differences? Is the wedding on a day of religious significance? How do you entertain guests from different cultural/religious backgrounds? Don’t panic. Planning is the key to answering these questions and removing any anxiety you may experience.

Languages
A very important part of the day is ensuring that your guests can follow the proceedings. The best way to ensure that all your guests can understand is to make sure the main speeches are done in the language that is spoken by the majority of guests and have a member of the wedding party who is fluent in the relevant languages allocated to each table or group. If possible, ensure the speaker is multilingual and can switch between languages with ease. Finally, there is an option of an interpreter. A bilingual toastmaster is also an excellent solution.

Religion
Guests understanding the etiquette of each religion or culture is key to them following the ceremonies in a respectful manner. Prepare your guests well in advance so that they know what to expect. When things are sprung on people, it causes anxiety, unnecessary stress and pressure. It may be worthwhile considering one or more get togethers prior to the wedding to introduce groups to what they may expect in addition to providing information on the order of service and invitations.

Culture
A good way to educate your guests of the different cultures is to intertwine a custom or tradition from each side. A fun and interactive way in doing this encourages guest participation. As a child, my family knew a Cypriot couple and I was a bridesmaid at their wedding. I was only 3 or 4 years old and I still remember one of the customs where a ceramic pot of money was smashed on the dance floor allowing all the children to gather as many coins as possible.

Entertainment
This is a fantastic way to bring people together, especially when you are in a situation where your guests do not speak the same language and booking entertainers that are understood without the need to talk will considerably help. For example, a DJ with a playlist that has music from various genres.

Catering

Finally, the food, a crucial part of your wedding. It is your preference in how you want to serve your guests and there are a number of options available. As your wedding is a multicultural/interfaith one, it is very difficult to cater for so many different palates.

A simple and easy suggestion is to opt for a world food buffet. If you are feeling brave you may want to have one of your national cuisines instead of both. Alternatively, you may be lucky enough to source a caterer who can create a fusion menu. A fine example of this was when I had my Nikah and we decided on the traditional Pakistani cuisine, whereas our civil ceremony had a more traditional English menu with halal meat and non-alcoholic drinks available for certain guests. Remember to consider any special dietary requirements of your guests.

This is just a general summary of the main aspects of planning a multicultural/interfaith wedding. There are many elements to consider and I hope these tips help you on your way to planning your big day.

Zohrah