Melissa Crowe’s great grandparents got married in Montana on July 14, 1917, the same year the United States entered World War I. Amid the backdrop of World War II, her grandparents wed on July 14 in California. And, in 1984, her parents kept the tradition alive with their July 14 Texas ceremony.
More than a century after that first family wedding, Edmonds residents Crowe and fiancé Ian Terry planned to be the fourth generation to share that special July date, this time in 2020.
Then, the pandemic hit, throwing into question whether their wedding would go on at all.
“Everything started to crumble,” said Crowe, a 32-year-old marketing professional.
There was the stay-at-home order, the ban on large events and the European travel restrictions, a challenge since the groom’s mother and sister live in Denmark. Plus, there is “this whole moral dilemma” of asking people to fly in and potentially expose themselves, she said.
As a result, the couple scaled back their reception from a 100-person event to a ten-person dinner. Instead of a ceremony at the Volunteer Park Conservatory, they’ll marry in a park. Since Terry’s mom and sister won’t be attending – along with many other guests—they’ll plan for more celebrations down the road.
“It’s been really hard,” said Terry, 29. “I’m trying to keep it in perspective and realize other people are facing lots of other challenges at the same time.”
The Edmonds couple aren’t alone. Nationwide, the wedding industry is experiencing unprecedented upheaval with countless couples cancelling or delaying their large events, and vendors and facilities experiencing severe revenue losses. Still other pairs are moving forward with dramatically different versions of their big day, opting for smaller, more homespun events.
A revised wedding, postponed honeymoon
Edmonds residents Elise Spencer, 35, and Rob Wright, 45, opted for a scaled-down wedding instead of postponing. They wed in June in a 10-person event at a family member’s Seattle home.
“We were able to make light of such a sucky situation,” Spencer said. “I didn’t want to wait another year.”
Even though their wedding went on, they adapted many of the traditional rituals. Spencer traded wedding boutique shopping for three weeks of online searching, ultimately ordering aqua green gowns for the flower girls and a cream-colored party dress for herself. The dresses fit well, but it was still a disappointing experience.
“That’s an experience that brides look forward to that I wasn’t able to do,” she said.
They selected and paid for flowers over the phone and a local café provided individually-wrapped croissant sandwiches and quiche on separate plates. They chose Seahawks face masks for wedding favors.
For friends and family who couldn’t attend in person, the couple arranged a video call. In the middle of the ceremony, Spencer caught a glimpse of the flower girls covering the camera with their baby rose bouquets.
“We couldn’t stop them!” she said, laughing. “How many times did they do that?”
Wright had taken three weeks off work prior to the wedding and Spencer works from home so they felt confident their virus exposure risk was low. After the ceremony, Spencer hugged her parents for the first time in months.
“That was a very big highlight,” she said.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the experience was postponing the honeymoon to several Caribbean islands, a trip Spencer had dreamed of since she was a small child. Still, the couple is hopeful that a Caribbean cruise is in their future: they have a voucher with an extra $600 for on-board spending they can use until 2023.
When planning becomes personal
That experience of adapting and adjusting to the new norm is happening with couples across the region, said wedding planner Krista Larrison of Kita Events Northwest. Since the pandemic began, she’s been helping clients decipher their options even as she transformed her own wedding plans.
So far, 18 clients have postponed their weddings and three have kept the date but changed locations. One bride has rescheduled three times in three different venues; she is currently planning on a Woodinville backyard.
Many younger brides who dreamed of a big white wedding with all their friends and family are opting to keep their venue and postpone the date. Others, especially older brides, seem more inclined to keep the date and reimagine the wedding, she said. Still others are facing the financial stress of job loss or furloughs, casting doubt on a wedding at all.
Larrison, 38, can intimately relate to their struggle. Originally, she had planned for more than 300 guests and a concert with an Earth, Wind & Fire cover band. Instead, she rented Adams Manor, a historic Snohomish home, and got married on the front porch in May.
“The marriage and being married and being able to call Michael my husband, that union was more important than walking down the aisle,” she said.
But the historic home and smaller group offered unexpected charm. The ten guests stayed for the weekend, enjoying extra time together. Larrison hired a filmmaker to document the ceremony, which she hopes to play before a large reception once big events are safe again.
Throughout the pandemic, Edmonds Yacht Club events manager Diane Toney has helped brides and grooms as they process intense emotions, including a couple who broke up over the stress.
“There’s been a lot of tears and a lot of wanting me to look into a crystal ball for them,” she said. “I’ve been mindful not to because none of us know.”
Toney has noticed some trends emerging, such as the smaller or “micro wedding” and the “stoop wedding” where people are married on their front steps, often with attendees watching from a distance. When the pandemic clears, she expects there will be a backlog of “fun, big receptions,” to celebrate weddings that already happened.
But, even after the pandemic subsides, Toney predicts some COVID-era trends to persist, reflecting the lasting imprint of these trying times.
“People are going to have this memory of this time and will still be more aware of huge groups and gathering in huge groups,” she said. “I think the whole flavor of the traditions you have at wedding might change.”
A “large” wedding will become a 75 or 80-person event instead of 300 to 400 people in the pre-pandemic times. Some traditions like the receiving line – where the bride and groom are kissed and hugged by dozens of guests—might be gone for good. Similarly, buffets and other shared food sources like chocolate fountains will likely be a relic of another time.
Many couples who had planned a Yacht Club event have rescheduled for 2021, which means the calendar is heavily booked – leaving little room for newly-engaged couples to snag a coveted Saturday spot. As a result, there will probably be more weekday weddings next year, she said.
Even though plans and traditions are shifting, that doesn’t mean the events will be any less special, she said.
“I think regardless of how you choose to celebrate, it can be meaningful and memorable and intimate in its own way,” she said.
That’s the outlook that Crowe and Terry are trying to adopt as they prepare to be the next in the family to exchange vows on July 14th. In some ways, the changed environment has removed the external pressures many couples face, stripping away the culture of expensive dresses, limos and fancy reception venues, and bringing the focus back to the relationship, Crowe said.
She thinks back to her grandparent’s small wedding during WWII. It was held at her parents’ house in California and her grandmother wore a baby blue dress instead of a wedding gown.
“I think of all the unanswered questions she and my grandfather faced during that time and realize they made it 52 years together and found strength in each other every step of way,” she said. “It’s highlighted the fact that we control so little, and there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ time or the “perfect” place.
— By Kellie Schmitt
This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the impact of coronavirus on the life, work and health of Edmonds residents. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, please email us at email@example.com. For other stories in this series, click here.