Well, the world has changed. And with it, how couples, families, and friends are thinking about weddings, elopements, intimate weddings, and now micro weddings. I have had so many couples ask – well, what can I do? COVID is stopping my wedding.
While that may be true for your original wedding plans, I want to help you explore alternatives, options, and ideas (hint: micro wedding!) that could still mean a glorious wedding for you in 2021 and beyond.
We’re all reconsidering our priorities
Tradition is important. But with the new norms around social distancing, things that were considered a ‘must have’ for weddings even a few years ago are being reconsidered. I had no fewer than 80% of my weddings in 2020 either pushed back or changed to be a smaller affair.
While I’m always going to be favorable to whichever style of wedding best suits the couple, here are a few observations I can contribute:
- With today’s restrictions on social distancing, a micro wedding is almost the sole option for celebrations.
- Location: Smaller venues can potentially mean more interesting, beautiful, or unique locations. Why not rent a cool Airbnb property, or explore your favorite location out in the wild (Big Sur, Yosemite, or even a dream destination?)
- Budget: savings from having fewer guests can mean a more extravagant dress, suit, rings, or venue of your dreams. Or simply saving the budget for more long-term family goals (house etc).
- You can’t deny the fact that having fewer people present means your own tastes can shine through even more: there will intrinsically be less pressure to adhere to traditions to please that great-aunt or this-professional-contact-of-dad. You are only surrounded by those who truly know you as YOU. Celebrate that.
- Time: when you have fewer guests, you get to spend more time with the people who are there for you. Instead of a receiving line or spending the obligatory few minutes per table thanking people for coming, you get to enjoy your full day with the few but essential people to your happiness.
- There’s always the risk of alienating friends who love you and maybe have invited you to their big celebrations. Although Zoom and Google Meetings calls can be helpful tools to include friends and family from further afield.
- The sense of the big party will be hard to replicate without the big to-do.
- Many family members will have their strong opinion on what a wedding ‘should be’. But hey, this is your opportunity to make your day your own!
- Bucking religious or family traditions can be hard to avoid or deal with.
Small weddings: different layers
What is an elopement? What’s a ‘small wedding’? What’s a ‘micro wedding’? What about an intimate ceremony? I get these questions all the time.
Hopefully, this guide will help. Please note that these are my definitions and may not pertain to other photographers or vendors.
What is an elopement?
Unlike the cliched runaway couple, the term ‘elopement’ means a tiny but usually pre-planned affair. It’s a legal wedding ceremony with the 2 partners, one or a very few witnesses (no more than 5) and an officiant. Usually these take place in a location in nature or at City Hall. It also can happen that the witness is the photographer (I’ve signed dozens of wedding certificates as the witness for my couples – this is very special and a huge honor when I can help out in this way!)
What is an intimate wedding?
This is a very small wedding (also known as a micro wedding: see more on that below) – typically fewer than 25 people total. This usually means the couple, the officiant and a few chosen family members or friends as witnesses. These tend to be very unique, special and fun as we can all fit into one restaurant or unique location (think a beach picnic on the coast) to celebrate the couple’s vows.
What is a micro wedding?
This is kind of a new term, especially since the pandemic. A micro wedding is a very small gathering of people (normally less than 50). In 2020 and probably for some time, it usually is in an outdoor space to allow for proper social distancing. It often includes some of the traditional wedding activities but not all; for example, a toast and cocktail hour might be included but not a dance or cutting of the cake.
This is often a preliminary choice for couples who want to celebrate their official wedding day, even if they are planning for a larger, more traditional celebration later in the coming months or years. There has been a huge surge of micro weddings given the unknown future of social gatherings in the age of Covid.
What is a traditional wedding?
There is no set definition of what a traditional wedding means for you, your culture or your social circle. However, what is often recognized as a ‘traditional’ wedding (at least in California, in 2021) is a big celebration that includes a religious, cultural or official service followed by a large gathering of extended family and friends for a celebratory party.
