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Planning for a Jewish Winter Wedding in Toronto?

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Toronto’s cold weather snap has arrived with a bang in 2015. After a late start to the winter season, Canada’s biggest city has now endured days as cold as minus 40 Celsius. And for many members of Toronto’s Jewish community, wintertime is the season to temporarily relocate to Florida, Israel or other warmer temperatures, and return to Toronto in the spring.

But for others, winter in Toronto is a dream come true. Winter brings fluffy snow, ice skating rinks across the city, and skiing nearby all appeal to many people. And for many people planning weddings, wintertime offers a unique setting. Winter weddings can offer a picturesque environment, with the bride’s white dress and the white chuppah (wedding canopy) matching the snowy outside; a setting that almost feels frozen in time, and which can make any bride feel like a real-life princess, and make any groom feel like a true, old fashioned gentleman.

And while winter weddings may offer a visually appealing ceremony, it’s not all sunshine; they do come full of challenges. In the dead of winter, many prospective guests will be out of town, having gone to warmer climates. In Toronto’s cold weather, the guests who do arrive may arrive later than expected, causing delays with the ceremony. Or even just the simplest of reasons may cause problems for planning of winter weddings: December nuptials may just be harder to accommodate at wedding halls, due to other holiday-related parties taking place at the same time.

So if a winter wedding sounds like it’s just your kind of style, but you’re not sure whether it’s worth losing half your guests, and missing out on your first choice of dates, consider these five tips for planning a perfect winter wedding:

  1. Consider your size: Jewish weddings can vary wildly in size and in style. From smaller, more intimate gatherings in restaurants, to larger, more traditional affairs in synagogues or banquet halls, the first question that needs to be asked (and answered) is how many people you want to have at the event. In a winter wedding, remember that many people will be away on vacation in Florida, or simply will not be willing to travel during a snow squall to a wedding in Toronto. Even among those guests who RSVP in advance, nothing will guarantee that they will be able to make it to your big day when it comes, in case bad weather approaches, or flights are cancelled, so keep this in mind.
  2. Consider your guests: It’s easy to picture a beautiful wedding, with the bride and groom standing outside, posing for photographs as the snowflakes fall on their coats. But not everyone will be having a great time in the ice and cold outside; that may include older relatives, people with disabilities, or even small children. So if an event will be outside, look into valet parking, underground parking, or even just a covered canopy which will allow guests entry into the wedding venue without having to brave the outside elements. Also think about how you’d like to integrate your themes into the season, and whether that will mesh well with your choice of venue. For example, wintertime may be a beautiful season to look at for many, but will the chuppah also be located outside? If so, that could be uncomfortable for many guests, particularly those with difficulty moving. Many venues, like the new banquet hall at the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan, offers underground parking and enclosed spaces, which are perfect for ceremonies.
  3. Consider cost: Like booking a flight to your favourite destination, sometimes the difference of a few days can make a big difference in cost. The cost difference between a Sunday or a Thursday wedding can be significant, and daytime weddings are often more inexpensive than evening weddings, but in the wintertime, the days are shorter, so there will be fewer hours available for taking photographs in the natural light, so make sure this is a factor in your decision. Additionally, in addition to the statutory holidays in December in January, where employees are paid more money, and which will cost you more, many spaces are also booked for holiday parties, making less space available for you, and potentially bringing up the cost even more. In many larger synagogues, such as Beth Avraham Yosef of Toronto (BAYT) in Thornhill, ‘Simcha Packages’ are available for a flat fee, and these packages frequently offer a fee of around $20,000 for as many as 400 guests, and include everything from the food to the venue, photographers, flowers, centrepieces, and more.
  4. Consider food: Weddings aren’t just ceremony and dancing; there’s also plenty of food to go around! In a winter wedding, many foods may not be available (or if they are available, it may be at a significantly higher cost). For example, strawberries are in season in Ontario primarily in the months of June and July, so if you’re thinking of a winter wedding, your dessert fruit platter may not be as colourful or flavourful as it could be if the celebration was in the middle of August. In Ontario, watermelons are in season during late summer, usually from August to September, so that fruit may not be as high quality or as inexpensive during the frigid winter months, either. When it comes to kosher food, it’s not just synagogues and banquet halls which may be under COR, but also other venues, including hotels like Windsor Arms, near Bloor and Bay.
  5. Consider tradition: Depending on how traditional the wedding is going to be, the venue and time of year are important to keep in mind. For instance, Casa Loma and other historic sites such as Fort York are favourite settings for weddings and other celebrations (and for good reason- they are beautiful), but in November or December, it may already be decorated with Christmas trees and lights. If you are thinking of a more traditional wedding, and many of your guests are Orthodox, then perhaps such decorations will seem out of place at your event, so it may be a better bet to consider a synagogue or a venue which will not have any such decorations in place during that time of year.

Planning a wedding – or even just choosing the season – isn’t a simple task, and if you’re taking it upon yourself to plan, or even just to take part in, then do yourself, your soon-to-be spouse, and your family a big favour, and work out all the details you can in advance of the big day. Thinking about a winter wedding requires a combination of considerations, from budget, venue, number of guests, setting, and even the specific month, among many other details.

So in order to plan your ideal winter wedding, or even to figure out whether winter is the best time for you, think about what are the biggest priorities of the celebration, and use that as a starting point. But in the end, don’t sweat the wedding itself too much, because after all, no matter how well or badly a wedding itself ends up, it’s still just a few hours or a day of your life, while a marriage (hopefully a great one) could last a lifetime, so remember to keep everything in perspective while planning your big day!