Big weddings are ridiculous, wasteful and indulgent – and I’m glad they’re back

During the first year of our marriage the memory of our wedding day was a comfort

Biggish weddings are back. Starting this week, those wishing to proclaim their love in front of a bunch of people can do it in front of a bigger bunch than at any other point during the pandemic. There will be concessions to Covid, of course – face masks will abound and dancing will be curtailed – but as of tomorrow 100 guests can attend a wedding.

Just last week, it seemed like those getting married in August 2021 would have to make do with only 50 guests, a prospect so dispiriting to some soon-to-be-marrieds that they dressed up in wedding-themed attire and marched to Government Buildings to protest the limited numbers.

At a time when restrictions on maternity wards and funerals are still in place, the march of the brides (there were grooms present but they featured in fewer of the publicity shots) felt a little frivolous, a little obnoxious even. The brides-to-be held signs that read “Love is not cancelled” but a more soberly dressed representative of the wedding industry whispered the real reason we should all be concerned by wedding restrictions: weddings are worth more than €2 billion to the Irish economy each year. So, you know, let the young and photogenic think this is about love but really it’s about money… When the amount of guests attending a wedding is doubled, the budget increases significantly, too. That’s double the amount of Prosecco bought, double the amount of blow-dries booked.

Weddings are indefensible from almost every angle, coming at a significant financial and environmental cost

Apart from the financial implications, what’s the difference between a wedding with 50 guests and one with 100 guests, anyway? Why should it matter how many people you cram into a church or a function hall? What has the number of canapés provided and gifts received got to do with the sincerity of the vows or the longevity of the love? Everything and nothing, it would seem… Weddings are a silly extravagance, a waste, really; they are indefensible from almost every angle, coming at a significant financial and environmental cost. Yet, they remain enduringly popular, with almost half of us opting to get married at some point – and in non-pandemic times, most of us who choose to get married will do so in front of more than 100 guests.


Most weddings are biggish affairs; they are spectacles created for an audience of assembled friends and family members. At the best of times, there is something beautiful about this: what a joy it is to watch a colleague spin your friend’s toddler around on the dance floor; and how hilarious it is to look on as an old family friend flirts hopefully and hopelessly with the most beautiful guest in attendance.

It’s daunting and strange, absurd and optimistic to gather an audience of 100 or more. By doing so, by inviting this bunch of onlookers to your wedding, you make a part of your private relationship public, you make a part of your relationship a performance. The assembled audience will always know your favourite love poem; they’ll know the flattering secrets you chose to reveal in your speeches. They’ll have an insight into your relationship and into your life together that they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t donned their best outfits, travelled the 100 miles and paid for the hotel room.

40 years on, that one big day (and that one big audience) has little to do with the qualities of love

Just recently, my family celebrated my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. As we sat around the table toasting their love and luck, there was scant talk of their actual wedding. My parents reminisced about it fondly, but 40 years on, that one big day (and that one big audience) has little to do with the qualities of love, patience and humility that have made their marriage endure. Meanwhile, my husband and I have just four years of marriage under our belts and so, for us, that one big day still looms a little larger.

During the first year of our marriage – a year during which we encountered depressing disaster after depressing disaster – the memory of our wedding day was a comfort. In the months following our wedding, the “in sickness” and “for poorer” sections of our vows were truly tested, as we contended with serious health concerns and significant career issues. Between trudging to and from the hospital and making calls to the employment lawyer, we were able to look back on our wedding day and remember a time that was more optimistic.

“The wedding was nice, at least,” my husband and I would say to each other. We would say it with an eye-roll, we would say it to be funny – but it was the truth, too. The memory of that one big day, and the love and warmth that had ricocheted around the room filled with 140 guests reminded us that there would be better times ahead. Was there an artifice involved in the presentation of our love and our commitment to that assembled audience? Yes, probably, but that performance somehow informed the years following the wedding. That’s what a big wedding can do for a couple.

Big weddings are ridiculous; they are costly and wasteful and indulgent. But I, for one, am glad they’re back.