When East Marries West: When One Wedding Won’t Do

Many years ago, fellow blogger Tianjin Shannon, an American woman, penned a post titled The Most Married, where she wrote about her third wedding ceremony with her husband Haike, from Hunan, China. Yes, you read that right — third. (And in fact, she would go on to later hold a fourth ceremony!)

While Shannon might indeed claim the title of “Most Married,” in fact, many other intercultural and/or international couples straddling the East-West divide have also held more than one wedding ceremony.

Tying the knot across cultures and borders makes it that much harder to have all your family and friends together at one single ceremony. Travel costs and even securing visas can already get in the way of well-intended supporters who would love to watch a couple say “I do”. Plus, every country and culture has its own distinctive wedding customs and foods, often difficult to replicate outside those borders. And what about those of us who, say, grow up with a dream of getting married at home?

For all of these reasons — and more — many East-West couples prefer to organize at least two wedding ceremonies (and yes, sometimes even three or four)!

Whether you’re looking for wedding inspiration, a way to remember your big day, or a delightful diversion, here are two different examples of how East-West couples have chosen to walk down the aisle more than once.

Traditional ceremonies in the East (Japan) and West (Italy) – My Japan Slice

The blogger at My Japan Slice represents the most traditional choice for those who decide to have two wedding ceremonies. Their reasoning would surely resonate with most East-West couples:

Since the beginning we planned a double ceremony. We are both interested in each other’s culture and we like to learn and experience about it so having our wedding ceremony only in one of our countries would have meant missing something.  Besides, we both have aging grandparents who could not travel. A double ceremony, one in Japan and one in Italy, was the perfect solution.

They set their dates in winter with Dec 23, 2016 for the Japanese ceremony in Kyoto:

My husband’s family lives in Kyoto so it was natural for us to get married there. We choose Kamigamo Shrine because the Kamo river had played an important role in our story being the place where we strolled hand in hand for the first time on our first date. Again we were lucky because the shrine was already almost fully booked and we got the 12.45 slot.

For the Italian ceremony, they chose Jan 5, 2017, at a church in a small mountain village in the northern Alps:

I choose this village because it is the place where the priest who celebrated my parent’s wedding lives. He moved there some years ago and we kept in contact. He was overjoyed when I asked him to celebrate our wedding on January 5th 2017. He also helped us a lot because, since my husband is not Catholic, we needed to obtain a special permission from the Catholic Church in order to get married with a Catholic ceremony. My priest is so dear!

The couple also decided to sandwich their honeymoon between the two ceremonies (they went to Norway — Northern Lights and dog sledding!).

This blogger went on to chronicle every moment of each wedding ceremony, with lots of Instagram-worthy photos. In Kyoto, the couple organized the day a little differently to reflect their cultures and also accomodate guests from outside Japan. Here’s my favorite quote about their ceremony:

The ceremony lasts twenty minutes and ends with further blessings and prayers. We leave the wedding hall and walk to the inner shrine where we pay our respect to the god. In the meantime it has stopped raining. My father in law says it is the hare hito hare onna power. Hare hito hare onnameans sunny guy, sunny girl, my father in law likes to say that when me and my husband are together the sun always shines. The funny thing is that it is actually true almost all the time, we have always been lucky with the weather.

And here’s a highlight from their wedding in Italy:

We didn’t exchange rings during the Japanese ceremony because we choose to do it during the Italian ceremony since the rings exchange originally is a western tradition. Our wedding rings are a gift from my parents and our Best Men. Usually inside the wedding rings there is the wedding date engraved but we got married twice and we didn’t want to choose one date over the other so we decided instead to write 二人三脚 (nininsankyaku) that means “two people, three legs”. It is a Japanese proverb and it describes two people cooperating and sharing responsibility to achieve a common goal. To us it is the perfect synthesis of what being a married couple means.

You can read both posts for a vicarious look into the ceremonies in Japan and Italy (and to ooh and ahh over the photos)!

East-West ceremonies in each country (China, USA) – Adventures in Asia

If you’re an East-West couple, then shouldn’t each ceremony truly reflect your cross-cultural relationship? That’s the kind of reasoning that Katie at Adventures in Asia shared about her decision to have a Chinese-style wedding in the US and an American-style wedding in China:

My dream was to have an American-style wedding in China and a Chinese-style wedding in America. I thought this sounded fun and interesting! Until our wedding, none of my family had visited China before, so giving my relatives and friends a taste of my relationship and my life in China at our wedding in the U.S. was very important to me. I felt that doing cross-cultural weddings would express our cross-cultural identity as a couple. Doing our weddings this way would mean sacrificing certain customs – that is, I couldn’t have a truly and completely American wedding in China on a reasonable budget, and we couldn’t do all of the Chinese family traditions in America. That’s reality.

So how did they pull it off?

Here’s a quote about what Katie and her husband did for their Chinese-style wedding in the US:

The Chinese wedding dinner usually includes a Western-style ceremony inserted halfway, complete with the bride dramatically entering in a white dress and the exchanging of rings and simple vows. This is sandwiched between the Chinese traditions of the bride and groom welcoming all the guests at the door (and receiving all the red envelopes of cash money), and the couple toasting each table of guests (after the bride has changed into a red dress or qipao). There is also usually entirely too much food stacked onto the tables, the parents give speeches, someone sings a song or performs a dance, and an emcee entertains with games and prizes. We tried to replicate this dinner at our States-side wedding and got decently close!

She also shared some of the pros and cons of doing an American-style wedding in China, including the following:

+We had our ceremony at the church where we attend, and as such we did not pay anything for the building, the officiant, the pianist, or the sound guy. In China, it’s all about who you know!

-Finding an officiant to marry us was surprisingly difficult. Most of the people we asked weren’t too keen on the attention of a Chinese-foreigner wedding. (For Chinese, the emcee usually narrates the vows, if they do them.) I wrote the entire script for the wedding myself (mostly inspired by traditional Western ceremony I found online), and my husband translated it.

+We were able to hire a company to handle the reception decorations (as mentioned previously). Our dining tables were outdoors with candles and dangling lights in the trees and dancing under the stars! This definitely would have been outside our budget in the U.S.

-Finding everything from candles to the flower girl basket in white, not red, was a constant struggle, but possible!

I recommend reading Katie’s entire blog post, which details everything from some of the initial challenges to their East-West engagements and both of the ceremonies.

For East-West couples who are considering two wedding ceremonies, what do you think is the best solution?

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2 thoughts on “When East Marries West: When One Wedding Won’t Do

  • October 9, 2018 at 6:48 am
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    My husband and I had 4 as well. Maybe you would consider it 3.5 lol. It was a Buddhist ceremony, chinese/american reception, city hall wedding papers, one for the ancestors. It was crazy and surprisingly the Buddhist wedding was a bit stressful due to all the ceremony behind it.

    Reply
    • October 14, 2018 at 3:43 pm
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      Thank you for the comment, Candice. Wow, you had four as well — so you could easily vye for the title of Most Married yourself! The Buddhist ceremony sounds fascinating (despite the stress you describe).

      Reply

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