The window of a wedding dress store with mannequins wearing face masks on Thursday, April 23, 2020. The store is closed because of COVID-19 lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Darko Bandic

The window of a wedding dress store with mannequins wearing face masks on Thursday, April 23, 2020. The store is closed because of COVID-19 lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Darko Bandic

Delay the date: How the COVID-19 pandemic may alter weddings for years to come

Some couples might shift towards smaller soirees even after the pandemic lifts, says planner

Caitlyn Veiga knew once COVID-19 started circulating last March that the wedding she’d been planning for two years would likely be impossible.

She just didn’t think she’d have to postpone the celebration more than once.

The 30-year-old from Toronto and her fiance David Young pushed their original June 2020 date to this summer once the first lockdown took hold. But as cases began rising over the winter, the couple decided to postpone again to October 2021.

The country’s vaccination rollout, expected to reach the majority of Canadians by the fall, should help Veiga avoid a third postponement. But she’s hesitant to look too optimistically into the future.

And the uncertainty of the pandemic has made her re-prioritize which details are important to her eventual wedding.

“I think the biggest struggle is people are putting their lives on hold for something that might not be possible (for some time),” Veiga said.

“Things you initially cared about — bridesmaid dresses, what colour your shoes will be — a lot of that goes out the window. Now it’s like: Can people have a drink within six feet of each other?”

Questions of when weddings can return to normal are plaguing many couples as they attempt to re-plan their big day, in some cases for a third or fourth time.

Limitations on weddings varied across the country throughout 2020, with most areas permitting five-person ceremonies during the initial lockdown last spring. That later expanded to 10, 50, or a reduced capacity percentage depending on venue size.

The volatile nature of the pandemic, however, meant restrictions could change from month to month, causing couples to adapt on the fly.

Toronto’s Melissa Fairey and her now husband Mike were a month away from their dream wedding when the pandemic hit last March. Fairey initially postponed to April 2021 but decided to get legally married in front of eight guests last August once COVID cases started dropping.

The significantly scaled-back soiree was a far cry from the celebration she initially wanted, but Fairey says it still felt “perfect.”

“One of the benefits (of planning a pandemic wedding) is it takes away a lot of the noise and forces you to really evaluate what’s important,” she said. “For us, that was getting married. And it really became about wanting to celebrate with people we love.”

Fairey is waiting for the pandemic to subside — and for bans on dancing to lift — before she plans a more traditional reception.

Dancing restrictions at weddings differed across Canada, with some provinces like Alberta allowing it among households and others, such as Manitoba and Ontario banning it outright except in specific instances like first dances between newlyweds.

Going ahead with a 2020 date meant couples had to find creative ways to fill the entertainment void at their receptions.

Kristie and Cameron Kramer solved that problem by hosting a trivia game for their 48 guests at their October 2020 wedding in St. Marys, Ont., peppering in facts about their relationship with general knowledge questions.

The couple originally planned for a typical reception, and Kristie said the no-dancing rule made them almost postpone entirely.

“Our initial reaction was: ‘hell no, this is horrible,’” she said with a laugh. “But looking back, I really preferred the way it turned out.

“It was a nice, relaxed pace — more like a pub atmosphere than a night club.”

Adeola Damie, an event planner who specializes in Caribbean and African weddings that typically involve lively dance parties, says her four 2020 couples had to modify their reception entertainment significantly. And those planning 2021 shindigs are bracing for the same.

While her couples felt “bummed out” about losing some of that energetic atmosphere, Damie said they made it work by setting up games at guests’ tables, or having them dance at their seats.

Tweaks to food service was another obstacle for Damie’s couples, however. Buffets that often punctuate African and Caribbean weddings were nixed for individually plated menus. And the wedding cake, usually an outstanding show-stopper at Damie’s events, was replaced by single-packaged baked goods.

Damie expects to return to planning big and bold weddings once the pandemic is over, but she tells clients who don’t want to postpone again that small, safer celebrations can still be significant.

“You don’t have to put your life on hold,” she said. “A wedding can still be beautiful and meaningful without 200 guests.”

Neha Chopra, a wedding planner specializing in elaborate South Asian weddings, says some clients — while skeptical at first — welcomed the opportunity to move away from the massive festivities she normally takes on.

She expects couples to gravitate back to traditional weddings in the future, but she sees why some might shift towards smaller soirees even after the pandemic lifts.

Chopra, who organized eight weddings in 2020, down from her usual 60, says there was something special about the intimate events she planned through the lens of pandemic restrictions.

“Couples appreciated after the fact that the ceremony was much more meaningful to them, because it only involved people they were close to,” she said. “Guests were there for the couple — not for the food, not as an excuse to dress up.

“It was really about the people getting married.”

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