Commentary: Yes, you can still get married in a time of COVID-19 – here’s how
If your wedding banquet must go on, there are practical changes you can make to reduce the risk of infection among your guests, says Kristen Juliet Soh.
SINGAPORE: The largest COVID-19 cluster in Singapore is linked to a private dinner function at SAFRA Jurong, with 47 confirmed cases as of Mar 19.
The event was held in a private function room with round tables that seated 10 people each. Approximately 200 attendees enjoyed a multi-course Chinese-style dinner, stage performances, and merrymaking among friends.
You know what sounds similar to the SAFRA Jurong event? Wedding banquets.
Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them
TO POSTPONE OR NOT TO POSTPONE?
This is a bad time for any event organiser, but while many events are non-essential and can be postponed, weddings are a trickier affair.
Experts have highlighted that the pandemic may stay for a year, even longer. Against this backdrop, the most socially responsible option is to postpone big events, in order to reduce the risk of further spreading of the coronavirus – and wedding banquets are little different.
After all, many of such in Singapore are huge affairs involving hundreds of guests. For hotel ballroom venues, couples are usually obligated to book at least 20 to 25 tables, given minimum requirements, which will run up an attendance of 200 to 250 guests.
Let’s not forget, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has advised for events to be capped at 250 participants – though this number is meant as a rough benchmark, since factors such as duration and density are just as important.
Would you want the first day of your married life to lead to a new COVID-19 cluster that involves your loved ones? Even for couples who must meet HDB timelines to produce a marriage certificate, could you not get your marriage registered first and hold the banquet later?
Then again, how easy is it to postpone a wedding dinner and have to do it all over again at some point in the future?
Couples in Singapore typically plan a year ahead for their weddings, which see the solemnisation ceremony held back-to-back with the banquet. Invitations are sent out a few months in advance.
The cost and time already invested in this once-in a-lifetime event, and the coordination effort in ensuring friends and relatives make it to the wedding would have been tremendous. There’s also the question of whether the terms and conditions of the contract signed with the venue provider provides the couple with flexibility in changing the date, without huge additional costs.
If you have weighed the pros and cons carefully, and decide to go ahead with the wedding as planned, here are five practical tips to bear in mind during this pandemic.
Having to make big changes to your wedding banquet is enough to send any bride into bridezilla mode but you shouldn’t have to lose sleep. Many couples have braved SARS in 2003 and pressed on with their wedding banquets.
1. REDUCE THE NUMBER OF GUESTS
Keep the event to only close friends and family members. Negotiate with your event space provider to reduce the required minimum number of tables.
You can also check with them to see if it is possible to arrange for the staggering of your guests into two sessions - for example, an earlier dinner service and a later dinner service on the same day, or even a breaking-up of the banquet into both lunch and dinner.
Your space provider may extend these arrangements if there are no other bookings on the same day – and at no cost out of goodwill, or simply because it will be better than not having your business at all. You might have paid the deposit but most hotels collect a huge chunk of the payment after the event.
There’s a bright side to this: Now you have a legit reason to roll back invitations to all those nosy relatives and hateful acquaintances you were forced to invite.
2. ADOPT SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES
Adjust the seating arrangement to ensure 1m of space in between your attendees, as per the MOH’s recommendations.
Work with your event space provider to reduce the number of seated people per table. This allows for more space between each guest.
You could also serve individually plated food instead of sharing dishes for each table or a buffet arrangement. The key is to avoid introducing touch-points among your guests.
3. SHORTEN THE DURATION
Consider shortening the length of your wedding banquet. Is it really necessary to screen your childhood photos, cut a fake cake for photos, and do coordinated dances with your wedding entourage? You might want to reconsider the morning gate-crashing activities too.
These are certainly fun moments on a regular day, but remember, this is no regular day; we’re now at war against a virus.
If you want life and your wedding to go on, perhaps trim the programme to what’s most meaningful and memorable, and keep the duration of the event short.
4. PRACTISE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PERSONAL HYGIENE
Before the wedding, remind your guests they should abstain from attendance if they’re feeling unwell. Assure them you would understand and not take any offence.
During the wedding, make announcements to remind guests to practise good personal hygiene. In lieu of wedding favours, provide hand sanitisers for your guests so they can use them if needed.
Ask if your hotel servers will be wearing gloves. And skip the hugs and handshakes. You can save that for another time.
4. CHECK WITH YOUR VENUE PROVIDER ON TEMPERATURE SCREENING ARRANGEMENTS
Check with your venue provider what their arrangements are with respect to temperature screening and contact tracing.
You should ensure your guests’ temperatures are taken before they enter, and prepare your bridal entourage to note down relevant details for contact tracing, including seating arrangements and any travel history.
While those who already have Stay-Home Notices or Quarantine Orders served on them should stay away from your wedding, a gentle reminder to all guests can be useful.
Remember that guests who are flying in from overseas to attend your wedding won’t be able to do so. As MOH has announced, beginning on Mar 21, they will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.
Consider livestreaming the event for guests unable to attend the wedding but would have loved to join in your celebration, so they can be a part of it at home. Send out the QR code for e-hongbaos.
5. TAKE IT IN YOUR STRIDE
The pandemic is an unforeseen curveball that may stress soon-to-be brides and grooms. But this hurdle is definitely no greater than all the other complex challenges a wedded couple will inevitably face in their lifetime – in bringing up children, navigating new family dynamics and managing money.
Take it in your stride and seize the opportunity to practise creative problem-solving as a couple. Many couples have already done so.
For example, a Singapore couple who travelled to China just before their wedding chose to isolate themselves. They attended their own wedding via livestream while their guests enjoyed dinner at the hotel.
A Hong Kong couple chose to forgo the sit-down wedding dinner. They packed food in takeaway containers for their guests to bring home instead.
I’m sure these couples and their guests will find such an extraordinary wedding memorable, which will make for a fascinating story for the grandkids.
Whether you’re postponing or continuing with your wedding banquet, remember that your wedding takes place on just one day, but your marriage lasts a lifetime.
Whether that dream wedding turns out for the worse rather than for the better, keep the bigger picture in sight. Don’t win the battle but lose the war.
Kristen Juliet Soh is the editorial director of AVENUE ONE, an online lifestyle publication.