The mere idea of a grand wedding bash was “terrifying” for Dubai-based Mayuri Lekhi and her husband.
“To be honest, we aren’t the center of attention kind of people,” explains Lekhi, who got married two years ago. “We just made our own rules, and we are lucky that our parents co-operated. I just wanted to enjoy my own wedding and not worry about so many guests and logistics,” she says. “We knew that we wouldn’t have a good time with too many people, so a small wedding made perfect sense to us.”
As she explains, the wedding guest list included “three WhatsApp groups”, one with the whole family, and two with close friends.
She isn’t the only one who wanted to keep her wedding low-key. Thirty-one year old May Osborne, an American expat, recalls that she and her husband registered their marriage in their Dubai home, and later held a small reception for their close family and friends. “We didn’t do it to be different, or something consciously or by design. Both my husband and I don’t like so much showbiz and glam around something that’s private, and we just wanted to celebrate with people who actually care,” she says.
According to Dubai-based Michelle Moloney, from Dubai Uncut, and UK-based Essex Wedding Exhibitions weddings in the UAE have indeed gotten smaller and far more private. She views it in a rather practical manner; it’s a way to keep costs down too. “Nowadays, I think most weddings are held in posh hotels, with a three-course meal made by hotel chefs. So, this is naturally more expensive, compared to a wedding held in a community hall, 20 years ago. So people stick to a budget, and the couple have to invite less guests,” she says.
Nowadays, most weddings are held in posh hotels, with a three-course meal made by hotel chefs. So, this is naturally more expensive, compared to a wedding held in a community hall, 20 years ago. So people stick to a budget, and the couple have to invite less guests...
So, are couples really opting for micro, low-key weddings over fancy, grand ceremonies?
‘COVID-19 brought about the shift’
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many couples were compelled to abandon their ideas of grand destination weddings and had to marry in the privacy of their homes. Others had to look for venues that had strict guest counts, which most likely couldn’t exceed 20 in many cases.
Maya Ferando, a wedding planner for the past 15 years, observes a definite shift towards smaller and intimate weddings after COVID-19. “While grand and extravagant weddings still have their appeal, many couples are now opting for micro-sized celebrations,” she says. The pandemic had significantly influenced wedding planning, as she explains. “Restrictions on large gatherings have led to the rise of micro weddings, and some couples now appreciate the intimacy and flexibility they offer,” says Ferando.
According to Ferando, couples today are seeking “more personalised and meaningful” experiences. “Smaller weddings create an intimate atmosphere that allows them to focus on their closest friends and family, resulting in a more genuine and heartfelt celebration. These weddings often feature cosier venues, simpler decorations, and a special emphasis on close relationships,” she says. “In larger weddings, I've witnessed instances where close friends or family members of the couples couldn't photograph special moments due to the crowd,” says Ferando.
Abu Dhabi-based Dhwani Dave, who tied the knot during the COVID-19 pandemic echoes this sentiment. She feels somewhat grateful as only four people were present for the ceremony. “We had to do the rituals again a couple of months ago, as our parents insisted on calling both families. There were cameras everywhere, and around 100 people we didn’t know, who kept coming up to us take photos with us. We couldn’t enjoy anything, and we barely managed to eat food. I really missed the privacy of our small wedding in 2021,” says Dave.
Big weddings, big problems
A big, flashy wedding most likely entails numerous functions spread over several days, with a sprawling guest of over 500 people, as the wedding planners explain. There’s the gimmicks of loud music, dance performances, and even a talent show, as Dave embarrassedly recalls her own wedding. “I really could have done without that. There was so much wastage of food by the end of the functions,” she says.
Ferando feels that larger wedding come with more complexity. “They require more planning, larger venues, and greater creativity, which can add stress for the bride and groom, especially when arranging seating plans and layouts. Additionally, bigger weddings often entail higher costs, from elaborate floral arrangements to fancy giveaways and custom items, which can be a significant factor in couples choosing smaller celebrations,” she says. Another reason could be budget constraints, as many couple are becoming more financially conscious and are allocating their wedding budgets sensibly. “Some prefer to allocate more funds to their honeymoon experiences rather than investing in a lavish wedding,” she says.
