Ingredients: A spoonful of this, a cup full of that, a few of these, and a lot of that. Blend them all together and you’ve got yourself a perfect family.
Our wedding is over and done with and we are starting to move on with our lives. To think that it was a year in the making for us to finally tie the knot. Our first date for our marriage being June of last year, then September and now finally April 17th was the culmination. The preparation for the whole thing was tedious, often times being more my wife preparing for the perfection of the ceremony and reception, but nonetheless still stressful for both of us. Looking back, it’s so hard not to smile about the amazing event it was. Not even so much the details of the wedding, more the impression that it left on both of our families. The time spent getting to know each other, laughing, sharing cigars and the occasional tequila shots. These were the important times that we had in the last week. These have lead to opus blended family.
I was born into a family that traces its lineage all over Europe. Like most Americans, our traditions were always pretty muted. We had traces of tradition from our German and Irish heritage, but nothing different than the majority. We had small traditions like having corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s day and finding the pickle for an extra present on Christmas. The other traditions were more from an American heritage, like joining in on the local parade on the 4th of July or gathering with family on Thanksgiving. The traces of Irish, Scottish, English and German, might be noticeable in our physical characteristics, but nothing overpowering in our every day way of doing things. I feel like we weren’t the only family in America that has stepped away a bit from their European ways. Regardless, I was brought up with an extremely loving family. My parents divorced when I was young and two parents became four. It felt less like a split and more like gaining more love in life. Neither sides of my family having an overwhelming amount of wealth and we were very much a typical middle class family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We went camping often, built forts, played outside until we got yelled at to come in. These were all traditions I became accustomed to at a young age. My family also taught acceptance of everyone regardless of their age, skin color or way of life. Now to be candid, we also had a very small amount of diversity around us, so there were never really challenges to this thought process.
On the other hand, my wife is Assyrian. A strong lineage of a culture that has been around since close to 2500 BC and ancient Mesopotamia. You can often find stories of her ancestors in many museums under the early civilizations exhibits. If you’re in Berlin, you can even see the famous Ishtar gate to see the level of detail they placed into their artwork. Along with who they were and the stronghold they had at one time in the Middle East. Ancient Assyria would look like present day Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Their people have gone through many trials and even genocide recently based on their religion. The difficulties of a culture living in a heavily Muslim area of the world. An area that might not feel diversity is as important as we do in other parts of the world. Their traditions are thick within their culture. As people started to move across the world in search of a better life, they stayed true to their roots. Their ancient language is hard to learn as it is usually past down from generation to generation. You won’t find a Rosetta Stone course on Assyrian! Their cuisine, dance and religious practices are true to how they were in ancient times.
My wife’s parents came from both Iraq and Iran. They share similarities, but often you can hear Assyrians talking about the differences they have in their way of life. Her parents met in Chicago and after settling, her mom wanted to move away from the big city. They settled in Turlock, California. An area of California that is now known for its large concentration of Assyrians. There are more Assyrian churches in the valley of California than probably all of most states in the US. Her parents took pride in their business of jewelry and passed on these hard work habits to their children. My wife’s siblings all have amazing work habits and will stop at nothing to be great at what they do. Even though work is important, their family ties are even thicker. Growing up, my wife was just as close with her cousins as she was with her siblings. This could seem a bit foreign to some, with families throughout the US often drifting away from their extended families. Their rich ties coming from a closely knit structure of living and acceptance of all coming to America in search of better. Their religious ties are the same. Deeply rooted to their Assyrian church and the importance of staying close to the hand of god.
When we first met (in full transparency) I had very little reference of the Assyrian culture and really just knew that it was middle eastern. I actually thought my wife said she was Syrian when we first met, which I learned quickly was wrong. As I started to get closer and closer to knowing my wife, I started to get to know the people even more. I remember our first Christmas together, I met her immediate family for a party they were attending at the church. In the back of my mind, I thought, what kind of a party can take place at a church? As I entered the church I found that quite an elaborate party can happen! As I watched their traditional dance of people holding hands and forming a line while doing various dance steps, I became intrigued with the culture. This was even before I started to speak with the family and get to know how powerful the bonds were! My wife’s family instantly welcomed me into theirs. As I had lived in California and my family all lived in Michigan, it was hard at times feeling alone out on the west coast. I didn’t feel that way with her family. I felt a bond when with them. They greeted me with love and taught me of their culture. Often speaking in the Syriac dialect that I was foreign to, but was amazed with. We dated for several years and when the time was right, I proposed in Yosemite after a long hike up to Upper Yosemite falls. After meeting Janine, my family felt instantly that I had found the one and greeted her into our family.
Our wedding was a bit of a challenge leading up to it with COVID and the constant change of dates based on how the world was coping. When we finally decided our last and final date for the wedding was in April, both of our families had a sigh of relief. Both of our families prepared their plane tickets and booed their time away for the special occasion. I then started to talk to my family about the wedding traditions of Assyrians. They laughed and were also intrigued about the different things that Assyrians do in the time of a wedding. As the time grew closer, they asked more and more questions. They asked for videos and instructions of what they would need to do when the time came. I could tell right away that they were so excited to be a part of such a different tradition. Never thinking how much they would actually get out of the experience.
