Natalie Griffin and Jeff Scott exchanged vows last Saturday under a flowered arbor at an intimate backyard wedding that was very different from the grand celebration they had envisioned when they got engaged in December 2019.
COVID wasn’t even a consideration back then. Napa residents scheduled an event for 200 guests on May 15, 2021 at a private ranch in Petaluma.
But soon the coronavirus turned into a pandemic and shutdowns occurred.
“We just thought it would work. We’ll keep planning because this will be over before we know, “Griffin said. Eventually they realized they had to procrastinate and settled for their big event in October 2021.
Still, the May 15th date remained important to her as it marks the sixth anniversary of her first date. “We still wanted this weekend to be our weekend,” she said.
Friends offered to host a small wedding in their backyard with just close friends and immediate family, including two grandmothers in their late 80s.
“We could just soak up the moment,” said Griffin. “We missed our family, friends and other loved ones who weren’t around, but knowing we’d get a second chance to celebrate with them in October took the stress out of it.”
Like her, many engaged couples coped with the pandemic by having a small wedding that was followed by a major outbreak when the situation allowed, while others simply postponed their wedding.
Now that restrictions are easing and weddings are regaining their pre-pandemic glory, many couples in the Bay Area are preparing to roll down the aisle.
“Our current climate is definitely a sigh of relief,” said Alex Quintana, owner of an event planning company of the same name in Oakland. “It feels like the joy and excitement are coming back.”
Natalie Griffin puts a wedding ring on Jeff Scott in Napa. The two married in a friend’s backyard.
Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
About half of couples who had weddings planned in 2020 hosted downsized ceremonies with pandemic influences like Zoom, often with plans for post-pandemic parties. This is based on surveys by The Knot, an online wedding planning resource. For the other half of 2020, couples postponed their big days. Now they turn to go to the altar.
“As a result, there is a wedding boom this year,” said Esther Lee, executive editor at The Knot.
Oakland wedding planner, Chanda Daniels from A Monique Affair, sees the results on site. “There is a great rush; It’s on and bang and we’re all so happy, ”she said. “It’s like a double season.”
The competition for venues and providers is tight. Some couples switch to weekday weddings and pick smaller, local places to deal with. Backyard weddings, which inevitably got big last year, remain a popular option, Lee said.
And the COVID protocols are evolving. Spring weddings stay smaller and outdoors with socially distant layouts. Daniels said some couples may offer rapid on-site tests and use apps for guests to provide evidence of vaccinations or a negative test.
Currently, California has restrictions on collecting sizes based on where a county falls on the state’s color-coded blueprint. But couples planning weddings after the state reopens on June 15 hope there are no limits.
“People want to gather again,” said Meredith Monday Schwartz, CEO of Here Comes the Guide, an online resource for finding wedding venues. “As we relax, we feel the energy of the 20s in terms of travel and hospitality.”
According to the California Department of Health, Bay Area counties saw a dramatic decline in couples applying for marriage permits from March onwards. This year the numbers start to increase.
San Francisco City Hall, whose stately elegance has hosted countless couples, will resume its personal weddings on June 9th. By Thursday, 505 couples had reserved slots.
“We really want the people who are hugging the city to come back to life and this is a very important indicator of that,” said Joaquin Torres, San Francisco assessor-recorder. “We need some joy now.”
However, given the ongoing pandemic, additional challenges arise when planning and hosting a wedding. Here’s how some local couples grappled with how to consecrate their love during the coronavirus era.
Nicole Burns and Bernier Lauredan Jr. had to postpone their wedding and look for a new venue.
Nicole & Bernier: The search for the perfect venue
Oakland residents Nicole Burns and Bernier Lauredan Jr. got engaged in December 2018 and were planning a wedding in September 2020 at a Morgan Hill vineyard and theater. On Memorial Day last year, they realized that “it obviously wasn’t going to get any better” and decided to postpone October 2021.
But then a new crease popped up: a few months ago the theater owner informed them that the space had been converted into a restaurant with outdoor seating and that it would no longer host weddings.
