With so many of us on our pathways to cultural reclamation and reconnecting with our roots, I’ve noticed a huge shift in the recolonisation of the wedding space with more and more couples looking for ways to honour their heritage when it comes to their wedding or elopement experience, so I thought I’d share with you 7 ways to incorporate your culture into your wedding day by me – Nikita Pere for the New Zealand Issue.

The Traditional Wedding Experience

Traditionally speaking, when we think of weddings, we think of the church, the white dress, and the whole hetero-normative narrative. Although the wedding industry is becoming more intersectional, and a lot of couples are moving their nuptials out of the church, the traditional wedding is still entrenched in outdated wedding traditions indoctrinated by the church — and people are finding it harder and harder to resonate with the origins of these traditions.

The Effects of Colonisation on Indigenous Ceremonies

Unfortunately for a lot of indigenous cultures around the world, a lot of our traditional ceremonies and cultural traditions have been lost due to colonisation, assimilation and the forcing of Christianity upon First Peoples. Indigenous cultures were largely oral cultures – meaning knowledge, art, ideas, history, cultural tradition and spirituality were passed on orally from generation to generation via songs, storytelling, myths and legends. When First Peoples are forced to stop practising their customs, speaking their native language, and abandon their spiritual practices and belief systems in order to assimilate — it’s sadly natural that much of a culture is forgotten and lost over time.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to incorporate your culture into your wedding day if you’re feeling called to do so. There are still many ways to honour your culture, and reclaim your wedding day! Keep reading to learn about how you can infuse nuances of your culture into your special day.

Why Include Cultural Elements For Your Wedding Day?

Adding touches of your culture, or thinking of ways to weave your heritage into your special day can be a really thoughtful way to make your elopement or wedding day more… you. It is a way to make your day feel more authentic and connected by honouring who you are, where you come from, and the ancestors that came before you. For when you think about it, without our ancestors, none of us would even be here!

1. Cultural Items or Adornments

One thing I always ask any of my photography clients, regardless of what type of session we are shooting, is if they have any cultural items of significance or adornments that they would like to incorporate into their session. This can be a special headpiece, jewellery or artefact that has been handed down in your family – or articles of clothing.

In my culture (Māori), we have many taonga (treasures) that are of deep spiritual significance and meaning to our whānau (family). We have things like korowai/kākahu (cloak/garments), pounamu (greenstone) jewellery pieces, wooden or bone carvings etc.

These can be included in your portrait session (perhaps you would like to wear a special piece of your culture during your wedding portraits), or they can be items that we weave into your storytelling of the day (perhaps a family member might be presenting you with one of these items, or passing it down to you on your wedding day).

One of my recent brides incorporated a 100-year-old piece of beaded lace that she acquired from her Parsi Grandmother’s collection. She had the lace very delicately added to the neckline of her outfit and veil. It was an incredibly stunning addition to her bridal outfit and the perfect immersion of modernising an old (and very sentimental) piece of garment with so much meaning!

If you are incorporating special items like this, please always let your photographer/videographer know so that they can ensure these items are documented as a significant detail of your day. It’s also good to let them know if any particular items are sacred and not suitable to be photographed.

2. A Culturally Curated Menu

Regardless of your cultural background, we can all agree that we connect over food, right? A culturally curated menu is the perfect way to incorporate your culture into your wedding day while taking your guests on a culinary journey! I’m not saying that you have to serve boil-up and fried bread on your wedding day (IYKYK 🙈😅), but have a chat with your chef or caterers about creative ways that you can incorporate regional flavours into your menu. Perhaps you can explore a menu inspired by your culture’s native ingredients? Perhaps you can do a modern twist on a culturally classic dish that you love? Canapés with an authentic nod to your home region? Or instil a sense of nostalgia, by convincing Nonna to give up her secret Pasta Cacio e Pepe recipe to feed your guests a literal taste of home!

The opportunities are endless and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

3. Connect Through Music

The one thing I really love about the art of cinematography is the intentional use of music to convey feelings and tell a story. Music is the universal language that brings us all closer together. No matter where you come from, or what kind of household you grew up in, we all have nostalgic memories of music in the home.

