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Zoe Quigg and her partner Matthew Ellis carefully chose who would attend their wedding, wanting it to feel like a family reunion after two years of pandemic lockdowns.James Park/The Globe and Mail

Zoë Quigg and her partner Matthew Ellis got engaged in March, 2020, and they quickly started brainstorming wedding ideas. Two weeks later, the country went into lockdown, and they were stuck inside their one-bedroom apartment in Ottawa, working from home and figuring out a strange new life.

“It was a good test of our relationship,” Quigg jokes. Not surprisingly, other priorities took over.

The pair postponed their wedding planning until 2021, when they had a better sense of what to expect. Once they decided to move forward, they were still cautious. They picked a date in May, 2022, and they made sure the venue could accommodate COVID-19 requirements, if necessary, with a big atrium and an outdoor space.

“It’s not a completely enclosed space, and there was really great air circulation,” Quigg says. Quigg and Ellis, tired of being cooped up, were ready for a party. More importantly, they were ready to spend time with loved ones. “We wanted it to have the air of a reunion.”

That sentiment is pretty common, says Toronto-area wedding planner Adeola Damie, of Celebration Events. Damie specializes in African-Canadian weddings, which she says are generally big celebrations, hosting several hundred people.

For clients looking to go big with their parties, Damie is seeing a focus on guest experiences at their receptions. Couples are allocating more time for mingling, and they are getting creative when it comes to entertainment, opting for acrobatic performances or “red-carpet-experience” receptions, complete with onsite interviews.

Food is getting a personal touch. Rather than traditional sit-down meals, more couples are choosing multiple options, food stations, or their favourite snacks for guests to enjoy.

Quigg and Ellis eschewed the stuffy dinner in favour of a buffet-style barbecue meal, with options such as brisket and corn bread. Nathalie Boucher, who married her husband Graham Blue in July, opted for New York-style pizza and pasta at their reception, hoping to capture a casual atmosphere.

Boucher and Blue spent a lot of time thinking about how they wanted to spend their money. They planned the ceremony and reception over much of 2021 and reconsidered some classic traditions that didn’t feel representative of their relationship: the couple axed a bridal shower and engagement party.

“Those were two traditions that didn’t make sense to me,” Boucher says. “In turn, it saved us quite a bit of money not hosting those events, which was extra money to put toward the wedding.”

Where they decided to splurge was on the aesthetic extras, including menus, invitations and flowers. An interior designer, Boucher made the most of the opportunity to design the day. “I’ve always said the wedding was like my Super Bowl.”

For both Quigg and Boucher, wedding inspiration often came from social media, including TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest posts. Both found that following other people who were planning their own weddings, or who had recently gotten married, gave them sightlines into a variety of options.

Halifax-based wedding planner Jessica Higgins of The Wedding Whisperer, says getting inspiration from social media can be a great start for couples. She does, however, caution people to make sure the reasons they are incorporating trends or activities is because they truly love them – not just because they’re popular with influencers.

Higgins says one emerging trend is couples asking friends to join their wedding parties by throwing big events or putting together elaborate gifts. “It’s monogrammed this, and designer that.”

For a bride and groom determined to extend the party beyond one special day, it might be the perfect touch. “But I want to make sure that you actually find giving that gift and having that party enjoyable,” Higgins says. “It’s just not something you saw on TikTok and now you think, to be a really great bride or groom, you have to do that.”

Not all trends are over the top. Higgins has noticed a return of brighter colours after several years of minimal looks. She’s also seen more couples requesting live bands, and local producers to supply both food and flowers. Higgins says whatever a couple wants to incorporate into their wedding, there are ways to make it work.

But the biggest trend is what Boucher and Quigg discovered when they were planning their nuptials: being intentional about the guest list. Weddings this past summer held a lot of meaning for people deprived of many social gatherings for two years. It follows that couples want to make sure they spend time with people they truly care about, and that those people have the best time possible.

“You hear a lot about people ending up with these massive weddings because family members have guests they want to invite, and it just takes on a life of its own,” Quigg says. But with extra time to plan, many couples, including her and Ellis, pared down their guest list to put more energy into the party and entertainment.

“I think that’s resulted in some really beautiful, meaningful, smaller weddings, which I think is going to continue.”

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