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Cultural Differences in Wedding Planning

April 29, 2008

Being Jewish has always meant a lot to me. Particularly as I grow older, I realize how much I identify with the Jewish culture: its traditions and customs, its people and, maybe most importantly, its raison d'être — its fundamental values. Pardon my French, I'm from Quebec.

I was raised in a fairly conservative household. While we did not keep kosher, we ate "kosher-style". My sisters and I attended Hebrew school, we went to shul (temple) for all the High Holidays and celebrated these holidays both religiously and culturally with family and friends. Living in suburban Canada, I was friends with many non-Jews and — my mother coughs at this point — I eventually decided to marry one. Nick, my fiancé, is a wonderful person. While he has not converted to Judaism, he has accepted it whole-heartedly and participates and supports me in my customs. We have also decided that our children will be raised with "kosher-style" practices, including learning Hebrew, attending synagogue and taking part in a coming-of-age ceremony (Bar/Bat Mitzvah).

Blue wedding cake photograph
Melanie is not planning to serve this cake at her wedding. Photo: Chris Arrakeen

My family loves Nick, his family loves me and for the most part we have all accepted one another and our differences… well sort of. Yes, we've accepted one another, but the hardest part is accepting the differences. Why is it that Christians and Jews have very different ideas when it comes to such things as place settings, present-giving, food-choices, and most relevant to my present situation, wedding planning?

While my in-laws are great people, and my parents are great people, they have completely different notions as to what a wedding symbolizes and how it should be celebrated. I asked each couple about their respective weddings: how much the receptions cost, how much fuss they made, and how much they enjoyed the experience.

My in-laws were married in a church in rural Canada. They then went out to dinner at a local restaurant with a dozen of their family and friends. Total cost: $1,000, total fuss: minimal, total fun, rated on a scale of 1-10: 7/10, total years married: 25+. My parents, on the other hand, got married in an Orthodox synagogue in urban Toronto, with over 200 family, friends and community members at the celebration. Total cost: $15,000, total fuss: maximal, total fun rated on a scale of 1-10: 7/10, total years married: 25+. As you can see, the wedding had no major impact on my parents', or Nick's parents', commitment as a couple — and it shouldn't have. However, my parents look back fondly on their wedding as a momentous occasion in their life; Nick's parents, on the other hand, think of their wedding as another day in their life together. While both of these views are perfectly acceptable, it causes upheaval when trying to plan my own wedding. As Nick and I plan our own wedding, which will take place at an inn in rural Quebec late next summer, we see ourselves caught between two very different views of what a wedding should be.

My Jewish family views all life-celebrations as momentous and über-important. My Christian in-laws-to-be like keeping things low-key. Therefore, when it comes to food choices, DJ rentals, photographers, they find themselves out of the loop. My mother on the other hand, is quite adept at planning functions — she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it done. Now, you might say that I'm being unfair — that the most important part of the wedding is the joining of two people who are in love. Please don't think I'm shallow or trying to throw the event of the century. I treasure my fiancé and am simply trying to put together a party that celebrates our joining.

I fear that the planning of my wedding has demonized me in the eyes of my in-laws. They probably think that spending thousands of dollars on one night is a royal waste of money, that I'm superficial because it's taken me forever to choose simple items, like save-the-dates and wedding favors. I want the wedding has to be tasteful, to represent who I am, and to include everyone that is special to me.

My recommendations for those who are about to embark on planning an interfaith wedding are the following:

  • Before any planning takes place, try to talk with everyone involved about how they feel about weddings in general, and what they want out of this particular celebration
  • Have everyone speak candidly about what a wedding represents in their mind and try to be honest about budget, customs and traditions
  • Try to determine what people DO NOT want to see at the wedding — i.e., fluorescent colored balloons, scallops wrapped in bacon or their great-aunt Mildred.

 

As I write this article, my fiancé reminds me that my in-laws have begun to come around. They've decided to throw us a casual engagement party, they now talk about the people they are excited to see at the wedding, and they have begun to show more enthusiasm towards the whole event. In the end, I'm sure they'll see that this isn't "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" — tacky isn't my thing, nor do I need to have every cousin on both sides present. Nevertheless, I'm sure they'll also realize that having a wedding can be fun and that it is an excellent time to celebrate the lives and most importantly the love of two people. If that involves a few extra head-aches, a few extra dollars and maybe even a few extra relatives, so be it. It's worth it.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Yiddish for "synagogue."
Melanie Herscovitch

Melanie Herscovitch is a Ph.D. student in Biochemistry at Boston University. She lives in Boston with her fiance, Nick and dog, Conan.

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