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June 1, 2020

Families in Canada Adapting: A Wedding at a Distance

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected families across Canada and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that impact their well-being, it hasn’t stopped family life by any means.

Whether it’s managing work–family responsibilities, connecting to celebrate milestones or providing support in difficult times, people are finding diverse and creative ways to keep doing what families do.

As families in Canada continue to manage these transitions, the Vanier Institute of the Family is gathering, compiling and sharing these “stories behind the statistics” to provide insights and into family strengths, resilience and diverse experiences across the country.

A Wedding at a Distance

Edward Ng, PhD

June 1, 2020

In early May, I had my first experience attending an online wedding. The event was planned long ago, well before the COVID‑19 pandemic had been declared. Once the restriction order was imposed in mid-March, the couple adjusted the wedding plan so that the event could be held online instead.

The ceremony, which was held in Montreal at the home of the bride, was ultimately broadcast through YouTube all over the world. Will this be the trend of the future? Before this, my only “virtual family gathering” was a funeral for my uncle who passed away a few years ago in Sydney, Australia.

The ceremony started at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning (or wherever it happened to be for the online guests). After introductory music, the flower girl and the ring bearer made their entry into the broadcasting not by walking down the aisle in a church but rather their own corridor at home, throwing flowers and small decorations along the way. Then followed the well-arranged performance by a quartet, assembled online playing musical pieces for the occasion. The quartet was followed by a choir singing separately yet harmoniously, from wherever they were. Then came the sharing from ministers, followed by exchanging of vows and of rings and the signing of the marriage certificate. The ceremony took just more than an hour, and concluded with selfie-taking (so to speak).

In the joy of the moment, though, neither the family nor the guests – nor the bride and groom – cared whether we were there virtually. Not everything was the same – when it came to attire, some of us still chose to dress up for the occasion with formal dress or suit jacket, while others chose to dress casually. People were adapting as they saw fit as we all experienced this together, while apart.

The YouTube broadcasting feature was used, which allowed for viewers all over the world to contribute to the occasion in live time. From the beginning of the online ceremony, we observed many congratulatory wishes and comments beaming through. Family, friends and loved ones from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, as well as the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia, left their wishes to the couple. One guest commented that this was the first time that people at a wedding were able to contribute their comments and appreciation of the occasion so instantaneously.

By bringing the wedding online, more people were able to attend, some of whom wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise. For my own family, Montreal is at least a two- to three-hour drive each way; for those observing from Asia, however, that would be at least two days of travel to and from (with much higher fares, if flying has been allowed). Furthermore, these international travellers would have had to quarantine for at least 14 days. That would have made attending this wedding from overseas quite impossible.

At the end of the event, the newlyweds expressed their appreciation to the online wedding planning team, and promised that there will be wedding celebration activities after the restriction order has been lifted. We all looked forward to this day, and ultimately had a positive experience with this online family event. In this case, moving the wedding ceremony online was necessary, practical and sensible, especially in view of pandemic. Time will tell whether online family milestones will be a norm in the future.

Edward Ng, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada