New Canadian Media
Sunday, 12 March 2017 14:59

Turning the BIG Day Into A Getaway

by Tanya Mok

Autumn is arguably the most beautiful season in Toronto, but even clear skies and above-average temperatures weren’t enough to keep Samantha Beniprashad-Maharaj and her husband Ryan Maharaj from leaving the country to get married this past October.

Before he had even proposed in June 2015, Ryan, 33, and Samantha, 30, had decided they wanted to have a destination wedding. Samantha says they wanted to cut on costs and, more importantly, “eliminate stress and chaos.” A year-and-a-half of planning later, they flew to Jamaica and were married at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay.

As a Guyanese-Canadian couple, Samantha, a human resources representative, and Ryan, a loss prevention investigator, are just one of many young couples from Canada’s ethnic communities opting for a destination wedding instead of a local one.

Getting married abroad has become an attractive option for those who’d rather turn their special day into a vacation while getting more for their money. Unlike their parents’ generation, these couples care less about guest count and more about turning their special day into a big getaway. Vacation resorts now make it easier and more cost-effective than ever for couples to have a destination wedding, pleasing young and old alike by accommodating cultural wedding traditions abroad. Tara Soloway, co-founder of Toronto-based agency Luxe Destination Weddings, says the number of requests for cultural marriage ceremonies abroad have increased over the past two years.

Of all the weddings her agency now manages, Soloway says, 25 to 30 per cent require traditional cultural elements and she predicts that number will keep growing. “[Couples are] looking to have fun rather than a stressful traditional-type wedding.”

Samantha and Ryan were both aware of how demanding a traditional Guyanese wedding could be. Five years ago, Samantha’s older sister had both her Hindu and Christian ceremonies in Toronto with 300 and 500 guests at each, respectively. The total cost of her wedding was around $80,000.

In comparison, Samantha and Ryan’s wedding in mid-October cost $25,000, nearly $6,000 less than the national average, according to this bridal industry survey. That number includes the couple’s travel expenses, their seven-day stay in Jamaica, off-site excursions, both Hindu and Christian ceremonies, wedding regalia, decorations and pre-marriage festivities held in Toronto.

While most brides demand they be able to inspect their wedding venues firsthand before the big day, Samantha didn’t mind waiting until landing in Jamaica to see her resort in person. She had already scoped out all the details of her wedding online from the comfort of her home: pictures and videos of the cocktail party and wedding cake, for example, were just a click away.

It was the flight that Samantha felt the most apprehensive about. She worried that some of the suitcases might go missing — the one with the decorations, maybe, or the dresses. With 65 of her guests and their baggage on board, the plane was bound to get hectic.

“That was the highest point of anxiety for me but once we got there and we got settled everything was very, very smooth,” she says.

The flight ended up being hitch-free and cost-free as well: Samantha and Ryan had scored a deal where every seventh guest’s stay at the resort was on the house, so the couple’s flight and stay were free.

Amanda Punit, who is Guyanese-Canadian, was symbolically wed to her husband of Trinidadian descent, Thabo Kathirgamanathan, on a weeklong trip to Punta Cana in August 2015. The couple held their traditional Guyanese and Sri Lankan ceremonies at home in Toronto prior to the vacation but Amanda, 29, says she also wanted to plan something “smaller and more intimate.”

The couple’s Punta Cana wedding cost around $27,000 and was held at a venue off their all-inclusive resort. Unlike Samantha, Amanda was nervous about not seeing the locale before the reception. “You don’t know what to expect, you haven’t met anyone in person, you just see pictures and you hope that it all turns out the way it looks,” she says. But thanks to a group booking discount Amanda also scored significant savings: nearly all of her 95 guests booked through the same travel agency, Red Tag, and she was able to bring the cost of each all-inclusive stay down to $1360 from around $1700. 

Resorts and airlines often offer discounts like this to lure in couples and the high volume of guests they bring. Vacation countries are also seeing a boost in their economy: local vendors that cater to the wedding industry are benefiting from this increase in travel weddings. Destinations like Jamaica do well because of relaxed residency requirements, even having a page on their consulate website promoting the ease of hotel marriages.

“A lot of these countries want people to come down and get married because it’s great for tourism,” says Soloway.

