Your wedding is a reflection of you as a couple. Shouldn't the traditions you incorporate be personalized, too?

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.

In addition to celebrating a couple’s new life together, weddings hold special meaning because of the many traditions that form the day. Couples looking to incorporate traditions from their culture should choose rituals and customs that make sense for them and their families.

Sometimes traditions are altered or reinvented. For Sheela and Ryan Jorgenson, this meant interweaving aspects from her native Ghana into their July 2 wedding ceremony at St. Catharine Church just east of Bexley.

In addition to playing Ghanaian wedding songs at their reception at Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph, Sheela asked her sister to give a traditional Ghanaian welcome to the guests.

“You call on God and your ancestors to come bless the occasion,” Sheela explains, adding that the welcome also includes pouring water or gin and schnapps on the ground during the invocation. “She was able to do it so well, and we did feel like we had all of those ancestors with us in that moment,” Sheela says. “I felt it was very solemn but showed everyone something. Even guests who didn’t know anything about Ghanaian culture had a little sense of what the tradition was.”

Sheela says part of the wedding ceremony custom in Ghana is knocking on the home of the bride’s elders to ask for her hand in marriage. In lieu of that tradition, the couple traveled to Ghana in 2017, where Ryan had the chance to meet Sheela’s grandmother and give her a gift of gin, as is the custom.

Also while in Ghana, Sheela had a shoemaker cover her wedding shoes in ceremonial kente cloth—a brightly colored material used to make traditional Ghanaian garb of the same name—since she wouldn’t be wearing the complete kente attire on her wedding day.

Sheela encourages couples to consider what traditions they connect with most and then think about how those fit within the day.

“The kente cloth is the ceremonial cloth and an important piece of fabric,” she says. “It felt very regal to be dressed in it as a child, and I wondered how I would feel not having an outfit made in it. I made peace [with not] doing the full-on outfit; instead I made a compromise. Try to find creative ways to incorporate things so you’re not butchering the tradition, but you’re honoring it.”

When considering what wedding traditions made sense to incorporate from his Persian background, Eamon Hai says he relied on his parents’ help for his October 2017 wedding to Annie (Sanders) Hai at The Vault.

“For us, it was nice to be able to learn from my parents as they were offering suggestions,” he says.

Eamon’s mother offered to do a Persian dessert table, which typically incorporates a great deal of symbolism. For example, sugar-coated almonds represent the love of the married couple: sweet on the outside, but a lot of substance on the inside.

The Hais also chose to incorporate the Persian knife dance, an element of the cake-cutting ceremony in which the mother of the bride will take the knife and start dancing with it in classical Persian style. It’s then the job of the groom to get the knife back from his new mother-in-law. She passes the knife to other women in the wedding party and other guests while the groom dances with each person.

“It’s different for every situation,” Eamon says. “If someone has a lot of knowledge and passion about their own traditions and wants to incorporate as many of those things as they can, both partners need to have an open conversation about it.”

In discussions about what they would want from their day, Reena and Martin Tam wanted each of their parents to feel connected to their own cultures—Indian and Chinese, respectively—during the wedding.

“We wanted to symbolize that we are in this marriage to respect each other’s cultures and traditions and to show they are active in our lives,” Reena says. “Our families got together and talked about what they wanted to have during the wedding, and it was really nice to have that close communication.”

The two were married at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Sept. 3, 2017, and had a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony along with a Chinese tea ceremony, during which the groom serves tea to the bride’s parents as a sign of respect.

The night before the wedding, they held a garba ceremony that celebrates the Hindu goddess Durga. Reena describes it as a time for celebration when both sides of the family come together for the first time to dance and eat.

Another meaningful moment for Reena was two days before the wedding; this is when, in Hindu culture, the bride and groom’s families put yellow turmeric paste on the couple’s faces in a pre-wedding ritual called a haldi ceremony. Typically, families perform the haldi in their respective homes.

“But since Martin’s family doesn’t do that we had both sides of the family come over to my house, and they were able to put the yellow paste on me and afterwards had his family and friends and some of my family put the yellow paste on him,” she says. “Because his family doesn’t do that traditionally, it was a nice way to incorporate everyone together.”

Reena notes that because her and Martin’s marriage was interracial, it was important to them that they find a balance and respect for the cultures of both families.

“You, as a couple, should decide what you want and what you see as important and see in your similarities and differences,” Reena says. “It depends on how your parents are—if they feel strongly about continuing traditions—and how you fit that into your wedding. But ultimately, figure out what your priorities are and what your parents’ priorities are, and find a common balance and respect for what you want that day.”