As a celebrant in New York City, I sometimes feel guilty that I have an embarrassment of riches in working with interesting, creative couples coming from many ethnic, cultural, and religious viewpoints. Within the span of about two weeks, I am officiating ceremonies for a bride from the Philippines and her African-American husband; two people of the Christian tradition from mid-America, and an American-born Chinese couple. Each couple brings their own sensibilities and customs to our work together.
It was just last week — in the heart of that once-in-a-decade blizzard — that I climbed on the subway, near my home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Within an hour, I was transported to another world — the Fort Hamilton section of Brooklyn. On that snowy Saturday evening, I entered a vast Chinese Banquet hall to officiate the wedding of a stunning young Chinese couple, Eva and Brian. Like many of my couples, Eva and Brian embodied the American dream. Born in the U.S. to Chinese parents, they were part of an enormous multi-generational family. Brian is a police officer for the NYPD and Eva is a student. Although I arrived a good 45 minutes before the ceremony, the frenzied activities were already underway. The bride and groom—decked out in traditional western wedding regalia—were busy taking photographs with every possible combination of family members and friends.
Each part of the ceremony reminded me that like many New Yorkers, these two straddled two worlds. The food and décor were Chinese to be sure. The respect shown to the family elders was palpable, not always the case in Euro-centric gatherings. Many were in festive red garments, the color of luck for weddings. And the “emcee” of the gathering translated the “important parts” of the ceremony and announcements into Mandarin. The bride’s first garment was a lovely white wedding dress, but she would change dresses after the ceremony into a traditional Chinese garb. Although our ceremony was “short and sweet,” I did try to draw in certain Asian cultural references, as well bits and pieces of the love story of our young couple. Immediately following the exchange of vows, the couple was swept away to their first dance, the cake cutting ceremony, and signing the marriage license, not necessarily the standard practice in Chinese ceremonies in Asia. As I gathered my belongings to head back to my corner of the world, I passed a Christmas tree in the front lobby of the hall. I smiled to think of how the modern world allows us—as individuals, couples, and families—to honor and maintain all of those customs, traditions, and philosophies that tether us to our ancestors, while welcoming in new ideas and rituals along the way.