Notes on the “White Wedding”

I mentioned in my post white wedding/red wedding that I was making a website with ceremony information and places to stay, etc, for our guests. In order to  help guests learn more about the different cultural traditions (hey, I’m an international educator at heart) I wanted to have a page on Nepali ceremonies and American ceremonies to give an idea of what to expect for people who haven’t attended one before.

Before sharing with friends and family, I wanted to run my information by you, dear readers, first. Have I added too little, too much? I’m I missing anything glaring? Does it sound okay or weird? Suggestions??

So first up, for your approval, is the posting for the “White Wedding…”

(Don’t worry, I won’t include the video– but amusingly enough the first 22 seconds of Idol’s song was the theme music for the Nepali news when P was in high school! Feel free to continue playing while reading the post for extra added effect… Okay, now on to the actual post–)

Notes on the “White Wedding”

The US houses many different cultures with varied rituals and traditions, and so it is hard to describe what a “typical” American wedding looks like. Contemporary weddings also incorporate new ideas and trends unique to a particular couple, so one wedding may look very different than another wedding of someone from a similar background.

However here are a few things to look for in our ceremony:

Before the Ceremony

-Wearing White: Brides generally wear white dresses (hence “white” wedding). Traditionally the color of the dress symbolized the purity of the bride. The groom is not allowed to see the bride before the wedding on their wedding day, and the dress is a surprise. Another tradition is that the bride wears “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”– the dress is often the “something new” while jewelry or other pieces of the bride’s attire might be “something old” or “something borrowed.”

-Bridal Party: Often the bride and groom have several family members and/or friends who “stand” with them as support during the wedding ceremony. They can be identified by the clothing they wear, which generally matches the color theme and style of the wedding. The female attendants are referred to as “bridesmaids” with the main attendant referred to as the “maid of honor,” and the male attendants are called “groomsmen” with the main attendant referred to as the “best man.” The bridal party walks in with the bride and groom at the start of the ceremony.

-Parents and grandparents of the bride and groom are recognized during the wedding by wearing a flower and processing down the aisle at the start of the ceremony. The father of the bride traditionally walks the bride down the aisle before “giving her away” to the groom at the start of the ceremony. Some cultures, such as in Jewish tradition, have both parents walk the bride down the aisle. Parents typically sit in the front row of seats, but do not stand with the bride and groom at the altar like the bridal party.


American wedding ceremonies can be either religious or secular and can be presided over by a member of the clergy or by a layperson. Religious ceremonies usually include readings from religious texts that are relevant to marriage and love, while secular ceremonies include readings of poems, passages from literature, or cultural blessings on marriage, home, and love.

A common element in weddings (both Christian religious and secular) is the “unity candle”– two smaller candles are lit by the parents of the bride and parents of the groom, the bride and groom then take their respective “family” candles and together light a larger candle to symbolically represent their “unity” as a new family. Other similar rituals include taking separate jars of sand and combining them into a larger vessel to symbolize the new family unit.

The pivotal moment in an American wedding is the recitation of the vows. The bride and groom make a list of promises to each other that they vow to keep until “death do [them] part.” These vows can either be written by the bride and groom or they can use standard vows. After the recitation of the vows the bride and groom exchange their wedding rings which symbolically unite the pair as man and wife.

At the end of the ceremony the officiant declares, “By the power invested in me by the state of _________, I now pronounce you man and wife, you may now kiss the bride.” The kiss concludes the ceremony, with the bride and groom officially married.


Immediately following the ceremony is a “cocktail hour” where drinks and appetizers are served. Typically during this time the families of the bride and groom take formal wedding photos.

Generally tables are assigned to the guests, and a seating chart is available for people to find their appropriate seats. After the cocktail hour guests are ushered to the main reception area to formally receive the bride and groom.

The reception begins when the bridal party and the bride and groom are introduced. This is sometimes followed by brief toasts given by the maid of honor and best man, and sometimes a parent or relative of the bride or groom. This is followed by the first dance of the evening reserved for the bride and groom to a song of their choosing. Occasionally a “father/daughter” dance for the bride and a “mother/son” dance for the groom are also organized.

