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Holiday weddings: Promises and perils

Amy Fontinelle

Posted on December 08, 2022

Amy Fontinelle is a personal finance writer focusing on budgeting, credit cards, mortgages, real estate, investing, and other topics.
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Note that while some wedding savings may be available, other costs are likely to come up during the holiday season.

Point out that winter weather more often than not can disrupt the best laid plans.

Flag the competing events — like office parties and religious observances — that can tighten venue availability.

Planning a wedding around a late fall or winter holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year's might appeal to brides and grooms who love these holidays or who want to save money by having an off-season wedding. And throwing a big party to celebrate a couple's love with friends and family during the holiday season can have its advantages: out-of-town relatives might already be planning a visit, saving them money on travel costs; seasonal elements like bare branches, evergreen boughs, and pumpkins can be less expensive than flowers; and couples planning do-it-yourself weddings can often get discounts on decor and alcohol thanks to holiday sales.

But there are good reasons why most weddings take place from May through October. Before placing any deposits with vendors, couples should consider the many possible drawbacks of a winter holiday wedding.

Inflated costs

"Weddings can be celebrated year-round, and having one in a less-popular month can be less of a load on your purse strings," said Joyce Scardina Becker, a wedding designer and planner with Events of Distinction, a luxury boutique wedding planning and special event management company in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.

However, a winter holiday wedding can mean higher travel costs for out-of-town guests. Airfares and hotel rooms cost more at times of peak demand. At best, guests might be annoyed; at worst, they might decide that attending is too expensive and stay home instead.

To avoid these problems, couples may want to consider getting married right after a major holiday, when prices typically drop. But certain locations will be expensive throughout the winter.

Couples who want to host their wedding at a mountain resort in a location such as Vail, Aspen, or Telluride, Colorado, should expect to pay more, said Greg Jenkins, an event and wedding planner with Bravo Productions in Long Beach, California. So, should couples who want to escape the cold temperatures by having a wedding in a warmer location such as Florida or Hawaii. (Related: How to save on a wedding)

The good news is that wedding vendors such as florists, photographers, and videographers typically charge the same prices year-round, Scardina Becker said in an interview.

Reduced attendance

Some friends and family might have an easier time attending a wedding if it falls around a major holiday. They might have time off work, and some might already be planning to visit friends and family in the area — say, for Thanksgiving dinner. These out-of-town guests, in particular, might see a wedding date near a winter holiday as a plus: They only have to pay for one trip instead of two.

But other friends and family will see the wedding as a conflict with their usual holiday plans and traditions, and many will prioritize those plans over the wedding. Further, some people do not get time off around the winter holidays and actually have to work more: think anyone in retail. Attending a wedding — even an in-town wedding — might be impossible. (Related: Staying connected when apart during the holidays)

"It won't be much of a party if no one shows up," Scardina Becker said. "Take the pulse of your guests. Send out a save-the-date card as early as possible and ask your guests if they would be willing to attend a winter holiday wedding."

Selecting the wedding date carefully can help with both attendance and cost.

"In my years of executing weddings, I have never had a wedding couple request the actual day of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's," Scardina Becker said. But she has executed weddings the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas. Both weddings benefited from families spending time together on the actual holiday, and extended families that typically did not celebrate the holidays together were in town, she said. The weddings also happened to fall on weekdays — "low season" days during the holiday period.

Winter weather

Many brides envision a "winter wonderland" wedding but do not consider the havoc that snowstorms, freezing rain, the shutdown of airports and roads, and extremely cold temperatures can have, Jenkins said in an interview. "Unless you plan to host your wedding in Hawaii or a tropical destination, winter in most regions of the United States comes with many downsides."

Wind, rain, and snow can make it hard to keep wedding attire, hair, and makeup in pristine condition for the ceremony, the reception, and the photos. Weather conditions can increase the likelihood of the bride, the groom, or a guest slipping and falling and getting injured.