Kara Mahbubani and her husband Arun opened their restaurant Mystic India six years ago in Ironshore, a suburb along the coast just east of Montego Bay. The couple caters authentic Indian cuisine to weddings on and off nearby resorts, also providing Hindu weddings with traditional props like Dandia sticks, used for Gujarati dances, and the Havan Kund, a fire pit.

According to Kara, Mystic India has seen a “significant increase in sales.”

“Destination weddings have become such a trend since the past three or four years,” she says. Her restaurant now caters two to four weddings a month, up from one wedding every three to four months in 2012.

Food and garments aside, there was one aspect of Samantha and Ryan’s wedding that didn’t stick to conventional Hindu wedding guidelines: the guest count. Of the 250 people that were invited, 72 adults and eight children celebrated with them in Montego Bay, a tiny number compared to most Hindu weddings where guest counts can surge into the hundreds.

The reason: guests must pay sizeably larger bills for destination weddings than they would a local one.

While there are no Canadian estimates, this 2015 American Express report says that guests in the U.S. spent an average of U.S. $673 (or Cdn $821 in 2015) per wedding; Samantha and Ryan’s attendees paid $1,534 (Cdn) per person for the seven-day trip.

That price can put a heavy cap on the number of guests able to afford a destination wedding, which can be problematic since some ethnic communities prefer more guests than less. On top of long travel times and big bills for guests, it's just another reason for families to advise against destination weddings.

Soloway says she’s witnessed pushback from parents who had envisioned a more traditional marriage for their kids. “We see it all the time…sometimes it’s more of a personal struggle that a mother or father can face,” she says. Samantha’s mother Rawattie Beniprashad had some reservations. “In Guyana destination weddings are very uncommon and would be considered a luxurious and different way to get married,” she says. However, the fact that Samantha’s out-of-town wedding actually cut on costs was a big plus, and Beniprashad says that for many guests it was more than a wedding, it was a family holiday.

Since marriages in Guyana are usually home affairs, Samantha honoured the Hindu maticore and mehendi traditions at her parent’s place in Toronto before flying to Jamaica. During these ceremonies, the bride is dyed and purified at home and the women dance outside to the lively beat of traditional tassa drums, an essential component of Guyanese weddings. But Samantha didn’t get to have the tassa drums, having opted for a simplified version because Toronto’s weather was “on and off”.

Beniprashad was worried that the rest of her daughter’s wedding in Montego Bay would mean more cuts to those wedding traditions. “One of the major concerns I had was that if the resort would be able to deliver on all of the Hindu customs that we wanted to include in her ceremony.”

It's a common worry, and many wedding agencies catering to ethnic communities use parents’ peace-of-mind as a selling point for their businesses. Blue Petal Destination Weddings is a Vancouver-based agency that specializes in Hindi, Sikh and Muslim destination weddings in Mexico, and their website lists 'keeping your family happy' as the first major feature of their service.

Pam Gosal, president of Blue Petal Destination Weddings, says that parents should express explicitly to planners what they expect, especially in a country where English isn’t the first language. “Communication is a very important aspect of this,” she says. “You don’t want your wires crossed.”

Soloway says that many large destination resorts have had to evolve over the last two years to become more accessible to couples of different ethnic backgrounds and their families. Some resorts keep a roster of cultural wedding-friendly vendors while others offer to help couples find local officiants like rabbis or pandits for their ceremonies, Many now have chefs onsite that can accommodate more traditional and demanding feasts. Kosher meals, for example, are now available at select resorts that previously didn’t offer them before due to the tremendous effort it takes to transform a Caribbean kitchen into a kosher one.

“It’s great because that allows for more people to attend the wedding, especially the older family members who are a bit more skeptical,” says Soloway. “It’s been happening slowly over time but now everybody’s kind of catching up … and even moving into the future we’re going to be seeing more and more of it.”

According to Samantha, their Hindu ceremony in Jamaica had all the accoutrements of an authentic Guyanese wedding. The ceremony included a pandit that the couple flew out from Toronto, fresh-water coconuts for guests and a buffet of South Asian fare, all-included. “The resort did an amazing job at helping us keep with the traditions,” she says.

As for Samantha’s mother, her worries were appeased, saying that her daughter’s wedding was “everything we imagined it to be.” Destination weddings can be a meeting of cultures —  that of the newlyweds’ and of the country they’re visiting. While the destination may seem unfamiliar, the fusion of customs is something members of ethnic communities are familiar with living in a country as diverse as Canada.

