Surprise! We got married on zoom!

How my husband and I pivoted to a virtual wedding ceremony in just 6 days

Background

On March 10, 2020, Sai and I realized that there was no way our original wedding arrangements for April 26 could happen as planned. Our families wouldn’t be able to come to New York from India, California, and Kansas City, and day by day, governors were putting out rules about the size of gatherings allowed until ultimately, we just couldn’t gather anymore in person.

As Sai and I settled into the new reality of quarantining together, it felt so weird to not be married. I kept saying, I wish we were married already. Then, on April 18, Governor Cuomo put out two executive orders that made it possible in New York to move ahead with getting married, virtually. With this new information, Sai and I decided that we would go ahead with our original date for getting married, and adapt our ceremony to match the reality of the moment. We were originally planning to have a Vedic Ceremony, and there was a lot of thought and consideration that went into picking the correct, auspicious date, which is why we wanted to go ahead with our original date for our virtual ceremony.

The ceremony that we ended up having turned out to be so much more meaningful, personal, and reflective of who we are as a couple, that it may have been if we didn’t have to change our plans.

Because of our experience, I wanted to write this article to perhaps inspire others who may have had to similarly cancel their plans, and show that having a virtual ceremony can be just as beautiful and meaningful.

Objective

With only 6 days, Sai and I had to get a marriage license and plan a virtual ceremony that would be meaningful for us as a couple at this point in time.

Considerations


Since we were using Zoom as the medium to hold the ceremony, I know from the experience I have had for the past 6+ weeks that hosting a long, drawn out event would be exhausting for everyone. Therefore, for the purposes of this event, we decided to just focus on the ceremony for this event, and we aimed to keep it under 30 minutes.

Other things we considered and adapted for the purpose of this ceremony were:

  • I wanted to ensure that when people arrived into the space of the zoom ceremony, they were welcomed in a way that would prepare them for the event, so I created a slideshow of Sai and Me together and as children, and I had traditional Indian Wedding Music playing in the background from 10:50 a.m. until the ceremony began at 11 a.m.
  • Sai had asked me months ago to sing at our wedding, so I reached out to some friends to help me record a song using an app on our phones that we could put together and play as part of the ceremony
  • We wanted to have some elements that were inspired by the Vedic Ceremony, so we adapted our vows from what we would say together during the “7 Steps” we would take in the Vedic Ceremony, we exchanged garlands during the ceremony

Time for the Wedding

Originally, our Vedic Ceremony was scheduled to begin at 6:30 a.m. so that at 8:09 a.m., the auspicious time for us, we would be at the right place in the ceremony.

Now that we would be hosting our ceremony for people in California, Kansas City, Europe, and India, we needed to find a time that worked across all those timezones.

We ended up scheduling the zoom wedding ceremony for 11 a.m. New York Time, so it was 8 a.m. in California and 8:30 p.m. in India.

That said, we also went ahead with holding a private puja (or ceremony) with Sai’s parents in India at 8:09 a.m. New York time, so that we still were honoring the most auspicious moment for us on that day.

Attendees

Sai and I decided to keep this small and mostly for just our families because it was such an intimate ceremony and focused just on the marriage ceremony itself. Let’s be real, most wedding attendees just come for the party, so because this would be focused on our vow exchange and ring exchange, we kept it small and intimate.

Roles

Key to the success of any event is making sure that you assign people to roles that will ensure the success of an event. Because this event was happening on Zoom, I wanted to make sure that we had:

  • A zoom tech director — someone who opened up the zoom meeting, played all of the audio visual elements at the correct time, muted guests as needed, and recorded the event
  • Host — our host welcomed everyone into the “space” of the ceremony and oriented them to any logistical elements, e.g. spotlighting our video vs. gallery view, using jazz hands to “clap”; having a host made sure that the officiant and my husband and I didn’t have to worry about taking care of that
  • Speakers — we still had a few special elements in the ceremony, so we assigned speakers to introduce/share those elements
  • Officiant — because we had a host and speakers for other elements, our officiant only had to focus on the main part — marrying us

Purpose

As I learned in my 10+ years of designing and producing events, before starting to plan an event, you must first define its core purpose because that will be the driving force behind the event.

Sai and I were clear that for our virtual wedding ceremony, our purpose was to come together to honor and celebrate love and to receive the blessings of our families as we marked this sacred rite of passage.

Wedding Timeline

Monday, April 20: 6 days until our wedding

Sai and I spent most of the morning calling and emailing city, town, and village clerks to see if anyone could issue us a marriage license.

We first tried New York City, since we generally live in Brooklyn, but not surprise there, we couldn’t reach anyone.

Then we were in touch with the Kingston Clerk, who said they couldn’t help us because they weren’t set up to virtually issue a license, as Governor Cuomo had set out in his executive order.

