Trisha Chatterji and her partner got engaged in February 2019 and had planned for their wedding to be in October of last year.
But when the province of Ontario and the rest of the country were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Chatterji and others in her position had to pivot.
She says she was in the midst of speaking to different vendors and had ordered a custom reception outfit from India.
“They took my measurements, everything was great. And literally the day after we found it, we are on lockdown and everything is shut down,” she said.
While she was able to postpone to summer of this year, Chatterji and her fiancé are still grappling with the decision on whether or not to proceed with their wedding plans.
“2021 has now arrived, and we are kind of scratching our heads… It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a reality this year either,” she said. “Do we postpone again? What do we do? … It’s stressed us out completely right now.”
With Canadian health officials continuing to close and restrict large gatherings and venues, many engaged couples have had no choice but to delay their wedding plans. Going into 2021, where the future of large gatherings is uncertain, they are continuing to have difficulty deciding whether to proceed with plans.
Prior to the pandemic, Henry Wong and his fiancée were planning to have a 250-person wedding reception in Toronto in December 2020. Now, he says they are planning as they go depending on what situation arises.
“We decided we should postpone (it) because we didn’t think we were able to do it safely. Even if the government allowed us a certain number. It didn’t seem right for us,” he said.
With a new date of September 2021, Wong says they want to go through with the legal ceremony but will wait to see what they can do for a reception celebration.
Currently, gathering restrictions and safety protocols vary across the country. Some limitations as of now include a limit of 10 guests in Alberta and in British Columbia. In Ontario, weddings are exempted from the stay-at-home order.
“Indian weddings are not small by any scale, they are big,” said Chatterji, adding that the future of large gatherings is unpredictable and it wouldn’t be responsible to place people, especially elderly, parents in a stressful space with hundreds of guests.
Additionally, Chatterji says social gatherings of 25 people, for example, would exclude her immediate family, which would make it difficult for her to decide who to exclude when she and her fiancé are close to their families.
“We want to get married, but the world just isn’t open for us to do so. And we had a lot of things planned so it just kind of sucks. You dream of a fairy tale, and then ends up being like peanuts.”
Wong says he was also supposed to have family flying in from across Canada and internationally.
“They just didn’t factor into that lower number because we’re going maximum 50 (now), it’s 20 per cent of our original guest list and anyone who had to fly in or travel from afar simply just didn’t make the cut for logistical reasons,” he said.
He added that a challenge for him and other couples has been disappointing people, especially their families.
“There was a lot of compromising different wants and needs from different members of the family, and from our own perspective, too.”
While Ashley McGuire and her fiancé have been engaged since December 2018, they decided to wait to have their wedding in 2020. McGuire says they had almost everything ready when the pandemic put a pause to their planning in March.
McGuire says that while they postponed their wedding to this June, she hasn’t thought much about pursuing planning or repeating tasks like printing out new wedding invitations.
“I just feel like it’s way too up in the air… We’re kind of still in that boat (where) it’s not even worth pulling the trigger and we just have to see what regulations are going to be at that point,” she said.
She says that because her wedding venue was planned to be at a restaurant and businesses are closed amid the pandemic, there hasn’t been anyone reaching out to figure out what their plan is moving forward.
Behind the scenes of planning pandemic weddings
Beth Olatunji, owner of Beth Jacobs Weddings & Events, says there have been challenges with executing and balancing finances while planning during the pandemic.
“You have a sense of connection with your clients… And you really feel for them when they are going through an unexpected postponement due to an unexpected pandemic,” she said.
“I really have absorbed the extra hours and sometimes resources to just really help them navigate their way through this.”
For weddings Olatunji has planned during the pandemic, the hardest part has been seeing clients wrap their heads around not having the wedding their hearts and minds were previously set on.
“On the day of, we really do our best to make them forget about it, and make every single moment from when they step foot into hair and makeup the most amazing experience ever,” she said, adding that they have also added a livestream for people to watch.
Despite pandemic weddings being smaller-sized gatherings,Olatunji says she has found that some couples value a more intimate experience where they get to interact with each guest rather than rushing through a crowd at a larger event.
Additionally, Olatunji has planned two-day weddings during the pandemic where couples have had the ceremony but decided to push the reception to a future date in hopes of being able to dance, mingle and have things like a tablescape.
She adds that it’s important for couples to go into planning with flexibility and open-mindedness in order to decide as a unit what element of their wedding is most important to them.
“We really try to make sure that those key elements are what we focus on so that whether it’s a big or small gathering, they don’t lose out on what’s important to them as a unit,” said Olatunji.
‘No one really knows what it’s supposed to be like then’
Dr. Anna Banerji, associate professor at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine in Toronto, says because there is a lot of uncertainty around the pandemic and vaccination rollout, she would keep the plans small and flexible.
“To have a wedding very early, for example in the summer, like June, July, and especially large weddings, you’re at risk of having to postpone or cancel,” she said.
“I think most of the world is hoping that by the summertime, that COVID is much less because more people are going to be vaccinated. But no one really knows what it’s supposed to be like then.”
Banerji added that there may be rules around banquet facilities where only those vaccinated can come or the family may decide. Overall, she says there is a lot to take into consideration, like if people who are not vaccinated were to come to a wedding, there may be company vendors that will not want to serve them.
“It might be better just to have a very simple wedding. Maybe on Zoom or maybe it’s just a small close group of friends or have a huge first anniversary…Thinking of things creatively,” she said.
For McGuire and her partner, doing something small like signing paperwork at Toronto’s city hall may be an option but she says that it is also hard to wonder if she will regret not waiting and being able to have a bigger party later on.
“You just have to think about what’s most important for yourself and your partner and make the decision based on that.”