Love is a boundless force that can transcend all obstacles, and in many cases love prevails even over cultural and faith differences, with couples embracing the beauty of diversity, rather than allowing these differences to divide them. For these situations it is important that a wedding celebrates the beauty of each culture or faith, and the unity forged in love. To explore the plethora of ways this can be done, Melbourne Wedding & Bride’s Katie Livingston chats with authorised marriage celebrant, Bianca Paliaga, about how you can deliver a deeply personal wedding ceremony that celebrates two different faiths.
In her ten years as a marriage celebrant, at least half of the ceremonies Bianca Paliaga has performed have been for couples of differing faiths. And she even goes so far as to say that her favourite ceremonies are the ones where the couple’s faiths are incorporated into the ceremony in a meaningful and authentic way. But as striking the perfect balance between the two can be tricky to navigate, the celebrant shares some insights into how her couples have done this in the past, and the many unique approaches she has seen in her time.
The first steps to planning any ceremony is an open discussion with your prospective celebrant about you and your partners beliefs, and the factors that are important to you and your partner, and need to be included in the ceremony. Paliaga begins all of her couples off with a café catch-up – or a zoom meeting if necessary – to “discuss not only their beliefs, but also their culture, and their families’ faith and culture” in a friendly space. “We talk about the wedding ceremony rituals of each faith and what they would like to incorporate in their wedding day. The couple have usually had this discussion with each other and also with their families prior to meeting up with me [but] if they haven’t, I always suggest they take their time, don’t rush into making any decisions,” Paliaga advises.
When it comes to challenges, Paliaga explains that whilst the couples are usually open and happy to be including rituals from one another’s’ faiths, the families will often push for certain rituals that are very important to them in terms of culture and faith to be included, and that finding a balance that respects everyone’s needs can take work. To satisfy the needs of differing faiths, the celebrant’s advice is that open communication between families is key. “Sometimes this results in holding two separate ceremonies, and other times the family may suggest one or two rituals to include each, which we can pull together in one ceremony,” Paliaga explains.
LET’S WORK TOGETHER
If you’re planning on sticking to the one ceremony, Paliaga notes that often couples will choose the “most authentic, interesting and even fun rituals from each of their faiths for their ceremony”. One way to do this is to include leaders or people from each faith within the ceremony: “Sometimes it’s a faith leader, other times it may be a relative of the couple. Either way it’s important to present the different faiths authentically,” Paliaga affirms.
Paliaga also flags that these ceremonies that incorporate different faiths will often run longer than the average ceremony, ensuring that there is enough time to pay respect to the rituals of both cultures. This could involve a reading or ritual from each culture, or sometimes there will be special pre-ceremony traditions that only family are invited to.
When asked about a marriage celebrant’s role in all this, Paliaga states; “I believe it is of the utmost importance to respect the religions involved.” Which is why her role can often be one of facilitating rituals, rather than specifically performing them herself. Paliaga will research each faith or culture in depth to ensure that her ceremony is respectful and genuine, but there are some key parts that should only be performed by a religious leader of the appropriate faith, so it’s important that your celebrant works closely with them. “Often I will have the religious leader send me what they have planned, and I include it in my ceremony draft,” she says. “I ensure they also attend the rehearsal so that we can discuss any questions either of us may have.”
Paliaga recounts one of her favourite weddings that successfully navigated combining the two faiths; one between and Indian Hindu bride and Buddist groom from Hong Kong. “The day itself was incredible,” she says. “The couple created a booklet for all wedding guests explaining each of the rituals and their history, as well as how to be respectful to each religion.” The celebrant then further explains that excellent communication was the driving force behind this wedding being such a great success, as it truly allowed both families to feel that their culture and traditions were being respected and honoured.
THE BEST OF BOTH FAITHS
When there are so many essential components to include from each culture or believe system, sometimes the best way to ensure that everyone gets what they need is to have two separate ceremonies. “Often the cultural ceremony is performed in their place of worship or even overseas, with me as the celebrant just performing the legal ceremony here in Australia,” Paliaga says. Although having two ceremonies can be a more costly endeavour, it is an excellent way to pay each of the two uniting faiths the homage they deserve. The celebrant’s one word of warning is that according to Australian law, only one of these ceremonies can be legally binding. “It is against the law in Australia to hold more than one legal ceremony, or to marry someone who is currently married – whether they were married in Australia or overseas,” she says. This is again where good communication comes into play, as you will need to decide which of your two ceremonies will be legally binding, and who will be on your guest lists for each.
Paliaga’s parting sentiment is to never be ashamed or dismiss your culture and wedding rituals surrounding it. If you’re unsure how to best work it in to your ceremony, she suggests discussing it with friends and family of the same faith to find the aspects that suit you and your partner. “You may surprise yourself and find some rituals that you both love to incorporate into your ceremony. Take your time in making decisions regarding rituals and always remain respectful of cultures and religions,” she says. Regardless of your beliefs, heritage and personal taste, the more important thing is that your wedding captures the love you have for your spouse-to-be, and celebrates all that you have in common, as well as what makes you unique and different.
Photo by: Rick Liston