The purpose of this post is to help prepare couples for the religious challenges of wedding planning. However, several of the below tips, ideas, and conversation starters can also be applied to other aspects of one’s identity such as sexuality, culture, nationality, etc. We have chosen to address a limited scope of other identities in some areas within this post, but not others. Our hope is that readers can easily apply all of the content to any variation of identity.
Families are hard. Combining families is harder. When combining religion and families, you can skip “hardest” and go straight to….catastrophic? Tragic? Harder than the hardest of things? Let’s be honest, separate conversations about marriage and religion are touchy, combining the two leaves little to be desired. If you’ve fallen in love with someone outside of your religion, or sect, want to marry them, and are now wondering how to best handle it, you are not alone. It is fairly typical for people in western cultures to marry outside of their religion. Typical, yet still confrontational among generations. So, how should you prepare?
The first thing you need to do, regardless of whether you and your partner’s religious beliefs are drastically different, slightly different, or seemingly identical, is explicitly figure out what it means for you both to identify, or not identify, with that religion. That’s right, how we don’t identify with our religion is equally as important as how we do identify with it. If you have read our previous posts, you know we love a good, old-fashioned, apocalyptically honest discussion. It’s the only way to go. And, just to make this harder for you, a quick “I am Jewish” does not even begin to explain one’s personal relationship with religion, or what it means for their wedding, family, or lifestyle. Worse still, it certainly doesn’t help define what it means to the one(s) you love most, or the one(s) footing the bill for the wedding. Therefore, if all you can say about your partner’s religious identity is “they are basically Catholic I think”, then buckle up.
Conversation Starters with your partner Note: We suggest you and your partner figure it all out on your own first, build a united front, and then bring the conversation to others.
Do you consider yourself religious? Can you tell me more about how you religiously identify?
What is your family's recent history with religion (ie: attending church, celebrating holidays, daily prayer, etc.)? Just consider parents, grandparents, or other important relatives. No need to go back to the dawn of your family crest here...unless you want to.
What components of your religion are important to you (ideologies, holidays, place/procedure of worship, symbols, celebrations, childbirth, etc.)?
What aspects of a traditional wedding ceremony and/or reception do you want to incorporate into our wedding (ie: ceremony location, prayers, dances, religious mentions, traditions, dress, songs, code of conduct, symbols, etc.)? If necessary, figure out what religious components will be important to those paying for the wedding as well, or of those who pull the strings of those paying (shoutout to Grandma Sue). I know this might be infuriating, but let’s be real. If someone is helping fund the wedding, they are most likely not acting as a silent investor. That’s what dreams are made of.
After this conversation, and only after this conversation, talk to the families. Seriously. No matter how hard the conversation with your partner got, do not not tell your families. Do not wait until it comes up organically. Do not wait until they ask you. Do not sneak around it. If you are nervous about this conversation, it is likely because it is important to you or someone else you love. The more nervous you are, the more you have to prepare and just do it. If you wait, or don’t take control of the narrative, it will put you at a disadvantage. Once everyone is on the same page, or at least reading from the same book, it’s time to talk logistics.
Ways to incorporate religion into your wedding. Note: There are a lot of different ways to do this, beyond venues and ceremonial traditions. The following are some ideas that can be done either subtly or more openly.
Wedding programs. This is a great place to acknowledge the religious background of the ceremony, as well as to educate your guests on the goings-on of it. If you’re incorporating a bit of religion that’s totally different from what a majority of your guests are used to, this is the place to subtly help them understand what is going on and why. Everything becomes more meaningful and alive when we understand it better. So, explain the purpose of the glass-breaking ceremony, or why the marrier(s) is wearing red. It is true that the wedding isn’t for your guests, and it ultimately doesn't matter if they get it or are comfortable with it; however, you did invite them, so why leave them in the dark?
