Most weddings are stressful and bring jitters, but never like this.
With the news about the coronavirus — and how to handle it — changing every hour, couples have had to adapt on the fly. A week ago, the state guidelines were calling for no gatherings larger than 100 people. Now, it’s 10 people.
The frequent changes and coronavirus fears are leaving many bridal couples wondering whether they should postpone, cancel or go ahead with their weddings.
Alyssa Hensley, 22, and her fiance, Wil Arrington, 23, of Amelia were planning to get married Saturday at Jasmine Plantation in Providence Forge.
As their wedding date approached, everything was in flux. The clock was ticking as alarms about the coronavirus went off.
Originally, the couple had invited 200 people to the wedding. When the first large gathering restrictions came out, they cut the guest list to 100. Then 50.
“Every day, the plan has changed. As recently as Monday, I thought it would happen a certain way. But every day, it got smaller and changed,” Hensley said.
By midweek, the couple decided to completely upend their plans.
They got a new date and a new venue: Friday at a backyard party.
She wore her wedding dress and walked down the aisle, where Arrington was waiting with only their parents and siblings in attendance.
“We wrote our own vows, and both of our families were crying. Wil couldn’t stop smiling long enough to shed a tear,” she said.
The big party at Jasmine Plantation with friends and extended family has been postponed to Aug. 1.
“It was hard to make the decision. It took wedding jitters to another level,” Hensley said. “It’s nothing like what we pictured, but everything has fallen into place as much as it possibly could. We are very, very lucky.”
“Walking down the aisle, all I could think was, ‘Oh shoot, I forgot my bouquet.’ It was sitting on the kitchen counter. But this week definitely prepared me not to sweat the small stuff. Seeing Will at the end of the aisle was all that mattered.”
They didn’t lose any money on deposits or the caterer or the venue, all of which carried over to the new date for the reception.
Bride-to-be Hannah Mills, 24, from western Henrico County, describes herself as a “hopeless romantic.”
“I’ve been building this up in my head literally my whole life. I just want to get married and have kids,” she said.
She and her fiance, Michael Clarke, 23, have been planning their April 18 wedding at Historic Pole Green Church in Mechanicsville for almost a year. They were planning for 125 guests, but they don’t know what their guest list will look like next month.
The guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for large gatherings change as the coronavirus spreads. On Monday, the CDC said all events of 10 or more people should be canceled for the next 15 days.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. If only a few people can come, I’ll be heartbroken,” Mills said.
At the same time, they’re concerned about the health of their family and guests. “I have a grandmother and he does, too. It’s a worry,” she said.
The couple are trying to decide what to do. Historic Pole Green Church is an open-air venue and hasn’t canceled the date yet.
“The worst-case scenario is that it will just be us, getting married, with a few family members,” Mills said. “I’ll wear my dress and we’ll say our vows and plan a reception somewhere down the road when things calm down. For us, what’s most important is that we want to married.”
Many venues are having to quickly shuffle plans and reschedule weddings in an already packed wedding season.
At Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, most spring weddings are being postponed to the fall of 2020 or early 2021. Some have canceled their weddings, with full refunds, while others have postponed with no change fees.
All April weddings have rescheduled, and about half of their May weddings have rescheduled, so far.
“We are following the CDC’s recommendations and the Virginia Department of Health’s mandates, which has stated that all events after March 31 must now be under 50 guests or less. In order to maintain this rule, we are now requiring all clients provide us with a guest list prior to their event to check in guests as they arrive,” said Beth Monroe, a spokeswoman for the garden.
That number includes all attending vendors working the event, as well as on-site working staff.
Under the new CDC restrictions, many venues have had to cancel weddings for the next few weeks. Others are trying to figure out whether April or May weddings can go on.
Some venues like Maymont and The Commonwealth Club of Virginia declined to comment for this story. Dover Hall in Manakin-Sabot said it has had to reschedule a few weddings. The venue is monitoring the situation as it unfolds and, as of this writing, is allowing those with May weddings to keep their original date with the option to reschedule.
“Many clients have been reaching out with concerns,” said Jennings Whiteway, a wedding planner with local planning company Belles & Whistles. “The restrictions are changing day by day and hour by hour.”
Her goal has been to work with clients and help them navigate the steps ahead.
“We’ve been encouraging them and consoling them. We’ve been telling them to look at their contracts, consider their guests, grandparents and any travelers,” said Whiteway, who has been suggesting postponements rather than cancellations.
“Many have worked for eight to 12 months to plan their special day. If they can retain the vendor team and keep those contracts and all their plans and hard work intact, it saves them from incurring cancellation costs, saves them time and labor in reworking a year’s worth of work, and avoids hurting small businesses in the industry as well,” she said.
But those affected are hustling to revisit the work. It’s looking to be a very busy fall season for weddings, and into 2021.
Matthew Forrest at the Science Museum of Virginia said, “Saturdays on our calendar are already pretty full for the rest of the year so some couples are utilizing Sundays as dates. Everyone seems to be thankful and understanding due to the situation.”
Courtney Jones, 30, and her fiance, Christian Hamlett, 27, of Richmond are less than a month away from their April wedding.
“We discussed getting married on the original date with just immediate family in attendance, but we want to stick to social distancing and not put anyone at risk,” Jones said.
Their venue, Historic Mankin Mansion in Henrico, postponed all April and May weddings, which made the decision easy, she said.
They are working on a new date in September for their 200 guests, with all monies and deposits transferring over to the new date.
Jones is pretty straightforward about the logistics of rescheduling, but admits she’s feeling “so sad that we were only a month out from our wedding. We were really looking forward to celebrating each other with our family and friends.”
“To have all of the hard work we put in feel like it was for nothing is just a devastating experience. It will translate to the reschedule date, but planning a wedding is a daunting task, and I can’t imagine doing all of that work again.”
On the other hand, she said COVID-19 has put her wedding plans in perspective.
“There are much bigger and more important issues in our world than our wedding. We know we will have a wonderful wedding in September when — hopefully — all family members and friends will be able to attend,” she said.
For Logan Jordan, 26, and his fiancee, Marissa McCormick, 25, from Richmond, their May 16 wedding is far enough away that they aren’t sure what the restrictions will be.
“We’re in a weird state of limbo. We’re hoping for the best and will adjust as necessary,” Jordan said. “We’ve had to do a big shift in our perspective. We’ve had to step back and realize maybe a huge massive party isn’t [what’s needed right now]. We’re just excited to walk down the aisle.
“We plan on getting married, and that’s what’s most important for us.”