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How to Throw a Beautiful Socially-Distanced Wedding and Reception

As small weddings begin to take place again, here's how you can keep your guests safe and healthy while still having the wedding of your dreams

Socially distanced weddings of up to 30 people are allowed to take place from 4th July in England – an exciting step forward for many couples whose wedding plans have been in limbo since the Coronavirus pandemic began. But these new, strict wedding guidelines might leave you confused about what your wedding day can look like.

New rules include having to wash your hands before and after you exchange wedding rings, singing being banned, and receptions only allowed to take place within two-household bubbles. It’s going to feel very different from what you originally planned, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the rules work for you and have a happy, love-filled day.

If you’re considering having a wedding with social distancing, we’ve covered everything you need to know. From how to choose your 30-person guest list and throw a reception with just two households allowed to whether your dad can walk you down the aisle, keep reading for the ultimate guide to having a socially distanced wedding.

First, a few wise words. A socially-distanced wedding is not going to be everyone’s idea of ‘the perfect day’, and some people are guaranteed to question why you want to go ahead with your wedding under these rules. It’s none of their business and frankly it’s pretty rude, but there’s no doubt some will ask. You need to hold in your heart the reasons you want to get married and try to let any negativity wash over you.

The vows you make are just as personal, poignant and heartfelt whether said in front of 15 or 150. In fact, an intimate day may end up feeling even more special to you as a couple! And of course your dad, or anyone else you choose, can still walk you down the aisle. If you want to start the beautiful journey of married life now rather than waiting another year, you should. The party can wait, and it’ll be just as amazing when it finally comes around.

Note that these rules just to apply to England at the moment. In Scotland, outdoor weddings can take place with a maximum of only eight people. In Northern Ireland, you can have up to 10 people present in total, and in Wales small weddings are allowed if they adhere to social distancing rules. You can still use lots of these ideas, but you will need to scale them back for other parts of the UK that aren’t England.

How to Choose Your Guest List

Image: Pinterest

Let’s kick off by talking about who you should invite. The current 30 person limit includes everyone in the room: the couple, two witnesses, the officiant and photographer is already six people from the off.

Write down a list of your VIPS – the people you couldn’t imagine getting married without being there – and try to make it fair. You could split the 24 people left in half and allocate 12 spaces each, and then you can trade with each other if one has a larger family or one has a larger group of close friends etc. If you start with equal numbers, it should lead to fewer arguments.

You’ll want to maximise the rest of the people who can be there to watch by implementing a few simple rules:

  • Of course you want your grandparents there, but at-risk or elderly relatives are still advised to continue shielding for their safety. You can set up a tripod and live stream the wedding to them at home so they’ll still be able to join in and watch your day while keeping safe. This leaves a few more spaces among your 30, and means you don’t have to spend the day fretting about whether their mask is on correctly
  • Infants must be held in their parent’s arms or by someone within their household, and any soft toy or play areas are out of bounds. Since little ones can’t play or be held by other guests, it may make more sense to see if someone in their bubble can look after them for the day. Children, even a baby in someone’s arms, count among your 30 guests
  • Be judicious with plus ones. The most important thing is having your loved ones there. Because the ceremony will be short and you won’t be having a reception like planned (more on that later), your friends might not mind coming without their partner. The less partners you invite (unless you’re very close to them too), the more friends you can have
  • Be aware of how many suppliers you have. Photographers are a given as you’ll want to capture this moment – it’s your wedding day! – but other suppliers, like caterers, videographers or venue staff if they’re in the room, will count among the 30 limit too
  • It goes without saying that if anyone is exhibiting symptoms of Coronavirus, they and everyone in their household should not attend. It’s still the rule that those in a household with someone with COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolate for 14 days, so you should know up to two weeks in advance if a household you’ve invited have to self-isolate

Still not sure? Here’s seven tips for cutting down your guest list.

How to Throw a Safe, Socially-Distanced Wedding Ceremony

The key advice here is to throw your ceremony in a “COVID-19 secure environment”. What does this mean? To reduce your chances of spreading the virus, the rules say you should: avoid face-to-face seating; reduce the number of guests in an enclosed space; improve ventilation; use protective screens and face coverings; and close non-essential social spaces.

Image: Pinterest

Here’s what that looks like:

1. Have an Outdoor Ceremony

In Scotland, for example, an outdoor ceremony is all you’re currently allowed. The extra ventilation and space are going to keep your guests healthy.

This could be a back garden ceremony, if your registrar/celebrant allows it, or your venue may have a licensed outdoor space. Scroll down for lots of ideas on how to do your ceremony seating that keeps guests in bubbles and will really work for an outdoor ceremony.

