When Zane and Baden Colt finally stand under the huppah this summer, it will be the fifth date they’ve set to get married.
The Toronto couple became engaged in 2018 and planned to marry 18 months later in 2020, but several plans were dashed by pandemic restrictions. While they waited and planned, they were married in a small and informal civil ceremony, but they still dreamed of a larger Jewish celebration with their extended family and friends.
“Zane kept a lot of optimism about the process, at least better than I did,” Baden said. “After the second date was postponed, I really felt burned out by the process and discouraged.”
But as their wedding day finally approaches, they are starting to feel more enthusiastic.
“I’m trying to get in the mindset from ‘I can’t wait for this to be over’ to ‘I can’t wait for this to happen,’” Zane said. “The whole point was to have this special day and we’ve waited so long for it to happen, let’s not blow past it so quickly.”
The wedding industry shares their optimism. After two years of disruptions, weddings are roaring back with plenty of pent-up demand. Even as costs for flowers and meals are soaring and labour shortages are looming, ceremonies and parties are going ahead. Don’t bother calling for a last-minute event, planners say—venues and vendors are fully booked.
“We’re seeing couples right now jumping at any availability,” says Francesca Stevens, a wedding planner in Vancouver with Smitten Events. “Unless they chose a Tuesday or a Wednesday, maybe in September or October or November, we might be able to put them in but we are at capacity.”
Ariel Oziel is the founder of the Toronto band Beyachad, which performs mainly at religious weddings and spoke to The CJN as he drove to a wedding. Two months ago, he had just three bookings for early summer, now he has 10.
“I just got off the phone with my sound company and the owner says this is the busiest June he’s ever seen in his life.”
It’s not just Oziel’s band, everyone is working this summer. “I have a wedding in two weeks and I couldn’t find a saxophone player. I called about eight people and everyone’s busy,” he said.
But Oziel, and everyone else in the business of helping couples tie the knot, is grateful for the work after two years of disrupted plans due to pandemic restrictions.
When COVID hit in March 2020, weddings came to an immediate stop. Abby Tobias, owner of Sole Power, a Toronto-based event production company, normally does 500 Jewish weddings a year.
“We went from 100 to zero,” he said. “My priority was to hold on to staff and keep staff getting paid. For a company of our size, it was a significant hit.”
In Vancouver, wedding planner Stevens had to deal with brides who had planned on getting married in the next few weeks, but now couldn’t. “We had weddings that weekend, we had weddings the next weekend. We became your shoulder to cry on, your therapist,” she recalled. “Weddings are highly emotional. There were a lot more tears than I ever had in this industry,”
What followed were two years of weddings that were sometimes smaller than had been planned, held outdoors if possible and livestreamed to families and friends who could not attend.
Some couples, like the Colts, opted to do a civil wedding and save the religious rites for later or to have an intimate ceremony and then host a large celebration when COVID restrictions were dropped.
Along the way, there were some rough patches. Stevens saw a wedding where the couple insisted that everyone in the wedding party be vaccinated and the groom’s brother refused and did not attend.
Couples who were already engaged and had signed contracts now had sizeable deposits reserving spots at venues they would not be able to use. Initially, some vendors were sympathetic, but as the pandemic dragged on, they could not afford to be, Tobias said.
“I’ve always operated under the contract… Even at the beginning we were very aggressive when we were dealing with postponements and cancellations because at the end of the day it’s a business. I know it’s sad and dealing with brides and grooms can be very emotional but I have to feed my family and I have to feed my staffs’ family.”
Some businesses which were more lenient about cancellations and returning deposits simply didn’t survive.
“Someone who’s doing a wedding right now, who booked it a year ago… my staff have been very clear. You’re booking it during a global pandemic, you are assuming all of the risk, we are assuming zero of the risk,” he said.
“I think it was a much more difficult conversation at the beginning when nobody could see it coming.”
But after a few difficult years, people are partying as if it’s 2019. Many invitations ask their guests to be fully vaccinated and food servers are wearing masks, but that’s about the only difference, those in the industry say.
Guests who are worried about COVID are not showing up, or only attending the ceremony, but for everyone else it’s business as usual.
“A lot of people like to pretend it never happened and they’re moving on,” said Susan Avni, who owns a historic wedding venue in Millbrook, Ont., and a huppah rental business. “The ones who had to get married in masks, having their bridesmaids and groomsmen on either side of them in masks… they’ll never forget it. “
COVID not only changed the wedding industry, it also pushed some couples to reconsider getting married and what their wedding would look like. David Sklar, an actor and co-host of The CJN’s podcast Bonjour Chai, was living with his partner John before the pandemic.
“COVID really put a lot of things in perspective,” he said. “Spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with someone… We managed to make this very stressful, world-changing event work for us. I think we became closer through the pandemic.”
The couple became engaged 18 months ago and thought that by the time they got married this July, COVID would be a thing of the past. And while mask mandates and vaccination passports are no longer an issue in Calgary, where they are getting married, worries about the pandemic are still lurking, Sklar said.
Despite that, the couple are not planning an outdoor wedding because they are concerned about wildfires and smoke, which were a significant problem in Alberta last summer.
“We’re sticking to our plans, but we have to be quite flexible in case things radically change.”
For couples like the Colts, the long postponement has changed the wedding they originally planned.
Some relatives who they had hoped would have been at the wedding have since died.
They have also made new friends, who are now invited.
Meanwhile, they have been negotiating with vendors over contracts that were signed years ago. Costs since they originally booked have soared. Flowers are up by 20 percent, and food has increased by $10 a person, they say.
What they once envisioned as a formal sit-down dinner has evolved into a more relaxed cocktail party with food stations.
“We love the idea of finger food and snacking all night long,” Zane said. “We just want people to mingle and socialize all night.”
“We have gotten more comfortable about voicing what we are looking for and what we want, before we were taking a little more direction,” Baden said. “There’s no right or wrong way to do a wedding or to a celebration, it just has to be true to us.”