Big weddings require more planning, larger venues, and greater creativity, which can add stress for the bride and groom, especially when arranging seating plans and layouts. Additionally, bigger weddings often entail higher costs, from elaborate floral arrangements to fancy giveaways and custom items...
“Couples are redefining what a wedding means to them and are selecting celebrations that align with their values and priorities. Personally, I appreciate both micro low-key weddings and big bashes, as each has its unique charm and significance,” she adds.
Dubai-based Lalitha Jain, who plans to get married next month, has opted for just a wedding reception that includes her close family and friends. “We just sign the papers, and the party will be held at our house, on our terrace. It’s just more sensible and affordable that way. Why would I want to spend so much for a party on people that I don’t even know,” she says explaining that she had to talk her parents out of inviting more than 500 people. “My wedding dress is also equally simple and didn’t even cost so much. I think it’s what made sense to us financially,” she says.
Honey Sanadhya, a Dubai-based manager and a bride-to-be, says it's all about personalisation. "One of the best aspects of a low-key wedding is the quality time it allows couples to spend with their loved ones. It fosters genuine connections, and the couple can nteract with each guest on a more personal level," she says. She also emphasises quality over quantity, which comes with a smaller guest list. "We are enjoying this relaxed planning process, and I hope for a less stressful wedding day," she says.
However, is it safe to call a spate of micro low-key weddings a trend in the UAE? Other wedding planners are somewhat divided.
‘Big weddings are back with a bang'
Rhiannon Downie Hurst, the founder of Bride Club Me agrees that while COVID-19 did indeed change the wedding landscape, big weddings are making a comeback. "The wedding landscape has witnessed a significant rise in intimate, smaller weddings in recent years. COVID-19 played a pivotal role in this shift. In the UAE and with wedding venue matchmaking service, we have definitely seen an increase in demand for private and exclusive spaces that can accommodate 30 -100guests. Restaurant book outs, private terraces, villas and unique venues are in demand," she says.
In the UAE and with wedding venue matchmaking service, we have definitely seen an increase in demand for private and exclusive spaces that can accommodate 30 -100guests. Restaurant book outs, private terraces, villas and unique venues are in demand. That said, big, extravagant weddings are also back with a bang...
"That said, big, extravagant weddings are also back with a bang," she adds.
‘Minimalism is the trend, not low-key weddings’
However, some wedding planners believe that there’s no trend as such. Mark Khawaja, who has planned grand destination weddings as well as low-key ceremonies, is flummoxed with the idea that low-key weddings could be considered a trend. It’s too simplistic and generalised a statement, he feels, just because a “few” low-key intimate ceremonies have come to light. Everyone’s culture, preferences and needs are different; it cannot be slotted into just one category.
“Low-key, big weddings, medium weddings have been going on for decades. What is a low-key ceremony? With only 50-70 people? People have been doing that before COVID-19. It depends on the different cultures, the personalities of the couple themselves. Some people want to create a show out of it, others are far more introverted and keep the guest list restricted to family and friends.”
Low-key, big weddings, medium weddings have been going on for decades. What is a low-key ceremony? With only 50-70 people? People have been doing that before COVID-19. It depends on the different cultures, the personalities of the couple themselves...
Khawaja says that what is actually trending, is minimalism. This is in terms of décor and simplified designs at wedding venues, with many couples placing more importance on subtlety and elegance of table settings and flower arrangements. Many prefer clean and structured venues that aren’t overcrowded, as that can be overwhelming. However, he emphasises that just because the décor is minimalist, that does not mean the wedding bash isn’t grand in size or stature.
People seemingly tend to confuse and club all terms when it comes to weddings. A destination wedding does not necessarily imply a grand bash; it can be low-key as well, with just family and friends.