After dinner the wedding cake is cut by the bride and groom and the first piece is shared between them before the rest of the cake is sliced and served.

The rest of the evening is filled with eating, drinking, dancing and fun.

(Tomorrow the “Red Wedding” installment…)

9 responses to “Notes on the “White Wedding”

  1. In this sentence, [A common element in weddings (both religious and secular) is the “unity candle”], I would change “religious” to Christian. I am Jewish and a unity candle is not something Jews do. Nor have I ever heard or seen the jar of sand thing. Jews have our own unique traditions during our wedding ceremonies: both father and mother of the bride walk her down the aisle, wine is sipped by bride and groom during the ceremony, and a glass is smashed by the groom at the end of the ceremony, amongst other things. To lump American “religious” ceremonies all together is not appropriate ;)

  2. Thank you! That is the kind of suggestion I need! Will fix!

  3. You could mention that bridesmaids were typically only unmarried women, but that currently “matrons of honor” are common. May also explain the procession — traditional music, bridesmaid/groomsman pairs, flower girl(s), then typically standing for the bride. Could describe veil and changing customs.
    Other common ceremony pieces are prayers, hymns, and other songs, and some ceremonies include sermons. Typically guests are seated by ushers (I know a very conservative Christian auntie who was uncomfortable and surprised that she was expected to take the arm of a young man she didn’t know and be escorted down the aisle) and are entertained with live music or singing before the ceremony (may want to clarify what kind of music this is — typically fairly gentle, classical, or love-related).
    Could also describe the recessional, greeting guests as they exit the sanctuary/room, throwing the rice/birdseed or blowing bubbles, and exiting in a car that is often decorated by friends.
    One thing that stands out to me is the difference in bride styles. I see “white wedding” brides as wanting to appear graceful, classic, and subtly charming. The jewelry, hair, nails, shoes, and make-up are typically meant to look minimal but high-quality. Even when dresses are intricate, it is typically all white or ivory, so the detail is seen more up close. South Asian brides, on the other hand, want to appear ornate and highly decorated. Jewelry is very heavy and is often costume, and intricate henna designs add to the decoration. Clothing and even shoes often highly intricate and decorated with jewels and contrasting colors. Bridesmaids and guests often dress in similar fashions within each culture.
    Hope this helps!

    • I love some of your ideas… particularly the description of the two styles of the bride… I’ll definitely incorporated some of these into my post…

  4. “White Wedding” used to be the theme song for the show “Bishwoh Ghaatna” (English translation “World News”).

  5. It may be different in the US / other Christian churches so please disregard if not relevant – in a Catholic ceremony the couple marry each other – the priest does not use the words “I pronounce you man and wife”. The officiant in a civil ceremony obviously would use those terms as the power is vested in him by the state to carry out marriage duties and I think you mentioned previously that you will be having a civil ceremony.

    It may be worth watching a wedding scene from a film and explaining anything that you won’t be doing. From my own experience my non-Western guests expected to see three key things happen at my wedding that they had seen in film white weddings and we had some long chats as to why there would be no “Here Comes the Bride” music, no “if anyone objects” and no “I pronounce you man and wife” at the wedding.

  6. I think you should give them more of a warning about the big kiss at the end!! Most will know (if they live in the US) that that’s what happens at white weddings but for those are are coming from Nepal you can tell them that it’s what happens in 99.9% of western weddings and that this type of affection is normal in public. I know Rabindra is freaked out about doing the “public kiss” at the wedding especially if his family are there

    • P too! I half think he will try to skip it… or give me an air kiss on my cheek. The idea of kissing me in front of his family totally freaks him out. It’ll be interesting!

    • We didn’t do an American family wedding, but the MC at the reception had us kiss and I felt a little awkward, just because I worried that it would make others feel awkward. I didn’t hear any comments about it, though, and A and I didn’t talk about it in particular.

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