A cross-cultural humanist wedding: Mercedes and Nurkanat’s story

A cross-cultural humanist wedding: Mercedes and Nurkanat’s story

City girl Mercedes is from Atlanta in the USA. Her husband Nurkanat is from rural Kyrgyzstan. They met in the UK and – with help from their humanist celebrant Roxy – designed a wedding ceremony which combined both cultures. 

‘It was really important that every part of the day brought in both our cultures and traditions,’ explains Mercedes. ‘We could look at it and say “that’s who we are!”. We wanted a humanist wedding because it helped us express that uniqueness.’

Their ceremony began with a twist on the classic Western tradition of the bride being walked down the aisle by her father. When Mercedes walked down the aisle accompanied by two generations of her family, this was an important – and emotional – start to the ceremony for both the bride and groom.

“The highlight for me was when Mercedes came in with her grandma and her brother, while I was waiting at the front,” remembers Nurkanat. “Traditional weddings in Kyrgyzstan have a different style – I had seen someone walking down the aisle many times in the movies, but never before in real life.’

“I wanted the traditional ceremony, I wanted to walk down the aisle,” says Mercedes. “I had always wanted my grandma to walk in with me.”

Two cultures, two traditions

As the ceremony continued, their two heritages – Kyrgyz and American – were symbolised by the inclusion of two different wedding traditions.

“We jumped the broom as part of the ceremony,’ explains Mercedes. ‘This is a Black American tradition that was used by slaves. They were not allowed to get legally married, so they got married in secret ceremonies where the couple jumped over a broom.

‘We also had a tea ceremony afterwards. We changed into traditional Kyrgyz attire and we sat on rugs which were laid outside. One of the bridesmaids made tea and brought it to us.’

The tea ceremony provides an opportunity for the couple to spend some time quietly together, just the two of them, in the middle of a busy day, before other family members join them on the rug.


‘My relatives and friends told me how happy they were to see the traditional outfits,’ says Nurkanat. ‘They were happy that our traditions were not forgotten and were still practised.’

It didn’t stop there! Even the food at the reception afterwards was a mix of British, American and traditional Kyrgyz food.

The wedding brought together two families

Just as the wedding brought together two cultures, it also brought together two families. So Mercedes and Nurkanat needed to find a venue that enabled them to express themselves and to spend time with friends and family who had flown in from abroad.

Mercedes says, ‘We had the wedding outside in the private grounds of Leeds Castle where there are beautiful gardens. It was such a peaceful space. The sun came out and it was perfect weather.

‘It was also important that we found somewhere that we could stay with our friends and family – we spent six days together after the wedding at Leeds Castle.’

The circle of love

There was one more tradition, one that their humanist celebrant introduced to the ceremony, which made it extra special.

‘This was the circle of love,’ explains Roxy. ‘I asked the guests to stand, with the bride and groom in the centre, then I asked them to silently send their love and best wishes towards the couple. I also asked the couple to look around the circle at their friends and family, and recognise the support and love that they have received from them. It only takes a minute or two, but it is a lovely way to start the ceremony.’

As a choreographer, Mercedes had encountered something similar before, where at the end of a dance class, people gather in a circle and offer positive words and affirmations to each other. But for Nurkanat, it was an entirely new experience.

Planning a cross-cultural wedding

A humanist ceremony is a beautiful way to weave together different cultural heritages in a way that honours everyone’s background.

With a cross-cultural wedding, you need to understand right from the start what a traditional wedding looks like in each culture – both what is important and what is inappropriate to include. This is especially important for me if I am not already familiar with those cultures.’ says their humanist celebrant Roxy.

‘With Mercedes and Nurkanat’s wedding, I wove references to cultural differences into the ceremony in a light-hearted way. Telling the story of the couple, using insights that they had shared with me, was crucial in bringing the different elements of the ceremony together. It meant I could paint a picture of the relationship for the guests, especially for Mercedes’s family who were meeting Nurkanat for the first time.’

Mercedes has her own advice for other couples who are planning a cross-cultural wedding: ‘Put in all the culture that you can! That’s what makes it unique and authentic, and a memorable experience for your guests. The fact that we stayed true to ourselves made our wedding day even more magical.’

Mercedes and Nurkanat’s humanist wedding celebrant Roxy Hayde is based in Brighton and London. She creates original, joyful, love-filled ceremonies which are unique to each couple. Find out more about Roxy on her celebrant page or visit her website over at Roxy Celebrates Love.

Thank you to Mercedes and Nurkanat for so generously sharing their story and to their photographer Salsabil Morrison photography for the stunning images.


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