Expats share how the pandemic stripped big fat weddings down to what matters most: Love.
The December wedding in Mumbai that Dubai resident Shalina Kizhakkeveetil had been planning for her daughter was supposed to be “huge”. But that was before Covid-19 pandemic struck. With no clarity on when things might settle down enough for a big celebration to go ahead as planned, the family decided to take advantage of the eased restrictions on weddings in Dubai last month – and opted for a downsized affair.
The couple chose a small hall in a restaurant close to the bride’s home and invited a total of 20 guests. “They were all family members,” said Shalina, who works as a passenger services duty manager with Emirates. “There wasn’t much by way of décor, just some marigold flowers near the stage. The ‘saat phere’ ritual (where the bride and groom walk around a fire seven times) was done using a lit lamp, instead of a fire. And we all wore masks and maintained social distance.”
It was a far cry from the original ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ plan, and even the groom’s parents could only mark their presence via Zoom, but Shalina said everyone thought it better to proceed rather than wait.
CHANGE OF PLANS: Shalina Kizhakkeveetil (far right) with her daughter and son-in-law at their recent no-frills wedding in Dubai
The downsized wedding is rapidly becoming the wedding model of choice in the age of Covid-19, with couples keen to start their lives together swapping out extensive guest lists for a more intimate affair. The no-frills ceremonies have even become the subject of a new study announced by the Ministry of Community Development last month that seeks to examine the benefits of tying the knot without fanfare.
For Swedish expat Marcus Astrom and Indian expat Rowen Nadia-Astrom, the evolving Covid-19 situation led to the realisation that organising a full-fledged wedding would be a massive logistical undertaking under the circumstances. “That’s where the idea for an impromptu ceremony came about,” said the newlywed pair, who managed to take the first outbound Emirates flight to Seychelles, where they tied the knot.
It was no easy feat to plan a wedding, let alone a destination one, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Rowen noted. “Apart from the typical preparations of identifying and selecting a destination, venue, dress, decorations etc, we also had to undertake additional research to navigate paperwork, PCR test requirements, and restrictions and policies for travel and hotels. Our plans were very touch-and-go until the last minute, but we are so grateful that we succeeded in creating our own very special memory, despite the obstacles, which only makes us stronger in bond.”
NEWLYWEDS: Marcus and Rowen Nadia Astrom, who tied the knot in an impromptu wedding ceremony in the Seychelles last month
Overall, Marcus said, their family and friends were thrilled for them, despite only being able to join them virtually via Zoom. “Of course, they would have loved to share our special day in person, but they are happy that we managed to follow through with our plans. If anything, Covid is a reminder that time is precious. We are excited to have begun our journey as Mr and Mrs and can’t wait to celebrate in person with our dear ones when the situation permits.”
Stephen Meredith, general manager of Taj Jumeirah Lakes Tower, pointed out that downsized affairs are pretty much “par for the course” for anything the hotel does now – so, the same rules apply to weddings too. “Our ballroom can accommodate 200 people; with restrictions, that goes down to about 50, which puts a lot of emphasis on the experience itself. In a big wedding, the lively atmosphere means it takes care of itself. Planning for smaller weddings is different, because small touches become very important.”
But from the hotel’s perspective, he said, it opens the floor to more creativity in terms of what they can do to still make the day memorable. “The team is always scouring for what’s trending to ensure what we offer will delight guests and has likely not been seen at another wedding – something that’s still important to certain clients who come from close-knit communities, regardless of the size of the wedding.”
Wedding planner Stefanie Heller has always been a big fan of downsized weddings. “The bigger weddings aren’t that personal; the bride usually doesn’t know half the people present, so I definitely prefer intimate weddings much more,” she observed.
The enquiries continue to come in and Stefanie said people are planning as if “nothing is happening”. However, all those plans are very tentative. The industry is “very much struggling”, as restrictions continue to be imposed on hosting wedding gatherings in the country due to safety concerns.
The wedding planner believed it would give the industry a much-needed boost if weddings were allowed to take place at least on a smaller scale, with suitable measures in place, like placing limits on the number of guests allowed and requiring every guest to produce a negative Covid-19 test report before being permitted entry.
To those couples dealing with the disappointment of deferred – and downsized – plans, Rowen said: “We found that the best way to avoid disappointment was by managing our own expectations. By making a conscious decision to go with the flow and be flexible with details, we were pleasantly surprised at every turn. It’s okay to downsize plans if need be – just do what feels right for you and your relationship.”
Look at things positively, added Shalina. “You can always save the money and use it to go for a honeymoon when borders open up again!”
PICTURE PERFECT: Floral setups for intimate home weddings by LaClé Events
Home weddings on the rise
One of the biggest wedding trends of the season – in no small part thanks to Covid – is the rise of the home wedding. Also dubbed as quarantine or lockdown wedding, it sees a lot more couples adapting to the times by turning their own homes into ‘wedding halls’ to meet restrictions of budgets and social gatherings.
Planner Stefanie Heller’s Emirati clients especially seem to be considering doing their ceremonies at home. She herself had done two such weddings recently. “It was done with very close family – first-degree relatives only,” she said.
Dubai-based LaClé Events has been specialising in floral setups for intimate home weddings. A representative for the wedding planning service told Khaleej Times: “Ever since we started this option, we have had many requests and enquiries. At the moment, we have been doing this for two weddings a week and getting excellent feedback.” The setups can be tailored for indoors or outdoors and start at Dh10,000.
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