The search for the venue was open again. “The problem was that in November 2020 we started planning a wedding again in 2021 and most places only had three or four dates,” she said. “They all had 2020 couples postponed plus the 2021s.”
During a Thanksgiving trip to LA, they found a Malibu vineyard that felt perfect – and opened in October. The entire event will be held outdoors, according to the theme of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, “very romantic ethereal mood,” she said.
Incorporating their black heritage is a priority for the couple, including the broom of the broom and the Kompa music from Haiti in honor of Lauredan’s legacy.
At the moment, they have scaled down their guest list and plan to provide on-site rapid tests to all guests who have not been vaccinated to keep tables a meter apart and offer hand sanitizing stations.
“You’re just trying to hold on to your vision,” Burns said. “I trust in god.”
Tara & John: The postponement means more guests
Lafayette residents, Tara Shirakh and John Moran, were due to get married on August 8th last year – the same day his grandparents got married. In April they realized they had to reschedule for this spring, but during the pandemic late last year they postponed it again to September 4th.
If they wait that long, they can have their original 170 guests and an 18-person bridal shower.
“With more and more people being vaccinated, by this point everyone will be more comfortable dancing, hugging, or something,” said Shirakh.
Dinner is served more as a buffet. Salad Oliver, a traditional Persian dish that everyone takes from a plate, is not possible.
But they will be able to accommodate a traditional Persian ceremony in which the bridesmaids hold a leaf over their heads while married female guests grind sugar over them to add sweetness to their marriage. “It’s a really cool tradition and now we can easily incorporate it,” she said.
Gigi Ramos and Mark Kelley got engaged on Valentine’s Day weekend in 2019 at Disneyland – and then stalled trying to plan their wedding.
Gigi & Mark: Dealing with COVID aftermath
Gigi Ramos and Mark Kelley live in Fresno but want a San Francisco wedding in honor of their late mother, who loved the city. Shortly after the Valentine’s Day weekend engagement at Disneyland last year, the couple started planning a wedding in October 2020 – and then ran right at a standstill.
So they postponed to October 2021. You have settled in the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park for the ceremony and are looking for food trucks for a nontraditional reception.
Both came down with COVID this January. You can still handle the aftermath. Ramos left her symptoms behind: “Daily headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, severe fatigue.” A distorted sense of smell makes foods taste like rotten meat, which meant tasting cakes was a no-go. She’s doing scent training to try to rewire her brain.
Now she is afraid that these problems could ruin her wedding day. “I don’t want to have to lean on anyone to get up,” she said. “I want to stay strong and look like I have survived this pandemic and am happy forever.”
Amie Johnson and Andrew Garcia had a small wedding in front of Laguna Beach City Hall on May 1st and are planning a big wedding for March 2022.
Jenny Smith & Co.
Amie & Andrew: Two weddings, small and large
After 10 years together, San Francisco residents Amie Johnson, 29 and Andrew Garcia, 30, had a fabulous wedding planned: 160 guests at a trendy venue in downtown LA, a large dance floor, a built-in bar, a fun one and lively environment.
They got engaged in the fall of 2019 and had plenty of time to plan the wedding on May 1, 2021. As the pandemic continued, they hoped they could meet that date, but by the fall of 2020 they realized it might not be realistic. At the same time, the pandemic made it clear to them that the legal status of an official marriage was really important to them.
So they decided to keep their original wedding date but have a small outdoor gathering.
“If you had told me a few years ago that I was going to have a civil ceremony with 20 people, I would have said you were crazy. It’s not me and Andrew, we’re little social butterflies and we have big families, ”said Johnson.
The San Francisco couple was pulled up outside Laguna Beach City Hall on May 1 with their immediate family and six friends. Everyone had at least one dose of vaccine. Then they dined on the private outdoor terrace of a restaurant.
But they haven’t given up on their dream party. The big event will be on March 5th, 2022 with the big white dress. For their smaller ceremony, the couple chose pink as their signature color – in a satin suit for them and suit pants for him.
“If this is the worst thing that happens to us in the pandemic, we are so lucky,” Johnson said. “People say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ but I say, ‘I can still celebrate the wedding of my dreams and get married twice – so fun.'”
Carolyn Said is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @csaid