By Alexandra McCray
Two years ago, when we started planning our spring 2020 wedding, my biggest fear was bad weather, not a global pandemic.
We imagined a traditional wedding weekend complete with a rehearsal party, elegant ceremony, and large reception. I pictured my cousin’s daughter sprinkling the aisle with flowers before my godmother officiated. I thought we’d have our first dance in a ballroom. We joked that there’d be so many guests to chat with we’d barely get to eat dinner.
When the reality of COVID-19 set in around the country in March, we knew our April 25 wedding wouldn’t happen. The venue and vendors agreed to postpone to the fall -- we’d have to wait a little longer, but we’d still get our dream wedding. But several weeks later, we got a call from the venue: Because of COVID-19, they were canceling all events for the rest of the year and not accepting any for 2021. We lost our ceremony and reception venue, caterer, and bartending services all at once. At first, we were crushed -- more than 18 months of preparation were gone and now we were almost back to square one.
But losing our “dream wedding” made us realize that marrying each other -- becoming husband and wife -- was more important to us than a lavish celebration. We wanted to take control of our lives and future, even if it meant our wedding day was nothing like what we thought it’d be. Besides, no one had any idea when a return to normal would happen, so why wait for it?
And just like that, my husband, Colin, and I decided that we wouldn’t let the pandemic stop us. We said our vows in front of 20 of our closest friends and family members in a historic garden on a summer evening in Decatur, GA. The celebration included dinner, cake, and toasts from loved ones. The day was far different from the one we envisioned pre COVID-19 but was perfect, nonetheless.
Making the decision to move forward with the wedding was far from easy. You wonder if this is a selfish decision. You question how you can keep people safe. The biggest concern for us was if we could handle the unknown. This was our third attempt at making our wedding happen during this chaos, so there was a constant feeling of uncertainty, wondering if the rug would get pulled out from underneath us again. I was hounded by thoughts like, “What if we get COVID-19 and have to cancel?” and “Will businesses have to close again?” But Colin was confident that we could pull it off, and his reassurance gave me the courage to go ahead with our plan.
Preparing for the big day involved a careful balance of what we wanted, what precautions we could include, and what was possible.
We cut 100 people from our guest list. Only our wedding party and immediate family received invitations. Georgia allowed gatherings of up to 50 people, but we thought a smaller number was safer. Everyone else will join us for an anniversary party in 2021.
When it came to the venue, we knew outdoors was the only way to go to minimize the chance of indoor transmission. Cue my rain fear again. Aside from its beauty, we chose our location because the venue took health precautions so seriously. It also didn’t hurt that they were offering a special package -- aptly named “We’re All in This Together” -- for couples whose venues canceled on them because of COVID-19.
The venue team asked us to get people’s temperatures before the event and tell anyone feeling sick to stay home. Masks were available if people wanted to wear them to feel more comfortable. The aisle was wider than normal. Fewer chairs were in each row and had to be socially distanced. During dinner, four people sat at a table that could normally hold eight. I also tried to seat people who were traveling or staying together at the same table. We chose not to require testing, but in retrospect, I wish we had, as a final safety measure.
COVID-19 safeguards impacted so many of the small details as well. Originally, we liked the idea of having a water dispenser on the welcome table since Georgia humidity can be unforgiving. But our caterer suggested people get water from a server at the bar instead. Getting rid of the dispenser meant one less item for multiple people to touch. I began to think about other touch points and how to reduce them, like asking the venue coordinator to prop open doors to the restrooms.
On the creative side, leave it to the wedding industry to make the practical pretty. I found custom hand sanitizer labels online that said “spread love, not germs” and included our name and wedding date. We gave the travel-size bottles out as favors. There wasn’t enough time to order personalized masks, but my sister-in-law found beautiful floral ones that matched our wedding colors. They made for an epic photo.
While COVID-19 played a major role in our planning, we didn’t think about it once on the actual day. It was like being in a bubble of love and joy. The outside world and all its worries didn’t seem to exist. If you’re going to have a pandemic wedding, I think it’s important to put as much effort into enjoying your wedding as you’ve put into making it safe. You can still wear the outfit you love, have an incredible venue, and incorporate the details you’re excited about. If you are a guest, encourage the couple. Be thankful that you are part of this moment, especially with all that is happening around us.
Colin and I realized that we liked our COVID-19 wedding more than the one we originally planned. We loved that it was so small, allowing us to spend meaningful time with each of our guests. It truly was intimate.
And, though of course I wouldn’t have chosen to have COVID-19 part of the equation, having to plan around it gave us the opportunity to see how we work together when life is stressful and highly unpredictable. When you throw a wedding during a time like this, there are obstacles you expect like small capacity limits. Then, there are curveballs you never see coming, like people you always thought would be a part of this day now unable to attend. The emotional rollercoaster can test you and your partner. But what you learn about each other and how you handle these moments is invaluable. I always admired Colin’s calmness, but I was able to see that strength magnified throughout this experience.
Best of all, preparing for this event brought us closer together. Going through all the challenges to get to our wedding day just made it all the more special.
Alexandra McCray is a writer living in Atlanta.