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Sage Advice

event wisdom

by the Founder & Creative Director of

Sage McRae Event Design

  • Writer's pictureSage McRae

Avoid COVID-19 and Always Practice Safe Weddings (that means virtually!)

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

This post is both for my colleagues in the wedding industry and for (potential) couples, and I know it's not going to be a popular opinion. I think y'all need to stop posting pictures and videos of COVID weddings unless you also make it abundantly clear to everyone that the wedding was SMALL, LEGAL, and that everyone stayed SAFE! I worry that by sharing images of weddings held during the pandemic, we're normalizing the idea that gatherings are acceptable, when really they might be against local public health policies and subject to fines, imprisonment, and -- what should have always been the deterrent -- a risk of grave illness or even death for anyone involved. Instead, let's post pre-pandemic wedding photos or focus on the snazzy innovation of the age: virtual events!

What we see now are a mix of tiny weddings, medium events, and larger functions that range from 0 guests up to around 100 people. They thus range from as safe as possible to pretty dang risky/illegal. Yes, it is possible to get married with no one else there; a California couple had their officiant on a live Zoom feed from which he performed the ceremony, no witnesses needed. Talk about social distancing! That's like the safe-sex version of this pandemic era. On the other hand, here in San Francisco, we recently learned in the SF Chronicle that a wedding group snuck in the back entrance to Saints Peter and Paul Church so as to avoid being seen by others at the front entrance, then ended up holding the ceremony in a basketball court after a city official prevented the indoor event from continuing. Perhaps most alarming was the group's rehearsal dinner held the night prior with about 40 people having dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Ferry Building. Although the dinner was on a patio outdoors and the restaurant staff set tables with appropriate distance, a guest admitted that few if any attendees wore masks or observed the social distancing required by the restaurant. Unfortunately, now at least ten people, including the couple, are positive for COVID-19. You can read about that story here in an article by Matthias Gafni.

In this period of sheltering-in-place (for some of us, at least), social distancing, and economic shutdown, plus the horrific scenes of police and federal agents' violence against civilians, we need some respite with beauty and peace! We need something positive in our grasp to counter all this ugliness, hatred, and despair. Believe me, I get it -- and yet, I don't get it anywhere near as much as the Black and Brown people who have been oppressed by systems to hold them back/down for so long! (Honestly, and this could be another blog post, but my own fatigue, depression, and understanding that I should not place my voice above anyone else's has been why I've taken so long to write. It has been difficult to know where to begin, and when. I only came to the decision to write this post when I joined in conversations with wedding industry leaders about the need to get back to work. While I totally want to work and need the income, this post comes from my anxiety that we might jump back to doing events too soon.)

But back to the pretty stuff, or almost... Weddings are happy events and give us so much hope, right, that love prevails and that one day all this will be behind us and we can carry on? Not exactly. A darker part of me worries that for some couples and wedding professionals, the drive to have and then publish these events is not borne of so much the romance or urgent need as it is a form of selfishness. Allow me to explain. In our Instagram and Pinterest-driven wedding world, I see competition between couples to have a unique or superior celebration compared to others' nuptials. Or, at the very least, the competition is to have a photo album showing that your wedding was just as cool as what you saw someone else have. It's a fear of missing out and the rather stubborn choice to carry on with one's plans -- even if altered to be rather safe -- just so that you get to be married, while ignoring the first choice you had: whether to get married now at all, or to wait until it's actually safe to do so. Wedding professionals are definitely in the same boat: we have to set ourselves apart as different from our competitors, worthy of being booked, and yes -- make money! I know just as well as anyone that no being able to do weddings is HARD! It's hard on my creative spirit, my anxiety, and definitely on my bank account. Being competitive isn't totally negative, and making money to make ends meet is totally reasonable! What I'd call selfish, though, is hosting or working a wedding when the risk of COVID outweighs the benefit you'd receive -- and still doing it anyway. When you know better, in other words (or should).

