When you’re planning your wedding, many want to express their own unique story while also paying homage to traditions. After all, your culture and history play a vital role in your identities as individuals and as a married couple. But depending on you and your spouse’s background, “tradition” might mean anything from walking down the aisle to the sound of bagpipes to smashing a plate or glass.
Whatever your cultural roots, traditional decor can be a beautiful way to demonstrate your connection with your heritage, and even celebrate two cultures coming together.
This guide will break down traditional wedding decor into different parts of the ceremony and reception, highlighting some decor ideas that apply across regions and borders. Along the way, we’ll share beautiful, culturally-specific traditions to inspire your ceremony, too.
Just about every wedding involves vows and the signing of a marriage license, although the importance of this ceremony differs between cultures. However, it’s a vital part of the wedding for many couples, and it typically takes place in front of a beautiful backdrop.
If there’s any sort of procession towards the altar (or equivalent structure), the aisle is often decorated. Because florals are associated with good luck and bounty across cultures, flowers and greenery are popular.
Roses are known to symbolize love, although your culture may have other specific, traditional flowers.
Other supplies you may need for your walk down the aisle include:
Likewise, many couples get married under an arbor or at another location festooned with flowers and colorful accents. As a bonus, the flowers set a loving ambiance and shine fantastically in photographs.
While some may associate the altar with Christian churches, many cultures have their own version. Let’s take a look:
A chuppah is a canopy that’s traditionally held up by four poles. It symbolizes the home the couple will build together. Many couples choose to take a modern interpretation, integrating:
Whatever your interpretation, the chuppah is an essential part of your wedding decor, and other floral arrangements and elements can be curated to match it. Just like the love you share with your SO, it can be uniquely your own.
Similar to the chuppah is the mandap used in an Indian wedding. A mandap is a temporary structure, often with a canopy that serves as the wedding ceremony’s site. It can be made of draped cloth, florals, or just about any other material.
Traditionally, a mandap has a red or gold canopy, but these days, mandaps are as unique as the couples that wed under them.
Other elements of the ceremony housed under the Mandap include:
What happens after you say “I do?” Many associate weddings vows with the obligatory first kiss and the exchange of rings.
In addition to these practices, some cultures have unique traditions for solidifying the bond between a couple. For example, in Mexico and other Latin American countries, tying the knot is literal. The Lazo cord, a kind of lasso, is actually tied around the couple.
Other specific decor items you may need to complete your vows include:
A glass or plate: Jewish couples break a glass (wrapped in cloth) to remember the destruction of temples that is part of Jewish history. Similarly, Greek couples may break a plate to ward off bad spirits and express their inexpressible joy.
Floral garlands: Southeast Asian and Muslim couples often exchange floral garlands that symbolize the couple’s mutual love and respect.
Coins: Couples in Latin America and the Philippines exchange coins, called las arras, as gifts that communicate their intent to make sacrifices for each other.
A broom: Jumping a broom may have its roots in Ghana, but it was more recently popularized by the novel and TV series Roots, which depicts this practice as an act of Black love and rebellion practiced by enslaved people unable to marry in the plantation era of that South. This African American tradition affirms the ties between contemporary Black Americans and the African diaspora.
If you’re incorporating any of these traditions into your ceremony or creating your own spin on one, these gifts, exchanges, and culturally significant objects are part of the wedding venue decor and a vital part of your ceremony.
The wedding couple often leaves the wedding ceremony's site, whether it’s to change venues for the wedding reception or to change clothes.
As they process back down the aisle or out of the venue, guests may celebrate in unique ways. In the U. S., guests frequently throw confetti or even dried flowers. Other cultures have similar customs:
Depending on where you’re holding your ceremony, there may be a venue change for the reception. Wherever you hold your reception, many cultures share a few basic pieces of decor:
Centerpieces: Flowers, fruit, and other symbols of fertility and harvest often adorn tables. Of course, they support the overall aesthetic beautifully.
Candles: While some couples light a unity candle, this is actually a relatively modern tradition. However, there’s a reason why candles are a traditional part of the wedding decorations. Fire has a ceremonial purpose in most cultures. Of course, since contemporary venues may discourage or even forbid the use of candles, you can always choose an electric version, or find another way to incorporate soft light.
The following are also part of traditional U.S. wedding decor:
While most couples will plan to include some of the above in their wedding planning, some cultures have additional unique pieces of decor.
While customs vary between individual countries and families, Latin American weddings may include the following:
Piñatas: Many Mexican weddings feature piñatas. The couple doesn’t usually take a whack. Instead, children in attendance break it open to find candy, which the guests share. The piñata is often shaped like a heart.
White ribbons: These white strands recall the lazzo that united the couple.
Often stretching over three days, Hindu weddings are generally elaborate affairs. Indian tradition includes brightly colored decor, hanging textiles, and lots of colors. Other elements of decor can include:
A Ganesh statue: Lord Ganesh is often accompanied by flowers, too.
A sanjeet: There may be a stage where the couple’s family members sing and dance in celebration. Of course, it has to be decorated.
Incense: Scent, as well as color, is an important part of the overall wedding experience. Attractive incense trays often play in with the decor.
Chinese brides wear red dresses, because red is the color of good luck in traditional Chinese culture, As such, Chinese weddings also often feature abundant red decor. Other traditional elements include:
The double happiness symbol: This traditional good luck symbol combines two instances of the Chinese character “Xi” (喜).
Lanterns: While lanterns are a big wedding trend, they’re also a traditional part of Chinese culture, and weddings are no exception. Paper lanterns are sometimes released into the sky.
Lucky fruits: Bowls of red dates, pomegranates, and oranges are thought to bring good luck. These may be interspersed with floral arrangements.
While the above list is not exhaustive, it demonstrates a few ways that couples around the world have traditionally celebrated their love.
As you can see, prominent themes crop up again and again:
Many couples choose to put their own modern interpretation of traditional elements to convey their unique love story. If anything in yours may fulfill one of the above roles, it can be a beautiful way to make your wedding unique and authentic, while still acknowledging your roots.
At Zola, our goal is to help couples plan their perfect ceremonies with less hassle and fewer expenses. Our easy-to-use wedding and registry tools allow you to do most of your planning in one place.
Let us help you design your wedding, too: Check out our wedding blog for other posts on wedding decor ideas, from lighting solutions, to how to choose your wedding colors, to traditional decor and beyond. Likewise, our wedding boutique is stocked with decor for both traditional weddings and contemporary fetes.
Your wedding decor and ceremony decor should be perfect, just like the day itself. For that, we’re here to help.