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Real Couples, Real Traditions Five newlyweds share how they honored their pasts while celebrating their future together. Get inspired with their stories and 2’s tips!

Photographs of Desiree and Glenn on their wedding day.Desirée and Glenn
Within the first week of Glenn’s vacation in Johannesburg, South Africa—my hometown—we met at a mutual friend’s wedding and attended a second wedding together. Eight years later, we were planning our own wedding!

From the beginning, deciding where to have the wedding proved to be a challenge. While my family lives in South Africa, Glenn’s family lives here in Canada. In the end, we decided to celebrate in both South Africa and Canada and to do everything twice: two wedding dresses, two receptions, two continents, but just one bride and groom.

It was also important to us to acknowledge both our families’ Cantonese roots. For the wedding in South Africa, in which I wore a silk champagne-coloured wedding gown, we had a traditional Chinese tea ceremony: We knelt before the groom’s side of the family, offered tea and sweets, and acknowledged them by their new titles in Cantonese. In return, we received best wishes and red lucky packets filled with money! Instead of a guest book, our guests customized their wishes with silk ribbons and flowers on individual cards. For the reception in Canada, I wore a traditional red Chinese dress, and we dined on a sumptuous nine-course banquet.

It was the best day(s) of our lives, and now all we’re waiting for is that second honeymoon!

Hot tip!
People may travel from afar to attend your wedding and take part in your special day, so be sure to give extra thanks to these guests. Show your gratitude by giving them a shout-out in your speeches.

Photograph of Reachel and Emeka on their wedding day.Reachel and Emeka
Both Emeka and I were raised in families immersed in cultures that originated outside of Canada. Emeka’s family is from Nigeria, and mine is from the Caribbean. It felt only natural to incorporate our cultural traditions in our wedding.

During sacred occasions, it’s customary in the Caribbean to prepare a fruitcake made with dried fruits soaked in wine or rum. This task was left to my mother, who promptly began soaking the fruits six months before the wedding. The cake was cut into small pieces and given to every guest at the wedding. A portion of it was frozen and will be defrosted for the christening of our first child.

In Nigerian culture, the cola nut is viewed as a symbol of healing and welcoming and is used in ceremonies such as weddings. Before dinner was served, the eldest person from Emeka’s family’s tribe said a prayer, cut the first nut into pieces for the head table and asked all the guests to take a bit of the nut in support of our marriage. We also took part in a Nigerian money dance in which our moves were rewarded by guests who applied bills to our foreheads. We had to work up a sweat to ensure the money would stick!

We were delighted to incorporate both our cultures in our wedding day and share them with our guests.

Hot tip!
Honour family and friends by allowing them to take part in the proceedings. Assign key roles to heads of the family, but involve guests as well, even if it means the conga!

Photograph of Laura and Kevin on their wedding day.Laura and Kevin
I was born in the Netherlands, but immigrated to Canada with my family when I was eight years old. I have a big Dutch family and am very connected to my heritage, so it was important to Kevin and I to incorporate Dutch traditions in our wedding celebrations.

As is common in Holland, Kevin presented me with my bouquet before the ceremony, and we had our photos taken then. Our caterer served Dutch appetizers and desserts, including a selection of cheeses, bitteballen (a popular fried snack) and Dutch-style apple pies.

Since Kevin is Canadian and our wedding took place so close to the Thanksgiving holiday, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving-style main meal. We also had a bagpiper for a Maritime flair.

Our parting gifts, like our menu, also reflected our two cultures: maple sugar candy and De Ruijter chocolate sprinkles. It was the perfect combination of Canadian and Dutch sweets for our guests!

Hot tip!
There’s no better way to share your heritage with guests than to serve it up as dessert. Everyone loves delicious sweets, no matter how foreign they might seem! Find out if your caterer can supply these, or if you’ll need to track down a place in town that can help out.

Photographs of Zoe and George on their wedding day.

Zoe and George
We are both very proud of our Greek heritage and decided to get married in the Greek Orthodox Church. It was important to us that we—and our guests—understood the symbolism behind the unique customs and traditions of the Orthodox ceremony.

Unlike many other Christian ceremonies, the bride and groom in Greek Orthodox ceremonies do not say any vows. The ceremony itself shows the couple’s willingness to come forward and be married and accept God into their new home. Of the numerous traditions, there were three that resonated with us: the stephana, the common cup and the ceremonial walk.

During the ceremony, we were given stephana, or crowns, which identified us as king and queen of a new kingdom: our home. Our crowns were joined together with a ribbon as a symbol of our unity. We then both drank wine from a common cup to show that from that moment on we would share everything together, joy as well as sorrow. However, our joys would now be doubled and sorrows would now be halved because they would be shared with each other.

At this point, we were officially married, and it was time for the ceremonial walk. Lead by the priest, we walked three times around the table on which the Gospel and the Holy Cross had been placed—our first steps together as a married couple!

Hot tip!
Ask your officiator to explain customs and the reasons for them as the service or ceremony unfolds. It will be much more interesting and meaningful for your guests.

Photograph of Haziel and Dennis on their wedding day.Haziel and Dennis
Although both Dennis and I grew up in Canada, our wedding was deeply rooted in our families’ cultural heritages. While Dennis’ background is Chinese, mine is Filipino, so we wanted to incorporate our families’ different traditions in our ceremony.

On the Chinese side, we weren’t supposed to use white lilies in our floral arrangements because they’re associated with bad luck, so we opted for colourful spring flowers instead. Also, Dennis’ mom provided our guests with a plethora of traditional Chinese pastries at midnight, which were a huge hit!

Since we’re both Catholic, we followed the traditions of a Filipino wedding ceremony in a Catholic church. I wore a white wedding gown as a symbol of purity, which Dennis saw for the first time when I walked down the aisle. During the ceremony, Dennis and I lit a candle to represent the joining of the two families and to invoke Christ in our married life. To further symbolize our union, our bridal party draped a white veil over my head and Dennis’ shoulder. Dennis also presented me with the arrhae (13 gold coins, though we used loonies), which had been blessed by the priest, as a sign of our commitment to each other.

Our wedding was special because it fused our traditions and religion together for the perfect day.

Hot tip!
Details such as lighting a unity candle and other cultural rituals give additional meaning to your wedding and make it interesting for guests. Don’t be afraid to try out different customs outside your cultural heritage—if it’s meaningful to you, you can make it meaningful for others. Research different customs, then find ways to incorporate them in your wedding service or reception. And watch the parental tears fall!