It might be hard to know how to celebrate your wedding when your family backgrounds come from several different cultures. Nicole and James Goldberg, residents of Pleasant Grove, Utah, decided that their wedding would include elements from four family, religious, and cultural traditions: Nicole’s Danish heritage, James’s Sikh and Jewish heritage, and their shared LDS heritage.

The Goldberg couple dances together at their wedding.

Adorned in the traditional Sikh bindi, bangles, and henna and a traditional American white dress, Nicole brought cultural customs into her wedding with James. Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Westwood

The result was a melting pot experience that was unique and meaningful to Nicole and James and to their families. Their wedding celebration became a culturally rich experience that honored their heritage, balanced their cultural traditions, and celebrated their future together. 

For members of the LDS faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), the wedding ceremony is a small and private event. Only close family and friends of the bride and groom are invited to the LDS temple, where the sacred ceremony takes place. 

Following the ceremony, a large group of guests—many family members and friends—joined Nicole and James for their open house celebration. James noted that LDS marriage receptions share a similarity with Sikh wedding celebrations. Both are “community, village-type affairs,” he says. “You invite everyone in your family and your neighborhood to the reception.”

During their celebration, Nicole and James exchanged rings under a chuppah, a Jewish canopy representing the couple’s first shelter together. They also included an element of the Sikh tradition as they approached the chuppah by walking in circles. Nicole was accompanied partway around the circle by her brothers as a way of saying good-bye.

As part of the ring ceremony, James and Nicole also used the Jewish religious symbol of breaking glass. In Jewish culture, the husband smashes a small glass in a cloth bag with his heel because, as James jokes with a slight melody in his voice, “It’s tradition!” He goes on to explain that the symbol also commemorates the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 ad. It also represents the finality of marriage; it is as irreversible as broken glass. 

James and Nicole also followed the Sikh tradition of adorning the bride’s arms with henna, an intricately designed temporary tattoo made of plant dye. According to this tradition, the couple is to wait until it wears off before the bride does any housework. But after a few days, Nicole couldn’t wait any longer for James to do the household chores. So they decided to give up on that tradition. James explains that in the past, a bride and groom would have moved in with the groom’s family, who would have done the housework without the bride’s help. But he joking-ly admits that, in their case, this season didn’t last long because “it’s different when you don’t move in with the groom’s family.”

At Nicole and James’s wedding celebration, they included a Danish tradition for their first dance. As the couple danced, the guests danced around them and moved in closer and closer until the bride and groom were so close to each other that they had room only to kiss.

A Sikh good-luck ceremony using turmeric powder.

This Sikh family prepares for a pre-wedding good-luck ceremony that involves turmeric powder. Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Westwood

Following the Danish dance, James and Nicole continued the celebration by continuing to mix the LDS open house reception with other Sikh contributions: traditional food, music, and dancing. You can be sure of one thing at a Sikh wedding party—there will be traditional dances with a strong beat. One such dance is called the Bhangra. It is performed to traditional Punjabi music. The dancers sway their shoulders and sometimes bounce on one foot, and this often becomes a face-off to see who can bounce on one foot the longest. James recalls seeing his grandfather facing off with children from younger generations—and winning. 

Even though the wedding reception went late into the night, James and Nicole’s reception continued the Sikh tradition of making the celebration very child-friendly. James notes that you’ll usually see “a big guy with a huge beard” hold a sleeping baby on his shoulder and dancing late into the night.

In the end, a wedding is all about celebrating a man and woman’s future together as well as honoring past generations and paving the way for the future. James and Nicole Goldberg found meaningful ways to balance traditions from their varied cultural heritage to do just that.

—Marinda Quist