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Couples embrace ‘micro weddings’ as pandemic stretches on

Tiny weddings becoming popular during COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta
WATCH: Tiny weddings becoming popular during COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta

The guest list went from more than 75 people to five.

The wedding of Toronto-based couple Suneel Khanna and Carl Wolter was scheduled for June this year, and loved ones from four different countries were expected to attend. Wolter is from the U.S., so their wedding would mark the beginning of Wolter’s immigration process, too.

“Originally, we were going to get married in a very intricate ceremony in a church, combining my Hindu background and Carl’s spirituality,” Khanna said.

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But when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, their plans changed. Not only could Wolter’s family no longer cross the border to Canada, but the idea of a lavish, large gathering wasn’t in the cards, either.

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Carl Wolter, left, and Suneel Khanna, right, on their wedding day. Photo by Peter Bregg.
Carl Wolter, left, and Suneel Khanna, right, on their wedding day. Photo by Peter Bregg.

There was much uncertainty about when — and how — they could get married. Then, the City of Toronto began issuing wedding licences again on an urgent basis, and Khanna and Wolter rushed to get one. Their wedding moved forward at the city’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel on June 14, which is now offering modified wedding services.

Khanna and Wolter stood in front of an intimate group: Khanna’s parents, his sister, his brother-in-law and a close friend were in attendance. An officiant married them, and the newlyweds called Wolter’s sister right after the ceremony.

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“We were not sad,” Khanna said of cancelling their big wedding.

“We actually sent an email to everyone saying how grateful we were that we had found each other and that as we were entering this phase of history, at least we had each other.”

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Suneel Khanna, left, and Carl Wolter, right, on their wedding day. Photo by Peter Bregg.
Suneel Khanna, left, and Carl Wolter, right, on their wedding day. Photo by Peter Bregg. Peter Bregg

Toronto-based wedding planner Rebecca Chan says many couples who’ve had to postpone or delay their wedding plans are getting hitched in a smaller ceremony in the meantime. Some folks don’t want to wait months — or longer — to be legally married and plan to celebrate at a larger event when it’s safe to do so.

Chan, who also helps plan destination weddings, has pivoted her services to the pandemic: she is now offering “white glove wedding” packages, which include an officiant — virtual or in-person — a wedding cake, flowers, personalized piano recordings and even online makeup lessons from a trained professional. The goal is to allow couples to easily get married during a time when big weddings are not possible.

These “micro weddings” are often held in backyards or outdoor spaces, Chan said, and depending on local group-gathering guidelines, close family members or a friend are usually the only guests present.

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There are even pop-up mini wedding services, including Love Shack, located at Toronto’s Stackt Market, which allows couples to get hitched in a converted shipping container with up to seven guests. Packages range from $650 to $2,500.

And now, as businesses like restaurants reopen across Canada, some couples are able to use vendors again. In Ontario, the province recently announced that up to 50 people can gather outside for weddings, and ceremony venues are limited to 30 per cent of the venue’s capacity indoors with proper distancing measures in place.

Return of weddings and gatherings in Alberta a mixed blessing for couples, planners
Return of weddings and gatherings in Alberta a mixed blessing for couples, planners

Venues across Canada like hotels and event spaces are offering couples smaller wedding packages. Edmonton’s Hotel Macdonald created a 14-guest “tiny” wedding package in May to coincide with physical-distancing measures and is now booking wedding receptions for up to 50 people. (Alberta now allows groups of 50 to gather inside for weddings and 100 outside.)

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“That option of having some venues open up for a very small ceremony is really exciting for couples,” Chan said. “It feels like it’s a small wedding.”

Natasha Bruno and Sam Boateng on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of Natasha Bruno.
Natasha Bruno and Sam Boateng on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of Natasha Bruno.

Toronto couple Natasha Bruno and Sam Boateng knew by April that their May 24 wedding was not going to happen as planned. They had a guest list of nearly 250 people and were set to get married at a venue in Scarborough, Ont.

“The two of us had discussed that, no matter how we had to go about it, we still wanted to legally get married in May,” Bruno, who works as a beauty director for a fashion publication, said.

“Two or so days into the month of April, we updated our wedding website to inform all guests of the celebration postponement and had each spoken to our closest family members, like our parents, about our plans to still get married.”

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Bruno and Boateng decided to get married by their pastor at their church — all while physically distancing —  in the presence of two witnesses, per group size limits at the time. While neither of them had their wedding outfits (Bruno’s wedding dress has been locked up at the bridal store ever since she ordered it), she treated herself to a white cocktail dress and small floral bouquet.

The couple invited around 40 loved ones to watch their nuptials via Zoom, and after they got hitched, Bruno and Boateng drove to their original wedding venue, popped some champagne and took photos outside. When there’s a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, Bruno said she and Boateng will have a larger celebration.

Khanna and Wolter also think they will have a larger celebration when it’s safe to do so, perhaps on their one-year anniversary.

“It may have been extremely far from our original plans, but it honestly turned out to be such a wonderful occasion,” Bruno said of her wedding day.

Wedding struggles amid the pandemic
Wedding struggles amid the pandemic

“After getting hitched and doing our mini park photo shoot, we came back to our condo, called family, ordered dinner and had our first dance, which soon turned into our own little dance party in our living room.”

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In B.C., the province now allows group gatherings of up to 50 people — which is good news for Samantha Young and her partner Cam Brown. Their wedding date is September this year, and they originally planned to invite 80 people.

They’ve decided to move forward with their wedding and are still able to use their venue, a co-working and studio space in Vancouver. But naturally, they’ve had to make some changes.

Photo of Samantha Young and Cam Brown. Photo by Carla Elaine Photography.
Photo of Samantha Young and Cam Brown. Photo by Carla Elaine Photography.

Instead of 80 guests, they now have a smaller guest list comprising mostly of family, had to cancel their taco truck — their original food for the evening — and will have no bartenders or service staff, either.

They are also asking guests to physically distance from those not in their households and will set up the venue in a way to make that possible.

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“I think the weirdest thing is going to be not being able to hug my friends and family members on the big day, and there won’t be dancing or mingling as you would normally see at a wedding,” Young said.

“It was hard to let go of the idea of having all these people we love in one place celebrating with us, but ultimately, this really is about us getting married so we can still do the most important part.”

Jaclyn Mackay and Austin Morley. Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Mackay.
Jaclyn Mackay and Austin Morley. Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Mackay.

This is a sentiment Chan hears a lot: many couples still want to celebrate their love, even if their wedding plans look different now. Waiting until things go back to “normal” isn’t appealing — or an option — for everyone.

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“There’s that kind of heartbreak that comes with waiting a year or two years for this one special day,” Chan said. “They’re still hoping to do something as they originally set out.”

Jaclyn Mackay and her partner Austin Morley aren’t postponing their big day.

Mackay and Morley initially planned to invite more than 140 people, booked a venue outside Alliston, Ont., and had spent months going over details like personalized cocktails, late-night food trucks and DIY decorations.

Venue in Lethbridge says majority of its weddings postponed to 2021
Venue in Lethbridge says majority of its weddings postponed to 2021

Now, the couple is inviting between 25 and 40 guests — depending on restrictions — to a restaurant for an intimate ceremony and dinner.

“We will have speeches outside during cocktail hour for a more casual vibe,” Mackay said.

While they haven’t gotten their deposit back from their original venue, other vendors have been accommodating with giving credits, she said. But most importantly, the smaller, more intimate ceremony feels more like them.

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“We feel so happy with our new plan,” Mackay said.

“It’s perfect for us.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

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