For Ling Chan, who is Chinese American, and John Gatins, who's of Irish descent, that meant the recitation of the Prayer of St. Francis during their ceremony and endless Irish folk songs at the reception. It meant wedding invitations with the Chinese double joy symbol and red paper lanterns hanging from the trees in the nature reserve where they took their vows.
As a whole, the event was "a Fellini kind of thing," said Chan, who married in 1999, on a date that was considered auspicious in Chinese astrology. "Neither of us grew up in Ireland or China, but we did mix in little details."
And that often makes for an even more memorable and special wedding, not only for the bride and groom but everyone who's there to witness it.
Five years after Rena Puebla married her second husband, she said her guests are still talking about it. None of them had ever been to an African American-Japanese wedding reception before. The African print tablecloths, leather giraffe statues and collard greens coupled with sashimi and live, traditional Japanese music performed by women in kimonos proved memorable for their 36 guests.
The only thing missing was culturally appropriate cake statuettes. An African American-Japanese combination simply didn't exist, so Puebla opted for a pair of white doves and resolved to rectify the situation with a line of ethnically interchangeable cake statuettes, which hit the market in January under the Costa Mesa-based Renellie brand name.
Sales of the interchangeable Asian, Latino, white and African American cake toppers have since topped 500. None of them have been same-race couples, Puebla said.
As demand presents itself, Renellie may expand with Indian and Middle Eastern cake toppers, but no such coupling existed for the wedding of Patel and Kassabian, whose reception extended into the wee hours with a traditional Indian dance troupe, Arabic music and a live flamenco guitarist.
"We're very protective of our language, religion, culture," said Kassabian, an Armenian who lived in Lebanon until she was 13, when her family moved to Northridge. "For my parents and all their friends and family, it's taboo to talk about dating someone from another culture. For me, it was: He's a great guy."
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Two become one
Blending high-contrast cultures into a wedding that reflects the bride's and groom's personalities and respects family backgrounds is a challenge. Here's what three cross-cultural couples did on their way to "I Do."
Bride: Sirvart Kassabian, 31, Armenian American
Groom: Ashokkumar Patel, 35, Indian American
Married: June 11, 2005 in Encino
Invitations: Written in English, Armenian and the Indian dialect Gujarati, they also featured a custom-designed, abstract graphic of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh.
Ceremony: The two-part, two-day wedding event kicked off with an ancient Hindu beautification ritual at the Valley Temple in Northridge on a Friday and ended the following evening with an Orthodox Christian exchange of vows at Holy Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church in Encino.
Reception: After following a traditional Indian drummer, or dholi, into the Omni Hotel ballroom, the couple was ringed with guests dancing to Armenian dance music. Two prayers -- one in Gujarati, another in Armenian -- were followed by a barefoot and turbaned Indian dance troupe performing in the traditional bhangra style. Middle Eastern cuisine and Indian fare were served for dinner. Hours of Arabic, Armenian, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish music and a flamenco guitarist rounded out the night.
Attire: Engagement photos showed the couple wearing formal western attire and traditional Indian clothes. Patel wore Indian attire to his beautification ritual. For the wedding, he wore a black tux, and Kassabian wore a white gown, even though black and white are considered mournful colors in Indian culture.
Bride: Rena Puebla, 51, African American
Groom: Ron Kokawa, 49, Japanese American
Married: January 22, 2000 in Dana Point
Invitation: Elegant and simple, the circular cream and gold-leaf invitations reflected Kokawa's Japanese sensibility.
Ceremony: Puebla and her husband have a pact not to talk about religion, so their ceremony was nondenominational and held at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Two women in kimonos played the koto, a Japanese instrument, as guests arrived and as the couple walked down the aisle.
Reception: The koto players continued until the couple's first dance -- to Natalie Cole. After that, it was jazz. Dinner was a mix of ham hocks, collard greens, sushi and sashimi. Table decor consisted of African print fabric and leather giraffe statuettes on one side and Japanese fabric and fans on the other. Chopsticks and rice bowls were among the wedding favors.
Attire: Kokawa donned a tux, ascot and tails, with Puebla decked out in a lace-accented, cream-colored gown.
Bride: Ling Chan, 36, Chinese American
Groom: John Gatins, 37, Irish American
Married: May 8, 1999 (an auspicious date in Chinese astrology) in Malibu
Invitation: The Chinese double-joy character (meaning good luck and happiness) was incorporated into the invitations, program, menu and thank-you notes.
Ceremony: Chan is Methodist and Gatins is Catholic, but neither is practicing so they opted for a nondenominational, outdoor ceremony at the historic Adamson House along the Malibu coast. Chan and Gatins wrote their vows, and the groom's two sisters each recited a Catholic prayer.
Reception: The groom's father sang "Danny Boy" and other Irish folk songs. Platters of Chinese California fusion cuisine were served family style at each table. Red rose floral arrangements were wrapped in Asian brocade silk, and red Chinese lanterns hung from the trees.
Attire: Red is a symbol of luck and good fortune in Chinese culture, so Gatins wore a red tie with his charcoal suit. Chan wore a white gown for the ceremony and draped it with a red wrap for the reception.