[Click here for Cultural Events Part One if you missed it]

Opening up your events business to cultural celebrations is to introduce it to an exotic array of colourful customs and traditions that will enrich both your event knowledge and business. These customs often have a deeply rooted spiritual or emotional significance often involving beautifully decorated clothing, lavish decorations and mouth-watering food (that you will probably be able to try). It is pure respect, to have a basic understanding of popular traditions in order to welcome potential clients and make them feel comfortable that the upkeep of their culture is in good hands. This is no mean feat and not having a clue, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in your ability to deliver their event.

It is crucial however to understand the delicate balance of understanding culture and being able to ask when something needs clarification. There are of course tactful ways of asking without seeming ignorant but it is important not to make assumptions on behalf of your customer so as not to lead yourself towards all time disaster and some unhappy clients. Don’t pretend to know. You will certainly build on your knowledge as you go along but it is important to learn your basics and use this information to build a bridge across the cultural gap in your events business.

Just as with last week’s post, the below customs and traditions are of course not the be all and end all that you might come across. Hopefully, however, this is enough to trigger your curiosity and encourage you to embark on your own, rewarding cultural discovery.

African /Afro- Caribbean / Afro-American Weddings

Symbolic of new beginnings, Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean and African wedding ceremonies may often conclude with the couple jumping over a broom. It is important to note however, that not everyone will practice this custom due to its old associations with slavery, so do not make assumptions based on a couple’s ethnicity. The best way round this, is to explain that it is your policy to ask all couples if there are any special elements such as customs or traditions that need to be included in either their ceremony and/or reception. They will then certainly tell you if they didn’t come forward with this information previously. The broom, should they wish to have it in the ceremony is usually provided by the couple or the family to remain as a keepsake.

Asian Weddings

Asian weddings and events are all about the food and the dancing – anyone who has attended an Asian party will attest to this (often a mix of Asian and Western songs with a defined bass and beat).

For the entertainment, it is worth asking your clients if they would like an Emcee. If they do, I would definitely put out feelers for an Asian Event host, they will certainly know what is to be expected and how to get the party started. The family, however, may have plans to provide their own so don’t be offended if they do and they may still need you to provide equipment.

Chinese Tea Ceremonies

Traditionally held at weddings, the newlyweds kneel before their elders and offer a small serving of tea as a sign of both respect and gratitude. Drinking the tea symbolizes acceptance of the wedding and the couple are given a red envelope often containing money for good luck. Similar red envelopes may also be handed out to wedding staff as gifts. They are likely to contain tip money but have also been known to contain a small gift as a thank you for your efforts. Even if you are not accustomed to receiving such a gesture, it is considered good grace to politely accept.

The couple and/or the family will often provide both the tea and the cups for the tea ceremony leaving the Event Planner to provide only a table and cloth, some boiling water and two cushions for the Bride and Groom to kneel on. The family will often have someone in charge of preparing and pouring the tea but if they haven’t asked anyone yet, it is advisable to insist that they do so unless of course you are of Chinese decent and/or have already experienced a Chinese tea ceremony and the couple are happy for you to partake in preparing and pouring the tea. These are often very private family affairs so don’t take it personally if there is seemingly nothing for you to assist with. This being the case; simply stand back, watch, listen and learn.

Latin Quinceañera Events

The Quinceañera ceremonies are similar to the debutant coming of age balls where girls are officially “introduced” to society, representing their transition from childhood to womanhood. This is particularly celebrated in South American countries at the tender age of 15. It is common to have combined ceremonies with two or more families so Quinceañera celebratory get-togethers can often be large.

Speeches are expected during the ceremonies and a hall or large room with an aisle, theatre style seating, stage, podium and microphone is a definite must. The girl’s families go all out on these ceremonies and spare no expense. The girls wear wedding style dresses and extensive decorations such as balloons, ribbons, seat covers, flower centrepieces and fairy lights are all part of the norm. Following the ceremony is a sit down meal, similar to that of a wedding with plenty of dancing afterwards. A photographer will need to be booked for the entire event and sourcing someone who speaks Spanish will certainly be helpful. Remember that all Latin and/or Hispanic populations are known for enjoying a good party and love to dance. A mixture of salsa, bachata, reggaeton and hip-hop always goes down a treat.

Hispanic (Latin & Spanish) Weddings

Religious tradition normally stipulates that a wedding ceremony has to be presided over by some religious leader, namely catholic. If the family aren’t providing their own, finding a Catholic Priest who speaks both English and Spanish may prove a little tricky but your efforts will definitely be well rewarded. Establishing a long term working relationship with such a Priest will be most beneficial to your business when offering your services to Hispanic communities.

Hispanic families very often like the mothers to be involved someway or be recognized during the ceremony so be prepared to ask about this. If the couple is living permanently in the UK, they may try to mix both English and Latin or Spanish culture and your creative side may be called upon to think of clever ways to bring the two together.

