“Hi, Auntie Mary Anne.” My nephew in San Francisco was calling for the first time in his 28 years. My heart was pounding, as I imagined troubles. “I called to say we’re getting married next weekend. I didn’t want to send you an e-mail invitation before giving you some context.”
He had been engaged for a year. The last I had heard from my sister, the couple had not settled on wedding plans, a decision complicated by different cultural backgrounds, and a parent who was unable to travel. “We are getting married in San Francisco on Zoom.”
When my husband and I married, we followed a traditional route. Our biggest departure from custom was brown tuxedos, with orange trim on the men’s shirts to match the orange bridesmaids’ dresses. What can I say, it was the 1970s.
Weddings of an even earlier era commonly took place without many family members or friends, owing to circumstances of war or difficulties in travel or family conflict, at least according to the Jimmy Stewart movies we have been watching while physically distancing. Big blowout weddings are a recent invention. And these pandemic times lead to fresh ways to do things, even if they really are old ways repackaged.
Our nephew’s was not the first wedding we had attended with an e-mail invitation, but, as a marker of our times, it is worth capturing:
Subject: We are Getting Married!
“You may have noticed the world’s been going through a weird phase lately. We hope you are able take a break from all of that to celebrate something exciting with us.
“We’re getting married this Saturday! We hope you can find time between baking sourdough and watching Tiger King to join us online.
“We’ll be bringing a few friends and family members to the park with us to share some vows, sign some paperwork, all hosted on a Zoom call with you lovely people!
“Sign in, put yourselves on mute, and celebrate with us.
“Attire: Tuxedo, PJs, or whatever you want”
And they did get married, on a sunny afternoon in a verdant garden. Yes, the park was officially closed, and the attendance exceeded the allowed gathering size by one person. And just as the ceremony began, another aunt accidentally shared her computer screen on Zoom, holding up the proceedings. Not many newlyweds can claim that kind of wedding interruption!
All around the world, from North America to Israel to China, nearly 300 people watched on Zoom or WeChat. We all had front row seats. A cousin from New Orleans played her cello in real time as preceremony music as we flipped through to see many familiar faces. Another cousin, a paramedic, was at work in his ambulance, ready in case of a call. The groom’s parents and sister were at home on their couch, champagne in hand. Our own children and their families were onscreen at home, four time zones from us. The remote guests had taken the attire request to heart, literally from tuxedo to PJs. My husband and I were dressed up, at least from the waist up. At the last minute, I added perfume, as this was the first event that I had attended in a decade that was not scent-free. We sat at our dining table with hors d’oeuvres and wine, ready to celebrate.
It was a beautiful wedding. The ceremony was short and to the point, emphasizing how much the bride and groom both value their families. Their vows were especially touching, highlighting how each was completed by their life partner. My glasses fogged up.
After the ceremony was over, we had a chance to chat and catch up on life in each of the participant’s locations. We saw children in far-flung places who we had not yet met in person. We really felt connected. And an hour after it started, it was over. Given our Atlantic time zone, we went on our way to bed.
The next day I had a follow-up chat with several family members. The post-wedding excitement was in the air, as if we had been there in person. We missed the personal interactions and traditional family photos but, looking on the bright side, we all noted no one was hungover or worn out from dancing.
My sister, with a mind for business, had estimated the economic effect of the Zoom wedding. With no one flying, no hotel stays, no new clothes, no wedding reception, no rehearsal dinner, no showers and no stag parties, her guess was that half a million dollars stayed in our collective pockets. Thinking of the loss to businesses, the newlyweds asked for donations to charity instead of gifts. It took us no time at all to decide to send their traditional gift money to our local food bank.
As a scientist, my thoughts turned to the environmental impact. I estimated the greenhouse gases not emitted on account of 300 guests staying home: about 500 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. To put it in context, the absence of flown-in guests for the wedding was like taking about 100 cars off the road for a year. Of course, the price we are paying for the pandemic is high in many other ways.
Why did they not wait to marry later? The bride expressed the reasons for the Zoom wedding in her vows: “I honestly can’t think of a worse time to get married, all things considered, but somehow we’ve managed to make these COVID times a sort of adventure in its own way. I have learned that if we can make an adventure out of these times then I really can’t wait to see what our life will look like.”
This is a new world now, with new ways of doing things as we go forward. We will all remember 2020 as a pivot point, a time Joan Baez predicted as The Great Correction. But people will still fall in love and want to commit themselves to each other, witnessed by family and friends. We were delighted to join in, even online.
Mary Anne White lives in Halifax
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