Marriage and its many global faces
// Victoria Fawkes

The institution of marriage has been called a sham, a joke, and the last legal form of slavery. Depending on whom you ask, marriage can either be the bane of human existence or the reason for it. Whatever the case, everyone has an opinion on marriage and the customs that go hand-in-hand with it. Certainly, Western cinema has made us familiar with wedding traditions of bridezillas and heinous bridesmaid dresses, all set to a soundtrack of uplifting Celine Dion songs.

However, there are many diverse (and less cheesy) wedding traditions around the world. Being a thoroughly international city, Vancouver has no shortage of diverse couples, more than ready to endure the stress of planning a globally inspired wedding.

Working in the Industry

Vicki Singh is a project manager at Cultural Weddings, a Vancouver-based wedding planning company committed to helping couples “tie the knot with panache and style.” Cultural Weddings specializes in making a couple’s dreams come true with internationally inspired weddings.

“There are so many different weddings that we provide services for. The diversity of Vancouver lets us serve so many different cultures,” says Singh.

One of the things she is most excited about is Cultural Weddings’ annual wedding planning keepsake guide, The Cultural Wedding Planner. Their free international wedding manual will be released in April and is featured during their annual Grand Wedding Show in Vancouver, which showcases Persian, Indian, intercultural, and many other wedding themes and ideas.

Though the wedding industry has a reputation for fanatical customers with unattainable demands, Singh is happy to play fairy godmother and provide couples with their dream day, no matter what they need: “It really comes down to their maturity level, but we never have anyone who’s over the top,” says Singh.

That being said, she also knows that the stereotypes associated with the few “crazy” brides out there have given many brides a bad reputation.

Singh believes that the brides (and sometimes even the grooms) portrayed in the media often look bratty and out of control, but she insists that this is not the case with the couples she works with: “Brides are exaggerated on TV, but to be honest, the brides and grooms are really just concerned about how good a time the people they invite will have,” says Singh of the variety of couples from different cultures.

As for a different kind of variety, same-sex marriages, Singh admits Cultural Weddings has never been able to plan one. However, she maintains Cultural Weddings’ dedication to diversity, and explains that everyone is welcome at the Grand Wedding Show.

The Right to Marry

In Canada, gay marriage has been legal since 2005. However, recent legislation has decreed that non-Canadian same sex marriages are only valid in Canada if gay marriage is also legal in a married couple’s previous home.

Guy Herrington and Jason Athen are one such same-sex couple whose lives have been affected by this legislation. Athen, who was living in Florida at the time of his marriage to Herrington, is no longer married in the eyes of the Canadian government, and are therefore unable to enjoy the same benefits as married couples. When interviewed by the Vancouver Sun, Herrington said ,“He [Jason] moved to Canada to get away from that type of discrimination. And now we’re getting attacked years later.”

Other same-sex couples have had problems divorcing, as their non-Canadian status makes their union invalid in Canada in the first place. Because of these ever-changing laws, many same-sex couples have practically been stripped overnight of the legal security and rights straight married couples enjoy. Although homosexuality is still criminalized in many parts of the world, it is important that marriage is legalized for everyone, regardless of sexual preference.

Though some people will argue against gay marriage and other alternative lifestyles, there are also those who believe that everyone has the right to love who they want. Just like Saint Valentine in the third century, who married lovers against the laws put in place by the Roman emperor Claudius, those who believe in true love know that nothing should get in the way of being with the person you’re meant to be with.

Although Valentine’s Day has its critics (with good reason), there are people who love what it has come to represent. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate love, it is special because you get to choose what you do with it. For some, joining together in the institution of marriage can be one of the most unifying actions you can take.

Although opinions on marriage are varied, the average age of first marriage for Canadians is the highest it has ever been: 21 for women and 25 for men.

Norway, South Africa, China, and India are in four different corners of the world, and they are four countries that have both some of the most interesting divorce practices, and some of the most beautiful wedding traditions on the planet.

Although the divorce statistics hardly mesh with the sugary-sweet attitude of Valentine’s Day, the fact that four in ten Canadian marriages end in divorce shouldn’t stop you from being inspired to declare your love to the one you secretly admire, while raising a ghetto blaster above your head in a Say Anything-inspired display of affection. Or, at least, maybe you will work up the nerve to ask them out for a beer.

