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COVID-19 weddings: Happily and safely ever after

Last Updated Oct 1, 2020 at 6:23 pm EST

No dancing, no photo booths and reduced alcohol service are some of the ways Toronto Public Health suggests making your wedding “COVID-safe.”

Earlier this month, four separate weddings led to several cases of COVID-19 in Toronto — and that’s certainly not what you want people to take away from your big day.

Needless to say, planning a wedding during a pandemic means taking a hard look at exactly what and who you can and can’t do without for the day to ensure a safe event.

Julia and Jonathan

Julia Katsivo Carter and Jonathan Carter on their wedding day. Credit: Rika Tokue

 

Despite the pandemic, Jonathan Carter and Julia Katsivo Carter, chose to go ahead with their Aug. 8 wedding in a small ceremony at their family cottage, where they’ve moved permanently since the pandemic began.

Both in theirs 40s, the couple say their families waited many years for them to find each other and finally get married. It was heart-wrenching when they could not have them fly in from various countries to be with them on their special day.

“You do feel the absence where you wish the people were there. Even the messages that we received were bittersweet. So it’s people who definitely were happy for us, but clearly let us know how upset they were with everything,” Julia said.

But they did not consider changing their date or waiting till next year so that more people might attend — they have plans that cannot wait.

“We want to have a family, that was important to us. So we moved ahead with the wedding and who knows, next year maybe we’ll get lucky and they can be part of a baby christening,” Jonathan said.

The couple say they tried their best to take precautions and limited their guest list to just 23 people, but social distancing wasn’t always possible. But they made sure guests kept track of their whereabouts for two weeks before the wedding.

“It was very important for us to know that the people who are coming were absolutely isolated and practising [precautions] for themselves — there was no discussion about that,” Julia said.

While only a small group of people were in attendance, the couple live-streamed their unique, multicultural Canadian-Kenyan-Japanese wedding on YouTube and almost 100 people tuned in to watch.

Julia said relatives from Kenya woke up at 3 a.m. to see them get married and others from Australia, the U.S. and B.C. joined in as well.

“It was different in that they weren’t watching a curated video after the fact. It meant that anything went, whatever it is that we were saying or doing was literally what was happening at that time,” she added.

Jonathan said people had viewing parties on Zoom and they were able to have a community experience virtually as they watched a special Kenyan basket ceremony and other culturally significant rituals.

“It was unique. It was authentic. I think it really captured all this and where we’re coming from,” he said.

Rebecca and Chris

Rebecca Hazell Smith and Chris Smith on their wedding day. Credit: Nikki Mills

 

Chris Smith and Rebecca Hazell Smith had sent out 186 invitations to friends and family across the world for their July 10th wedding.

By the time March rolled around it looked less and less likely that they’d be able to have the big wedding they’d planned and postponed the date to September.

As COVID-19 restrictions did not appear to be easing, they decided to start scaling back their guest list in early June and drastically cut it down to 27 people.

“We took two days to craft the email,” Chris said. “It took a really long time to find the right way to put it into words.”

After going through the ordeal of un-inviting a majority of their guests, Ontario entered Stage 3 of reopening towards the latter half of June and began to allow 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors at event venues.

Rebecca and Chris then went ahead and added 10 more people to their guest list.

Along the way they chose not to have their reception at a wedding venue and moved it to Rebecca’s parents’ backyard instead. That decision later led to un-inviting people once again when smaller gathering limits for home events were imposed just 24 hours before their wedding.

“Doug Ford made the announcement that they were reducing the number of people that could gather outside and indoors as well. So the reduction to 25 meant that we had to uninvite 12 people,” Rebecca said. “That one was a lot harder.”

When the day finally arrived Rebecca and Chris took the necessary precautions at the church wedding — with social distancing and masks for all except the couple.

“We also gave out little hand sanitizers for everyone that said ‘spread love, not germs,’ just trying to make light of the situation,” Rebecca said.

At their backyard reception, those who were invited were asked to take COVID-19 tests beforehand because their 85-year-old grandmothers were in attendance.

“We also managed our friends and family’s expectations and explained to them that everything that you know about weddings doesn’t really apply anymore,” Rebecca explained. “The dancing won’t be there yet. There’s no cocktail hour. As soon as you get there, you’re going to have to sit down and hors d’oeuvres will be served to your table. We had to give our emcee the rules as well to reiterate.”