Both Latin and Spanish wedding traditions doesn’t tend to include long speeches at the reception but it is always best to double check and perhaps have a microphone at the ready just in case. Having a string of bridesmaids is not a common practice although it does happen more now with English and US influence. There isn’t usually a reception line either and don’t expect for there to be ushers. Flower girls may or may not be included in a wedding ceremony depending on the Bride’s background.

As with any wedding, it will depend on the couple how much the wedding planner is actually involved with the running order of the wedding day. It is important to ask this upfront so there are no misunderstandings. If you are to be involved, it is important to ask the Bride if she would like to incorporate traditions such as throwing the bouquet and removing of the Bride’s garter. Some South American and Spanish families do like to incorporate such activities and others don’t.

A few additional things to note are that Hispanic cultures tend to prefer late afternoon to evening ceremonies, a live band is often expected rather than a DJ and don’t expect everything to start exactly on time and to make allowances for this in your running order!

The Arras: wedding ceremonies typically include the blessing of 13 gold coins representing Jesus and the 12 apostles. These coins symbolizing a groom’s commitment to support his bride financially and are given to the bride prior to the ceremony. These are then placed on ornate plate or elegant box and are blessed by the Priest during the ceremony.

The Bride and Groom will most likely insist on having a meeting with the Priest separately, if they do not know him already. It is more likely that the Bride and Groom will make their own Wedding ceremony arrangements at a church of their choosing and for the wedding party to relocate to your venue for the reception, unless you have a chapel on your venue grounds, which you can offer.

The Lasso: nearing the end of the wedding ceremony, the couple is typically wrapped with a cord or double rosary in the eternity figure of 8, a catholic tradition representing both protection and a lifetime commitment to the marriage. It may be an expected part of a ceremony so be sure to ask well in advance, especially if you are being involved in the arrangements.

Decorations: chair covers are a definite must for the reception and while the Bride may carry white flowers, be prepared that she may ask for the reception room to be decorated with orange blossom, as a symbol of fertility.

Spanish Weddings

With Spanish wedding in particular, favours tend to follow the tradition of cigars for the men and a scented gift for the Ladies. The bride, however, will also hand out a pin to each unmarried lady. Tradition has it, that the pin must be worn upside down and if lost during the reception, indicates that the lady will be soon to marry. The giving of the favours is normally handed out by the Bride and Groom themselves, so there is not much here for the Event planner to actually organize.

Entertainment: many Spanish families will ask for a ‘seguidillas manchegas’, a traditional dance and possibly some flamenco or sevillanas. Double check beforehand and ask the couple to please provide the music should you, the band or the DJ not have it.

Caribbean Weddings

Anything Caribbean can always be guaranteed to be a lively affair. Weddings can tend to include a long line up of bridesmaids and lots of dancing. Musical preferences range from traditional soca to rumba, salsa, and the typical party music that will get them up and line dancing. Be prepared to have a microphone in the ceremony hall, if the actual wedding is being held at your venue. Many ceremonies will include a musical performance or readings from various members of the family but don’t worry, Caribbean brides often know exactly what they want and at what point in the proceedings.

A traditional wedding cake is called a Black Cake made from fruit and a generous pouring of rum. Traditions however, are changing but it is always worth sourcing where such a cake could be made should the couple want a recommendation. Whether the rum is in the cake and/or on the table, good rum is well remembered to be an essential ingredient at any Caribbean wedding.

In the French West Indies, the wedding cake is traditionally hidden from guests under a white cloth. Guests who want a sneaky peek have to pay a small fee.

Food may or may not need to be along the lines of jerk chicken and fried plantain but it is always worth having a caterer on your books who provides Caribbean wedding menus.

The Greek Culture

It is more often Greek weddings that are particularly steeped with tradition and feature customs such as offering candied almonds as favours for the wedding guests and the breaking of a pomegranate on the ground as a symbol of fertility, abundance and good luck. Traditional Greek wedding dances involve the Kaslamantiano, the famous Greek Circle dance where the guests form two circles and dance around the newlyweds, the Zembekiko where the men do their “drunk dance” and the guests kneel around the groom clapping and throwing money that is later given to the band and the traditional Money Dance, where notes are typically pinned or thrown onto the bride and groom as their wedding guests take turns to dance with them.

It is also traditional for wedding guests to smash plates on the floor, an ancient custom believed to symbolise good luck for the bride and groom’s new beginnings together. Although this is now not quite as common as it once was, don’t worry even if the couple insist on following such tradition, it may be messy but they won’t be throwing your dinner plates; plaster plates will be specially provided for the occasion.

Fiona

Following a University degree and a drastic career move, Fiona Warren-Bassett soon found herself rapidly moving forward in the events and PR world. Enjoying the change of direction, Fiona went on to further her Event Management experience, spending 6 years working for a renowned cruise line company. Having travelled extensively and been actively involved in many events and weddings, Fiona has since returned to land and has successfully launched her freelance writing and PR career.
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