To wed or not to wed? Once, the question was simply about whether you were ready for the commitment. Now, thanks to Covid, it’s about whether you’re willing to downsize your big day to a small celebration, perhaps with a bigger party in the future. Even then, you could face a very long wait indeed: venues are fast getting booked up throughout 2021.
New government guidelines coming into force this Saturday make an exception to the current rules around gatherings: a maximum of 30 people will be able to attend weddings or civil partnerships, albeit with all the safety precautions we’ve become used to, such as face masks and social distancing. Couples will also be encouraged to wash their hands before and after exchanging rings, and speak their vows without raising their voices.
But that’s just the ceremony. For the reception, the rules are no different to any other gathering: “six people outdoors, support bubbles, or two households indoors and outdoors.” It doesn’t exactly fill you with cheer.
Clearly, the ‘mega-wedding’ that has become so popular in recent years is to be, for now, a thing of the past. A survey in 2018 of 4,000 brides found that the average spend on wedding days in the UK was £30,355 - the highest on record, and an increase of 10pc on the previous year. A significant sum, explained in part by the fact that on average, we invite 82 guests to the wedding ceremony and 103 guests to the knees up afterwards. Or we used to, anyway.
Does it matter that we won’t be able to throw such big bashes? In my experience, not a jot.
Like a lot of modern couples, when my husband and I got married, we had two “weddings”: a low-key ceremony with just a few family and friends, and a party, nine months later, for about 90. As we approach our 10th anniversary, I struggle to remember why we didn’t wait and do it all in one go. I think we were just ready to hold our noses and jump. And we felt that life is short, a sentiment that has never felt more pressing than now. (I can’t have been the only person who had tears running down their face at pictures of nurse Jann Tipping and medical registrar Annalan Navaratnam, who got a special licence from the Church of England to get married in April. Their reason? That they wanted to do it “while everyone was still healthy, even if that meant our loved ones having to watch us on a screen”.)
Our big day was a small one, in reality. Rather than ticking off every item you find on the to-list in the back of bridal magazines, we did only the things that were important to us. 19 people (including one baby) attended. I didn’t want to wear white, so I avoided months of elaborate fittings; instead I bought something off the rack, a fun, sweet-wrapper of a dress. We held our ceremony at our favourite picnic spot in a park, and while there was no aisle for anyone to walk me down, I leaned on my sister and mother to stop my heels sinking into the grass.
For the reception, we didn’t book out an entire venue, or even a private room, just a big table at a small neighbourhood restaurant, where I tipsily made the rounds of the few other diners apologising for making them gatecrash our wedding. There were no flowers (beyond the bunch I bought on the day to carry), no place cards, no cake, wedding favours, limos, bagpipes or monogrammed silk short pyjamas. There was barely even a ring - I found something temporary the day before, and still haven’t got around to buying a proper one.
And yet, I have only the happiest memories of that day, despite the weather turning uncharacteristically cold, my DIY manicure going a bit wonky, and my taxi not turning up, leaving our guests shivering. Compared to our bigger party, which we held the following summer in Italy, there was none of the stress of making sure you spend time with each of the people who had put themselves to the trouble of getting there, nor the swan-paddling-underwater logistics of hosting that many people.
A couple of years later, when we were invited to six weddings within five weeks in four different countries, I became convinced that the emotional weight of a wedding is entirely unrelated to its size. One Friday during those bonkers few weeks, we were two of three guests at an elopement to a registry office, and the intensity of the ceremony made my heart pound with happiness. The following morning, I arrived early at a vast venue for a wedding at which I was a bridesmaid: this one with 300 guests; a bouquet for me to hold that was infinitely grander than the one I carried at my own; table settings to rival the Golden Globes; and an actual wedding planner, who orchestrated the whole thing with awe-inspiring gravitas. That day was spectacularly fun - and just as emotional as the one that preceded it - but the moment that I hold dearest was the signing of the ketubah, the traditional Jewish marriage contract, which took place behind the scenes, with a handful of people observing.
I can’t tell anyone who’s currently wrestling with whether they should go ahead with a mid-pandemic ceremony what to do. I have friends who have postponed their May wedding twice, once to October and then to next April - they hope for the last time. I don’t envy them this process, but I will be there, matching mask or not. Etsy now has a whole category of facemasks for weddings, in white satin and lace or embroidered and jewelled, and even has matching Mr & Mrs ones, which have so far amassed over 8,000 sales. Who knew there was yet another line to add to the to-do list? What a time to be a bride.
Kate Bussmann will be in the comments section of this piece at 1.30pm on Wednesday 1st July to discuss organising a post-lockdown wedding. Leave your comment now or join live.