COVID-era weddings spare couples high expenses

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AMMAN — The restrictions imposed on gatherings and wedding parties to curb the spread of COVID-19 have greatly contributed to the financial stability of newlyweds Samah Montaser and Alaa Abuhamam, according to Montaser. “Without these restrictions over weddings, we might not be married now,” she told Jordan News in a recent interview.اضافة اعلان

“Since my marriage ceremony was limited to the wedding party, the costs of other gatherings were saved and (we) invested in our future house, allowing us to get married within a week!” said Montaser, a resident of Irbid.

Since the onset of the pandemic, many couples are taking advantage of restrictions to forego social commitments and minimize marriage costs and consequent debts.

According to a report from the Chief Islamic Justice Department, 2020 saw 67,389 marriages, continuing a downward trend in the number of marriages since 2017. But some newlyweds said they consider themselves lucky.

“My sister’s jaha (a tradition involving men from both families gathering for the marriage proposal) required us to rent a venue for 200 men, but mine was at home with 20 men invited. The difference in cost is crystal clear,” Areej Azzam, a bride-to-be from Amman, told Jordan News.

It was not just about costs, according to Areej. Since there was a limitation on the number of guests she could invite to her engagement party, “it was much like a formal family dinner with a surprisingly pleasing and warm atmosphere,” she said.

“The unbearable marriage expenses correspond mostly to the number of attendees, not to the ceremonies themselves; a thing that many people became aware of, thanks to defense orders,” said Mohammad Hani, a recent groom.

The expenses he saved from the wedding ceremony were invested in furnishing his house, Mohammad said. “We bought luxurious electronics and furniture that we thought our budget wouldn’t allow.”

‘Social Taboo’

Mohammad was also optimistic that social norms and perceptions might become more practical and flexible regarding costly wedding traditions.

“Religiously, the real purpose behind weddings is to announce the marriage, make it known to the public and bring joy,” Hassan Abu Arqoub, head of public relations and international cooperation at the General Iftaa Department, told Jordan News in a recent phone interview.

However, Arqoub also stressed that “Islam calls for moderation and balance, and forbids profligacy.”

“That some people incur debts that they will struggle to repay just to offer lavish dinners and huge feasts violates the Islamic teachings of frugality,” said Alaa Al-Ajawi, who holds a master’s degree in Islamic jurisprudence and is an Islamic studies teacher.

‘Robbed of joy’

Not all are happy to forego expensive and lavish ceremonies however.

Another newlywed from Amman, who preferred to remain unnamed, said that the health crisis “robbed me of the joy of holding the wedding I dreamed of.”

“What prevented us from holding gatherings and a wedding party was not financial issues, rather it was the constant coronavirus cases in our families,” she added.

In the early days of the pandemic, people’s insistence on holding large gatherings was a major cause for the spread of the virus, most notably what infamously became known as the “Irbid wedding” in March 2020, which was one of the first COVID-19 clusters in Jordan.

Following the event, the government suspended the operations of all wedding venues, but that did not stop some from violating defense law regulations. Eight wedding violations occurred within 24 hours on August 28, 2020, in Irbid, local news media reported.

In another incident that went viral, a groom that was seen in videos on social media stepping down from a helicopter on his wedding day in March, 2021, was arrested.

“I am not going to lie by saying that if situations were normal I would not have the traditional ceremonies,” Montaser conceded, “however, it has been a year since the outbreak of the pandemic, during which I see that people (have) started to be more conscious and aware that super-costly weddings are superficial.”

Sector woes

Whether they are happy about it or not, people are spending less money on wedding festivities, which meant that the wedding planning industry was feeling the crunch.

In an interview with Jordan News, wedding planner Alaa Tariq, who has been in the business since 2012, said that some half of his clients are asking for minimal facilities and services, at a cost 80 percent less than what they would have paid pre-pandemic.

“The wedding planning sector employed over 100,000 people in 2019, which dropped to 35,000 in 2020 and is dropping further this year. ... The average income of wedding planners in the peak season of spring/summer 2019 was JD500-JD600 monthly, while during the same season of 2020 it dropped to only JD150 monthly,” said Ma’mun Al-Manaseer, the president of the Wedding Venues and Planning Businesses Association.