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Welcome to the wedding boom. How couples are handling the busiest season in 40 years

Claire Fidel with Weddings From Italy prepares mannequins at the Great Bridal Expo held at The Westin Boston Seaport District Hotel in Boston, Mass., on March 13.
Vanessa Leroy for NPR
Claire Fidel with Weddings From Italy prepares mannequins at the Great Bridal Expo held at The Westin Boston Seaport District Hotel in Boston, Mass., on March 13.

After Dani Joselson got engaged in 2018, she and her fiancé, Doug DeMarco, set a date for April 2020, hoping to enjoy a long engagement, just being a couple.

"Little did we know," sighs Joselson, 28, that a global pandemic would leave her still waiting to walk down the aisle, nearly four years later.

Having to cancel their original wedding date was "the worst," Joselson recalls. Instead of saying, "I do" in a beautiful, rustic barn on a Connecticut lake, she spent her would-be-wedding night eating cold pizza at home, sobbing on zoom to her would-be-bridesmaids.

"I was hysterically crying," she says. "I was like crying up all night, because that was supposed to be our day."

They rebooked for August, but "then the same sort of thing happened," Joselson says. "And then the same sort of thing happened again, and again and again."

Five times actually.

"It was awful, she says. "With delta, and omicron, we just kept picking the wrong dates."

2.5 million couples are expected to tie the knot this year - that's 15% higher than usual

Now, multiple "save-the-date" cards later, their wedding is finally happening this weekend in what's shaping up to be the busiest wedding year in decades, due in large part to the backlog of so many postponed celebrations. Some 2.5 million couples are expected to tie the knot this year, according to The Wedding Report, about 15% higher than normal. That means a frantic season for not only brides and grooms, but also their wedding planners, DJs, caterers, photographers and their wedding guests.

Latasha Beckett of Southern Belle Pastry hands out tastings during the Great Bridal Expo, "ecstatic" that the wedding business has picked up again, after two years of little to no business.
/ Vanessa Leroy
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Vanessa Leroy
Latasha Beckett of Southern Belle Pastry hands out tastings during the Great Bridal Expo, "ecstatic" that the wedding business has picked up again, after two years of little to no business.

"I have six [weddings] that I'm attending, and three that I'm in, says 30-year-old Cheryl Carey, who lives north of Boston. "I'm spending cash quick: dresses, flights, shoes."

And so are brides and grooms, including Carey's friend 29-year-old Ashely Lydon. The two have come to The Great Bridal Expo at a Boston hotel to check out all-things-wedding, from "Mr. & Mrs" neon signs, to monogrammed drink stirrers, and unique treats like the "chicken waffle cupcakes" being offered by Natasha Beckett of Southern Belle Pastries.

Ashley Lydon (center), checking out macaroon options at the Mariela's Sweets booth during the Great Bridal Expo in Boston, says after two years of pandemic restrictions, she's planning a wedding that will be "over the top."  She came with Cheryl Carey, (right) her matron of honor, and Hannah Lydon, her maid of honor (left).
/ Vanessa Leroy for NPR
/
Vanessa Leroy for NPR
Ashley Lydon (center), checking out macaroon options at the Mariela's Sweets booth during the Great Bridal Expo in Boston, says after two years of pandemic restrictions, she's planning a wedding that will be "over the top." She came with Cheryl Carey, (right) her matron of honor, and Hannah Lydon, her maid of honor (left).

"I love chicken and waffles," one bride squeals in delight. Another couple, asks Beckett for something to match the vibe of their fall wedding's "rustic tone with a touch of fantasy." Becket is happy to oblige, suggesting an "apple, rum gingersnap crisp pie, or warm cranberry pudding with a granny cream sauce."

Vendors had little business for two years of the pandemic and now celebrate as much as brides and grooms

After little to no business for two years of the pandemic, vendors are celebrating as much as brides and grooms are.