“The location and simplicity of my daughter’s wedding was definitely different ... [but] the core traditions and rituals have not changed,” says Beniprashad. “To us Canadians, it’s a lot of fun.”


Tanya is a content creator and journalist reporting on diasporic culture and communities in Toronto.

Published in Arts & Culture
Thursday, 21 January 2016 06:01

Spanking: Lots of Studies; Little Change

by Florence Hwang in Regina

Experts say revoking the law that allows parents to spank their children can help clarify for newcomers the "mixed messages" they receive about corporal punishment in Canada.

Parents want to understand the law in Canada and how it fits in with their parenting style, notes Jean Tinling, the family program director at Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network.

“Their worries are reduced when they realize that they have a choice about keeping the best from their culture, adding in the best from Canadian culture and creating their own new third culture here in Canada,” she says. “They relax when they gain a better understanding of the law and when they realize that CFS [Child and Family Services] does not want to take their children or destroy their culture.” 

Researchers and parenting experts agree that overhauling section 43 is long overdue, as it infringes on the human rights of children. 

Tinling feels this confusion for all parents can be done away by changing section 43 of the Criminal Code.

The Liberal government has agreed to remove a section of law that allows parents to spank their kids following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to inform Canadians about the experiences of indigenous children in residential schools

Children’s rights

Researchers and parenting experts agree that overhauling section 43 is long overdue, as it infringes on the human rights of children. 

“It’s overwhelming talking about the harm of physical punishment,” says Ailsa Watkinson, Faculty of Social Work graduate studies coordinator at the University of Regina’s Saskatoon campus. 

Watkinson says she thinks children should be treated like any other human being. It’s important to maintain warmth and connection between parent and child and to build on mutual trust while understanding the child’s stage of development, including physical, mental and emotional, she adds.

Dr. Joan Durrant, Social Studies professor at the University of Manitoba, says that mild physical punishment has consequences for some children, and cites research that shows it is linked to aggression and mental health problems that can continue into adult life.

Already, 48 countries have banned all forms of corporal punishment of children.

Durrant has been studying the physical punishment of children for about 25 years. She points out that spanking raises the risk of injuring the child, makes the child fearful of the parent, and affects the child’s brain.

In Saskatchewan, the Victims of Domestic Violence Act protects those who are abused by their partners. If there is a child who observes their mother is being beaten, that child is considered in need of protection; but if that child is being beaten, he or she is not protected under the Act, says Watkinson.

Making changes

Already, 48 countries have banned all forms of corporal punishment of children. Canada and the U.S. are not on that list.

Most parents – newcomers and Canadian born – parent the way they were parented, unless they learn and believe there is a more positive alternative, says Tinling. Physical and humiliating punishment is a very common method used to control children’s behaviour around the world, she adds.

“However, worldwide, it has been my experience that all parents love their children and want what is best for them,” says Tinling. “They want their children to learn to be respectful, to have positive social skills, and they also value having a positive relationship with their children.” 

“Using aggression against a person does [the] exact opposite,” says Durrant.

She says she finds section 43 illogical, as there are laws that protect all other segments of society from physical harm, but not children. 

“That’s why we need a very black-and-white law saying don’t do it. Ever. At all.”

“When it comes to your child, the law gives you a green light. There’s a message to parents that it’s not only OK, but actually the law says it’s justified,” she says. “It’s placing children at risk. And I find that absolutely unjust.”

Every culture thinks it is their tradition to spank their children, she notes. Durrant feels it isn’t a tradition, but an entrenched habit that people have a hard time giving up because they haven’t seen viable alternative solutions. 

“There’s an assumption there that they are incapable of change,” notes Durrant, who doesn’t believe this assumption is correct.

Judy Arnall is an author and parenting expert. She takes issue with section 43’s wording of “reasonable force,” which she feels is very subjective.

“That’s why we need a very black-and-white law saying don’t do it. Ever. At all,” she says. 

It’s an age-old issue.

“I remember talking to reporters 20 years ago and not much has changed. I think it is time [for this law to be abolished]. I tell my kids, ‘In your lifetime, I’m sure we’re going to change the law on this, because 48 countries have,’” she says. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Health

 For around a decade, educators, psychiatrists and social scientists have been raising the alarm that something is going wrong for boys.

Published in Education

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

Background Color
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Top Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image