Preparing for the wedding we had our counseling sessions with the priest. A lovable person with a passion for his religion, he grew up in the Middle East and soon moved to Australia to work at Assyrian churches. He quickly made his way to Turlock and became the priest at their church. As we both sat and listened to him talk about the wedding and the traditions involved, it was so fascinating. Every part of the wedding had some type of significance in why it was done. He went through various parts to the wedding and even drew diagrams of Adam and Eve and the the ceremony. He talked of the significance of how people entered the church and the positioning. He then reached the part about old traditions of waiting at the end of the night to make sure that the marriage was consummated…and I was even happier to hear that this old tradition was not practiced anymore! We grew from the meeting and both of us loved the conversation around the rituals.
As my family joined together in Turlock at my wife’s home two nights before the wedding, I had to fight back tears. Both families talking like they had been friends for years. Sharing cigars and taking shots together. Then the dancing started. My mother in law quickly took the hands of my family and ushered them out to the makeshift dance floor on her terrace. My family started to join in on the line and started to do the Assyrian dancing. I was so surprised to see that almost every family member on my side, joined in and was having so much fun with it. As the night went on, various forms of new American music was played, with both families joining in. Belting out the songs of Garth Brooks and Journey were a unique situation. I was hesitant originally in thinking of what it would be like combining two families from such different cultures. I knew that my family would be welcoming to anyone as I had always been taught. I never thought how much my family would really take on the Assyrian traditions though. As we were together the night before the wedding, the two were getting to know each other, but also getting along like they had known each other for years. I was surprised at how much my family was embracing the culture!
The day of the wedding came and it was time for my family to take on the Assyrian tradition of bartering for my bride. As my family gathered at my wife’s moms house, you could hear the sound of loud drums and middle eastern instruments across the suburb. I prepared them for this, but I don’t think they had any idea of what they were actually in for. As my groomsmen entered the house and the bridesmaids made their way down the stairs, it came to a halt. My brother in law stopped my bride at the bottom steps and said she wouldn’t be leaving for the wedding without payment. In old Assyrian tradition, it would involve the bartering of farm animals. In modern times, it involves the passing of money, which usually gets back into the wedding couples hands at the end of the night! My best man (even though nervous about the situation) did a wonderful job of making a spectacle of it as they bartered back and forth. In the end, he was able to offer enough money for my then fiancé to join me at the alter. My family was elated with the experience and were so happy that they got to partake in such an ancient tradition.
The wedding was held at an Assyrian church with the priest that counseled us doing the traditional Assyrian ceremony. We added twists of course, with our harpist adding tunes like the imperial March from Star Wars to the groomsmen walking in and our ring boy carrying the sign, “last chance to run”. The priest blessed our rings and her necklace and placed the crowns on our heads. Going through the ceremony had a special meaning and I’m glad that my family got to be a part of this. It also helped that the priest did a lot of the ceremony in english! Yet I think my family enjoyed the chants in Assyrian much more exciting! As we were newly pronounced, the harpist took to her strings and started to play the rocky theme as we walked out to yelping relatives excited with joy. In my eyes it was so perfect to see on both sides of the aisle, amazing people that came to the church to support us on our wedding day.
As we entered the reception area, it’s a tradition for the bridal party to be announced into the room with style! As the music played loudly, the wedding party danced into the area. The guys shaking their kapala (a very fancy cane) and the women their yalekhta (a beautifully made handkerchief). We entered to a large area of people gathered around cheering and yelping. The people not knowing the tradition previously, grew with excitement as they saw the interactions when we entered. It was so exciting as we danced to our seats. Throughout the night, the traditions of speeches and dancing were had. Both families danced the night away and indulged in many beverages. It was a perfect consummation of our wedding!
I look back and I think through the amazing traditions that took course during the wedding. I wanted my family to experience the full Assyrian traditions and I’m glad I did! I speak to my family and even weeks after the wedding, they are still talking about how amazing the whole situation was. We didn’t grow up with these types of traditions so for them to partake, it was magical in a way. I think about the friends and family that were not able to attend. Different situations took course, to where it wasn’t possible for everyone to attend. It was sad, but understandable. If anything, I’m sorry they didn’t get a chance to experience our blending of families the way it happened. It makes me think of how a wedding can do so much to make life better. There were initial thoughts of changing dates again because COVID was still very much alive, but after doing it, I would do it again. That brief time where our families joined together, felt more than ever that we became blended as a family. There was no bad blood of two people joining together from opposite spectrums. It was just pure happiness at its highest form. It was honestly just what both of our families needed during a time that everyone had been through so much. The Assyrian traditions are now passed on to even more people than imagined. My family that has grown up in such an American way, has learned even more the importance of diversity in their lives. Never have I been prouder of my family and where I come from. It’s not always so much the traditions that you hold, but how you accept other diverse ideas into your life. In a time that people are suffering so much, to join together and just stop your thoughts of the world for a mere day and embrace others around you, it was perfection. Maybe my thoughts of American tradition was inaccurate. It hasn’t been so much how you were raised and the culture that is within your family, but more how you can blend together cultures to become a more perfect Union. Is this what our forefathers said when they came to create the United States of America? More than ever, I find these words to be true today. than ever before.
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