Saying "I Do!"

Claudia Reeves

Last July my niece got engaged, the first of the next generation in our family… Am I excited? Yes! The date chosen is the 24th of July of this year! Looking back, it is incredible how fast these last seven months have gone by, and how slow the whole COVID situation has improved… Truth be told, no one really knows yet whether the wedding will indeed go ahead as planned, but for now the Bride and Groom-to-be are happy to stick to the original plan with abounding optimism, and so am I!

I crave the excitement that comes when a new project presents itself. Better still, a party project. But a wedding? Just let me at it! How fun is this going to be, right? Alas, my own kids feel the need to remind me that this is not my wedding, nor one of theirs for that matter. My excuse? As if I needed one… But I do have one: together with my husband, we are to be the official witnesses to the ceremony. If this sounds alien to you, it is because weddings are a bit different in Portugal, where the wedding is to take place. I suppose you can think of me as the Matron of Honour. This alone, I am sure, allows me to throw in my tuppence worth in all matters planning. Plus, the Bride asked me of course!

So, where to begin? I was immediately thrown back in time to when I began preparations for my own wedding. I was already living in Ireland then, but the wedding was always going to be “back home” (which is Portugal, as you may have guessed!). I was organising it all from Ireland and our chosen date was less than six months away! That was not my initial intention to be fair, but why not? We did not fancy waiting too long, and it all felt perfectly doable at the same time!

Not intending to blow my own trumpet, but this was not without its own challenges: starting from absolute zero (which was almost the same as our budget!), all by myself, in a short time frame and long distance to boot.  A little history lesson here for those of you who may need some context, back then we did not have mobiles, smartphones, laptops, or the internet. Ok, I suppose you could say it was so “last century,” but all the same we are only talking 25 years ago! You were probably in primary school already…

Things have indeed evolved a lot since then, but nonetheless we still had some resources. Enter here the big F! No, not the casually used expletives commencing with the same letter of course (and which the Irish – I have found – are quite happy to use with abandon). I mean the FAX machine (yes, you can go Google that one); my closest friend during those frantic times of long-distance planning, allowing multiple exchanges in a matter of minutes. I suppose like a text nowadays, but in paper form back then. Yes, there were phones, but international phone calls cost money, doh! A few Hello! magazines were all I had by way of inspiration, and of course the experiences of my two older sisters’ weddings; that is to say, I knew what I did NOT want to do at MY wedding (we all want ours to be different, don’t we?) Oh, the memories…

“OMG,” says you now. It is hard to believe that anyone was ever able to get married that way, right? Where was Pinterest? And Instagram? And websites to guide you through every hour of every day of each long month leading up to the Big Day? An important note here: the average duration of Irish engagements is close to three years. That is 36 months. 156 weeks. 1,090 days… You get the picture. And of course, who says wedding DAY anymore? Surely you mean at least 3 days – day before, day of, and day after?

OMG is right! It is an absolute nightmare in this day and age to get the whole thing organised. And that is after all the hassle of finding a Bride or Groom in the first place! In retrospect, I was absolutely blessed to have had only six months of preparation. It helped me focus on the essentials and that meant “Keep it simple!”. I can see how so many young couples end up under serious pressure and over budget when it comes to getting married nowadays, but does it really have to be that way?

If you ask me, COVID has been an absolute blessing in disguise on this front. If ever you wanted the perfect excuse not to host a big wedding (without eloping abroad), now is the time! There are loads of beautifully illustrated micro weddings to prove that you can still have the most magnificent day, albeit without a crowd. But that, I must say, is a decision that only the two of you can make. Together.

Irish culture makes this a most arduous task, what with large family sizes and even larger circles of lifelong friends, not to mention the kindly neighbours and amazing colleagues… well, what can I say? You are all just too nice! Would I have been happy with a micro wedding? Honestly, I do not think so. There were 75 guests at mine, which, although small, is nowhere close to what you would call “micro” nowadays. And it meant a lot that all those people were there, a few parental additions notwithstanding… Shhhh! ;)

Which brings me back to my niece and her fiancé and the all-important questions that they will have to answer by this April. Will their wedding go ahead with all 160 planned guests, or will they wait another year in the hope that the dreaded c-word will have become a thing of the past? “Micro” is not something they really wish to consider right now. I guess all will be revealed in due course!

But I digress. Big or small, the one nugget of wisdom I do wish to impart on the wedding planning front is indeed to keep it simple, while still letting your personalities shine through! Who cares ultimately if the wedding party arrives in a matching fleet of Rolls-Royces, or if there are only nine tiers in the wedding cake? Fancy favours, flipflops for the dance floor, oversized chess games for the lawn? All OTT if you ask me.

Think of it as if you were shopping for clothes – don’t buy the whole catalogue! Start with a few basic understated pieces and then accessorize to your taste. Dependable, elegant, and affordable is what you should be looking for. And that’s just what The Plate Lady is all about too! After ticking all your essential (tableware) needs, adding details that are especially important to you will be a piece of cake! Do not feel obliged to do something just because it is the current fad; reflect on what makes you unique, seek inspiration, and only invest in those things that are truly worthy of the memories you want of your dream wedding day.

And finally, stick to the budget, whatever that may be for you. Believe me, it is a lot easier to spend it than it is to earn it, and despite all the fun you may have on your big day, you will not be smiling as much when you are still paying for it many years from now. Unless you have won the Lotto of course, in which case, knock yourself out!

All that said, as much as I am proud of my amazingly simple and straightforward wedding preparations, I must confess that I still daydream about getting married again (to the same guy of course!), and about the many fanciful details I would now add to my special day, courtesy of the internet and social media… So, guess who is going to benefit from all these unused little gems? Yes indeed, my lucky niece!

As for me, I will keep cherishing the memories of our wonderful no-frills wedding and relishing the fact that we are still together after 25 years! And that should, in fact, be the number one item on every couple’s list!