Multicultural wedding a night to remember

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Dec. 1, 2017 at 5 p.m.
Updated Dec. 2, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Saturday, as I sat in a lovely hotel suite with a cup of coffee, wearing an elegant robe I received the night before, I looked below to where our wedding ceremonial gardens were being set up and thanked the Lord for everything finally coming together.

I had been planning my wedding for a year, but it honestly didn't matter to me if all the little details came together as I watched a team of organizers set up. I promised my family I would enjoy the day and enjoy the slow-paced, stress-free morning of our wedding day.

At the Villa Christina in Atlanta, where my husband and I finally experienced the full dog and pony show - we were legally married 11 months ago - the plush autumn trees and rich greenery surrounding the wedding arch decor and white chairs looked stunning.

We had already taken the vows we would repeat again that night before friends and family, but this time seemed wholly different. They wouldn't be any less powerful or mean that we were any more married, but I finally understood why wedding celebrations are needed and what they provide, regardless of if the reception is large or small.

They give the couple a sense of union. Putting so much attention and money into the party is about the commitment. It's a declaration that you're willing to stand up together before God and everyone dear in your life and promise to stick it out for the long term.

Since we were legally married almost a year, I was able to see the wedding celebration from an entirely different perspective.

There were no nerves, no question marks, no one around to tell me one last time that I had the option to back out if I didn't want to go through with it.

Instead, I was surrounded by people who loved Khaled and I, people who had already witnessed how much we enjoyed being married and people who truly had no doubts about whether we would make it in marriage.

That was a great feeling.

Following the traditional American ceremony, which incorporated a few Tunisian songs, guests walked upstairs to the cocktail hour, where traditional Arab music played.

Finally, it was time for the reception in the Azalea ballroom, and even I was excited to get that party started.

I always said I wanted to throw a wedding that I would want to attend as a guest.

I've been a bridesmaid a dozen times and maid of honor four times, so through the years, I've seen what guests love and what they could do without.

I also wanted to incorporate my husband's Tunisian culture with my own Southern Georgia culture.

So, for example, on one side of the room there were Coca-Cola glass bottles with bags of peanuts hanging around the neck, and on the other side of the room, there was a hookah and cigar balcony with floor seating and scattered throw pillows, where those who were interested could have a smoke and a sip of bourbon.

On the other non-smoking balcony, there was a photo booth with a professional backdrop and stage lighting set up where guests could hold props and take selfies.

One of the most entertaining yet difficult elements to incorporate in this multicultural celebration was finding Arab drummers to introduce us into the reception. There aren't many of these groups in Georgia - we found three - but we finally found African drummers who could mimic the sounds of the north African region, where the Arab drumming varies from traditional African sounds.

Our five-piece band, The Michael Allen Radio Show, teamed up with our five drummers to for an opening for the bridal party at the start of the reception.

And it was a doozy.

As the reception kicked off, the band played a song to lure guests into the ballroom. They played for a few minutes while the bridal party entered, and then the African drummers began banging and beating their djembes. My husband and I walked through the ballroom doors after the drummers and began dancing on the dance floor.

While the drums were in full swing, everyone started to dance together, in ways I've never seen anyone shake and shimmy in my life. We were also joined on the floor by our friends from all over the world, each of them attempting to dance in the "Dabke" style, traditional at Tunisian weddings.

At one point, we counted 15 different countries represented on the dance floor: India, Iran, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and on and on the list goes.

When our semi-Mediterranean dinner was served, Aziza Nawal, an Atlanta-based belly dancer, originally from Alabama, took the stage for her performance. She began with a traditional Arab song, followed by a drum solo, and finished with an up-tempo dance with hand cymbals, where she went out into the audience to dance with the guests. This was especially fun for the Tunisian table, and the first one to join Aziza was our friend's Tunisian mother.

My own mother was hesitant about hiring a belly dancer for the wedding, concerned about how a belly dancer would go over at a Southern wedding with some of our "very Baptist" family members. But I insisted over a period of months the guests would love the dance, and indeed almost a week later, they still can't stop talking about her performance. They're still talking about all of it, that it was the best party they've been to in years. And that's really what I wanted. I wanted our guests to have fun.

What I love about our wedding is that it has given our friends and family an opportunity to see who we are beyond our very basic labels of American and Tunisian.

Guests continue to tell us how inspired they were to see so many cultures brought together, so many languages spoken, so many opportunities to meet someone from across the world.

For us, our marriage will forever be about cross-cultural exposure and loving people as they are, in their many colors, shades and accents.

I'm so blessed to have this man in my life and so blessed he would marry me twice.

If our next year of marriage is as good as the first, we'll make it to our golden anniversary without any problem at all.

Jennifer Preyss writes about religion. You can reach her at 361-580-6535, or jenniferpreyss.com, or on Twitter at @jenniferpreyss.


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