August 4, 2011
Some brides are born to plan a wedding and others are not. I happen to fall into the latter of those two categories. When my husband, Deep, and I got engaged, I realized our planning process would be even more difficult as we come from very different cultures. Deep's religion is Sikh and I am Jewish. Although I had never meticulously planned my wedding until that point, I did have certain expectations growing up. I imagined that one day I would walk down the aisle in a white dress, announce my vows and my husband would break the glass under the chuppah, as our family and friends screamed "mazel tov!" Little did I know that one day, my actual wedding would also include a Mehndi party, during which henna designs were drawn on my hands and feet, ceremony in the Sikh Gurdwara (temple) and other Punjabi wedding traditions.
I wish I could say with ease that Deep and I were fully prepared for all of the wedding ceremonies and festivities. Since we were not, this made the wedding ceremonies exciting, yet stressful. It was only after the wedding that I did more research on the similarities and differences of our wedding traditions and cultures. I suppose you can say "better late than never."
We did our best to incorporate religious traditions into the ceremonies and reception to blend both families. For couples that want to incorporate more religion into their wedding, I would recommend speaking to religious leaders. There are some religious leaders who will co-officiate, which can be a nice compromise for both families. For us, our traditions were so different that we decided to have two separate ceremonies — one in the Gurdwara and one Jewish ceremony.
For the Sikh wedding, I wore a traditional Indian bridal dress and a dupatta, a traditional scarf to cover my head in temple. Our families also wore traditional clothing. Prior to the wedding, I visited the Gurdwara with Deep's family to become familiar with the formal traditions. Deep's sister and cousins offered advice about the traditions of the Gurdwara and where/when/how to sit and stand. His family was really supportive at the Gurdwara and helped us (literally) through the ceremony. Although the ceremony is a time to be serious, we did have some fun with it. One of Deep's traditions is to walk four times around the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy text, as hymns are read. It is respectful to walk slowly as the wedding is officiated; yet we were practically speed walking. We were nervous, but obviously in a rush to get married!
To be married in the Jewish faith, we spoke to Rabbi Burt Siegel. Luckily for us, he had a significant background in Indian culture, so he was familiar with our Sikh wedding ceremony. We had my oldest brother and Deep's sister sign our ketubbah and marriage license as witnesses. This meant a lot to me by having our siblings' names on a document honoring our marriage. We had kippahs available for the men and the rabbi said a few blessings in Hebrew as we drank from the kiddush cup. We stood under the chuppah and said our own vows in front of family and friends; this was the most important thing to me at our wedding. The rabbi explained the meaning of breaking the glass, and despite more than half of the guests being Sikh, everyone shouted "mazel tov" as Deep broke it.
For an interfaith relationship, wedding planning becomes vital as two (or more) cultures are united. The wedding is an opportunity for the bride and groom to learn about each other's traditions, to break out of their comfort zones, and it may be the first time to make major compromises — something that an interfaith couple should become familiar with. It is certainly a time to learn about your significant other and what customs may be continued, blended or left out as you continue your lives together. What is most important is to be open minded, to get informed and to have fun with the planning.
Ultimately, I did experience some familiar traditions and some new ones, but I gained more than that. I gained a new family with beautiful beliefs and ideas. Deep and I are fortunate to have experienced each other's wedding traditions and we are a stronger couple because we better understand each other's cultures. Our three-day Sikh-Jewish wedding seemed at one point unattainable, but with some help from our family, it was the best experience of our life.