Weddings are events steeped in traditions that honor generation after generation of ritual, customs and beliefs. However, we live in a unique time when couples are increasingly being encouraged to abandon outdated practices and embrace what is most meaningful to them personally. Recognizing that this contradiction can simultaneously be freeing and frustrating, here we explore the current state of modern vs. traditional cultural wedding practices:
Generation Trumps Tradition
Millennials are leading the drive to personalize weddings and either incorporate or abandon customs. This generation--more than any particular ethnicity or religious affiliation--determines how far outside of traditional practices couples are willing to adventure.
While they are eager to part ways with rituals that seem outdated or irrelevant, they are also particularly in tune with their heritage, so we see a lot of melding taking place. In Southeast Asian communities, for example, it is increasingly popular to observe traditional ceremonies but then follow them with Western- or American-style receptions.
Common Adaptations: Shorten the Ceremony
Part of this can be attributed to the millennials’ demand for instant gratification and their notorious lack of patience. Couples are foregoing extended ceremonies and choosing shorter versions. Others wear the customary wedding attire of their respective cultures, but follow the organization and timeline of Western-style events, or compose unique ceremonies and receptions of their own.
Multicultural Indian weddings, in particular, are shifting. Traditionally, Indian couples have been very firm about how everything is supposed to run, but modern couples seek to honor family without putting their guests through a significant production.
For example, one of my multicultural couples decided to forego the traditional seated reception, choosing instead a cocktail party. They wanted to bring an element of the other partner's culture and religion as well. They started with a Hindu ceremony, paused, then had a Christian ceremony and concluded with more traditions from the Hindu ceremony. Their event was personalized to reflect their beliefs and values as a contemporary multicultural couple.
Popular Culture's Influencers Hold Sway
One can hardly blame contemporary couples for taking the customization of their wedding traditions into their own hands, because everywhere in popular culture, celebrities and high-profile couples are driving the trend.
When it comes to breaking long-honored rituals, the recent royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was a watershed. Meghan walked herself down the aisle the majority of the way, instead of having her father escort her to her waiting groom. A gospel choir in a sacred house of the Church of England was not only entirely new, but it very specifically honored something that was important to Meghan about her family’s background. The same can be said of asking Bishop Michael Curry to share a passionate sermon, breaking all of the accepted rules and setting a new standard for a modern era of weddings.
Danger of Discord
Making these changes, however, can lead to conflict between generations. Parents, in particular, do not always appreciate the adaptations couples propose to make. As planners, we often work closely with our couples prior to their weddings on their time line and ensuring that they reflect an agreement between both partners about what is happening and when. Armed with this information, when a parent or a sibling has a concern, we can help smooth things over by reassuring them that things are being handled exactly per our agreement with our clients.
Change, they say, is inevitable, but in the wedding world, it must be carefully balanced with a meaningful connection to the past. No doubt we will continue to see couples forge into new territory as they accept established customs and create new ways to demonstrate their love publicly.
Emily Sullivan is the owner of Emily Sullivan Events, a full-service wedding planning company based in New Orleans and serving couples everywhere.