5 Tips for Creating Moving Multicultural Ceremonies

I am blessed to live in Vancouver with its richly diverse community. Learning about different spiritual and ethnic traditions is one of the great joys of my life.  I find inspiration in seeing how others navigate the twists and turns of life.  And how different communities celebrate joys and mourn losses.

In my work as a Celebrant, I collaborate with individuals, couples, and families of all backgrounds.  My respect (and curiosity!) for other traditions seems to attract those searching for an interfaith officiant.  It must be true that what we put out comes back to us!

Over the years, I’ve had the great pleasure of creating and conducting ceremonies for amazing clients of the following backgrounds: Jewish, Persian, Chinese, Evangelical, First Nation, French Canadian, Buddhist, Catholic, Anglican, Armenian Orthodox, Indonesian, Scottish, Greek, and oh boy I surely have missed a few!!!

When the majority of guests do not speak English, or important family members do not, I work with a translator to ensure key portions of the ceremony are understood.  My ceremonies have been translated into Mandarin, Cantonese, French, and German.

We experience powerful opportunities for connection when people of differing faiths and cultural traditions come together for a marriage, birth, or death. Rather than be divided by differences, we can use the ceremonies for these occasions to foster memorable shared experiences.  Here are five tips for creating meaningful multicultural or multifaith ceremonies.

  1. Look for underlying universal human truths.
  2. Honour commonalities between the two traditions.
  3. Research folk tales.
  4. Include unifying rituals.
  5. Learn to speak key words or phrases in a different language.

Look for Underlying Universal Human Truths

We all want to be loved. To feel part of a community. And to be accepted for who we are.  Happiness and joy, grief and pain, disappointment… the emotional arc of what it is to be human is experienced by us all.  Bring these universal human truths into the ceremony by illuminating experiences and emotional everyone present can relate to.

Honour Commonalities between the Two Traditions

Though two traditions may be very different in some ways, in others there is great similarity.  Highlighting the commonalities helps bring connection and welcoming spirit to the ceremony and in interactions beyond. Here’s an example: Chinese and Jewish families place great importance on family.  Speak to these important shared values during the ceremony.

Research Folk Tales

I’m a storyteller and love to share folk tales during multifaith or multicultural ceremonies.  Participants and guests appreciate the intention and effort!  Folk tales or stories bring home deeper meaning in a way that seems to resonate with many listeners.  I don’t tell LONG stories, but rather abbreviate them into a paragraph.  It is especially wonderful to share folktales from two traditions that illustrate the exact same point!  Again, it’s about celebrating what we share.

Include Unifying Rituals

All faiths and cultures have rituals intended to unify self with others and self with the sacred.  Spend time learning about these and you will enliven your ceremonies with emotional richness. See if you can combine ritual elements of both traditions. For instance, in a handfasting I once used the crowning ribbons from the orthodox Armenian crowning.  Always remember that to be resonate rituals must be relevant and suited to the individuals involved.  No rites by rote!

Learn to speak Key Words and Phrases in a Different Language

Learning how to say “Welcome” in Mandarin, “You may kiss the bride” in French, “Mazel Tov” in Hebrew, “Ashes to Ashes” in German, “Sofrey-Aghd” in Persian will endear you to guests and to your clients.  Make sure you practice!

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I welcome your comments and would love when you share your own tips!

All for now,

Michele Davidson, Professional Celebrant & Wedding Officiant

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