A person like me, a sixth generation American on my father’s Irish side and second generation on my mother’s English side (in other words, white), can go about her business without thinking seriously about heritage all the time.
That’s not to say it doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t come up. People comment on my last name constantly (“Finnegan! You’re not Irish, are you?”) and I think about my grandparents whenever I make tea or hear an English accent. But nothing, not even St. Patrick’s Day, has made me consider my cultural heritage more than planning a wedding.
Wedding magazines, books, websites and television shows are all in the business of telling you to have a unique wedding while selling you the same stuff they’re peddling to every single woman who tunes in. Advertising makes the world go round, and there are many thoughtful bloggers curate their sponsors carefully, as there are editors and producers and writers who genuinely care about presenting useful, fun, pertinent information. But it’s tough to escape the message: “You [meaning everyone] must be unique! Your wedding should say something about you as a couple!”
Often, the suggestions run to ethnic backgrounds. “If you’re Norwegian and he’s Japanese, why not serve pickled herring sushi? Your guests will love it!” Throwing a wedding is the one time when a social gathering is themed all about you. It’s a little weird, and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure that the version of yourself you’re presenting is authentic but tasteful, specific but palatable to everyone, and most of all, pretty.
So I’ve started thinking about how cultural heritage may (or may not) play into our wedding. But it’s complicated. Do I present my Irish and English sides equally? Bloodline-wise, I’m actually more English, but I feel more Irish (does that count? Is anyone over in Ireland laughing yet?), and there’s a smattering of German and Dutch in there too. My fiance has a German last name (extremely German) but is more Italian than anything. Also a little Irish.
Maybe we could have an appetizer course of tea sandwiches, followed by a bratwurst bar with three different kinds of sauerkraut (one being red cabbage as a hat tip to the Netherlands), washed down with Guinness, and eat cannolis for dessert. Or we could incorporate our heritage into the decor and music! Get a trad band with step dancers, hang posters of The Godfather, ask our bridal party to speak in North London accents, and I’ll wear lederhosen under my gown - and clogs!
This is, of course, ridiculous. But it would also feel weird to privilege one side of our combined ancestral culture over another, or to abandon the idea completely. The last thing we want is a generic wedding, right?
There are ways to keep cultural traditions alive in a wedding without appearing schizophrenic. First, there is the actual ceremony. Ours will be Catholic, the religion passed down to us from each of our families. Then, there’s the reception to follow in the very American fashion. We are, first and foremost, Americans. The DJ might play some U2 (just not “With or Without You” - when will people realize that song is great but not romantic?) and we might serve Italian wine. But we are also leaning toward Mexican food, because we love it so much.
Truth be told, if we really wanted the purpose of the wedding to be a declaration of how awesomely unique we are, it would be Nintendo and Law & Order themed. (Mario is obviously a suspect in the heinous pipe-bashing murder.) Maybe I could procrastinate so much that the entire affair starts two hours late, and Tim could cut his own hair right beforehand, and we would spend the whole time cracking inside jokes that no one else gets while eating vegan food that no one else likes. That would be like us.
I’m hoping that cultural influences will sneak in organically, and that when our wedding rolls around, people will remember it as a really fun party. After that, I will probably change my name to a very German sounding one, and we’ll see how German I start to feel.