"I'm ecstatic," says Beckett, between customers. "I'm hoping to book even into next year."

"It's a lot of pressure off of us to finally have money coming in again, says Julie Kaplan of Emerald Invitations, a small family owned business, offering couples "everything from the save-the-date refrigerator magnets to thank you cards."

"There were times we didn't think we were going to make it," Kaplan says. "And I didn't have a back-up plan, so this is very much a relief."

Julie Kaplan, the designer for Emerald Invitations, sets up her booth during the Great Bridal Expo. She says it's a big relief to have the wedding business picking up again.
/ Vanessa Leroy for NPR
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Vanessa Leroy for NPR
Julie Kaplan, the designer for Emerald Invitations, sets up her booth during the Great Bridal Expo. She says it's a big relief to have the wedding business picking up again.

Giuliano Rubini from Weddings From Italy says orders for his Italian suits and gowns are 50% higher than they were pre-pandemic. "March for us has been a booming month," he says. "We are very happy."

It's not only the number of weddings that's up this year; The Wedding Report estimates spending per wedding will also jump 15%. The wedding site "the Knot" is projecting a 25% increase. Part of that is due to inflation and higher labor costs. That's scaring some couples into shrinking their shindigs, but plenty of others are planning bashes bigger than ever. One sample cocktail napkin on display, sums up the sentiment: "We waited an extra year for this. Party accordingly."

Lydon and her fiancé, couldn't agree more.

"We're kind of going over the top," she says. "We want it to be a little bit extra. Even the groom, - he's got some plans. So I'm like 'okay, honey,' " she laughs.

"We're now looking at what I call 'the great uncorking'" says wedding planner Mandy Connor, owner of Hummingbird Weddings & Events in Boston. Her bookings are up 30% this year, she says, and she's hired extra staff to handle it. This wedding season is so jammed up, she says, couples are resorting to scheduling celebrations on weekdays. And competition for vendors is so stiff, she says, when couples go meet a DJ or a tour a venue, they are being pressured to book it on the spot, or risk losing it to some other couple lurking in the waiting room.

"I've had clients sitting in the sales room of a venue texting me pictures of a contract so they can sign in real time," Connor says. "That feels very hysterical, and it is just unheard of."

Inflation, supply chain issues and quarantine weight gain create extra stress as wedding plans get underway

Making things even more stressful, even after contracts are signed, prices are subject to change "because we don't know what chicken is going to cost in July,'" says Connor. Inflation has made budgeting "a guessing game." One of her clients was hit with a 30% increase between their contracted estimate and their final bill. "It's very scary," Connor says.

At the same time, supply chain issues are making it hard to come by such wedding staples as flowers, and paper for invitations. And there are even more curveballs for those couples who have postponed. For one thing, the pandemic has had a way of shaking out one's real friends, so guests who got invitations to a wedding that was cancelled two years ago, aren't necessarily making the cut to the rescheduled one this year. As one bride put it, "We've had to have some awkward conversations."

Also, many brides and grooms no longer fit into those tuxedos, suits and dresses they bought years ago due to their "quarantine 17," — or because of the bump in brides with baby bumps. The wedding dress chain store David's Bridal says demand for maternity gowns is now 10% higher than it was pre-pandemic. And their "Mini-Me" collection of exact replica dresses in toddler sizes "has absolutely exploded" according to Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Cook.

Garrett Wood talks with Eva Pekkala, director of catering with Aspen Skiing Company Catering, about her wedding plans at the Elk Camp Restaurant in Snowmass, Colorado. After postponing her wedding twice because of COVID-19 she's planning to finally get married this summer.
/ Rachel Woolf for NPR
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Rachel Woolf for NPR
Garrett Wood talks with Eva Pekkala, director of catering with Aspen Skiing Company Catering, about her wedding plans at the Elk Camp Restaurant in Snowmass, Colorado. After postponing her wedding twice because of COVID-19 she's planning to finally get married this summer.

