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To have and to hold back: A guest's guide to a tiny wedding

The delay to phase four of the reopening has couples scrambling to rearrange the rules around their nuptials. Meadhbh McGrath asks the experts about the I dos and don'ts when attending a socially restricted big day


The government has mandated the wearing of face coverings in shops, but it has yet to be seen whether that will be extended to include hospitality venues (stock photo)

The government has mandated the wearing of face coverings in shops, but it has yet to be seen whether that will be extended to include hospitality venues (stock photo)

The government has mandated the wearing of face coverings in shops, but it has yet to be seen whether that will be extended to include hospitality venues (stock photo)

This week's news that phase four of the reopening will be delayed to August 10 has hit brides and grooms hard. Many had been revising their celebrations in line with the plan to allow gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors, but will now have seen guest list numbers slashed to 50 indoors and 200 outdoors.

"It's thrown a spanner in the works," says Naoise McNally, Editor of wedding website One Fab Day. "They've said there won't be any gatherings bigger than 50 people until August 10, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen after August 10. There's a big question mark to my mind on when those larger gatherings can take place. We just have no clarity."

It's an intensely emotional time for couples, and a tricky one for guests to navigate too. If you were invited to a wedding later this month, should you offer not to attend? And if you do go, what should you bring? What should you wear? And how can you congratulate the couple from two metres away? We talked to the experts to find out.

What not to say

With couples reviewing their guest numbers, you might consider putting in a call to let them know you don't mind sitting it out. Naoise cautions against it. "I don't think it helps, I think it just adds a layer of complication," she says. "It might seem like a nice thing to do, but the problem is you won't be the only one. All this person is doing then is having this conversation 20 times over and getting 20 different people's opinions on what they should do."

She recommends leaving it to the couple to make the decision and when they do, be accommodating, understanding and succinct in your response. "Just say, 'okay, great, I respect your decision'. No 'that's the right thing to do' or those caveats people like to throw in. That couple has already had this conversation a thousand times and they don't need to go over old ground again," Naoise says. "You're just throwing salt in the wound."

A helping hand

While guests may be well-meaning, it can be confusing to know how to approach the couple without bringing more stress. Wedding planner Sharon McMeel advises keeping it simple.

"If you were going to a wedding in the next few weeks, just send your support messages to the couple and tell them 'don't worry, if you have to change again, we'll work around you, we'll do whatever we can to support you'," she suggests.

If you are close to the couple, one way to help would be to offer to take on some phone calls. "The biggest thing people will have to do is sit down and reorganise the logistics - getting on to the suppliers, the venues, seeing what dates are available. It's hard because the more it goes on, the more difficult it is to get excited about things."

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Before the wedding

If the wedding is going ahead, Sharon recommends doing your hosts a favour by self-isolating ahead of the event.

"If you can do your self-isolation for two weeks before the wedding, then you know that you're clear and the couple know that you're fine attending as well, which allows people to be a bit more relaxed on the day," she says.

She also recommends downloading the Covid Tracker app. The last thing any bride or groom wants is for their wedding to be the source of an outbreak, but the app will allow anyone with symptoms to trace contacts immediately.

The question of masks

The government has mandated the wearing of face coverings in shops, but it has yet to be seen whether that will be extended to include hospitality venues. Sharon says it's hard to predict, but masks will be strongly encouraged, particularly for indoor events or if the couple has any sort of receiving line.

She adds that some venues will require masks, though guests will be able to remove them during dinner as seating plans will be socially distanced. Kate Breslin, co-founder of the Irish School of Etiquette, points out that wearing a mask is "good etiquette" and "more respectful" to the hosts and other guests.

What to wear

Some of us are delighted with any opportunity to get dolled up, but four months in lockdown have muddled traditional dress codes. Naoise observes that guest style depends on the couple.

"Generally speaking, it seems like there are two groups: there's a group [of brides] who are doing the original dress and the full-on dress code," she says. "The other case is where the couple split the wedding into two parts, so they postpone the full celebration to next year and have a first-round ceremony with a smaller group of people."

The latter is particularly common, she adds, with many brides opting for something more understated - what would typically have been the 'second-day dress'. Guests should follow suit. "This is the sort of middle ground, where you're getting dressed up, but you don't need to go full fascinator and high heels. You're still making an effort, clearly not turning up in your jeans, but it's a little bit more low-key. It's more 'nice dinner with friends' than 'big occasion'."


Avoid contact by sending your gift by post (stock photo)

Avoid contact by sending your gift by post (stock photo)

Avoid contact by sending your gift by post (stock photo)


What to bring

You may be tempted to bring a gift, but Sharon urges avoiding any direct contact on the day. "With things like presents or cards, we'd say to guests to post them to people in advance. You don't want to be handing stuff from person to person," she explains.

And while you may have gotten used to taking your own cutlery and crockery to socially distant barbecues, that won't be expected unless specified by the couple.

The official guidelines from Failte Ireland have ruled out buffet-style meals and bar service, so if the wedding includes food and drink, you'll be served an individual plate of canapés on arrival, and wine and dinner at the table. Sharon notes that guests should take responsibility for their glasses and refrain from cheersing drinks to avoid touching.

Meet and greets

After months apart, it may be disorienting to know how to greet one another, but Kate argues that body language and eye contact can go a long way toward bridging the gap. It can be awkward, however, if the person doesn't share your cautiousness and leans in for a hug or handshake.

"If somebody puts their hand out for you, it's not bad manners not to accept," she says. "You can either put your hand on your chest or you can do the namaste. You're still saying, 'I'm greeting you'.

"How to do it verbally is quite difficult," she admits, recalling an encounter where she saw a woman correct another person at a farmer's market.

"She said, 'Excuse me, you have to be respectful of the sales people. Please note your distance'. That made everybody uncomfortable! It's very tricky because the atmosphere changes. If you do say something, the best thing to say is 'I'm really conscious of it', and it's about how you say it. Irish people are really good at saying it jokingly."

Naoise points out that recent visits to pubs and restaurants will have offered a rehearsal of sorts for weddings.

"The more people go to pubs and restaurants, the more people are understanding the dynamic of social distancing," she says. "If you go out for dinner or for a few pints, everybody kind of gets the measure of how this works, so I think that practice of people socialising will kick in."

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