Certainly, there are some couples who feel they cannot wait until next year (or whenever it is actually safer to have gatherings) and who have strong reasons for tying the knot now: either of them or perhaps a loved one's health prognosis leaves them with limited time, or a legal situation makes it almost imperative that the couple wed. There will always be more urgent cases where I would jump in and help a couple put together a celebration with mere moments' notice! (Hey, after almost ten years in Las Vegas, I've often said all I need are a few hours, if you already have your Marriage License!) Besides an entirely virtual event, the next safest wedding has perhaps just a handful of vendors and guests -- all wearing masks, no buffet, with everything taking place outdoors, and everyone using copious amounts of hand sanitizer (until your knuckles are chapped!). Then we get the now-common photographs of masked couples recessing down a makeshift aisle in a backyard, with a tiny group of guests seated from from one another, smiling behind their own masks as the couple passes them.

It is just so dang hard to plan a wedding without loved ones! Who envisioned their own celebrations without such moments?! This gets at the crux of the problem: how do we wedding professionals actually keep families, friends, and loved ones from being near one another when a wedding is a celebration about unity and joining together in love? I just can't imagine walking up to a grandparent and asking them to stop hugging grandchildren they hadn't seen in months, or asking best friends to sit far enough away to shout at each other instead of carrying on a normal conversation. Nothing is normal now and it is just so difficult to navigate the ways in which we must force ourselves (and others?) to behave in a way that feels alien and unkind. Truly, as a wedding pro, I value kindness and connection!

It is our connection, our longing for belonging, and our love for in-person gatherings that provides an opening for COVID-19 to hurt us. This virus spreads via small particles breathed, sneezed, coughed, or umm...pooped out of us. Being near others is therefore dangerous to ourselves and to everyone with whom we later spend time. Knowing that a wedding event affords guests many opportunities to come into close contact with others, to perhaps touch shared utensils (even if there's no buffet), or doorknobs, or yup, the toilet. We hug, shake or hold hands, kiss babies, pinch cheeks, hold programs later left on seats to be collected by someone else, share a pen to sign the guest book, pick up photo booth props, or get your friend a water before you depart. These countless little moments show our care for each other but the newly-realized danger of these small acts betrays our good intentions. Not only can I not imagine asking folks to stop hugging, but I cannot fathom the regret I would feel if anyone fell ill from an event!

So what to do? In a pandemic as dangerous and as destructive as COVID-19, we must consider not just what we want, but what is necessary. What is often the difficult choice. If you do not have an urgent need to get married, do not. If you are a wedding professional and the couple will not follow government and public health mandates, you have a responsibility to them, to yourself, and to others, to not work at their wedding. Do not share images or videos of an event where you did work, unless it was virtual or close to it, and definitely only if everyone acted completely responsibly. Explain in the captions what kept everyone safe, and share your thoughts on this subject, too! I believe we are at an ethical fork in the road (the goofy part of me remembers the actual fork in the road in the "Muppet Movie"). Which direction we turn can become a path for others to take, too.

For couples asking, "What the h*ck, Sage, what do I do if I want to get married? You're calling me selfish?" Not exactly! Just BE SMART! Keep it VIRTUAL! You don't have to be a tech wiz or buy lots of equipment. All you need is to hire me! I have the connections to the best wedding professionals and creatives in Northern California and well beyond. If I'm not in your area, reach out and let me know where you are and I might just know someone nearby (normally I'd travel wherever but my range is a bit smaller these days). We will do all the planning and designing of your event via Zoom or phone calls and I can help with choosing a location that is beautiful and lawful. If you want to marry in your home or outdoors, let's talk about getting the space ready for its small-screen debut! Hair and makeup artists, if you hire any, can wear masks and face shields and get you all dolled in a space with great ventilation...or you can watch YouTube videos for suggestions on DIY glamour! At your event, rest assured that photographers and videographers can stay well over six feet away, as in the photo up top. As your event manager, I can be videoconferenced in or kept at a great distance, as can an officiant. So many DJs are offering virtual dance floors that can be super fun for guests to join in from their own homes, along with virtual photo booths! I have the ideas and the connections to companies to make this work for you if you want to get married virtually, or with a super tiny group if that falls in the "need-to-have" category and if all precautions are minded throughout. Let's talk about sending your guests all the props and instructions they'll need to feel included, excited, and ready to celebrate with you...from a safe distance. I promise, you will feel the love and happiness for a long time to come. We can be safe AND create beautiful memories!

What's the point of this post? TL;DR: the safest way to host a wedding could be the opposite of what you'd always imagined: keep in 100% virtual. Otherwise, your wedding could be dangerous.

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