Garrett Wood, 31, from Bow, New Hampshire, is among those who made peace with having to put off her wedding party in 2020, but she was not okay postponing starting a family.

"I just wanted to get things going," she says as she shuffles her 11-month-old son, Declan, who's squirming on her lap. "You don't know how long it's going to take you, and I didn't want [my fiancé] to have to wait until he was in his mid -forties or something to start having kids, so I was like, 'Well, I could at least try,' and we got pregnant."

That changed her plans for her ceremony; instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen, she will have a wedding party of one: her 1-year old baby boy.

"The ceremony is before his bedtime, so hopefully he'll walk down the aisle and be our ring bearer," she says.

Wood is optimistic that her third date will be the charm, and her dream wedding in Snowmass, Colorado will really happen this summer. But as is the case for many brides and grooms, COVID-19 – and the uptick in cases of the new variant-- is an enduring source of anxiety.

Garrett Wood, (right), smiles with her friend, Audrey Anthony, while carrying her son, Decklen Kusmierz, 11 months, on the gondola in Snowmass, Colorado. Wood's delayed wedding will be held at the ski resort this year.
/ Rachel Woolf for NPR
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Rachel Woolf for NPR
Garrett Wood, (right), smiles with her friend, Audrey Anthony, while carrying her son, Decklen Kusmierz, 11 months, on the gondola in Snowmass, Colorado. Wood's delayed wedding will be held at the ski resort this year.

"I just want the wedding to happen"

Jenna Mantis and her fiancé Sam Cutler, both 34, are getting married in April, after becoming engaged in 2020. They're planning an "industrial chic" wedding in an old factory building in Connecticut that involves a vintage steam train ride along the Connecticut river and a reception at a train station. Pre-COVID-19, Mantis says, rain would have been her biggest worry. Now, she couldn't care less about the weather. "I just want the wedding to happen," she says.

She also worries about keeping her guests safe, especially two family members who are extra vulnerable to COVID-19. And like many couples this season, since state restrictions are lifting, she and her fiancé are left to impose and enforce their own COVID rules, themselves.

"We have unfortunately kind of realized in the past few years, that you can't necessarily take everyone at their word," Mantis says, so they're setting up a Google doc for guests to upload proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test. They're also asking guests to take rapid tests on the day of.

It's a lot, Mantis sighs, but they need to protect their loved ones.

"If someone really has a problem with it, they don't have to come," she says. "That's fine."

With all the extra complications and costs this year, some couples who've been waiting for their big, blowout bash are now finding it harder to get excited about.

"It's like a tug between the heart and the mind," says Mayra Mahmood, who had to cancel her wedding reception in 2020. But she did get legally and religiously married that year. So now she's rethinking that 400-person extravaganza she had planned.

"It's like, what does a wedding look like after you've been married for two years," she wonders out loud. "You kind of feel cheated, but it's like now, everything is more expensive and do we really need to spend money on this right now, or do we need to buy a house, or buy a car or buy groceries?"

Mayra Mahmood got legally and religiously married in 2020. But since two years have passed since COVID-19 forced her to cancel the big wedding reception she planned, she is now rethinking whether she will have one at all.
/ Alanna Lauter
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Alanna Lauter
Mayra Mahmood got legally and religiously married in 2020. But since two years have passed since COVID-19 forced her to cancel the big wedding reception she planned, she is now rethinking whether she will have one at all.

For now, the hand-embellished, traditional red wedding dress that was being custom made in Mahmood's native Pakistan, has been cancelled. But the red heels she bought to match are still at home, taunting her from the back of her closet.

"There's hope, Inshallah, one day I'll wear them, but I just don't know," she says. "It's confusing."

Even if Mahmood does end up putting a new wedding date on the calendar, she knows she'd still be facing a good long wait for that first dance she's been dreaming of, given how booked up this wedding season – and the next one-- already are.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.