May 13, 2021

Weddings in 2020: Change and adapt

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated pivots for many industries, and the wedding sector was no different. Here’s how a few South Australians handled the ever-changing restrictions.

Carly Strauch-Varga and Leah Strauch overcame the ever-changing obstacles of COVID-19 to get married in August.

When Carly Strauch-Varga and Leah Strauch got engaged in 2017, as a same-sex couple they weren’t able to be legally married at the time. So, when COVID-19 threatened their 2020 plans for a wedding with 120 guests, they decided to dive into whatever faced them.

“We’d waited a long time for it, and that was part of the reason we still got married last year,” Leah says.

“We had waited so long that whether it was just us and the celebrant, or everyone was going to be there, we were going to do it anyway.”

Carly and Leah moved to Adelaide from Melbourne five years ago so Leah, now a doctor, could study at Flinders University. She graduated at the end of 2019 and spent her first year practicing as a doctor in the middle of the pandemic.

Of the 120 planned guests, more than 100 were from Melbourne, and were all but completely house-bound as the weeks approached the wedding. Carly, a product developer in the food industry, says in the end they decided to invite a bunch of their Adelaide friends along two weeks beforehand.

“We’d spent a year and a half planning, so we thought we might as well do it and have a really good time anyway,” Carly says.

A live stream to loved ones interstate was additions to many weddings.

A week before the wedding, the need for a COVID marshal was introduced, so two of the guests trained to make that happen.

“We were just constantly checking the SA Health site to see what we could do and what we couldn’t do,” Leah says.

“It was a moving feast and we just had to watch the restrictions change on a weekly basis.”

The ceremony, held at Burbrook Forest, was filmed by a videographer and live-streamed to friends and family at home, which made for a nice treat for the brides after the wedding.

“We watched it back and could see all the comments coming up in real-time, which was fantastic.

“Our families got dressed up and had their little side chats going on. We were obviously very involved in what we were doing on the day, so it was nice to see that afterwards and know just how involved everyone back home still felt.”

The involvement didn’t stop there: Carly’s mum made decorations and Leah’s dad put together the boutonnieres, helping with planning in any small way they could.

COVID marshal training was a new wedding necessity.

One of Carly’s childhood friends, who also lives in Adelaide, made a surprise video of their loved ones from Melbourne sending their well-wishes and had it projected for everyone to see.

Initially, the reception, held at Kuitpo Hall, was going to be a cocktail event, but they had to change it to a sit-down meal, and chose alcohol over dancing. The couple say their suppliers went above and beyond to make their day happen, in a time they were struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

“Our amazing caterers and bartenders were Cargo Catering Co who were so incredibly flexible with us,” Carly says. “They dropped the minimum quantity and part of the reason we ended up having the wedding in the end was because all of the suppliers really wanted to do it as well.

“Everyone else came to the party, so it was nice to have such strong support from them.”

It was a wedding with more safety signage and hand sanitiser than most, but it was also filled with great joy.

“Leading up to it and particularly on the morning, it was super sad, because not a single person from either of our families could actually make it,” Leah says. “But during the event itself, it was just so incredibly lovely.”

Both Carly and Leah have to think for a second when recalling the actual date – August 29. “But we remember the year, we’ll never forget the year,” Carly laughs.

There may be no greater hallmark of a COVID wedding than socially distanced seating.

When the news of restrictions on weddings was announced, photographer Nadinne Wilkinson of Nadinne Grace Photography had five weddings in her calendar postponed, from the end of March to early May 2020 – then another two during the short-lived lockdown of November 2020.

Nadinne did take on two new weddings during the restrictions, including one during the week in which they were eased to allow 10 people at a wedding in May.

“Leading up to it, I was going to have to be a witness,” Nadinne says. “But as restrictions changed, the couple had three guests attend, me as the photographer, the celebrant, and the two of them.”

The couple was initially going to marry in Italy – the bride is Australian and the groom Italian – but they decided staying in Australia for their nuptials would allow them more freedom.

“Then I also picked up another wedding in July 2020, which had about 20 guests.

“It was very intimate on the top of a hill. It was freezing. Like, actually freezing – nine degrees. It rained the morning of, then the sun came out for the bridal party and couple photos.”

Nadinne says, despite all the challenges, the real meaning of weddings shone through during this time. “The couples realised what was really important to them, and that was getting married in front of their closest people. Rather than all the fancy details and add-ons that go with a ‘normal’ wedding.

Restrictions had couples dancing in the streets.

“One couple in November did their first dance in the main street and the guests blocked off the road as they weren’t allowed to dance in a licenced premise at their wedding venue.”

When it came to new bookings, Nadinne held Zoom meetings to get to know her clients, and is now at capacity for weddings for 2021.

This year – all being well – is already shaping up to be a huge year in the wedding industry. Mandalay House and Garden in the Adelaide Hills specialises in larger weddings, and many of their couples who had guest lists of more than 150 chose to postpone in 2020 and will go ahead this year.

Deborah Schultz from Mandalay says all the staff have flexed their adaptability skills over the past year, with so many in-the-moment changes needed, especially when it came to spacing regulations.

“We created an outdoor dance terrace at Mandalay, adjacent the marquee court,” Deborah says. “This helped our clients meet spacing requirements inside the marquees, and also meant guests could dance under festoon lights, but outside, which is a safer environment for larger groups of people to dance.

“We were also able to utilise our large amphitheatre lawn as a ceremony area when COVID requirements demanded more space.

“There were some days that were very stressful indeed for our couples but, overall, it is quite amazing how people are determined to make the best of all of these challenges, follow the rules and still have a good time.”

An outdoor dancing area was created at Mandalay House and Garden.


This story first appeared in the March 2021 issue of SALIFE magazine. 

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