Partying is back, but some things may be a little different now

 

A wedding at the Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville. (Photos by Dion Ogust)

Ah, the summer of 2021. New York State is open! If you planned to get married last year but couldn’t have your dream wedding with friends and family to cheer you on, you probably postponed your nuptials. This summer, we can let loose, drink, dance and hug a little, right? 

Right. Parties are definitely back. Not just weddings, but anniversaries, birthdays, baby naming — any good excuse to gather with friends and family in person again. 

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Though most people are giddy about being together after way too long apart, there is often a bit of trepidation. News of Delta variants are scaring some folks. With a few adjustments, though, your party can be as beautiful, fun and safe as any pre-pandemic bash.

Kayla Reinherz and Sam Levine planned to get married last July. Both 28, they’ve been together for nine years, ever since he helped her, an arriving freshman, move into a dorm at the University of Chicago. They’ve spent this past spring wondering whether enough people would be vaccinated and whether restrictions on gatherings would be lifted in time for them to tie the knot this summer. When they sent out their invitations, they let their guests know it was important to them that everyone be vaccinated or have a negative Covid test before their wedding.

Caterers throughout the Hudson Valley have been outfitting themselves with thermometers, plexiglass sneeze guards, and floor stickers to mark social distances. They’ve been making floor plans for parties smaller than 100 guests, with dancing only with people at your own table.

Bob McBroom, co-owner of the Onteora Mountain House, a popular wedding venue in the former Hellmann mansion above Boiceville, had been suggesting his May and June clients push their weddings back to the fall. The guests at the first wedding of the season had their temperature taken, and there were separate tables for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

In early June, the New York State Department of Health dropped its restrictions on public gatherings. The socially distanced floor plans and Covid-inspired paraphernalia were (temporarily) packed away.

Kayla and Sam’s wedding was definitely on, almost a year to the day after it was originally planned. Kayla, a data-science manager at Facebook, and Sam, a reporter at The Guardian newspaper, enclosed a card with their invitations informing their guests that they expected them to be vaccinated or have proof of a negative Covid test.

Outdoor weddings are always popular in the beautiful Hudson Valley — especially this summer, when they also feel safer. The couple selected the Onteora Mountain House for their special day, figuring their family and friends would be happy to make the two-hour trip from New York City to experience the outdoor venue and the beautiful Catskill views.

They were also conscientious about getting everyone’s contact information, in case contact tracing would prove necessary. They’re pretty sure every one of their 101 guests was vaccinated.

Of course, a wedding in 2021 raises the question of “to mask or not to mask.” Caterers like Mary Anne Erickson of Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go and Bruce Kazan of Main Course in New Paltz say their staff is fully vaccinated and is comfortable leaving the choice up to the clients, who sometimes prefer that servers wear masks and even gloves. Hand sanitizer is almost always available on the bar or somewhere convenient.

How meals are served may be somewhat different now. Buffets are rare; partygoers feel more comfortable with seated table servings, with food untouched by other guests. But passed hors d’ouevres are back, sometimes in small individual cups.  

As Fred Mayo, co-author of “Modern American Manners,” says, it’s important to honor people’s anxieties. Some guests may still be anxious about hygiene. Mayo attended one wedding where the couple leaned into pandemic anxiety by offering monogrammed masks as party favors.

Weddings are, on average, a bit smaller this year. Older relatives and international guests may be staying home. After 15 months of social distancing, people are more comfortable with a bit more space.  As Beekman Arms sales coordinator Stephanie Stack put it, “We’re not going back to the sardine kind of thing.” They’re serving people at smaller tables of six or seven.

If you’re wondering whether hugs and kisses are okay, Kazan reports seeing more fist bumps than handshakes. Mayo suggests a “Covid hug,” a full body hug with air kisses off to the side.

Receiving lines may be disappearing. If people are uncomfortable sitting close together, Mayo suggests a private ceremony, since it’s easier to spread out during the party rather than huddled around the exchanging of vows.

Mayo’s own grandson Sinjin Wightman, 30, married his fiancé Christine Myers, 28, in his father’s New Paltz back yard in May, with only grandfather, parents and siblings present and Christine’s sister officiating. Both doctors of physical therapy, the newlyweds look forward to a big party for friends next summer.

Several area venues are already booking weddings for 2023.

Kazan says many of the weddings he’s catering this summer are for couples, like Kayla and Sam, who postponed from last summer.

While his clients may have put their ceremonies on hold, their lives have progressed. Five of this summer’s brides were pregnant.

If you are having a party or wedding, you may find, as Kayla and Sam did, that this summer is a special time to gather relatives and friends. They hadn’t seen many of their guests in almost two years. The evening was an emotional event that proved a lot of fun. “Everyone’s been holding stuff in for the past year. It was great to let loose,” they said. 

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