Getting married during a pandemic: I do, or do I?

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As residents of Pasig, Pearl and Haru Natividad knew that Mayor Vico Sotto would be busy with the COVID-19 situation, but they took a chance and inquired if he could officiate their wedding. Photo by LULA IMAGES

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — Affianced couple Miguel Escobar and Bianca San Juan gave themselves a deadline. Set to get married in October this year — a surreptitious date that was a day after their anniversary — most of their wedding had already been planned. The church and reception in Tagaytay were already booked, so even when the government announced an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), they still stuck to their original wedding date. But only up to a certain time.

“While [Miguel] was still optimistic, I was more paranoid,” Bianca says, remembering the events that had already occurred at the start of the year — well before COVID-19 locked down the entire country. “The one that hit closest was the Taal Volcano [eruption.] But back then, we were thinking, if it doesn’t get better, we can always move our wedding to Manila.”

They gave themselves until June, to either modify their wedding plans or postpone them completely. When it was clear that quarantine measures would extend indefinitely, the couple made the difficult decision to postpone their wedding to 2021. “I was more for having a small wedding this year, but I was also concerned about Bianca’s dream wedding, which is a big part of why we’re doing this. She might be disappointed, and I didn’t want that,” Miguel says. “So ultimately, we decided to postpone.”

Miguel Escobar and Bianca San Juan were supposed to be wed this October but have put their nuptials on hold because of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of BIANCA SAN JUAN

There’s no telling when large crowds are free to gather again, as the coronavirus pandemic has not spared many social events from pushing through this year. The Escobar-San Juan nuptials are just one of the hundreds of weddings that have been put on pause, significantly impacting the events and wedding industry (to a degree, tourism as well.) While government data on these sectors have yet to be made available, the stories of industry professionals and those throwing social events themselves tell a story of how COVID-19 has made an economic and at times, emotional impact on the lives of many Filipinos.

How the industry is adapting

While other countries have created some semblance of normal after battling the worst of the virus, the Philippines, as a whole, is still struggling to find the balance between waiting for a vaccine and finding a sustainable means to live with the virus. In the matter of weddings, there are those who have opted to push through, albeit in a slightly modified manner. This is how the industry has decided to cope, through events that are much smaller in scale and certainly very different from the original plan. As a culture that reveres the lavishness of social events, these intimate, sometimes virtual weddings prove that the union of two people, really is, the main focus on these ceremonies. People will continue to get married, whether now or next year, perhaps as a reminder to us that somehow, life still goes on.

Events organizer Gideon Hermosa is behind some of the biggest celebrity and society events in the country — the types of parties attended by hundreds, and often with no expense spared. While for a time, his team have had to stand back on any event preparations, they’ve opted to pivot to digital events with a limited number of guests instead.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Hermosa explains how they’ve managed to stay afloat in the past few months. “I felt like we really had to be creative to survive this pandemic. So what we did was we offer online home parties, where me and my team construct everything in our warehouse, then send it to our clients’ home. Then we go online and teach them how to put things together.”

He’s also suggested to clients to extend the same decor, food, and other event paraphernalia to invited guests — a sense of continuity, and a way to still make virtual events feel personal. While Hermosa believes that digital events pale to the degree of production that he’s used to, he says, “It’s different from the physical events, but at least the experience is there.”

The Charlotte and Sarah Blouses and Sandra Trousers by fashion designer Dani Osmeña. Photo courtesy of DANI OSMEÑA

That experience is perhaps why, at a much scaled down degree, the industry has picked up from where it left off last March. For fashion designer Dani Osmeña, it meant starting a different kind of bridal line in quarantine, after her initial plans to launch were interrupted by the ECQ announcement. As she saw the industry settling for more intimate weddings this year, she decided to open up shop to respond to the new needs of the market.

“I saw more and more intimate weddings taking place, I realized that the concept of minimalist bridal separates took on a whole new meaning in the pandemic,” Osmeña says. “While I had initially envisioned this collection as an accessible option for practical brides, I realized that in our current context, paring down weddings meant paring down everything, including the wedding dress, but that doesn't have to mean sacrificing the experience of having one made especially for you.”

Now that her shop offers ready-to-wear and customizable bridal separates, she says that she opted not to create masks in the collection, but instead offers custom masks to complement whichever combination her clients end up choosing. She explains, “This way, even the new essential accessory that is now part of every bridal look can be made special the same way a veil might be.”

The ones who said ‘I do’

The mask, indeed, has been the most noticeable new bridal accessory. For those who opted to push through with smaller, more intimate weddings once quarantine restrictions eased up, wearing masks and practicing social distancing have become a defining part of their weddings. In fact, a bride’s photo went viral when she was seen having her temperature check, minutes before walking down the aisle.

Newlyweds Michiko and Philippe Gaeng ended up adjusting their wedding date and venue twice. First, because of the Taal Volcano eruption, they moved their Tagaytay garden ceremony to Bohol. But those plans eventually changed when the ECQ was announced — the same week they paid their deposit at the venue. Given that the majority of their wedding guests would be flying in from abroad, they realized the logistical nightmare of dealing with quarantine periods and limited mobility within the Philippines. They decided to push up their October wedding to July instead, in a civil ceremony personally attended by a limited number of guests.

Michiko and Philippe Gaeng at their wedding reception. Photo by MARTY ILAGAN

At the time, strict quarantine measures were still in place, so traffic was very light on the road. Michiko recalls of their post-ceremony photos, “We had our photos taken in Manila as if we had closed down roads, and even the CCP [Cultural Center of the Philippines.] That was probably one big upside, too, that there was nobody else but us. It was a beautiful sunny day sandwiched by gloomy days that week.” She adds, “I learned that with just the bare essentials it would still be special. And it was.”

For Pearl and and Haru Natividad, getting married this year meant trading off their church wedding in Iloilo, with 200 guests. They eventually decided to postpone their wedding after the President’s first press conference. “We knew that this pandemic would not be solved within one month,” Pearl recalls.

They eventually opted for a civil wedding because their marriage license would expire soon. They booked their wedding team with only four days to plan. As residents of Pasig, they knew that Mayor Vico Sotto would be busy with the COVID-19 situation, but they took a chance and inquired if he could officiate their wedding. “We were also surprised when Mayor Vico posted our wedding kiss photo on his Instagram,” Pearl shares. “The photo went viral and became a meme.”

Pearl and and Haru Natividad with Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto. Photo by LULA IMAGES

When Joyce and Edward Andes decided to get married, they knew they wanted a long engagement, and to get married on their fifth anniversary this year. When the original date had to change, they opted to continue their plans on a much smaller scale: still a church wedding, but with much fewer loved ones in attendance. Joyce remembers the stress of having to secure their marriage licenses and even attend their pre-cana seminar via video call, because she and Edward lived in two different provinces. “This took a toll on both of us, like we were grieving for the original plans we already set in place,” Joyce shares. “Our family and friends comforted us in various ways, most sending heartfelt messages and some even had food delivered to our doorsteps.”

Joyce and Edward Andes still decided to push through with a church wedding but with much fewer loved ones in attendance. Photo by DREAMCATCHERS PHOTOCINEMA

Their pared down wedding meant that a level of coordination had to be sacrificed, which the couple acknowledged. But it was important for them to push through at their own terms, by keeping their loved ones safe while being able to celebrate their union. “We felt COVID-19 won't be going away anytime soon. If we wait, we would be anxious for much longer and we might not be married until next year,” Joyce says. “Our wedding may not have been how we originally intended to celebrate, but we are very grateful nonetheless.”