Engaged couples and wedding venues try to navigate logistics, health concerns, and a desire to gather together again
When forces beyond their control forced Emily Huemann Xiong and Arthur Xiong to call off celebrating their big day with family and friends in person, they turned to technology to do the next best thing.
As the coronavirus pandemic made its way to Wisconsin in mid-March, Huemann Xiong, 26, and Xiong, 29, knew they couldn’t put on the 300-plus person wedding at a Milwaukee church on April 18 they had planned for the past 20 months since becoming engaged.
“We couldn’t endanger the health of the people we had invited,” Huemann Xiong said. “We weren’t willing to take that risk.”
The couple initially pondered having a small ceremony, but decided that would leave out too many loved ones. After checking with authorities to make sure it was legal, they chose a different way to bring their families and friends together for their wedding: Zoom video conferencing.
Xiong first suggested the idea to his wife-to-be as a joke when their other ideas for wedding weren’t possible. But as they discussed their options, they quickly realized the video software represented perhaps their only means of marriage in the near future. They decided to tie the knot with technology and invited family and friends to join them for their March 17 ceremony.
Thirty friends and family — many dressed up as if they were attending an in-person wedding — watched via video as the couple said “I do.” The event was witnessed by an officiant and others, and, just like that, they were married.
“Nobody dreams of starting their marriage this way,” Xiong said. “But we had decided that we didn’t want to wait a lot longer to be together. This was a way we could get married and start our new life together.”
Couples planning weddings in Wisconsin and across the country face the same dilemma because of the continued spread of COVID-19 and the public health risk it poses. The virus has prompted the delay of marriages, many for more than a year because wedding venues are often booked 12 to 24 months ahead of time.
Some couples told UpNorthNews they are moving ahead with wedding plans but have scrapped their original plans and replaced them with significantly scaled-back celebrations. Others said they are holding their wedding dates for now but are worried they may have to put them off into the future as virus concerns continue, preventing large gatherings like weddings.
Wayne Dallman and Amber Becker planned a June 6 wedding, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic they cancelled their plans for a ceremony at their Eau Claire home and will instead marry on May 13 at the Eau Claire County Courthouse with only a few people in attendance.
“We didn’t foresee this (virus) being over by then,” Dallman said, “and didn’t want friends and family to feel like they needed to come put themselves at risk.”
Coronavirus concerns prompted Samantha Harkness and her fiance, Tom Zimpel, to delay their June wedding in Chippewa Falls to Aug. 1. The couple is lucky they were able to reschedule their big day at Lake Wissota Golf & Events so close to their original wedding date, Harkness said, noting the vendors “have been wonderful working with us during all of this uncertainty.”
She acknowledged she is worried about the possibility virus-related health concerns could extend well into summer, once again delaying their wedding.
“Definitely that is a concern,” Harkness said. “If we have to push it back further, we’ll cross that bridge. But I’m trying to stay optimistic.”
Jodie Arnold and her fiance Tyler Haas were planning a Sept. 26 wedding at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls. They were excited about their big day, but uncertainties because of coronavirus prompted them to move the date to next September.
“We really want to get married,” Arnold said. “But the uncertainty of when (the stay at home order) gets lifted combined with the lack of mental energy to throw at this once that happens is just too much. So we decided to wait.”
Planning marriages can be stressful, and doing so amid the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 is especially challenging, said Rev. Ronnie Roll, an interfaith minister who lives near the Chippewa County village of New Auburn. She operates a wedding planning service and created a Facebook page with other experienced wedding organizers to help couples through the challenges of doing so during the pandemic.
“They are very scared right now,” Roll said of couples seeking to marry. “They are asking ‘Is it going to be OK to get married this summer?”
Wedding venue owners across Wisconsin said they are delaying weddings through May, and may have to cancel June dates too, depending on how long coronavirus concerns remain. Most May weddings at The Fields Reserve wedding venue near Stoughton that Luke Nelson and his wife Amalie own with another couple have been rescheduled, Nelson said. He hopes coronavirus concerns dissipate in time for weddings set for June to occur, but he’s not sure that will happen.
“The brides and grooms are stressing,” Nelson said. “This is something they have been trying to plan, and they have 150 or 200 guests to talk to and all of the vendors they have to deal with. It’s a lot to try to reschedule all of that.”
Heidi Keys, who operates The Barn at Mirror Lake wedding venue in Mondovi with her husband Ron, said most May events have been called off for now, and some June weddings have been delayed too. Wedding venues are losing money in the short term, she said, and she wonders how long it will take for them to recover.
“When you look at the big impact of this virus on everything, you have to wonder if it might change the wedding industry,” she said. “When are people going to feel safe to gather in large groups again? I don’t know how soon that is going to be.”