Winter weather can be especially rough on those traveling from out of town. Flights are often canceled or delayed, which not only creates stress, but can mean that guests who want to attend end up missing the big day — and paying for it anyway. Even if everyone arrives in town on time, if the wedding is in a cold location, just getting from the hotel to the venue can be a problem if roads ice over or snow makes driving difficult, especially for guests who are visiting from areas that never experience these conditions and do not know how to manage them.

Further, Jenkins said, scheduling for all activities surrounding the wedding setup and day-of coordination might be thrown off by unpredictable winter weather that results in freeway shutdowns, airport closures, and shipping delays. Couples should have back-up plans. If the best man is flying in from 3,000 miles away does not arrive on time, perhaps a close relative who lives nearby can step in.

For couples determined to take a chance despite the weather, there is another way to mitigate the risk: cancellation insurance.

The venue, caterer, florist, and other suppliers will likely have an "act of God" or "force majeure" clause in their contracts, Jenkins explained, that describes the couple's financial responsibility if an unforeseeable circumstance like a blizzard prevents vendors from fulfilling their duties.

"Some vendors' contracts might state full payment will still be required," Jenkins said. Other contracts might state that 25 percent of the deposit is refundable, and others might offer a period of time to reschedule the function on a mutually agreeable date and time, without offering a refund.

The latter scenario might apply to a photographer, DJ, or wedding officiant, whereas a caterer who has to buy perishable food in advance might have stricter terms.

Venue and vendor availability

Many religious venues already have full calendars in December thanks to holiday parties, candle-lighting ceremonies, Advent celebrations, concerts, and plays. And, reception venues tend to book up for company holiday parties, especially the first two weekends of December and for New Year's Eve. These events can make reserving preferred venues difficult, if not impossible.

Still, Scardina Becker said that it is not necessary to plan more than 12 months out, and six to nine months is ideal. Many properties will not let couples book more than 12 months in advance, especially hotels and restaurants, and food and beverage pricing typically cannot be guaranteed more than 12 months ahead.

"I've also planned winter holiday weddings in three months — anything is possible," Scardina Baker said. What typically takes the longest is not the actual planning, but the bride and groom's decision-making. In fact, she explained, last-minute planning can actually save couples money by giving them more room to negotiate, because service providers and venues that are not booked three months out are unlikely to get booked at all, and are willing to reduce their prices.

Some vendors, however, will not be available on certain dates of the year no matter how far in advance the couple plans.

"Every year, I perform weddings over New Year's, but I take off the week of Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Tracy Brisson, owner of Savannah Custom Weddings and Elopements in Savannah, Georgia. "Many of us, such as photographers, makeup artists, officiants, and designers, are solopreneurs, and we work almost every weekend during the year, so we treasure time with our families at the holidays."

Brisson added that, lately, she has had trouble finding photographers who will be in town for couples planning to get married in the week after Christmas and over New Year's weekend.

Decor can also be an issue.

Depending on the venue, it may be styled for the holidays, Scardina Becker said. "This could be an advantage, saving you money on decor if you like the look, or a disadvantage, if you are of a particular religion and do not celebrate Christmas."

Other considerations

Being ill on her wedding day is one of a bride's worst nightmares. The odds of that nightmare becoming reality increase with a winter wedding.

More people are sick in the winter with colds, sore throats, coughs, and the flu. Guests might miss the wedding when they find themselves ill — or attend anyway while feeling miserable and spreading their germs around. The groom, members of the wedding party, and key family members are also at risk.

Couples should also consider the long term. Do they want their anniversary to coincide with a holiday for the rest of their lives, or would they prefer that it be a separate occasion, an additional cause for celebration during the year? (Related: Are holiday weddings a higher divorce risk?)

It's not that winter holiday weddings can't be spectacular. But they do have potential pitfalls and peculiarities that summer weddings do not and that brides and grooms must plan for.

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This article was originally published in December 2018. It has been updated.



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