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Planning a wedding during a pandemic

The wedding industry in 2020 took a big hit. The Canadian wedding industry contributes, from what various sources I've seen, anywhere between $4.1 billion to $5 billion to the Canadian economy. As of March 2020 that sort of went *poof* in a cloud of pandemic smoke. Everything from invitations, limousines, catering, halls, clothing, cakes, cigars, balloons, flowers, photo & video, wedding planners, ministers and places of worship, reception venues, travel companies (honeymoons & destination weddings) all went quiet or operated at a fraction of what they normally would. Yours truly is no exception.

There were a lot of postponements, and some outright cancelations. But what about the couples that decided to press on? Perhaps you're reading this with a wedding happening later this spring or summer, quietly freaking out. A couple I worked with last year decided to proceed despite two lockdowns and a guest restriction one week before the wedding. Christina, was gracious enough to let me interview her over email about what her experience was like. These are her words. Quick note: I have made a few edits but its 99.9% all Christina.

10 Questions with Christina (& Chris) ~ Married Oct. 25, 2020.

Mike Black PhotoWorks (MBPW): Christina, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Christina (C): I am a newlywed who got married during a global pandemic and had to plan a wedding 3 times!

MBPW: When did you get engaged?

C: We got engaged June 9, 2019.

MBPW: When was your original wedding date?

C: April 4, 2020.

MBPW: When gathering limitations and lock downs were announced, were you worried about your (wedding) date?

C: We were actually worrying about our date before gathering restrictions and lockdowns were announced. We had a meeting with our venue to finalize our wedding details three weeks before April 4th. Even then we were told there was nothing to worry about and that we could go ahead with our originally planned wedding (with 130 guests no less!). Of note, my venue was located in York Region (north of Toronto), which along with Toronto and Peel region, has been under the strictest lockdown guidelines (throughout the pandemic).

MBPW: How long before your date did you realize you'd have to postpone? Walk us through how it went down.

C: A few days after our finalization meeting with our venue (so about two and a half weeks before our wedding day), Ontario declared their first State of Emergency and subsequent lockdowns were announced. Businesses were to close, including event venues and banquet halls. I immediately called my venue and asked what my options were. I was told there would be no issues postponing the date to some time later in the year. I was given a few date options and picked October 25, 2020. The thought was that Covid-19 would be long gone by then, LOL.

MBPW: So, a six month postponement. How did that affect your planning other than wanting to have been married for six months already in October :~)

C: We put our planning on hold until we couldn't anymore. During those six months, I kept hearing updates and changes about gathering numbers. So we knew we were going to have to make cuts to the guest list. This cascaded into other cuts like floral, centre pieces, favours, catering etc. I didn't want to have to make these adjustments a bunch of times, so I waited until what I thought was the last possible minute.

In August, I called my venue again to find out what our options were. I was determined to have the wedding in October and not push it forward again. I was told 50 people was now the new maximum number of guests... and no dancing (!). Only the ceremony itself and dinner was permitted. So, I went ahead and made all my cuts and was super bummed. We wouldn't even be allowed to walk to the bar to get a drink, because the fear was that guests would mingle and mingle sans mask. I wanted to be able to celebrate with our friends and families. Eventually, I accepted my altered wedding format.

MBPW: October rolls around and the government of Ontario tightens things up again a week (!) before your wedding (after a summer of loosened restrictions), now what?

C: STRESS!! A few weeks earlier, my bridesmaids and I had jokingly said we would host the wedding at one of my bridesmaid's homes if the restrictions got crazy again. So, on Friday, October 16, the government announced tighter restrictions and I left a message at the venue to once again see what my options were. They said they would call me the next day. At this point, I became so impatient and was freaking out. Up to now I was pretty low maintenance (MBPW note: agreed). I had been extremely understanding that there was a global pandemic and I was happy to do my part and not gather etc.

We were called back the next day (a Saturday) and we were told we could have a ceremony with only 50 people in attendance, but no dinner. Well, we could have dinner if we wanted to have some boxes of food "To- go." I didn't like this option because the ceremony, held at the venue, was only going to be about 20 minutes long and then everyone would have to leave the premises. So I called my bridesmaid, who is also one of my best friends, and asked if we could actually have the wedding at her house. She was happy to host, and she lives in Peel Region. The restrictions in Peel at the time were 25 people outside, and 10 inside. So we made cuts to the guest list again, and planned for a chilly outdoor October backyard wedding with only immediate family and bridal party in attendance.

MBPW: What advice would you give to couples in the planning stage of their wedding right now?

C: I would say that you have to go into planning with a very flexible mindset, and really try not to let things get to you, as hard as it might be. You have to accept that you might not get the "Wedding of your dreams." You can't worry what anyone thinks of any of your decisions. Everyone we know was completely understanding, but I know wedding planning can be controversial for some couples' friends and families. You will also continuously hear people say that the most important thing is that you're getting married, which is true, but I think it's okay to be upset when your event (plans) falls through. Don't feel bad about also wanting the party and the big to-do if that's your thing!

I would also recommend to really get your info in writing from vendors on cancellation policies and refunds. I think we were lucky in the sense that we had all this happen at the start of the pandemic when vendors may not have had policies in place so they were more forgiving. But as we are coming up to a year of these restrictions, some vendors might not be as understanding with returning funds or being flexible with rescheduling, etc.

MBPW: What was your experience like with your vendors? Hall, cake, photo, dress, etc. Can you briefly address those experiences?

C: My experience with my vendors was really great. They all moved to my second date, and then to my second location, without any issue. Exceptions of course, were the DJ and the venue, who both kept our deposits as credit that we can use until the end of 2023. My floral center pieces were unable to be refunded as they had already been ordered, so we had a ton of décor in the backyard, which really made it look beautiful. So we did end up losing some money on florals. One extra thing I will say about you, Mike, we really appreciated that you still treated this as a normal, full scale wedding and provided full photography services! (MBPW note: 💜, thank you!)

MBPW: Final thoughts?

C: It was really stressful to plan a wedding three times during a pandemic, but it ended up really amazing. I feel for anyone currently planning a wedding right now. It's an important moment in your life so it would be a shame if it wasn't something you wanted it to be. But just know, there are a ton of other couples going through the same thing, and lots of advice online on how to cope and pivot. I really hope Covid is over soon so couples can get back to planning weddings without restrictions.

MBPW notes:

If I hadn't been through some of the process with Christina and just "showed up" on her October wedding day, I wouldn't have known that what I was looking at wasn't the original plan. In other words, it looked like a classy backyard wedding. Christina and her bridesmaids did a wonderful job changing tac and adapting so quickly. Congratulations again, Christina & Chris!

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