Courtship and Dating


Norwegian dating culture is liberal, but still reflects the traditions of Scandinavian heritage. Like many other European countries, Norway has developed unconventional ideas on dating and courtship. Dating and sex are common for teenagers as young as 14, since prior personal relationships matter little to Norwegians. Marriage is still popular in Norway, but unmarried lovers who live together and have alternative lifestyles are still accepted as commonplace.

“It’s not really different from Vancouver,” says Anne Bachmann-Kobban, who lives in Canada but was married in Norway. “These days, people don’t generally get married, they just live common law. Norway is very liberal nowadays.”

South Africa:

Just like every other part of the world, there are a countless number of dating sites that cater specifically for South Africans. There are dating sites that target different lifestyle choices and personal preferences, and even some that set up connections for those who are HIV-positive and looking for love. But South Africans haven’t always had total freedom to be with whomever they want: up until the mid-1980s, interracial couples couldn’t get married in South Africa.

Canada continues to be a popular place for immigration, especially to South Africans. Toni du Toit, who immigrated to Canada from South Africa, is one such immigrant who came to Canada with her family in 1994. “Even though everyone in South Africa has political freedom, there is no economic freedom or freedom of equal opportunity. It is better, but unfortunately the wealth of the country is in the hands of a relative few,” says du Toit.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, reforms in government policies and international pressure helped to end apartheid and allow equal rights for all couples.


Although dating in India has more similarities to dating in North America than ever before, it is still definitely different. Young Indians are encouraged to date during their teenage years so that they can hopefully find their best match for marriage later in life.

Parents are an important part of this lifelong decision. Education, financial status, and religion are often important factors that a young Indian’s parents must approve of before their marriage is given a blessing. Caste, or social standing, may also matter, though not as much as in the past. Arranged marriages are still common in India, sometimes when the bride and groom are just children, as their future in-laws may nurture the relationship into one of love.


Like India, family and community are important parts of choosing a partner. Because of this, a traditional Chinese marriage is seen as the coming together of two families, instead of two individuals.

In some cases, a matchmaker will arrange a meeting between a couple. This involves a future bride and groom meeting for the first time at a tea ceremony and getting to know each other under the supervision of the matchmaker. If the man wishes to marry the woman, he will offer her an embroidered red pouch in the teacup on which the tea was served. If the woman accepts the teacup, the couple is then declared engaged.

Pre-Wedding Party


Before the wedding, both the man and woman wear engagement rings. Many Norwegians don’t like to rush into marriage; an engagement can last up to four years, which allows the bride and groom to get to know each other as well as possible.

“They would have about the same traditions as Vancouver, so they go out for a stag and have a few other parties,” says Bachmann-Kobban.

South Africa:

Du Toit was one of many South African brides lucky enough to be treated to a “kitchen tea”, which is similar to a bridal shower. At a kitchen tea, a bride’s friends surprise her with kitchenware and a casual party.

South African grooms enjoy a much raunchier version of a kitchen tea, more similar to the legendary bachelor parties dreamed up in movies like The Hangover. For the groom’s party, he is kidnapped by his groomsmen and forced into any ridiculous costume of their choosing. From there, the guys spend their night barhopping and end it with lots of fond memories (or lack thereof).


Much is done in advance for Indian weddings: “A henna artist is hired a year in advance and the horse that transports the groom to the wedding is also hired well in advance,” says Vicki Singh, who has helped organize her fair share of traditional Indian weddings.

Because of the diverse cultures and religions of India, there are many cultural happenings surrounding the preparation for a wedding. Some of the most important pre-wedding traditions are the engagement ceremonies. The main engagement ceremony is usually held at the house of the groom, where the families of the bride and groom exchange gifts and the bride and groom exchange their rings. At this ceremony, the wedding date is often picked.


In China, wedding days are only chosen after careful astrological studies are done, to be sure it is a lucky day for a wedding. Even-numbered dates are better than odd, and the seventh lunar month is avoided, as it is considered unlucky. Betrothal gifts will be exchanged between the bride and her family up to a month and three days before the wedding date, and will usually be a gift basket of different meaningful presents to ensure good luck. Traditionally, the bride’s parents also deliver the bride’s dowry to the groom’s parents around this time.

The Wedding Ceremony


For a Norwegian wedding, the bride traditionally wears a classic white dress and a crown adorned with tiny spoon-shaped bangles that tinkle when she moves her head. The crown’s bangles are in place to ward off wicked spirits that will try to inhabit the bride on her wedding day. Bridesmaids must also act as bodyguards and dress similarly to the bride to help keep her safe from evil. The groom wears a colorful woolen suit known as a bundas, as do the groomsmen.

