Wedding postponement wine glasses. Decorative protective masks. These are signs of our COVID-19 pandemic-tainted times.
What to do about the already planned wedding? Postpone? Cancel? Intimate ceremonies — immediate family only — with the larger celebration postponed are increasingly popular.
How can couples make plans given the uncertainties of ever-changing social distancing and restrictive orders — and not knowing if the illness will return? How should couples who have yet to start planning go about making wedding plans now for 2021 or beyond?
Wedding planners familiar with what’s going on in the industry can be helpful, and numerous wedding websites have COVID-19 guides.
Here’s a bit of advice:
“Take a deep breath,” says event planner Tracy Bloom Schwartz, president of Creative Parties Ltd. in Bethesda. “It’s not your fault.”
Then consider what your next steps are. Much of that will depend on whether your wedding date is close — summer — or in early fall, or later with invitations yet to be ordered, or you’re just starting to plan.
A lot of people are in this unusual situation, Bloom Schwartz says.
Your Jewish ceremony may change a bit.
Couples counseling may be entirely over digital platforms for now. Due to COVID-19, Rabbi Cantor Annie Bornstein, whose company is Jewish Heart and Soul, says she holds sessions over Skype, including for local couples. Her calendar now includes officiating within weeks an intimate wedding ceremony from her home in Gaithersburg over Zoom, the web platform used for conferences (and big for COVID-19 spring seders), with the couple and their family elsewhere. A few of her weddings have been rescheduled for fall, she says.
The six-foot spacing for social distancing means fewer people at a chuppah for now, and that could continue, depending on comfort levels, government rules, health guidelines and so on, she says. She’ll be further than usual from the couple, too, and says she “can’t imagine” performing a wedding with a mask covering half her face, though knows she may need to if requested.
How the kiddush cup is handled may get another look and tweaked to ensure that the bride and groom feel at ease with that.
“If they are comfortable with it — when I bless the couple I generally put my arms around them or wrap them in a tallit and bless them, and I won’t be able to do that on Zoom,” she says.
Depending on a couple’s comfort level and social distancing practices, the Reform rabbi says she hopes to be able to do it at other upcoming weddings.
Vicky Choy, owner and event planner of Event Accomplished based in Arlington, notes in an email that among additional considerations, observant couples “will need to revisit the bedeken [where the groom veils the bride] and the tish [where the groom, or both bride and groom teach Torah] also. The question is ultimately can you perform all these rituals in a safe manner while observing social distancing and possibly minimizing contact. It’s tricky.”
Postpone or cancel?
Will you regret skipping the celebration entirely? Then consider having a ceremony with immediate family and closest friend or two — stay within your jurisdiction’s limit for gatherings — and reschedule the larger celebration. Or postpone the ceremony and its reception. Your venues and vendors — you have contracts and gave them deposits — generally will work with you to reschedule, Bloom Schwartz says. Currently, she says, no one’s certain what future events will look like as a result of COVID-19.
Much will depend on what evolving local government reopening orders allow — some activities are starting to resume with cautions — what vendors and venues can accommodate and the like, says Cara Weiss, founder and senior planner/director of Save The Date, LLC Events in Potomac.
Among the questions, Weiss says: Instead of trays of hors d’oeuvres being passed among guests will there be a small appetizer plate for each guest? Fewer seats per table to create a bit of distance among guests? Will the number of people permitted in a room be reduced? Will the dance floor be impacted? Masks for guests? For waitstaff?
If you decide to cancel the event — whether that’s either only the celebration or a ceremony with a reception in favor of a private ceremony — you may lose part or all of each deposit. Read your contracts carefully, wedding planners say. The inability to hold an event on a contracted date due to a situation that is under neither side’s control is disappointing to couples and businesses, and wedding planners advise trying to work out a resolution. Do consider that the disappointment over COVID-19 soured wedding plans may be offset by a later celebration.
Livestream the intimate ceremony.
Preserve the video.
Technology allows you to share a small ceremony with a large crowd. Mute guests during the ceremony. You may want to include such things as a toast, remarks by the few people there, a dance. An external mic, tripod and a friend managing the livestream are helpful, or consider hiring a professional. Check livestreaming platforms for price, fees for optional services, participant limits and more. Platforms include Facebook, FaceTime (for Apple products only), Joy and Zoom. Preserving it (YouTube is one of several options) allows you to view it and share it, including during a later reception.
Include guests in other ways in your small ceremony.
You can hold a drive-by mini-celebration perhaps with music — guests can honk congrats and wave from their cars, says Choy. You may want to give them a party box with a split of champagne and festive goodies — or send a similar box to virtual attendees of your livestreamed ceremony. And yes, that sort of event can be fun.
Amy and Robert (they didn’t want their last names published) changed plans and decided to keep the date with a ceremony downsized to only immediate family and are rescheduling their party. Catering by Seasons of College Park catered the family dinner at their Alexandria home, and at the scheduled time, local well-wishing friends drove by. Each car received a box with a bottle of champagne, a note asking them to toast the couple, take a selfie and post it to a virtual photo booth put together by Electric Events of Rockville.
“It was an oasis in a desert,” says Glynis Keith, senior sales and event manager at Catering by Seasons, coming during the pandemic.
Whether starting to plan, or rescheduling, be flexible and don’t dawdle.
Bookings are well into 2021. Couples rescheduling are vying with the newly engaged for the same dates. Many dates are taken, says Weiss. Saturday nights go fast; consider other days, including weekdays (prices are often lower) and holiday weekends when people will have an extra day off. Many venues, though closed, have added walk-through videos, Weiss notes.
Consider that although the number of people who decline invitations is typically about 15 percent, health and travel concerns may at least double that, Bloom Schwartz says. Choy says that as you look to reschedule, choose a few vendors you’d really like to keep — for example, that could be the venue, caterer and DJ – and see what they’ve got open on and around your preferred new dates. Check with the people closest to you as well.
Stay in touch with guests.
They may have travel and lodging arrangements to redo. “Wedding postponed” and “change the date” announcements come in card, magnet and email formats.
Call and text as well. Keep your wedding website current. “Your guests understand that is a very unusual circumstance. They will understand if you can have only five or 10 people (at your ceremony),” Choy says.
Keep this is mind: In the long run, this is about the start of a marriage.
Andrea F. Siegel is a Washington-area writer.