It’s no secret that wedding planning is a full-time job and often a huge source of stress. There’s so much to keep track of, so many people to wrangle and lots of hats to wear. It can drive even the most organized bride-to-be insane. Well, I had *two* big weddings in the span of one week — planned without any professionals — and in two completely different styles and cultures. And yep, I survived! Here’s what I learned from the experience about multicultural wedding planning to help you keep your sanity when preparing, save you time and keep Bridezilla from rearing her head.
First, a little background. Why the two? There was no other way! I, being the life-long lover of weddings, had to have the event I’d always dreamed of — a classic, 1930’s-inspired affair. Luckily, J (my now-husband) shares my design aesthetic and was fully on board. But my in-laws had a dream too. As immigrant ballroom dance teachers in Southern California, they are well-known leaders in their community. A community in which weddings of 500 people (or more!) are the norm. Once I knew I wanted to marry J (barely three months into our eventual five years of dating), I went to great lengths to understand and be a part of his culture. I celebrated Lunar New Year with the family every year — wearing his mom’s traditional ao dai dresses and wishing the elders good luck in the handful of phrases I could say in Vietnamese. I learned how to say everyone’s name, but I refrained from killing stray grasshoppers in the kitchen, because they bring good luck, etc.
So when we announced our engagement and his parents asked if they could throw us a Vietnamese wedding, of course, we agreed. But there was no way to have the traditional Vietnamese wedding AND my dream wedding in the same event. They were just polar opposites! The only logical thing to do was have two weddings. Knowing that my family would be traveling to attend, we had to have them both within one week of each other.
Thus began the Year of Extreme Organization. If planning one wedding is a full-time job, you can only imagine what planning two weddings was like. Oh yeah, and I actually had a full-time job and was a wedding planner at the time. So that’s what, four full time jobs?!
At the end of it all, we emerged on the other side thrilled with both weddings. I was stressed out and worried, as anyone can be. But within minutes of both days beginning, I relaxed, and thanks to the careful planning, they both went off without a hitch! They were beautiful, fun *and* on budget. Our family and friends bring them up in conversation more than we do! We, of course, are thrilled everyone had such a great time and like to high-five each other every now and then over the memories. That said, we had some missteps here and there which, if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t repeat. Here are a few things I learned along the way, as well as some tips for those of you planning one (or a few!) wedding celebrations.
1. A to-do list isn’t enough! Make a to-do timeline. Everyone knows organization is key, but the to-do list timeline is a godsend. When you have too much to do and a bunch of loose ideas without unity, you need an organized to-do list to keep you on track with those due dates, upcoming tasks and everything in between. This keeps you knocking things off the list at a steady pace and helps you fit the wedding planning into your already crazy busy life. Your list should go from big to small. As in, picking a date comes before picking your flowers, picking a venue comes before picking your catering. No time to make a list of your own? This is the wedding checklist planner I used, and it’s perfect – it counts backward from your wedding date, and you can fill in the blanks for your own to-do timeline. I love this little organizer because it’ll fit in the smallest bag for you to jot down ideas and reminders as they come to you during your busy day. You can also check out the full-size version.
2. Have other people do research for you. You won’t even have to ask anyone for their opinion on what your wedding should look like. They will tell you! Use that as a chance to rope in some helpers, and from there give them a Wedding Inspo Guide. This should include the specific colors in your palette — say “blush” instead of pink or “lavender” instead of purple — budget per category, must-haves, must-NOT-haves and anything else you deem important. Then send them off to find you plenty of options.
Assigning research tasks is a win on so many levels: People who want to be involved get a chance to be (no more “Oh sorry Nana, I have everything under control”), you’ll save *SO* much time and decision-making becomes a breeze. I had J do the research on the photography, since that’s one of his hobbies and he knew more about it than I did. I told my mom I wanted a casual garden party for the rehearsal dinner, and she ran with it. I told my bridesmaids to pick a few options for long gowns in blush or champagne. They nailed it!
3. Take at *least* three days off before the wedding. I wish I had done this. Between the two weddings themselves and the last-minute preparations (and my trying to maximize honeymoon time), I only took off one day before each wedding. And I worked the other four days — okay, okay, maybe I am a little crazy after all. You are going to want the downtime for a few reasons, but the most important one is to spend some time with your guests and/or bridal party. I regret not having any time to really focus on just the friends and family who made my two weddings possible, especially the ones who traveled for it and even stayed the whole week to attend both events! While they’re all wonderful people who didn’t mind in the least, this is the one thing I would do differently if I could.
4. Choose your battles (AKA compromise, compromise, compromise)! Odds are, you’re going to have to do a little appeasing in one area or another (especially if someone else is footing the bill!). Decide early on what areas you’ll be firm on and where you can be flexible. For my Vietnamese wedding, I left much of it to my mother-in-law. The only things I insisted on were the colors of the wedding ceremony (red and gold), the date, size of the wedding party and my creative control over the gown. I was willing to go with her decisions for the reception design, food and entertainment, since she knew the cultural expectations better than I did.
5. Have someone else fight your battles. I can’t stress this one enough. While planning a wedding, your emotions run high, critiques of your choices feel like critiques of your deepest soul and fighting is common. Save your sanity and your relationships by designating someone to be your firewall. This person needs to be someone you truly trust – someone who understands your design aesthetic, your wedding vision and the things that push your buttons.
Mom can’t accept your color scheme? Send in the firewall to diffuse the situation. In my case, I had two main firewalls, one for each wedding. For the 1930’s-inspired wedding, J was an excellent firewall, able to diffuse tension with my family, back me up on our decisions and help me keep some perspective. For the Vietnamese wedding, my sister-in-law spoke up for me when she saw decisions being made that she knew I wouldn’t like. I gave her a public endorsement as a decision-maker, and from then on when she poo-poo’d a decision no one questioned her on it. She did an amazing job.
The end result: J and I got the weddings we wanted, our families had the weddings they wanted and we avoided any major fights. A win for all!
(Photos via Closer to Love Photography and Yvonne Vo)