After the ceremony, the couple is led out of the church to the music of an accordionist. At the reception, there are more speeches than the average Canadian wedding, and a hell of a lot more cake. This is usually a brudlaupskling wedding cake, topped with a layer of cream, syrup, and cheese.

South Africa:

Depending on the area of South Africa you’re in, wedding traditions can be similar to North America or vary greatly. In a typical South African wedding, there is a traditional wedding procession, followed by the saying of prayers and vows. Usually, a candle, representing unity, is lit, and the couple is married and blessed by the priest.

Sometimes after the ceremony, a Karamu (wedding feast) is held. In the less rural parts of the country, there is a more simple ceremony and reception held.

“My favorite part of my wedding was the dinner dance,” says du Toit. Du Toit has fond memories of her simple wedding, which included her close family and friends.


Famed for their extravagant weddings, India prides itself on its deep-rooted ties to tradition, and its customary ceremonies. Hindu wedding ceremonies almost always include rituals to ward off evil spirits and promote a happy and healthy life for the couple. After the bride and groom exchange vows, they are showered with flower petals by the father or brother of the groom.

Traditionally, brides wear brightly hued saris and cover themselves in eye-catching jewelry. They are also stained with henna dyes. The groom wears traditional Indian wedding attire and a turban, with a curtain of flowers flowing across his face to protect him from evil spirits. The elaborate ceremony is followed by an equally elaborate reception.

“Here in Canada, Indian couples are incorporating Western ideas like photo booths into their traditional weddings, bringing together East and West,” says Singh.


 Some of China’s richest cultural traditions happen at Chinese weddings. The colour red, for example, symbolizes happiness, love, and prosperity, so it’s no surprise that red is everywhere at Chinese weddings. The invitations, wedding gifts, and the bride’s wedding gown are all typically red (though the bride always changes at least three times during her wedding day). Friends and relatives of the bride and groom sometimes even decorate the couple’s house in the lucky color on their wedding day.

The actual wedding ceremony is usually only attended by the immediate families of the bride and groom. After the ceremony, friends and family attend an elaborate reception, the most extravagant of which having ten-course meals and live musician.

End of Marriage


The divorce rate in Norway is relatively low compared to the rest of the world, but it is on the rise. Norway currently has the 15th highest rate of divorce in the world, with a divorce rate of 43 per cent.

“Living common-law is fine, but if you don’t get married, you can have some problems regarding inheritance. My cousin was living common-law with his girlfriend whom he had kids with, and she convinced him to get married and then took him for all he had. So you have to trust the one you’re with,” says Bachmann- Kobban.

Norway has always been a leader in equality, allowing women to file for divorce since 1582, provided they give a decent reason, such as impotence or infidelity, or if their husband simply ran away. Divorces had to be validated by the king of Norway himself, and the rules remained practically unchanged until 1909.

South Africa:

Getting a divorce in South Africa is fairly similar to getting a divorce in North America, and always has been. There are no laws or red tape restricting quickie divorces to be found. Like many countries around the world, getting a divorce is as simple as cancelling a magazine subscription: simply fill out the rights forms and you’re free to pursue other people.


As Indian cities have continued to develop, the divorce rate has steadily increased. However, the divorce rate in rural India is much lower than in the cities. Since arranged marriages are more common in India than in Western cultures, the divorce rate is lower than that of North America and many other parts of the world. Divorcing an arranged marriage may bring embarrassment to the bride and groom’s families, and is therefore avoided if possible.


Like many other countries in the world, the divorce rate in China is rising. The Chinese cities of Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai have the highest rate of divorce in China. About one fifth of all Chinese marriages will ultimately end in divorce.

Adultery is the main cause of divorce in China, with one third of Chinese marriages failing because of somebody’s wandering eye. There are fewer stigmas surrounding divorce in China nowadays, but after a couple legalizes their divorce, the ex-wife may have a hard time finding employment or even acceptance within the community.

Marriage is not an easy thing to do – just as with any relationship, it takes commitment, trust, and love of the other person, or at least a damn good matchmaker. So don’t go running off to Vegas next time you decide you’re head over heels for that person that checks the “maybe” box on that “do you like me?” note that you sent their way.

It’s probably safer to just ask them to be your Valentine and give them a little box of chalky conversation hearts.

//Victoria Fawkes, staff writer
//Graphics by Miles Chic

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