Despite the restrictions, Rebecca and Chris said their day turned out to be special and filled with sweet moments, including a video compilation of wishes from those who could not attend and others tuning in via Zoom.

“Even though our wedding was completely different than we had ever imagined, I wouldn’t change anything. It was such a beautiful day, it was so intimate. We had an absolute blast and we’re so excited to never have to do wedding planning again,” Rebecca said.

Susie and Gary

Susie and Gary Armstrong on their wedding day.

 

Susie and Gary Armstrong’s wedding was always meant to be small — about 20 people in total were invited including his family from the U.K. and her family from Canada.

When the COVID-19 travel restrictions went into effect, that number became even smaller, with Gary’s family unable to attend.

“We didn’t want to have hundreds of people. But there definitely was supposed to be more people involved with the wedding,” Susie said.

The couple chose to go ahead with their wedding on their chosen date of Sept. 22 because it held a special significance for them.

“It’s when we first met three years ago, so we wanted to keep that date. I think that there was just that sentimentality attached to it, so we were really dead set on the date,” Susie said.

The couple were married at a historic home they are renting in Port Hope, with only Susie’s parents in attendance. An officiant and photographer brought the number of people up to four, total. The rest of the family from the U.K. joined in via Zoom.

“They logged in maybe an hour before the wedding started. The photographer did a really good job as well — so I was sitting next to them and I’m taking pictures. My version of the family photos was over Zoom,” Gary said.

Gary takes a photo with his twin brother via Zoom. Credit: Szotak Photography

 

Susie’s parents are part of their social bubble and with only two other people in attendance, the couple were well within gathering limit guidelines. But they took added precautions, making sure to socially distance from the officiant and photographer, who was also wearing a mask throughout the day.

The couple plan to have their 20-person party next year on their one-year anniversary, when it’s safe for people to travel again.

“The real benefit of the wedding is … it’s that excuse to get everybody together,” says Gary.

“Ultimately it’s the best of both worlds because we’re married, we didn’t wait, we didn’t have to postpone until an uncertain date in the future. And we still have that opportunity to say, ‘Hey, let’s get everybody together and do it’.”

CityNews followers also sent in photos of their COVID-safe weddings to share how they managed to have a safe and joyous event.

Guidelines for a COVID-safe wedding

Toronto Public Health has extensive guidelines for planning your wedding to ensure the gathering does not lead to the spread of cases and the only things guests take away are happy memories.

The main things to keep in mind are:

  • Proximity: maintain a distance of six feet between guests and ensure everyone wears a mask — no hugs outside your bubble, no mingling with other tables
  • Duration: keep the event short so that people are together for the least amount of time possible — no dancing into the wee hours. In fact, no dancing at all
  • Numbers: cut the guest list down to the bare minimum to ensure better ventilation and physical distancing — distant cousins and work acquaintances might have to be left off the guest list

 

Practical suggestions:

  • Consider adding a virtual component for those who can’t be there and do as much wedding shopping as possible online
  • Create a backup plan with alternative dates and flexibility built in to accommodate changing public health measures
  • Inform guests of the safety measures you’re taking and ensure they bring their own masks and have extras for those who may forget
  • Personalized hand sanitizer bottles and masks can be added to individual party favour gift bags
  • Skip the photo-booth or any other activity that would lead to guests congregating or sharing items
  • Organize your seating chart by household or social bubble and space tables six feet apart
  • Post signs and floor markings to encourage physical distancing
  • Keep a list of guests and staff to help Toronto Public Health with contact tracing (providing the list is voluntary)

 

Things you may not think of:

  • Modify rituals and relax cultural or family expectations to maintain safety
  • Consider limiting alcohol service so people remain alert and don’t start to relax about safety measures
  • Do not allow sharing of salt and pepper shakers or wine bottles and water pitchers — consider individual portions
  • Choirs or other group singing should be avoided, even with masks
  • Music volume should be kept low so people do not need to speak loudly and contribute to the spread of droplets
  • Do not share microphones

 

Scroll through below for a checklist and full list of guidelines from Toronto Public Health: