Parishes and couples embrace cultural wedding traditions

By Jacquelyn Guillen | Contributor
Sunday, May 14, 2017

A lazo or rope is draped over a couple during a wedding ceremony at Immaculate Conception Parish, 2745 West 44th St., on June 25, 2016. The lazo symbolizes unity. Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic

Couples who wed in the Archdiocese of Chicago often include traditions from their homelands or cultural heritage as a way to show their ties to their communities. 

Monika Ulrich said she did not envision a “traditional” American wedding for herself and her husband. 

“To make our day more meaningful and have a personal connection to it, we wanted to include some traditions,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich is involved in the Slovenian community at the Slovenian Catholic Mission in Lemont. When she married in October 2016, she said the cultural traditions included in her wedding were some of the highlights of the day.

One of the traditions included was “shranga” or “sranga.” Ulrich said that traditionally, when a groom and bride weren’t from the same village, the groom had to pay off people in the bride’s village because the wedding meant she was being taken away and the village was losing labor. The groom then had to prove his worthiness or “manliness” by completing some tasks. The morning of her wedding, Ulrich said, her brothers modified the tradition by setting up tasks that focused on building a life together. 

Afterward, there was a blessing in the backyard. Typically, the parents and grandparents of the couple would bless the marriage, she said.

“That was the more emotional part of the day,” she said. “This and the ceremony.”
Once at the church, she also chose not to walk down the aisle with her father. She said her father had explained to her the Slovenian tradition was rooted in the idea that the bride and groom should enter the church as a couple.

“When couples come in from a different tradition, which if they believe like ours does, it’s more beautiful for the bride and groom to walk into church together. We adapt, we accept that,” said John Vidmar, deacon of the Slovenian Catholic Mission and Ulrich’s father. 

However, even a father walking the bride down the aisle also is a cultural choice. Vidmar said that part of the wedding is not specified in the liturgy.

After the liturgy, Ulrich had an unveiling ceremony at the reception. She took off her veil and her maid of honor replaced it with a red carnation — the carnation is considered the national flower of Slovenia. Her husband’s boutonniere was also replaced with a red carnation. Typically, the unveiling ceremony is done at midnight, but Ulrich said they did it earlier.

“It represents that the wedding day has ended. Now they are moving on to the first day as a married couple,” Vidmar said.  

Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, has seen a variety of cultural traditions included in weddings too. He’s seen Eastern European couples include a blessing of the crowns and Hispanic couples include a blessing of the rosary and Bible. 

“Hispanic culture has multiple symbols. We have the blessing of the Bible and rosary, which means the foundation and the cultivation of spirituality life to Christian marriage. We have the blessing of what is called the ‘lazo’ or rope, the custom for the symbol of unity. We have the blessing of a crucifix, which is meant to be blessed the day of the marriage in order to be located above the marriage bed of the couple,” he said. 

When couples do want to include parts of their culture, Sanchez follows up with a question about these cultural traditions: “Do you know what they mean?”

Often, people want to include these traditions because they have seen their family members do it, said Sanchez, but they do not always know what the traditions mean. 

“We ask them to do research,” Sanchez said. “They come back much more enlightened as to both what the sacrament means and what it really meant to them and their family.” 

Father Tom Boharic, associate pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia, 2651 S. Central Park Ave., has also seen different wedding traditions from Hispanic cultures, including the blessing of the “arras” (coins), which is also used in Filipino communities. Originally, the custom involved the groom placing coins in the bride’s hands to symbolize that he would support her, but today the bride might also place the coins in the groom’s hands to show their support for one another, he said. There’s also a religious aspect to the tradition.

“It’s basically entrusting their goods and everything they do into God’s hands. God is going to take care of them financially, and they’re going to mutually provide for each other,” Boharic said. 

Traditions such as the blessing of the coins or lazo are included in the marriage rite. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted an English translation to the Holy See in 2013 that included these two cultural traditions, and it was recognized in 2015. As of Sept. 8, 2016, priests and deacons were allowed to use the new marriage rite. Previously, these traditions were in the Spanish edition.

Other traditions might not specifically be included in the marriage rite. For example, Boharic said he once saw a woman arrive to the church riding a horse. 

“I thought that was beautiful,” he said. “I don’t know if there was any theological reason for that but also just showing the beauty of the procession and everything. The groom wasn’t even Catholic. He converted to be Catholic and was a white European American. For him, he embraced everything.”

Another tradition from Hispanic cultures are “padrinos,” or godparents. Maria Celeste Muratalla, a parishioner at St. Agnes of Bohemia, said that she and her fiance have asked family members and friends to help with smaller expenses of the wedding. 

She said some couples might decide to have a padrino of the lazo, the Bible or the bouquet that’s given to the Virgin Mary. Others might have padrinos for larger expenses such as the banquet hall, mariachi or food. She said some people say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to get someone married.

“It ties them into your wedding,” she said. “It’s not just your wedding. Everybody is participating with you.” 

Cultural traditions make the wedding day special, but Boharic also said that couples should understand the symbolism behind the traditions.

“I think that it’s important for the priest to have some time to prepare them well and explain the different meanings,” Boharic said. “All the different traditions are like a little adornment for the marriage.”


  • weddings
  • marriage
  • ethnic traditions

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