If it’s simply not possible and you must have your ceremony inside, ask for the largest room that the venue has and work on making that feel cosy while keeping guests socially distanced. You can add fabric hangings from the ceiling to make a room feel smaller while keeping it airy and light.

2. Seat Your Guests in Bubbles

Ask guests to arrive just before the ceremony is due to start so there isn’t too much opportunity to mill around. It seems a bit draconian, for sure, but it is for their safety.

Once they arrive, ask your guests to take their seats as soon as possible and assign ceremony seating. They can sit with everyone in their household and those they’ve been bubbling with, which often means close family members like your parents and siblings will be able to sit together. Make sure the groups of guests are at least two metres away from each other, or one metre away if they’re wearing face masks.

Image: Pinterest

3. Encourage Face Masks and Sanitising

On that point, you should ideally make face masks mandatory. Guidelines recommend sticking to the two metre social distancing rule, but with protective measures like face masks, frequent hand washing, and readily-available hand sanitiser that can be reduced to one metre.

Guests will do as you ask, but it’s best to make this as easy as possible for them. Provide disposable masks on seats in case they forget; have hand sanitiser at the end of every aisle so they can take some when they arrive and when they leave; and put up signs gently reminding them of social distancing rules. Understandably, you’ll want to take the masks off for photos, but do this for the shortest time possible. Make sure your photographer is wearing a mask as they’ll be getting close your guests during that brief time they take off their face coverings.

4. Keep the Ceremony as Short as Possible

The rules say the ceremony should be “concluded in the shortest reasonable time” and that it should be kept to only the contract parts which make the marriage legal. Religious weddings that usually take place over a few hours or days should be significantly shortened.

This doesn’t mean an in-out wedding with a quick “I do” somewhere in between. You can still add little bits that give personality and significance to your day, but you should reduce this down to as little as possible where you can. For example, it should be OK to have one short reading, especially if it’s a Church ceremony and you’d like a Bible reading. Couples can write their own vows as well as saying the legal declarations to make the ceremony more romantic and personal.

Be aware that raised voices aren’t allowed, so you’ll need to speak your vows at a normal level and avoid using a microphone that is passed around several people.

Image: Etsy

5. Wash Your Hands

Where rings are exchanged, the rules say, “hands should be washed before and after. The rings should be handled by as few people as possible.” This doesn’t mean literally just before and after – you don’t need a washbasin in the room – but you should wash and sanitise your hands before you walk down the aisle.

As the rings are likely to have been handled by the best man and officiant, you should wash and sanitise your hands at the end of the ceremony too, before you touch anyone else in your bubble.

6. Make a Spotify Playlist

Activities like singing, chanting and playing wind instruments aren’t allowed due to the possibility of virus transmission through droplets in the air. This means that band who were going to serenade you down the aisle will need to be put on hold, the friend who was going to sing during the signing of the register can’t, and hymns are definitely cancelled.

Your best option is use recorded music, for example, a song on Spotify for your processional and recessional, and a pre-recorded version of any music that was going to be sung live. We know it won’t have exactly the same impact, but it isn’t the worst compromise. As long as the recording is high-quality and you have someone who knows what they’re doing to fade it in and out, it will sound great.

Image: Aswarby Rectory

7. Stick to Single Use

Normally, we’d advocate to avoid single use anything for the sake of the planet. However, single use is your best friend for safety.

Books and communal resources, like Bibles, devotional mats or hymn books, should not be used. Instead find single-use alternatives that only one guest touches, like a paper sheet with the order of service and reading on it that can be recycled. A pen that can be sanitised between the parties signing the register should also be used, otherwise it might be advisable to have a few biros on hand.

8. No Ceremony Drinks

Food and drink aren’t allowed so don’t plan on having a glass of Champagne with your guests before the ceremony or once it’s finished. You can still interact in your social bubbles and have photos taken, so now might be a nice time to do something alternative. Because you can’t have a large reception (more on this below), you could ask certain guests to give their speeches just after the ceremony. You won’t be able to raise a toast, but you can certainly clap your hearts out for the newlyweds.

What Is Allowed at a Socially Distanced Wedding?

Good question, because a lot of this depends on your bubble.

Image: Rebecca Carpenter Photography

Can I Have a Makeup Artist or Hair Stylist Help Me Get Ready?

Ideally, you would do this yourself or have a talented friend in your bubble help you. However, that isn’t always realistic.

The best alternative with salons reopening is to book yourself in for an early morning appointment to get your hair done (their PPE and sanitising requirements are better than you’d be able to get at home). Then your makeup artist could join you at your house as long as they too don PPE, like a face mask and gloves, and make sure all their equipment is sanitised.

Some brides keep their MUA on hand during the day for touch-ups, but remember that person will count as part of your 30 guests. Anything you can do yourself, like a bit of extra powder and lipstick before your couple shots, you should do.

