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We got married on a neighborhood bluff overlooking the crystal blue waters of Lake Michigan. We were serenaded by violins as the waves crashed below us. We popped champagne at sunset and posed for pictures on the beach.
My wife and I were married in July, smack in the middle of a summer governed by a global coronavirus pandemic. And yet, in some weird way, COVID-19 paved the way for us to have a wedding that was uniquely perfect.
Gone were the pressures to have a glittering ceremony and a big party all in the same day. We got to pour our hearts out with handwritten vows on our big day without worry that a large crowd was hearing something so personal. And we got to truly enjoy all aspects of our wedding day without being tugged in a bunch of different directions, when all we wanted was to revel in each other.
We weren’t the only betrothed couple to forge ahead with our nuptials. Wedding planning site Zola reported that 76% of engaged couples they surveyed were still planning on getting married on their original wedding date, though many were paring down the celebrations by postponing their reception or streaming the ceremony on zoom for remote wedding guests
And according to a survey by the Knot, about 40% of couples who are planning a COVID wedding say they will have a smaller, legal ceremony and wait to have a larger reception. That’s the choice we made.
When we got engaged this spring, we quickly realized that throwing a COVID-era wedding comes with a whole new set of logistics and an immense responsibility to keep loved ones safe and healthy.
Here are a few tips from me and my wife, Rachel, as well as other brides who didn’t let COVID stand in the way of love.
Cut the Guest List and Wedding Party
Limiting the guest count perhaps the hardest, yet most important task for a COVID wedding, especially if you’ve already invited dozens of your family members, friends, and co-workers to the wedding ceremony.
The more people at your wedding, the higher your risk of COVID transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published an article in its Emerging Infectious Diseases journal that detailed a coronavirus outbreak after a wedding in Jordan, where 85 people tested positive for COVID following a 350-person event. An 80-year-old woman later died.
And in Michigan, a Wayne County banquet hall is under investigation after several people tested positive for COVID-19 following an indoor wedding reception that defied the governor’s orders.
Outside of our immediate family of myself, Rachel and my son, our guest list totaled six people, including our parents and three close friends who took pictures and played the violin during our ceremony. A much more intimate wedding reminiscent of a remote destination wedding or elopement.
Kate Kiwan slashed her guest list from 140 people to seven immediate family members for what she called her “micro-wedding” in Massachusetts this summer.
“I had a wedding dress I was planning to wear eight months pregnant and couldn’t return, so figured let’s do it up!” said Kiwan. “It’d be nice to be married before the baby and be married in general, and, most importantly, I wanted to be sure my parents were there.”
Being pregnant and with parents who have health concerns meant careful consideration of the guest list. That meant Kiwan’s brother couldn’t attend, as he would have to travel cross-country from Washington state, which has had high COVID numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Keeping it super small made it easy to not have other extended family feel like they should come,” she said, adding that a few close friends did show up outside to watch from afar. “I couldn’t imagine trying to do a 25 or 50 person wedding and having to cut people.”
Pick a Venue that Supports Social Distancing
My wife, Rachel, had her heart set on an outdoor wedding, which worked out perfectly for COVID safety. The picturesque neighborhood of her family’s lake house in northern Michigan boasts a makeshift outdoor wedding venue that bested anything else in the area — a deck with gorgeous views and plenty of space for our parents, the violinists, the officiant and my best friend who was also our photographer to maintain at least six feet of distance.
Kate Leahy, who was married in late August, initially planned to cancel her larger formal wedding and get married at home, which had room for immediate family only.
“But when we couldn’t get our deposit back from our venue we decided to still move the wedding day up [and] cut the guest list by over 50%,” she said. Leahy had originally reserved an indoor ballroom at a golf club about 50 miles outside of Boston, but they and their 46 guests were moved outside because of COVID and to comply with the Massachusetts governor’s order for wedding vendors and venues.
“Our venue decided to rent a large white tent and move everything outside for us so we don’t have to cancel,” she said.
Consider How You Will Keep the Venue Clean
COVID weddings demand a unique supply run and given national shortages on cleaning supplies, gloves and other essentials, your best bet is to get started with your wedding venue right away.
We set out Lysol wipes and Purell spray in the bathroom that our guests used so they could wipe down the handles and counters, and we also kept a supply of hand sanitizer, cloth masks and disposable gloves on hand for anyone who needed them.
We also ordered nice-looking disposable plates and utensils and served drinks that came in their own can or bottle.
And we stayed in constant contact with our guests and our officiant to keep them updated on our plans to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure they felt comfortable attending.
Leahy did away with both the dance floor and a bar for her wedding, though she hired a team that both DJs and provides live music for people to listen to, and alcohol was served via table service.
“This experience of planning under the current circumstances has definitely been a wild ride,” she said.
Kiwan worked to keep her wedding circle as small as possible by asking her father to pull double duty.
“We had my dad officiate mainly to keep numbers down because when we were planning things in Massachusetts, things were still pretty hairy,” she said, “and I was pretty concerned that even with a small wedding, COVID could spread easily.”
Need more suggestions? The Knot has a COVID-19 Resource Center and WithJoy.com has a COVID wedding calculator to help you figure out the risk associated with your wedding plans. You can also check out best practices per the CDC with their event planning guide.
Make Plans to Throw a Big Party Later
Throwing a party with your friends and family is a great way to celebrate your new marriage, but it will have to wait if you are not rescheduling your wedding.
Even though there is no end game in sight for when life might return to pre-pandemic normalcy, that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning a postponed reception with a new date (or no date for now). Alternatively, you could plan to celebrate your original wedding date in the future with a large anniversary party.
Many other pre-wedding events like a bachelorette party or bridal shower can also be held in person at a later date. Your bridesmaids may even appreciate having more time to save for the festivities.
We already have plans for potential locations, food, music, and entertainment for our reception.
Now we just need to wait to be able to celebrate safely.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.