Finally, around 2 p.m. that day, we connected with the Town Clerk for Hurley, NY, which is the town where we are residing for the moment, and she said while she couldn’t virtually issue the license, we could drive over to the town hall, fill out the paperwork in our car, and she’d issue us a license. We set up a time to do this with her on Thursday.

Creating the event production schedule

Tuesday, April 21: 5 days until our wedding

On Tuesday, I started creating a tech schedule for the event, planning out the elements that our ceremony would include, when they would happen, and who would be responsible for what. I included timings for those elements, as well as, who was speaking/muted on zoom at that moment, so the tech director had that info.

Sai and I also reached out to our friend who we wanted to officiate the ceremony for us on this day. She enthusiastically said, “Yes!”

Wednesday, April 22: 4 days until our wedding

By this day, we started giving our immediate family the heads up that we were going to hold the ceremony on Sunday, and that we would send out a formal invitation on Thursday after we had the license in our hands.

I also reached out to the people I wanted to invite to host and speak at the wedding ceremony.

Sai and me with our wedding license in hand after applying for it at the Hurley Town Hall.

Thursday, April 23: 3 days until our wedding

On Thursday, Sai and I drove over to the Hurley Town Hall. We called the Town Clerk and she came out and gave us the paperwork to fill out in our car. We filled out the paper work, gave it back to her, and then she processed it and gave us the license!

Immediately after we arrived home, we sent out the email invitation to our families, inviting them to our virtual wedding ceremony.

Friday, April 24: 2 days until our wedding

On Friday, a bouquet of flowers were delivered to the house from a friend. I then realized there was a florist open nearby, so I called and asked if they could get us 100 carnations and 6 roses to make some garlands for the ceremony. They called their distributor, and miraculously they had all the flowers we wanted in the colors we wanted! They delivered them to our door less than 24 hours later.

Friday evening, Sai and I worked on writing up our vows. I used a the Vedic Wedding Book by A.V. Srinivasan to adapt the vows we would make during a Vedic Ceremony when we take 7 steps together, repeating a vow with each step, after which, we are officially married.

A behind the scenes view of our set up for the ceremony

Saturday, April 25: 1 day until our wedding

On Saturday, Sai and I held a virtual “cue-to-cue” or run through of key transitions and elements for the wedding ceremony on Zoom with our tech director, host, speakers, and officiant. The meeting only lasted about 20 minutes, but I’m so glad we did it because we discovered a few glitches and miscommunications about music selections.

After the rehearsal, Sai and I made our garlands for the next day, I met with the host and officiant to give one final review of their speaking points, and Sai and I practiced our vows.

Photo of the puja performed simultaneously in India on our behalf in celebration of our wedding.

Sunday, April 26: Our Wedding Day!

On the morning of our wedding day, Sai and I FaceTimed with his parents in India at 8:09 a.m. and performed a private puja at the auspicious moment that we would have held the original Vedic Ceremony.

My family getting ready in Kansas City for the wedding with the photo slideshow on zoom playing on a screen in the background

Then, at 10:50 a.m., my tech director opened up the zoom space and began playing our selection of nadaswaram music (Traditional Indian Wedding Music) with a slide show of Sai and me while our family members arrived on Zoom. Sai and I kept our camera off until 11:00 a.m., and we had so much fun watching in gallery view as our loved ones appeared on the screen.

Sai and Me on my family's screen in Kansas City after we exchanged our vows.

Then, at 11:00 a.m. the ceremony began. Throughout the 25 minute ceremony, I was amazed at how strongly I felt everyone’s presence with me. It was an incredible feeling to feel our family there with us, and to also be physically in the room with just my future husband. My experience of the ceremony was that it was both extremely intimate while at the same time I was surrounded and supported by my family.

My favorite part of the ceremony was part way through the vows when we exchanged garlands and Sai and I said to each other:

May you become my friend.
May I deserve your friendship.
May our friendship make me one with you.
A friend's well wishes during the ceremony :) 

Reflections

As I reflect on our wedding day a few points stand out to me that I want to share.

  • Following our ceremony, Sai and I received several photos from our family of the pujas and altars they had created for us in their own homes. By creating this virtual ceremony, it created a unique and beautiful invitation for our families to prepare for our wedding in a mindful and loving way.
  • By focusing on just the ceremony, and inviting our families into that moment with us, we focused on only the essential moment of a wedding. We stripped away all the drama, the fanfare, and the distractions, and the result was possibly more meaningful than it would have been otherwise.
  • Sai and I did almost everything for this ceremony — from decorating to making garlands to creating the new invitation and doing the tech set up — and this preparation that we did together made the whole ceremony and ritual of preparing for our wedding even that much more special.
  • In my experience, moving forward with our wedding ceremony in this virtual format gave us the opportunity to get back to basics, to strip away all the unnecessary elements that come with planning a wedding, and focus on coming together, as a couple with our families as we make this sacred commitment to one another.
My husband and I immediately following the ceremony (photo taken with a self-timer on a tripod)

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