Far-flung islands, dizzying mountain tops and the little local church – romantic sweet spots that pose as the backdrop of every wedding daydream. But when COVID-19 showed up uninvited, the pandemic stole hundreds of thousands of big day hopes in its path: leaving hearts broken and business doors closed. Yet instead of allowing the four-metre rule to divide us, the marital industry threw on its thinking cap and has been busy helping lovers far and wide to save the date ever since.
Over the last few months, newlyweds across Australia and New Zealand have said “I do” to the micro wedding with iPhone-friendly vows and smooches over Zoom.
Walking couples down the aisle is I Do Drive Thru, Australia’s first socially-distanced wedding service. Dreamt up by four celebrants, Klara McMurray, Melissa Jacob, Kate Morgan and Zena Lythgo, the business has thrown a remarkable 100 weddings since its April debut – with a further 110 already etched into the calendar.
“We had all spent the first week or so of isolation dealing with cancellations, postponements and the general self-combustion of our businesses like everyone in the wedding sector,” Klara explains.
“So being able to put our energies into a new project, that we really believed had legs, was excellent for our mental health, as well as our careers.”
Inspired by the ‘50s drive-through era, couples can opt for the $400 ‘In and Out’ package with quickie vows exchanged through the car window. While others may fancy a post-wedding snog perched atop one of the country’s lookout points with services held at the likes of Sydney’s aptly-named Kissing Point Wharf and Half Moon Bay in Melbourne.
I Do Drive Thru’s Klara, who has married 12 couples in lockdown so far, something wildy “unheard of” in the heart of Australian winter, thinks the pandemic could well inspire lovers to bid farewell to the big white wedding for good.
“As much as I love the full shebangs with robust crowds and all the trimmings, I’ve come to absolutely love smaller weddings,” Klara admits.
“It feels like all the stress, money and pressure has been erased and the only reason we are there, tying the knot, is for love. The pandemic has stripped everything back and reminded us what marriage is really all about.”
For those fretting over the guest list, swapping the destination wedding plastered across your Pinterest board for a more intimate ceremony doesn’t mean you can’t share the big moment with loved ones.
With family and friends marooned by closed borders and grounded flights, I Do Drive Thru has seen couples rustle up a number of creative ways to teleport their nuptials into bedrooms, kitchens and makeshift offices around the world.
“We’ve had a lot of couples livestream their wedding day, either through our website or using the likes of Facebook and Zoom,” Klara explains.
“Lots plan to celebrate with everyone post-Covid too and several have already booked their second date, which is great!” she continues. “It’s been an absolute privilege to be part of so many feel-good moments, when there’s not a lot to feel good about otherwise…”
This fiery approach to the unknown is something Melbourne-based wedding service, The Altar Electric, is also busy championing.
Affectionately referring to the virus as “pando”, co-founder, Anthony Cribbes, believes the rise of the micro wedding has been given a leg-up by current restrictions.
“Little weddings were already becoming a thing but the pandemic has forced a rethink much quicker than we thought it would,” he says. “There’s so much chaos and pressure in the modern world as it stands.”
“We think COVID-19 has hastened the move towards smaller weddings but the appeal was on the rise for sure.”
Established by Anthony and two friends-turned-celebrants, Dee Brinsmead and Sarah Dobson, The Altar Electric has been abuzz in recent months with couples readily embracing the marry-now, party-later philosophy.
Services vary from a $650 ‘Shotgun’ package to the little more swanky ‘Viva Las Collingwood’ with live wedding streaming available via Bottlebrush Films. For those forced to forgo plans to get hitched at the world-famous Little White Chapel, a lookalike Elvis can even be hired to make the whole shindig official this side of the hemisphere.
Newlyweds, Brylie Thompson and Jessamy Curran, are amongst 14 couples who have asked The Altar Electric to host their nuptials in lockdown so far with enquiries up by 40% compared to this time last year.
The couple had their hearts set upon a traditional ceremony held at a restored school hall in Bendigo, Victoria with 60 of their nearest and dearest set to take to the pews. But the pandemic soon pressed pause on their plans.
“My now-husband and I agreed that we would postpone the wedding until we could get married in front of our families but as our original date drew nearer, it became harder to imagine not getting married on our intended day,” Brylie says.
Determined to wed, the couple asked The Altar Electric to step in and were married just eight days later.
“It wasn’t the day we had originally planned but in the end, The Altar Electric made our day more ‘us’ than we could ever have imagined,” Brylie recalls. “The ceremony that Anthony put together was so beautiful and captured our love for each other perfectly. The day as a whole was relaxed and full of love and laughter.”
“We’d kept the whole day a secret from our friends so when we finally called them to share our news, the look on their faces was priceless.”
It’s this newfound appreciation for the little things which could well see the gravitation towards smaller ceremonies continue to grow even when restrictions lift.
“Couples are reflecting on the idea of marriage more and more with the realisation that the most important part of the day is just being able to stand alongside the love of your life and making that commitment to each other,” Anthony explains.
“We’ve often said that if we can come up with a way to bottle the feeling that is generated at our weddings and give it to the world: we’d solve hunger, global warming and all the other problems our planet is facing.”
This renewed appreciation for community spirit is something wedding photographer, Oli Samson, has caught on camera in recent months.
“I haven’t seen a single small celebration have the slightest hint of longing or reluctance,” Oli says. “The benefits of a small ceremony or elopement are that it means less planning and less financial overhead.
From experience, folks have come out the other end and realised that it was an even better version of the wedding they envisioned because they were there with their partner and that was all they really needed.”
In fact, a number of couples who had never once dreamt about walking down the aisle have decided to cement their love in the most surprising of circumstances – a phenomenon I Do Drive Thru has witnessed in recent months.
“For the first time in their relationships, couples have seen a way to get married that just works for them and we’ve been more than happy to help their little dreams come true,” Klara says. “I have absolutely no doubt; mini weddings are the hot new thing!”
And with a strange new normality found in cross-legged dinners by the telly and the bedroom-to-living-room commute to work, maybe a small ceremony is all you really need, or even want, after all.
“Happiness comes out of tighter integration – who knew? It was there all along,” Oli says. “The pandemic has brought about tonnes of community spirit and the realisation that everything is OK, if not better, when focusing on the small and helping each other out – however that manifests itself.”
So if you’re preparing to walk down the aisle, embrace the little love language we’ve acquired in lockdown: whether that means baking your very own crumbly sponge, ordering a bunch from the local florist or staging a surprise Zoom call for post-wedding celebrations.
It may have taken a global pandemic for many of us to fine-tune the art of gratitude but there’s no greater time than the present to remember what all the scribbled seating plans, dress fittings and tattered credit cards are really all about: love.
Written by Danielle Fowler