‘I wanted my big princess wedding’; Brides and grooms are forced to reimagine their wedding day or postpone as COVID pandemic drags on

Victoria Schindler walked down the aisle in her white gown. She stood next to her soon-to-be husband and turned to the audience.

Then the couple slipped in their airpods. There was no large audience sitting nearby waiting to throw rice, only immediate family. Most of the guests were on Zoom waiting to hear the couple exchange their vows.

It might sound unique but this is how many weddings go these days as the COVID pandemic continues.

“We wanted people to be there for us and to join us on this,” Schindler said. “It was like literally one of the best days of my life. But I didn’t want to put anybody in danger.”

During the start of the pandemic, some brides chose to reschedule weddings. But as the pandemic continues to loom, brides are having to make new choices about what they want their big day to look like.

Stephanie Croteau originally planned on marrying the love of her life on July 25 after being together for 10 years.

They waited until May before deciding they needed to reschedule to a later date. Now that date — Nov. 14 — is fast approaching as the number of positive COVID cases begins to increase again.

“I wanted my big princess wedding,” she said, acknowledging her wedding will look very different from what she imagined. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

The pandemic isn’t the only hardship the couple has had to overcome before becoming husband and wife.

Three years ago, Croteau had a miscarriage and their relationship was on the rocks. They were trying to stay strong but it was hard, she said.

Then leaving their oldest daughter’s birthday party, Croteau’s fiance was in a motorcycle accident. He spent the following 12 hours in surgery fighting for his life.

“My whole life was like frozen in time,” she said.

He survived and they spent the next six months recovering together.

“If we can face death then we can face anything together,” she said.

Most recently they had to face finding a new venue after their original location would no longer work. They also are having to make arrangements to keep everyone safe during the wedding.

Instead of the typical hours long wedding, it will only consist of the ceremony and a cocktail hour to limit the amount of exposure, she said. There will be wedding specific masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. They also decided to change from having a full bridal party to just including the maid of honor and best man to allow for more family to attend.

Then maybe next year the couple can bring everyone together, especially those from out of state for a backyard BBQ and, eventually, a honeymoon.

Couples aren’t the only ones feeling the devastation and impact from the pandemic. The wedding industry overall is hurting.

“The industry is really struggling with a lot of people who are furloughed indefinitely. There are people who are just not working at all,” said Sarah Glick-Romashko, co-owner of Brilliant Event Planning in Boston and Cape Cod.

Most wedding and event planners are able to continue working, especially as wedding dates get postponed to 2021. But that will also mean they can’t take on as many clients next year.

“I think as it drags on into next year, you’ll see a big change in the industry and the way it looks,” she said. “I don’t know how long businesses will be able to make things last.”

Starting Oct. 5 Gov. Charlie Baker allowed outdoor gatherings to allow 100 people in communities cleared for Step 2 of Phase 3. But the announcement didn’t end up impacting many venues.

“It’s like a catch 22, you can do the events but there’s not enough time to plan accordingly,” said Peter Rosskothen owner of the Log Cabin in Holyoke. “Then, if you add to that restriction that the community needs to be not in the red zone. So, what happens if you plan a wedding in three weeks in that community all of a sudden it goes into the red zone?”

This is just one of many issues he and others in the industry are trying to answer but sometimes can’t.

“Everybody’s trying to do the best they can, but you don’t have every answer,” he said.

The Log Cabin hasn’t been able to host weddings this year due to the restrictions, which is typically the “bread of butter” of their business.

“I’ve got almost 300 employees that are barely getting any work. And that’s hard,” he said. “I don’t want to lose them. I want to get them to work, but I don’t have work.”

Other venues are the same way. Most weddings at Hancock Shaker Village were canceled and without heated barns, they won’t be able to book any over the winter. Boston Public Library, which is considered one of the best venues in America for multiple years, according to Brides.com, is not able to host any weddings. And Old Sturbridge Village is not booking weddings until they know for sure they can be held.

“We don’t feel it fair to book anything until we know for sure we can fulfill our obligations,” Old Sturbridge Village said in a statement to MassLive.

Instead, Log Cabin is currently hosting wine dinners and other events to bring people to the venue. But when it gets too cold to sit outside, they might have to close.

“Opening up a large building for 25 people doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Instead, many are trying to focus on 2021 with hopes the pandemic will be over by then. That also is what is helping keep Log Cabin afloat, along with help from the government.

Brides and grooms have mostly agreed to move the date and to continued to pay their deposits.

“If we have to refund all these deposits we would have not been able to make it,” Rosskothen said.

But that comes with its own set of issues.

“It’s gonna be a very busy wedding year because there’s only so many Saturdays,” he said. “So people are adapting and doing their weddings on Fridays and Sundays. Some people are even thinking of weddings in the middle of the week.”

Other trends Glick-Romashko is seeing are couples getting engaged now are opting for longer engagements and planning for 2022 or even further out. Another trend Glick-Romashko said she’s starting to see is rapid COVID testing during a pre-wedding cocktail hour. But that, she said, will come with a price tag, possibly upwards of $10,000 to 15,000.

For couples that are wanting to go ahead and get married during the pandemic, it’s also important to “do it with an open mind and an ability to roll with the punches,” Glick-Romashko said. “Because there’s just no way to know what next month will bring.”

Wedding planners can also help with this, she said. The couple can focus on the cake tasting and other fun parts of the wedding, while the wedding planner handles understanding how an outdoor tent will be set up and what power sources are needed.

“You’re still getting married, you’re still doing the fun stuff,” she said, adding that it’s important to find “ways to make sure we can still do things like that without the added stress.”

It’s also important to not add stress in your own life. For example, she said, don’t send the invitations too early because the numbers might have to change.

Although these weddings aren’t traditional, that doesn’t mean everything is different.

For Schindler, she still started the day with getting her makeup and hair done, they had a wedding photographer and then they got to dance.

Of course, there are unique parts to each wedding during COVID — but that’s what makes it special.

Instead of going around to dinner tables, Schindler’s virtual wedding had breakout rooms where they were able to visit intimately with each of the guests for a few minutes.

When it came time to dance, they had the couple’s first dance, father-daughter dance and other traditional wedding dances in person. But then they turned on the cameras at home to get everyone out on the “dance floor.”

As “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire began playing, guests jumped up from their couches to dance with the bride and groom.

One cousin, she said, grabbed their cat and started dancing. Another cousin danced with their dog, she said laughing.

“It was by far my favorite part of the whole day, besides saying our vows,” she said. “It felt like they were there.”

Still, no matter what it looks like, brides getting married during COVID are focusing on what this day is truly about — each other.

“I spent more time on the vows than I did picking out my flowers,” Schindler said. “You’re looking at the wedding for what it is, which is two people coming together out of love.”

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