When Reena and John met on Match.com, it did not take long for them to realize they had a serious love connection.
Reena shares, “After a few dates, we were exclusively together. Within six months or so – I knew John was the one for me.” Over four years of dating, they went through a number of ups and downs, including buying a house together and dealing with the devastating news that John’s sister had been diagnosed with cancer. However, every experience only made their love stronger, and they knew it was time to make a permanent commitment to each other.
Reena recalls, “We didn’t have a proposal, or really an engagement. We knew the wedding was long overdue, and dove right into booking the venue and planning. […] While proposals and fancy rings do make for fun stories, it just wasn’t us. We knew where we were headed long ago, and we made the decision to finally get there together.”
Reena is a wedding planner, so she dove right into planning out the details of their gorgeous fall nuptials. Reena’s family is from Rajasthan in northern India, and John’s family is from Lagos, Nigeria. It was important for them to incorporate their culture and heritage into their wedding. They had a Hindu and Christian ceremony, traditional Nigerian Edo attire, beautiful Indian lehnghas and henna, and delicious cuisine from both cultures. It was a gorgeous multicultural wedding full of vibrant colors, meaningful traditions, and lots of love.
See all of the details below.
- Couple: Reena Maheshwari & John Oyakhire
- Occupations: Reena: Owner of Kahani Events & Design – Rentals, Decor, Planning & Henna. My extensive background is actually in kitchen and bath remodeling. But, I had thought about the events industry for a long time, and it just worked out perfectly that I started this business in time to plan our own wedding. John – John is a physician, specifically a hospitalist, at Methodist Hospital.
- Wedding date: Aug 17, 2019
- Wedding location: Westminster Church; Minneapolis, MN
- Bridesmaids and groomsmen’s gifts: We didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen – while we have wonderful friends, we wanted to keep things simpler.
- Gifts for one another: None – the wedding was enough!!!
- Ceremony entrance song: We had an organist playing instrumentals.
- First dance song: We had two! We entered into the reception dancing to a Qawwali song (a type of music originating in Northern India/Pakistan) – “Tere Bin Nahin Lagta” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I had given John the task of preparing all the music selections for the wedding, and while going through a lot of different Indian music he found he really loved this style – which coincidentally I do as well. The song’s meaning is that without you, there is no peace in my heart. Our official first dance song was to “Someone Like You” by Van Morrison.
How did you meet?
John and I met back in 2014 on Match.com. After a few dates, we were exclusively together. Within six months or so – I knew John was the one for me. However, he wanted to take things slow, not rush into anything and really get to know me. Though I was a little skeptical if he’d ever be serious, I realized he just didn’t take big decisions lightly, and my gut told me to have faith.
Life took some unexpected turns for us. John lost his father early in our relationship before we’d had a chance to meet. His sister Tessy was diagnosed with breast cancer, and eventually, she moved in with him to undergo treatment. Meanwhile, I had started looking for a house closer to downtown Minneapolis, as I wanted to get out of the suburbs. Before we knew it we were looking for houses together, found a house we liked, and made the decision to buy it together in 2017. We started a remodeling process in January, and the three of us were living together in June. A year went by pretty quickly with lots of little projects to do, but we were enjoying our life together. Tessy’s health took a major decline in 2018, and I wondered to myself what we were waiting for. I just looked at John one day and said let’s get married, and he said – yeah it’s about time.
Tell us about the proposal.
We didn’t have a proposal, or really an engagement. We knew the wedding was long overdue, and dove right into booking the venue and planning. We told Tessy first, then our parents, and then everyone else. Lucky for us our families were truly overcome with happiness. While proposals and fancy rings do make for fun stories, it just wasn’t us. We knew where we were headed long ago, and we made the decision to finally get there together.
Describe your wedding attire.
I went wedding shopping in India. I had a trip planned for my events business and another trip for a cousin’s wedding, so I did my wedding shopping during both. It was fun, but also a very stressful experience with traffic, heat, and of course family opinions!! Many brides like to buy really fancy designer outfits, with lots of heavy gold embroidery. I wanted to be able to dance around and not be completely weighed down!
I had to find 3 outfits. One for a combined mehndhi and sangeet party. The mehndhi party is often the night or two nights before the wedding, where the female guests (and sometimes) the bride get mehndhi/henna. I had gotten my henna done the night before this party so I would have more time to enjoy with my guests.
The sangeet is where songs, dances, skits and other entertainment are prepared by those close to the wedding party for everyone to enjoy. In my family, we like to wear green for the henna event, although really any bright colors are common. For this, I didn’t find anything I liked, came home with some random pieces that weren’t quite working together. I thought I’d end up wearing a beautiful sari my mom had purchased for me, that didn’t feel quite right but would work, and then my sister came to the rescue with an outfit she purchased on her trip. It was a dark green silk lehngha – a long skirt with a cropped top by @kalista.official. Luckily it fit perfectly with no alterations! For this event John also wore traditional Indian attire – a kurta in light peach from @korabynm that I happened to buy for him, and it luckily coordinated well with the print on my outfit. We literally decided what to wear the week of the wedding!
The next outfit was for the wedding and reception. John and I went back and forth about this. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible, yet we were having two different ceremonies – a Hindu one and a Christian one, and we wanted to be more comfortable for the reception. We decided ultimately to keep the ceremonies back to back, and to each wear our own cultural attire for the wedding. I wore a coral and royal blue lehngha from @aishwariya_designstudio – it was the first thing I picked out on the first day of shopping in India. The skirt is in ikat fabric – which is my favorite textile – and I wanted something in blue. I loved it right away.