Dress code. Make sure your guests know the religious dress code in advance. We could be talking about saree, Yamakas, head/body coverings, kimonos, or specific colors. Also decide where and when these dress codes will be enforced - just at the ceremony? Reception and ceremony? From the moment one enters the place of worship, regardless of the start time of the ceremony? We suggest letting guests know via your wedding website, on your invitation, or on a separate card inside your invitation. If this is of the utmost importance, it may be best to let people know personally, as opposed to relying on everyone clicking around your website to find out all the details. Some guests won’t even look at your website, and that’s a fact. However you relay the message, be sure to include which types of styles, clothing, and/or colors to avoid as well as which to use. Next, decide how offended you, and others important to you, will be if the dress code is not followed by your asshole cousin. What is the protocol going to be here? Being asked to leave the ceremony and/or reception, not even being allowed to enter, or just dirty looks? Again, the more important it is, the more clear and direct you need to be. Dress code policies also relate to non-religious weddings as well - is there not literally always someone in jeans, or wearing white?
a. Having (Religious) Symbols. Figure out how you want your religion/identity to be portrayed through the ambiance of the ceremony & reception. Here we can think about incorporating religious symbols (ie: The cross, The Yoonir, The Star of David, The Wheel of Dharma, etc.), as well as any other symbols for the non-religious aspects of your identity. For the ceremony, find out if your place of worship allows additional decor in general, as well as other types of symbols. For example, some modern churches openly endorse the LGBTQIAP+ community, while others allow mixed-religion marriages and symbols. For ceremonies outside of the church, decide if you want to have religious/identity symbols at your venue. Do you want these symbols present at the reception as well? If you are holding your ceremony/reception at a privately owned location, be sure you are comfortable with the owner’s beliefs and stances. One couple we know did a consultation at a winery where they found themselves feeling uncomfortable with some symbols that, rightfully so, would not be taken down on their behalf. The opposite could also happen, as you may find yourself wanting a symbol, only to find out it’s prohibited. You don’t want to find out too late that your venue, or any of your vendors, hold viewpoints or stances that go against your beliefs in a way that will impact your comfort. So, make sure you and all your venues/vendors understand each other.
b. Incorporating symbols. One way to incorporate your preferred symbol(s) is through your decor. This could go as big as having statues, monuments, or ice sculptures; or as subtle as small signage throughout the reception hall, or symbols printed on the programs. Symbols could also be incorporated into the guest book, or whatever fun guest book alternative you create.
4. Music & dance. Music is actually huge here. It is fairly self-explanatory, but worth the mention. Certain religions and cultures like to party to specific types of music. Yet, there might be some types of music and dance that you won’t want to allow. If there is any type of music that will be deemed inappropriate at your reception, or styles of dance, get out ahead of it. This is not only for religious weddings (though it is safe to say you don’t want Becky twerking in her boyfriend’s crotch in front of your traditional mother in-law), non-traditional weddings have challenges in this category as well. You may need to explain to the DJ that children will be present at your wedding, so music with obscene language is off the table; or maybe you just don’t want to hear a bunch of orgasm innuendos while standing 10 feet from your dad. Do we like WAP? Sure. Do we want to see our father’s reaction to it? I don’t know, maybe. Furthermore, keep in mind that some people, even in this industry, are dense. You truly, and unfortunately, cannot assume that the DJ knows not to play a popular song containing homophobic & racist microagressions.
5. Food and drinks. Though it may shock many people from westernized cultures, not everyone parties with alcohol and late-night burgers. Religion may play a factor in what types of alcohol and meat you serve, if any. Decide what you plan to do for yourselves, your family members, and/or your guests. Again, this is a conversation for non-traditional weddings as well. If you and your partner are vegans, are you going to have an all vegan menu? If you don’t eat pork, will you therefore not serve it? Everyone is different. Some people have a “my wedding, my rules” mentality, while others are more interested in people-pleasing the general population. So do you, just do it on purpose.
6. Guest participation. Generally speaking, you won’t be able to force your guests to participate; however, the more you prepare them, the more likely they will participate in the prayers, songs, and dances at your ceremony and reception. This can be done via the wedding website, programs, or signage. Again, you could go the more personal route, if something is hyper important to you, and ask everyone via email/call/text to participate. If you have prayers or songs, put the words or lyrics somewhere everyone can see them (programs, signage, website, etc.). If you have a specific dance, you could provide links to YouTube tutorials on your website, or you could even do a tutorial / practice round at the reception. This could be a really fun way to bring everyone together, and get more people to join in on the Hora. That being said, you should expect that some people will not participate, regardless of how much you prep them, due to their own personalities, beliefs, or preferences. _____________________________________________________________________
Hopefully, this post has helped guide you through the tricky terrain that is religion and weddings. You can now take a deep breath, but not forever because, spoiler alert, you’ll have to do it all over again if you decide to have kids.
XO, The KE Team