The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The pandemic hasn’t stopped celebrations. But it has curtailed the big spending.

Jameila (Roache) Rambana, 22, and Andre Rambana, 23, hold each other after sealing their marriage with a kiss while surrounded by Andre's stepfather, Luis Torres; Andre's sister, Alexa Ramona; and Andre's mother, Annette Torres, during their virtual wedding May 8 at Meridian Hill Park in Washington. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The pandemic and the resulting shutdowns have helped people get creative about their celebrations. In the process, they are saving money — and, more importantly, realizing that it’s not the size of the event that matters.

Some of my neighbors have organized a parade this weekend to honor the high school and college graduates in our community. Families have decorated their yards. Graduating students have been encouraged to wear their cap and gown or school paraphernalia and stand in their yards to greet family and friends, who will stay in their cars and drive by to wish them well.

My nephew had a Zoom party for his eighth birthday. It was an adorable get-together. The birthday boy was more interested in dancing with his friends on the Zoom platform than he was in the few gifts people were able to send him. He was no less happy about turning eight at home than he would have been at some venue where a crowded party would have prevented him from spending any quality time with his guests.

This bride and groom joined Philadelphia protesters to say: ‘Black love matters’

Because of the novel coronavirus, couples who would normally rent out catering halls for their wedding receptions, many taking on debt to mark the occasion of their union, are opting instead for intimate ceremonies in the park, in their backyard or in the middle of the street, with just a few family members and friends. Or they are using an online video conference tool to connect with folks remotely as they say their vows. Because, after all, isn’t that what the day is really about?

In California, the Orange County clerk-recorder’s office conducted marriage ceremonies at ticket booths in the parking lot of the Honda Center, where the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks play.

Social distancing should have us questioning the logistics of momentous celebrations. Do you really need 100 to 200 people in attendance to witness your marriage?

I’ve never understood the complaints from couples who say they can’t get married because of the cost. They shun going into debt for their nuptials but spend a year or two — or even three — saving up for the ceremony and reception. But after the honeymoon, they come home to five- or even six-figure student loan debt. That’s financial madness.

Those who don’t want to wait to get married might choose to pay for their wedding and reception on credit. Lenders court brides and grooms with personal loans so their day can be super-special — and super-expensive, once the 14 percent interest kicks in. If you need to borrow for a wedding, that’s a huge red flag that you are living above your means.

Stop with the destination weddings

Destination weddings at exotic locations have been canceled, freeing friends and relatives from an economic obligation they feel they can’t avoid for fear they will be seen as uncaring. I’ve heard from plenty of people who would rather go in debt than pass on attending a pricey wedding.

When it comes to weddings, the thing people are missing about in-person celebrations isn’t marveling at the bride’s dress, the floral arrangements, the table centerpieces, or the five-tier cake — all items the bride and groom might obsess over and go into debt to have. They really don’t care whether they have steak or chicken. What people are missing is the personal interaction: being able to hug one another.

And, frankly, if we are being honest, it’s a relief not to have to fret over what wedding, birthday or graduation gifts to purchase when people already have so much stuff. Couples in isolation don’t have to set up wedding registries, which, if we’re also being truthful, have turned into a sophisticated way to solicit cash to pay for all kinds of things they can’t afford. Your presence should matter, not your presents, so no registry should ever be needed.

The coronavirus is giving us an opportunity to hit the reset button on how we celebrate, taking the focus off what we do to mark special occasions. Some of the best events I’ve attended were simple affairs where we sat around and talked or played games. There were just enough folks in attendance that you could have meaningful conversations.

The point isn’t to eliminate the celebrations but to shift away from the spectacle. The conspicuous consumption that goes into celebrating far too often takes away from the “why” of the gathering.

The pandemic has ushered in a new reality for graduations, weddings, birthday parties and other events. People have been forced to have low-key festivities. But when things go back to normal, hopefully we will incorporate this lesson: Without pricey parties, you can still celebrate and be celebrated.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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