A Tale of Two Weddings
By Leslie Moore
A marriage is much more than the ceremony that begins the journey of life together, but that ceremony joins, not just the couple getting married, but families and cultures and faiths. The simple declaration of love for one another, of the commitment to sustain that love through the ups and downs of life, brings everyone present, for a few heart-stopping moments, a little closer to understanding why love really is a blessing not to be taken for granted. It reminds us of the importance of our traditions and our heritage. It reminds us of who we are.
Sneha Singh grew up in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., the daughter of Indian parents. The importance of her heritage is something Sneha has never taken for granted; family comes first.
“Both of my parents were born and raised in India. Their marriage was actually arranged by their families. My father came to the U.S. after medical school and began practicing here. My mother finished college in India, and then my grandfather told her she was getting married. The families knew each other; it was a small community, but my mother and father had never actually met. My father went back to India for the wedding and then brought my mother to the U.S. That was thirty-five years ago, and they are still happily married.”
Sneha’s life has been very different from her mother’s. She was born an American and knew an arranged marriage was not something she wanted. After graduating from college, Sneha moved to Myrtle Beach and lived alone. She traveled with friends and enjoyed the life of a single American woman. But, she always understood the importance of tradition and knew her marriage would blend both her Indian heritage and her American life.
One of Sneha’s good friends growing up, Sherrie Bakshi, is also Indian-American. Her family and Sneha’s have been close friends for years, celebrating holidays and special occasions together. Sherrie’s cousin, Eric, and Sneha had known each other for years, but had never dated, or even considered a relationship, until January of 2009. Eric lived in Atlanta, where Sneha visited friends occasionally, and something told her to contact him.
“I decided to touch base with Eric and sent him an e-mail asking if he wanted to hang out sometime when I came to Atlanta to visit. He told me that he was working in the Northeast and wouldn’t have time to meet. But, last summer, he got back in touch with me. We emailed each other a couple of times, and our first date was in October. Eric didn’t actually propose until the weekend after Thanksgiving, but we knew right away that we would be married. And, both families were thrilled. Neither of us would have considered marrying someone our families didn’t approve of.”
A long distance relationship is never easy and, even though they tried, Sneha and Eric could not endure being apart. Living together was not an option that Sneha and Eric would have ever considered since their parents wouldn’t approve, so a wedding date was set for December. It was a very short engagement, but, in Indian culture, there is a belief that couples should not wait long after deciding to be married. Sneha’s future in-laws did most of the planning, as the ceremony took place in Atlanta where Sneha would live with Eric.
“Tradition and family values are important to both of us. I am Hindu, and in our culture the giving away of the bride is such an important event. Ultimately, we could not deprive my father of this by having a civil service, our first plan, instead of a traditional Hindu wedding.”
Sneha’s Hindu wedding was a small family affair. But, Eric’s family is Sikh, so another, much larger, wedding and celebration is planned for this month in Charleston.
Sneha was married in a traditional red sari with beautiful Mehndi (henna) designs on her hands and feet. The Hindu bride does not actually come out for the first part of the ceremony, which is performed in Sanskrit. Sneha’s parents welcomed the groom and his family, and the priest performed a prayer seeking the blessing of Lord Ganesha and invited the Gods to be present to witness the sacred event. Then, Sneha came in, accompanied by her maternal aunt and uncle, to be joined with Eric.
“We both love and respect our families and want to keep our cultures and religions alive, especially when we have children. There is so much to pass on to the next generation.”
Katherine Leventis Beverly was born in Alexandria, Va., and spent the first ten years of her life moving around the U.S. Her dad was in the Army for twenty-one years before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel and settling in Greenville, S.C., close to friends and family across the state.
“No matter where we lived, my family’s faith always remained constant. My father’s side of the family is from Greece, and I was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. At a very early age, Greek traditions became a passion of mine. It is a part of me.”
While a student at U.S.C., Katherine met Forrest Beverly and the couple hit it off immediately. After a few weeks of dating, they learned that Katherine’s mom had grown up with Forrest’s parents! Forrest played baseball for the Gamecocks, and Katherine travelled to all of his games. Katherine and Forrest dated for several years, connecting more and more each day, before he proposed just before Christmas in 2007, while Katherine was visiting Forrest in Conway before heading to Greenville for the holidays. The couple had grilled out that night and had settled in front of the television when Forrest slipped the ring on Katherine’s finger. The wedding was planned for January of 2009, giving Katherine plenty of time to arrange the wedding of her dreams.
“Forrest and I are both very religious. He was raised Presbyterian and has gone to the same church in Conway for his entire life, but he was willing to get married in the Greek Orthodox Church. I wanted his family and friends to see that part of me.”
The wedding took place in the Greek Orthodox Church in Greenville, and the reception followed in the church hall. Katherine had twelve attendants. During the planning her father told her that he always regretted not including more people in his own wedding, and he didn’t want her to leave anyone out.
The Greek ceremony does not include traditional vows. The couple becomes husband and wife when their wedding crowns are placed upon their heads. The Sacrament of Marriage follows a long and ancient tradition that is both beautiful and meaningful for the newlyweds and those there to witness this blessing.
“The ceremony was so special to me,” Katherine remembers. “We each had to drink wine out of a common cup which denotes the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow; from then on our joys would be doubled and our sorrows halved. It was so beautiful.”
The koumbaro or sponsor plays a very important role in the Orthodox marriage ceremony and remains an important part of the couple’s life. He places the crowns on the couple’s heads and exchanges them three times to symbolize two lives entwined into one. Katherine and Forrest made their first steps as a married couple by walking three times around a table containing the Cross and the Gospel, while the koumbaro held the ribbons that joined the crowns.
The strength of community and tradition continued into the reception. The men and women of the church had spent the past week preparing delicious Greek food for the more than 500 guests. “My grandmother, who’s in her 80s, started preparing the Greek pastries weeks before the wedding. It was like there was a little piece of love in every bite!”
Even the wedding favors had special significance. Guests were given an odd number of white Jordan almonds, called koufetta; the odd number representing the indivisibility of husband and wife, while the bittersweet taste symbolizes life’s joys and sorrows.
Katherine had two bands at the reception, one Greek (the same band that played for the first time at Katherine’s parent’s wedding, thirty-six year’s earlier) and one American. “I wanted an American band because I love shagging and oldies, but I grew up doing Greek dancing. My dad is a great teacher, and he had everyone on the dance floor having a ball.”
Today, the couple lives in Conway, where Forrest works in the family business, Beverly Construction Company, and Katherine is an account executive with Strand Media Group.
Like Sneha, Katherine looks forward to teaching her children about her heritage and instilling in them her love of family and tradition.
And they all lived happily ever after…
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.