The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on scheduled events, sporting fixtures, holidays and on the dreams of many betrothed couples too.
On March 18, 22 sub-provincial municipalities of Istanbul took a decision to conduct what is called oda nikahı, meaning 'room wedlock', a marriage registry at government offices without reception, celebration or the attendance of relatives, friends or even family members.
TRT World spoke to a couple whose dream wedding turned into a race against time as soon as the modern plague, novel coronavirus hit Turkish borders. Esra A, 36, and Mete O, 37, were planning to get married on March 22 in a wedding hall, hoping to experience one of the biggest days of their lives with family and friends.
Five days prior to their wedding reception, they sent out invites but with a caveat of sorts: “Dear friends, due to the coronavirus, we postponed our wedding on 22.03.2020 to a further date which we will announce later when decided.”
The couple announced the postponement in light of the March 17 notice of the Turkish government, which asked all public places including cafes, wedding venues, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, concert halls, to be shut down indefinitely.
“Initially, we cancelled the honeymoon first as the virus was spreading in Asia, because Phuket [an island in Thailand] was our honeymoon destination," Esra told TRT Word.
"Then we thought we can go to Europe instead but starting with Italy the coronavirus cases were rising there too. So we said we’ll go somewhere in Turkey, but given the current situation here, the honeymoon is officially cancelled.”
On March 27, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced strict monitoring of travel among other measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. Since then, intercity travels are subject to local governors’ approval.
When mass gatherings were banned and wedding venues were shut down, Esra and Mete decided to have a small wedding at the registry office. But soon, municipalities declared they will only take in the couples, their parents and siblings for the ceremony.
And just a day before their registry, Turkey restrained citizens older than 65-year-old from leaving their homes which applied to both Esra and Mete’s parents.
“That’s a moment parents live for, to witness their children’s big day. My heart sank, this was not destined for us although they are alive,” Esra said.
They had their wedding in the presence of their siblings. Initially, the siblings' spouses were also not allowed but when they explained the officers about the absence of parents, they eventually let them join the ceremony. They recorded the moments when they said yes and received the marriage certificate and shared the moment with their parents via mobile phone.
“All the precautions were taken, we were given masks upon arrival and we disinfected our hands before holding the pen to sign and to receive the booklet,” Esra said.
“I can’t deny facing the dilemma in the very beginning. We didn’t know what to do; on one the hand, you do not want to risk anyone’s life for a gathering, on the other hand, it’s your wedding which happens only once in your lifetime and there won’t be repetitions of the occasion like your birthday. We felt really pressured to make the right decision but when all these restrictions were put in order, we just followed the recommendations for our safety. I have no regrets, the decision was not up to us anymore. The decision was made by the authorities. If we conducted the wedding ceremony and caused anyone among our guests, friends and relatives to get contracted with coronavirus, we would never be able to forgive ourselves. Looking back, this is the only relief I have to comfort myself”.
For Turkey's wedding industry — from planners to venue owners and managers to beauticians and photographers — the sudden cancellations have taken a hit on their business.
The same is the case the world over. In the US alone the pandemic has been disastrous for the wedding season. At least 2.2 million weddings are recorded in the country every year, pumping in $2 billion into the economy.
With the ongoing pandemic, there are reports of at least 6.5 percent of couples cancelling their wedding ceremonies and 28 percent moving their dates toward the end of 2020. A further 22.5 percent are delaying their nuptials until next year, and 43 percent are completely unsure as to when they should tie the knot.
Esra still smiles in her mask and white dress, despite not being able to wear her wedding gown. “I couldn’t wear my wedding dress because I didn’t have a hairdresser to put the veil on. All the activities of the barbershops, hairdressers and beauty centers were stopped the day before, on March 21. So I just wore a simple white dress, did my own hair and make up.”
Thankfully, they did not have financial loss as the wedding hall is being considerate of the difficult times. She says they are still keeping the invitation cards and the door gifts.
When asked about finding herself in quarantine along with her newly wedded husband, she said laughing: “I found myself cooking three meals a day, as if we’d been married for a decade. I was hoping to get pampered with honeymoons and fine dinings but now wearing armour to go out for grocery shopping has become our reality. I can’t say we are enjoying what we’re going through but I’m glad I’m not in lockdown all by myself at home. This battle against coronavirus has definitely brought us closer and made us realise it’s our health that matters the most, so we do not turn small issues into big.”