John dressed in all white – traditional Edo attire his sister sourced from Lagos. John’s family also came in their coordinating Aso Ebi attire, the women in a teal hue, and the men in white to match John. My family wore royal blue and navy or shades of orange to coordinate with me. The visual effect was stunning, and we each had our unique look, and both our cultures were well-represented.
For the reception, I stuck with a lehngha again- with a geometric patterned skirt from @aishwariya_designstudio, a blouse of my own design, and John and I found a coordinating suit from @savviformalwear.
Did you incorporate any culture into your wedding?
We really wanted to incorporate both our cultures and backgrounds into each event.
For the sangeet event, my inspiration for the decor was a tropical desert oasis. My family is originally from Rajasthan, famous for its palaces and for its desert climate. John’s family is from Lagos – much more lush and tropical! We used some of my Mom’s photographs (@shakuntala_photography) of palaces as a backdrop for the program that evening, and had tropical plants around the yard and lots of lush greenery combined with dried straw decor elements.
Since the sangeet event is about performances, I asked John’s family to prepare something. It was a little nerve-racking as John’s youngest sister had organized everything, but she was not getting approved for a visa. Finally, through some creative ways, she got a visa 2 days prior to the wedding, and came in just in time for the event. We were thrilled! My side had prepared an array of Bollywood dances and songs, their side had a very energetic fashion show representing a few of the different ethnic groups in Nigeria, and their whole extended family took part. A couple of the kids took it quite seriously and did their very best runway walks. I really felt this night ended up being the most fun, as we held it in a tent in my parent’s backyard, kept it a little more casual, had food and drinks and henna all evening, and people came and went as they pleased.
The next day was the wedding. We had both cultures represented in terms of clothing, but we also represented in terms of faith. We were married @Westminstermpls – a large church in Minneapolis with amazing architecture. Though John is Catholic, we knew having the wedding in a church would still be representative of his faith. Because of the open policies of Westminster, we were also able to conduct a Hindu ceremony in their sanctuary. We also constructed a mandap – a four-pillared structure that is important to the Hindu ceremony.
I wanted to take things a step further, change some traditions, and create a wedding that was more for the two of us. In a typical Indian wedding, the groom usually arrives in a dancing procession called a baraat. Since John isn’t Indian, I decided to do the procession with my family. We danced along Nicollet Mall, blaring music, and arrived at Westminster to be greeted by John’s family. It was a blast – the baraat is one of my favorite parts of the Indian wedding, and I’m glad I had it for myself! There are other parts of the Hindu wedding (as well as a traditional Christian ceremony) that are a little old-fashioned (and a bit sexist), so we adjusted both our ceremonies to fit our current notions of equality. Most importantly for us, we walked down the aisle together, symbolizing that John and I came to the decision of marriage together.
When I had asked John what was important to Nigerians about weddings, the first thing he said (after food of course) was the coral jewelry. Coral beads signify wealth and power in Nigeria and it is traditional for Nigerians to be decked out in coral beads for their weddings- headpieces, necklaces, collars, earrings, bracelets, etc. Now I am not a jewelry person, and I felt I would look a little funny with the bold coral jewelry unless I was wearing something very different, so I incorporated coral in a different way. As part of the Hindu ceremony, the groom gives the bride a gold and black necklace called a Mangalsutra, and this signifies marriage in India much like a ring does here. Instead, I found actual coral beads from some of my mom’s old jewelry and various shops in India, and had a necklace and bracelet made out of the beads. Now, it may not have been the bolder Nigerian style, but it is something that I can easily wear and cherish always, instead of just the one day. John did come fully decked out in the traditional beads, and it really added so much color to his outfit and coordinated well with mine.
For the reception, we had both cultures represented in the food, the music, and the decor. John was in charge of the music and put together a well-curated selection of songs from both our backgrounds as well as American music. For the decor, I had traditional Indian brass pots and vases as centerpieces and the tables were set with napkins I handmade from Ankara print fabric. We also had props for pictures from both our cultures.
Food was really important to us, and we wanted to make sure everyone would be accommodated. We had mango lassi and that in itself was more popular than anything else. We had moi moi, we had salmon tikka, vegetable biryani, goat stew, chili paneer, fried plantains, dal makhani – and so much more! Dishes from both our cultures, and serving both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, were provided by our caterers (Bay Leaf for Indian food and JTC Catering/Alice Atern for Nigerian) – so everyone could experience something new. It was really a blast combining the cultures, and I’m glad we could create that experience for our guests. For drinks we added in some local Minneapolis culture with a locally foraged wine and cider maker @urbanforagewinery – who provided us with delicious cider and wine.
As a wedding favor we wanted something that would be consumed, so we decided to share our love of tea with a Nigerian Hibiscus & Lychee tea.
What is your best memory from your wedding?
I have a few. From the night before, dancing our butts off to pumping music by SAP Entertainment and that John’s whole family made it in time for the party. I also got to put henna on John for the first time – I am also a henna artist, and he never allowed me to put any on him before! From the wedding day, I was surprised by how emotional we both got during the vows – it was really the point where our partnership felt like forever and it was very real for both of us. Seeing all our friends and family gathered together was the most incredible part, as there was so much love and happiness in the air.
What is the best wedding advice you can give to engaged couples?
If you can – hire a planner. Hire according to your budget and what you can manage yourself. It is so helpful to have someone to take care of things for you – especially the day of and the days leading up to. There is so much to think about and above all, you want to have fun, especially with multi-day celebrations, lots of out-of-town guests and large parties. It was easier for me to plan everything as I was only working part-time and just had two other weddings going on, but I would have benefited greatly from a wedding weekend manager/DOC. You can’t do it all yourself, even if you want to.
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