Can I Get Ready and Arrive with My Bridesmaids?

Unless they’re part of your two-household bubble, you shouldn’t really be coming within two metres of your bridesmaids inside a house or venue. However, groups of up to six people can meet outside, so if it’s possible, you and your girls could all get ready together on an outdoor patio, terrace or in the garden. You can share a bottle of Prosecco, take it in turns to go inside, get changed and get makeup done, play music and still have the wedding morning you’ve dreamed of.

Bear in mind, you should all take different transport to the venue, unless any of your bridesmaids are in your bubble. Ask them to bring their cars or arrange taxis to pick you up. Once you get to the venue, you can all walk down the aisle as you would as long as you maintain a two metre gap between you (we’re assuming you won’t wear your mask as you walk down the aisle – it’s not quite the look for photos!).

Alternatively, you could just have your maid of honour, your mum, dad or a sibling that you’re bubbling with get ready with you in the morning. You can then travel with them to the ceremony. It won’t be exactly what you had planned, but it will certainly be poignant and full of love. They can then walk you down the aisle or let you walk alone.

Image: Pinterest

Can My Dad Walk Me Down the Aisle?

Yes, as long as his household is the one you’ve chosen to social bubble with. If you’ve picked a different second household, then technically no, because you’ll be within more that one metre of each other, even in masks.

Can We Sing a Song or Hymn?

Sadly, no. Singing isn’t allowed, but you’re more than welcome to play a pre-recorded song. Guests must not sing along with it though.

How to Throw a Two-Household Reception

Image: Pinterest

The reception is going to be a bit tricker than the wedding, in all honesty. Receptions are “strongly advised” against, but you’re allowed to have a small one that includes the people in your two-household bubble indoors OR up to six people that you don’t bubble with in an outdoor area. Anything else is not advised by the Government.

This causes quite a headache for couples as you technically won’t be able to have both sets of parents celebrate with you; you should really only have one set of parents as your second household.

In reality, you’ve probably navigated this situation from the start of lockdown and made your own decisions about bubbling. All we can do is give you the official advice, but it’s completely understandable if you choose to extend your bubble to allow for a small reception with both sides of your family.

Image: Pinterest

If you want to stick strictly to Government rules, how about having a dinner at home with your second household and Zoom calling other friends and family in? You can get your caterer to deliver meals to everyone so you can eat your planned wedding breakfast together and watch you have your first dance on video call.

Alternatively, you may find your venue is happy to cater for you and put on a small sit-down dinner where they can set tables up two metres apart and feed all of you in your household bubbles. This should be OK in a large airy venue like a barn or an open-sided tent or marquee, but is even better outdoors.

If you want to have dancing, this isn’t a problem as long as it’s in your bubble. We would advise against hiring a band or DJ – a Spotify playlist is best for this part of the day to lower the risk of transmission by bringing in new people.

Absolutely feel free to cut a cake and take all the photos you want at your reception. We love the idea of boxing up and hand-delivering or posting slices to those who couldn’t join you for this part.

Five Socially Distanced Wedding Ceremony Seating Ideas

Not sure what social bubble seating looks like? You could adapt these socially-distanced ideas that should give you some ideas to set up in your own garden or discuss with your venue.

1. Rustic Benches

Image: Aswarby Rectory

A rustic outdoor ceremony works great with simple bench seating. As these are movable you can keep them a good two metres distance apart with no trouble, or move them closer for large two-household bubbles. Bonus: if you’re worried about guests hanging around longer than your venue can host them, benches aren’t that comfortable after half an hour so you’ll naturally wrap up those lagging behind.

2. Spiral Seating

Image: Pinterest

Guests can sit with empty seats left between households so no one is too close, but everyone gets a great view of you both walking down the spiral aisle and exchanging vows in the centre. Have your household on the inner ring of seats, closest too you.

3. Wedding in the Round

Image: Pinterest

Want to avoid rows? A wedding in the round means one with guests on all sides of you. Here you can see entryways separating the blocks of seating and this is a great way to keep households and their bubbles sitting together but spread them out from other guests. The seating will still look full as there’s no empty chairs, just larger aisles to walk down.

4. Eclectic Sofa Seating

Image: Pinterest

One way to make it feel less odd to have gaps between your guests is to go for eclectic and unusual seating. We love the idea of having a household sit together on a couple of big comfy sofas (easy to hire or borrow friends and family’s garden furniture). It makes for great photos and a really fun vibe.

5. Ultra-Small Wedding

Image: Pinterest

The smaller the wedding, the more likely that everyone is in your bubble. This means you don’t have to distance and can just set up chairs in a nice aisle arrangement like this.

Want more small wedding ideas? Check our our complete guide to stylish intimate wedding ideas.