Proper old-style weddings are back – and they’ve been worth the wait

I went to a wedding at the weekend. That shouldn’t be a remarkable statement, but of course it is. It’s been a strange summer: the promise of normal life returning hasn’t quite materialised. Instead it has felt tentative, cautious. So I wasn’t sure how this big social event would feel. There was no cap on numbers, no social distancing, no miserable insistence on everything being outside, despite the season’s atrocious weather. It was a proper wedding, in the old style. And it was wonderful.

After 18 months of deprivation, I forgot what it was like to feel part of a community. Robbed of really celebrating these major life milestones – birthdays and anniversaries, births and christenings, weddings and funerals – life has felt atomised and dreary. That sense of connection you get from being around other human beings, including those you don’t know well, has been absent. So a huge, unapologetic, exuberant wedding was always going to be quite the experience.

Bryony and Andy had had two weddings cancelled before this one, and there was something inspiring about their determination to finally do it, to have this big celebration of love with family and friends. I’m aware that some people don’t like weddings, but I am not one of them. There’s that old line about marriage being an institution, and who wants to live in an institution? Well, I do. I’m a ridiculous romantic, falling for it all hook, line and sinker: the flower girls in their tutus, my friend’s toddler son in his little waistcoat and bow tie, the father of the bride’s eyes misting over when he sees his daughter. Bryony’s dress was enormous and intricate, a Hollywood dress. It had the presence of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, wearing Givenchy, or Grace Kelly on her wedding day. It was a dress that didn’t compromise. In the same way that the huge skirts of Dior’s new look followed the deprivations of wartime, I have a feeling that post-Covid bridal fashion will be similarly maximalist.

British weddings can be quite restrained affairs, emotion-wise. The best thing about most is usually the speeches, but there is a national tendency to favour the comedic above the earnest, or sometimes attempts to be emotive can feel contrived and reliant on cliche. Yet there’s something about living through a pandemic that has made all that bluster and bravado rather passé. I first noticed a refreshing emotional post-lockdown honesty back in the spring, in individual conversations. People spoke frankly about what they’d been through, and about their struggles during the past year.

At the wedding the emotion was magnified to a level such that some of us struggled to hold it together. The tears flowed from all quarters: during the bride’s brother’s intelligent reflections on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, during her father’s witty, tender poem that took us from his daughter’s birth through her studies to the present day, during her sister’s loving speech, and as the groom told his parents, “I’m so proud to be your son.” One of the lessons of the pandemic has been the importance of family and friends in our lives, and of telling people how much you love them while they are still here. Those at this celebration seemed to have taken it to heart.

I’d have been a puddle on the floor had it not been for all the laughs. The littlest flower girl cried out during the silence that followed “speak now or forever hold your peace”. The best men made the “even the cake’s in tiers” gag. Both brought the house down. People were out to have a good time. The subsequent euphoria I felt on the dancefloor was like being high. There were precious few multigenerational social events even before the pandemic, and I’ve always loved the inclusivity of the wedding disco: the grandmas dancing alongside the teenagers, the toddlers held high in the air, the dad dancing. These days it feels even more meaningful, because we’ve spent months avoiding our elders in order to protect them, and have missed significant chunks of the children in our families’ young lives. To dance and laugh and drink together again feels momentous.

That’s the crux of it, really: our need to experience the communal joy of celebration. I feel as if I’ve been in some sort of scientific experiment: a mammal deprived of the warmth of the pack. Of course, it was particularly meaningful because of the love I feel for the bride, a friend of almost 15 years, to whom I was finally able to return the bridesmaid favour, and my happiness at seeing her find a man who truly values, respects and adores her. But it was more than that. The wedding distilled everything that truly matters in life: deep and lasting friendship and love, kindness and laughter and romance, a dedication to raising the next generation and to honouring the sacrifices of the previous one, feasting and drinking and dancing and laughing, and daft conversations with uncles and university friends and colleagues, worlds colliding.

I can’t promise to never moan about attending a wedding again, but I suspect that it will be a long while before I do. Even the bleary-eyed full-English breakfast buffet and packed Sunday train back to the city felt wildly exciting. It was worth the wait, all of it.

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