These are the types of events that have been banned or severely restricted during the pandemic, which is why couples are reconsidering their options and priorities.
Which is right for me?
Only you can decide.
UGH, that’s not helpful – you’re probably thinking. But it’s true. You and your partner are the only ones to know what is best for you. I can help you figure it out with a few key questions:
- Do you consider yourself traditional or outside of the mold?
- Do you have a large friend group that is very important to you?
- Have you ever gone against the grain with your family or friends?
- Do you have a large family or group of friends that would be truly offended if you didn’t invite them to your celebration?
- Is being legally wed to your partner the most important to you or is it more a symbolic gesture?
- Do you have special and unique traditions that you would like to recognize as part of your celebration?
- How would you feel in 5, 10, 50 years from now about your wedding celebration?
- What do you want to remember about your big day?
This isn’t a Cosmo-quiz that will lead you to the perfect match for your big day; but there are some important questions that you should consider with your partner when it comes to figuring out what is best for you.
Creative makes it your own
Obviously, you’re going to want to think through your own priorities and interests with your partner. Without a set ‘template’, you can make your day whatever you dream it to be!
I’ve seen some incredibly fun and unique touches on micro weddings recently. This includes having an onsite magician to entertain guests, centering the celebrations around a shared passion for golf, renting out a full house on Airbnb for the whole family to share, requesting your guests to write you letters that you can read aloud during the celebrations, camping out in the wilderness with some close friends, having a morning walk with dogs on the beach as a key part of the day, renting out the favorite neighborhood restaurant for an afternoon lunch followed by an early night in.
There are so many ways to turn this special day into something totally unique and fun. Why not open your options?
My wedding gone wrong; and right
I’ll share with you a personal story. My wife and I had what would be considered an intimate wedding in Paris in 2014. Fewer than 60 people in City Hall followed by a low key fete in our favorite neighborhood dive bar with mediocre wine and charcuterie at 11am. Then we whisked our immediate family members off to a weekend in the country – a 12th century abbey and wine tasting tour in Alsace.
Fantastic memories with the people we love and a long list of traditions we did not follow: cake cutting, dancing, bouquet toss, fancy dinner or traditional toasts.
We actually reversed the toast tradition and made it our own by the bride and groom giving individual thank you toasts to all 17 immediate family members. This was one of our favorite and more meaningful memories of our day.
We always were expecting, planning, and even budgeting for a larger wedding celebration about a year later in the US (the “real” wedding as we called it). We had put expensive and non-refundable deposits down on venues, vendors and wedding stuff.
Eventually, due to timing and the unexpectedly high costs of migrating to another country, we had to make a tough decision about our “real” wedding. Do we go through with it and put ourselves into financial limbo, or cut our losses and hope we could make a ‘real’ celebration later down the road? Neither seemed fun, festive, or in the spirit of celebration.
We never made it; our big wedding celebration never happened. But I’m going to be honest with you guys (and you probably won’t hear this very often from wedding vendors):
Sticking with the low-key version of my wedding was one of the best decisions I made for my family. And my wife enthusiastically agrees.
We could’ve technically afforded a big bash. It certainly would’ve been awesome. And yes, I do think about those potential moments with longing some days. But it’s rare. Mostly, I cherish the atypical, weird, and very special moments I shared with my dearest family and friends as we celebrated in the most personal, unique, and memorable ways that didn’t adhere to the conventional wedding template.
And we mostly relive those moments through the photos of the day (one of the few big expenses we afforded ourselves – no regrets there). We’re proud of that.
I always encourage my couples to make their wedding truly about them.
If tradition is an important value to you, please honor that and make it an essential part of your celebration. If certain rituals are held dear to you or your partner’s heart, even if they’re not part of the normal wedding day; find a way to integrate them into your big moment.
And most importantly, try to think through what you’ll be happiest to remember in years to come. After all, your wedding isn’t a culmination or highest point in your life; it’s the start of a new chapter of your life together.
You may be surprised at what you hold dear. I certainly have been.