Mixing It Up: Interfaith Marriage
When Jeanette, a Christian from Australia, married Taddis, a Shinto Japanese, they didn't just incorporate elements from both cultures, they held two separate weddings. They had a Shinto marriage ceremony in Japan where Jeanette wore the traditional Japanese wedding kimono, wig, and make-up, and a Christian ceremony in Australia where, although already legally married, she walked down the aisle on her father's arm wearing the white wedding dress and veil.
"My wedding preparations took me a year," remembers Jeanette. "The Shinto ceremony was followed by a party with all our Japanese friends and the Christian wedding was a big reception with about 200 of our Australian friends. We'd kept it secret from our Australian guests that we were already married because we thought it might seem weird to them."
For Jeanette, the different traditions that accompanied her two weddings were important. Both cultures and religions were acknowledged. Neither Jeanette nor Taddis felt that their own culture was being compromised or unrecognized. It was also an opportunity for both sets of parents to celebrate the marriage of their children in a way with which they were comfortable.
But would she do it again? "We are still paying off my weddings," Jeanette laughs. "When you add together the dresses, the traveling, the receptions -- we could have bought a house. But I do think it was worth it. For me, marrying a Japanese man and deciding to live permanently in Japan has been both fantastic and challenging. When you are personally living the ‘cross cultural' lifestyle it is important that you respect the other's past and traditions. You can't just ignore it all in the name of love. Nor, I think, can you take on one of the other person's traditions at the expense of the other's."
That's not to say, you can't change. When David and Elise first started dating, the fact that he was Christian and she was Jewish was irrelevant. As they became more involved and starting talking about marriage, David realized that Elise's "Jewishness" was a fundamental part of how she saw herself and the world. "Elise never said to me 'convert or we're over'," explains David. "And if I hadn't decided to convert, I know that we would still be together. But it would have made her life much harder. My own religion meant nothing to me and I admired her commitment and the sense of family and tradition that the Jewish faith offers. While undertaking the conversion, I really started to appreciate the Jewish religion and I also believe it's important for kids to know where their parents stand on the issue."
Elise and David were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony and celebrated afterward with a traditional Jewish reception -- kosher food and all. Did he feel he was the one who'd made all the sacrifices? "Not one bit. My conversion wasn't a 'sacrifice' -- I feel as though my life has become so much richer because of it."
Religion and culture are inextricably entwined, and watching children marry out of their culture and into the unknown can be scary for parents. Bihn came to Australia in the late 1970s as a refugee from Vietnam and has four daughters, none of whom has married within the Vietnamese community. "Three of my daughter have married Aussies and one has married a Chinese," she says. The faith issue doesn't bother her, but the different cultural expectations do. "In traditional Vietnamese culture, you look after your children and then your children look after you. I worry that my daughters, now they have married outside our culture, will not take on this responsibility. Australian men are not used to respecting their elders and taking care of their parents."
This article was first published at Art of Loving -- a website that offers articles on love, relationships, singles, couples, family, sex, intimacy, personal growth, self development, and more -- and is reprinted with permission.