Pay homage to your Spanish roots with a mariachi band and march the streets with music! Perform a Samoan Taualuga, have your local Samoan performance group put on a show for your guests. Or invite all of your guests to stand up and learn a traditional dance from your culture or childhood. People love being invited to share in other people’s cultures. Music and dance are a beautiful way to introduce a part of yourself to your friends and family in a way that perhaps they haven’t experienced before.

Use music to tell the story of who you are, or to narrate the journey you’ve shared together. Have fun with it!

4. Weaving Traditional Art and Handmade Goods Into Your Styling

There’s a common trend when it comes to wedding styling, and that’s setting up zones and spaces to have an almost homely feel. A place for your guests to hang out, and relax. Think of those casual “lounge” spaces that we see incorporated into wedding receptions with that boho feel. These spaces are often styled with rugs, woven baskets and other textiles that people either hire from styling companies or purchase out of pocket from places like Kmart, or AliExpress.

But most of these items, our ancestors crafted from hand themselves. Why not get your family together for a weekend of crafting and tapping into your heritage? You can find a lot of how-to’s online with a simple Google or Youtube search. You can weave rugs, baskets, rattan hanging installations etc – and most of the materials (common native grasses like Lomandra etc) you will find in your local garden or park (just make sure there aren’t any restrictions against taking clippings and do your research to ensure that you’re not clipping protected or restricted species of plant).

You might be surprised at how therapeutic it is to use your hands to connect with ancient arts that our old peoples once connected over. And how special would it be to have the moment you promise forever to each other, standing in front of a beautiful woven piece that you’ve worked on together?

5. Gifting For Your Guests

Use elements of your culture to gift to your guests as their party favours. Continuing on from above, you could get crafty with some handmade items (small woven planters or baskets etc) that they can take with them and have a meaningful piece of you in their home. Or you could even put together little gift packs of the materials with instructions on how they can craft their own items and respectfully connect deeper with your culture!

Other ideas could be a special edible item from your homeland. Baked goods, dried tea mixes, or confectionary are always a hit.

6. Your Ceremony

Your ceremony is arguably the most important aspect of your day. There are many ways to ensure that it is meaningful and reflective of you both. You can incorporate your culture through language (perhaps you’d like to learn how to speak your vows in the native language of your ancestors), poetry or song. Readings are another way of incorporating your heritage in a simple way. Māori like to use “karakia” (prayer) or proverbs called “whakataukī” for formal speeches and special occasions as poetic expression to inspire and instil wisdom upon the listener. It’s a subtle, but meaningful way that we share the wisdom of our culture and language with non-Māori and provides a moment of reflection.

Other ceremony ideas from various cultures around the world include Chinese Tea Ceremony, Tribal gift exchange (often performed when two different cultures are coming together), the Greek custom of Plate Smashing, Money Dances, Mehendi ceremony, Indigenous Native American blanket ceremony, Indigenous smoking or smudging ceremonies, or a Welcome to Country performed by a local Indigenous Elder.

Reach out to your family, or do a bit of research to see what kind of meaningful traditions are customary to your lineage.

7. Stationery and Styling

Add a bit of cultural flair with your stationery or styling. Are there certain colours that are significant in your culture? Are there particular patterns or styles of art that you could incorporate into your wedding invites and other stationery (place cards, menu cards etc)? Perhaps connect with an artist that shares your heritage and specialises in art from that region, and commission them to design your wedding stationery so that everything flows and connects.

It’s the small touches like these, that could really bring everything together for you in creating a day full of meaning and intent — and of course, helping you to really individualise your wedding day to truly represent you!

As I always say: When it comes to your wedding day, there are no rules. So if you’re feeling called to do something a particular way, or to include something meaningful for you and your partner, do it! Make sure that every element you choose for your wedding day truly resonates with you as a couple, and do away with the rest.

I’d love to hear about different ways that you did (or are going to) incorporate your culture or heritage into your special day!

About Nikita Pere: Holding space for your raw love, I specialise in soulful storytelling that honours your deepest connections. Connection with your lover; connection with your loved ones; and connection with your culture, land, or place. My intentional approach to capturing your day ensures that each of your precious memories is retold with the reverence and heart that they truly deserve so that you feel right at home in your images. Wherever your chosen happy place may be, here’s to celebrating you and capturing your heartfelt romance!