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In a year where almost every business has suffered the devastating impacts of a global pandemic, the wedding industry has undergone incredible strife, forcing couples and professionals to downsize celebrations and adhere to social distancing measures. While many couples have postponed their nuptials, some have chosen to embrace small-scale ceremonies and celebrate one of life’s biggest milestones with an intimate wedding for a few. As one of Western Australia’s most trusted marriage celebrants, Julie Craig-Smith shares her recent wedding experiences with Tegan Lyon in the wake of restrictions.

Flower Victoria 2019

A wedding in 2020 looks different than any other, and in this current climate, it’s difficult to predict if and when our extended, interstate or overseas family members can be present for such a momentous occasion. While there is always the option for a second, larger celebration, an intimate, mini ceremony reinforces the notion that your wedding is primarily about the love you share with your partner. Ultimately, your ceremony comes down to the two of you, any other celebration is simply a bonus.

In Small Supply

Couples should view small-scale weddings as an elopement of sorts, where only the bride and groom, celebrant, photographer and two witnesses – generally relatives or close friends – are present. Of course, if couples are hosting a wedding with ten to fifteen guests, a larger number of loved ones can attend. The length of a ceremony remains unchanged between small- and large- scale celebrations, however, on occasion couples do request a ‘legals only’ exchange of vows which runs for approximately five minutes to cover the legal requirements set by Australian law.

Throughout her years as a registered celebrant, Julie Craig-Smith has officiated ceremonies with guestlists as large as 200. In the midst of COVID-19 restrictions, this number dwindled down to as low as four. Regardless of the size of the wedding, Julie’s commitment to craft the perfect ceremony hasn’t wavered. “Just because it is a smaller and more intimate group doesn’t mean you miss out parts of their ceremony,” she assures couples, “it is still the same special moment in time.”

For couples concerned with the change in atmosphere of a small-scale wedding, they need not worry, as a ceremony comprised of shared love ones is bound to feel naturally more relaxed and personal. “[If] they are close friends and family it becomes intimate straight away,” explains. “When it is a large group and lots of outside groups of friends, they tend to stand back away from the main group.”

Debbie Waite Civil Celebrant

A Digital Guest List

A limited guest list can feel devastating, but it’s important to remember that your physically absent loved ones can still attend your ceremony virtually. With a number of video streaming services at our fingertips, couples can organise a live stream of their ceremony to keep all friends and family members involved. “It is so easy today with Zoom, Facetime, and WhatsApp,” Julie agrees, “let [your guests] know the date and time and have them dressed up with champagne in hand.” A skilled, compassionate celebrant will ensure that the magic of the day is experienced both in-person and virtually.

As well as feeling the effects of COVID-19 wedding restrictions in a professional sense, you were also touched personally. Can you tell us about this experience?

JCS: My son was a COVID wedding on the 21st of March … not only was I the mother of the groom but I was also their celebrant!

The week leading up was a nightmare. People still were not understanding the seriousness of COVID or they were petrified – we didn’t have the knowledge then as we do now [after] living through the pandemic.

My daughter-in-law was in tears every day and my son felt helpless. They both had family coming from interstate and the bride was devastated as it meant the world to her that her grandma was present. One bridesmaid had her flight cancelled two days before the wedding and another bridesmaid was in isolation … then the bride’s grandma ended up in lockdown two days before the wedding. People they had invited were also pulling out that week including the day of their wedding, all of which had to be paid for to the venue.

The had eighty-six people booked for the wedding but they were down to twenty-five people on the day

How were social distancing measures implemented on
the day?

Duty of care was another worry; making sure everyone was safely distanced, handwashing, no hugging or kissing – what at a wedding! It seemed incredible that this was meant to be their most joyous day and here I as at the start of the wedding warning everyone not to hug or kiss them but to toe-tap or elbow-tap instead.

We and the venue followed protocols of the day (remember this was changing daily) and we did everything we could to ensure duty of care to our wedding guests and venue staff.

A relative had grandma in lockdown on Facetime and she was thrilled, saying ‘she had the best seat in the house’.

Our interstate family and friends also got home safely the next day before the borders closed. Two weeks later I could finally breathe [knowing] no one caught Coronavirus from attending the wedding.

Flowers Victoria’s 2019 Wedding Table Competition

Although it wasn’t the wedding they originally envisioned, what was the atmosphere like for the bride and groom?

In the end it was joyous day. The bride repeatedly said it was the best day of her life and the groom couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. We danced the night away with a blood red sunset.

Do you have any advice for couples whose wedding plans have been hampered by the pandemic?

Control what we can, not what we can’t. Decide what you really want – if you want to get married, do so. It’s only about the two of you and your love for each other. No one knows what tomorrow holds so live for today.

Images courtesy of Julie Craig-Smith Marriage Celebrant
Photography by Sam Amidzic