“The pandemic was like a blessing in disguise; it allowed us to focus on just us,” describes R Aracari, who recently wed her love on the back lawn of Stepping Stones Farm & Event Center in Temple, New Hampshire.

 “We never intended to marry in 2020 and weren’t really ready,” she says, explaining that she and her now-wife have family in Kenya, India and Portugal.

 It would have been impossible for them all to attend a wedding during the pandemic. Instead, since the couple had been to Stepping Stones previously and already had a trip planned there for fall, they decided to “take the plunge” Aracari says.

“We always wanted a place that felt like home,” she says. And that’s exactly what they found.

 The two Manhattanites planned their big day in just three weeks and ultimately tied the knot with the blessing of Stepping Stones founder Boo Martin, a few close friends and their fur baby. After, they celebrated with a dinner of home-cooked recipes and gathered around a glorious bonfire.

 “No fuss and completely stress-free,” Aracari says.

 She calls the whole thing a silver lining.

 “Had it not been for the pandemic and magnificent hosts of Stepping Stones, we may have succumbed to the pressure and had a big international wedding, which we now can’t imagine doing.”

Her takeaway for other couples is to “opt for ease over anything else.”

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

When it comes to getting married in the time of COVID-19, many couples are finding that love is really all you need.

“Saying ‘I do!’ to the man of my dreams. There is nothing outside of that moment that truly matters,” says Brianna Graves.

Monadnock Region locals, she and her now-husband Ivor Edmonds celebrated a spectacular engagement during last year’s “Roaring 20s” New Year’s Eve celebration at Aldworth Manor. They started planning soon thereafter and confirmed a wedding venue for June 2021, just as COVID-19 was becoming a reality in the United States.

“In retrospect, we shouldn’t have signed that contract,” she admits.

But at the time, they were feeling sympathetic to couples having to cancel their spring 2020 weddings and couldn’t imagine the pandemic stretching so far into the future.

She calls the indefinite uncertainty “brutal,” but with guests traveling from as far away as Australia (whose borders are currently closed until October 2021), she and Edmonds knew there was only one choice.

 “When it came time to speak to our venue and release our date, I felt really sad, disappointed and helpless,” she describes.

From breaking the news to family to negotiating with vendors, none of it was ideal.

 “After lamenting the change for a couple months, we realized that although our big party had to wait, the marriage itself did not,” Graves says.

In the end, their day was truly a celebration of all things local (and of course, true love!). They worked with a number of small area businesses to make everything “safe and small but mighty,” Graves says. That included rings made by her mother, jewelry designer and owner of Natalie T. Designs, an elegant hairstyle by Emily Dexter, floral arrangements from the rave-worthy Billies + Tilli, and stunning photos by Lauren Somero.

Graves says she will treasure every picture “because even the tiniest of weddings goes by in a blur.”

Marcia and Jarvis Coffin, owners of the Hancock Inn, also went above and beyond to ensure the small party of six remained safe while celebrating.

“I will remember and cherish their generosity and hospitality forever,” Graves says.

Despite the size of the celebration, the couple felt like it was perfection.

“The small scale turned out to be the perfect size for our marriage — it was intimate, romantic and beautiful,” Graves says.

One strangely special part was seeing so many loved ones from around the world cheering them on through their tiny Zoom squares.

The couple still intends to throw a massive dance party when all is calm, and they’ve been given until next summer to choose a new date at their original venue.

 “Just think of how much we will appreciate it!” Graves says.

Graves’ advice to other couples grappling with nuptials right now is to focus on their commitment to each other.

 “You don’t have to wait for that part — you could get married in your living room! The rest is ‘gravy,’ and right now, gravy is not on the menu,” she says.

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

Some couples, like Briana Morrison and Zack Bradshaw of Warwick, Rhode Island, have decided to come up with their own “gravy” recipe. The two stumbled across the Monadnock Region by chance during their search for a safe venue for the fall of 2021.

They have now also booked a small, family affair at Stepping Stones, where the entire party can take place in a single location. When they found the venue online, they knew it was right by the small things.

For instance, “Zack proposed at a hiking trail called Stepping Stones Falls in Arcadia, Rhode Island,” Morrison says. “Planning during this pandemic, we know not everyone will feel comfortable being in one room with no windows for hours, so at the farm, we’re lucky we’ll have plenty of space.”

Autumn will also give them the advantage of the great outdoors.

They plan to hike and even hold a wedding party skeet shooting.

“For a couple also planning their wedding in the Monadnock Region, we’d say looking outside the box might lead you to more than you could imagine,” Morrison says.

 That has been the case for couples at Alyson’s Orchard, a sought-after wedding venue in the region. The experienced team has spent 2020 working tirelessly to find the best plan for each of their couples. Though some chose to move their events to 2021, several persevered, taking advantage of the location’s uniquely flexible space.

“We have had nothing but happy couples, even if only half of their guests decided to come,” says Kelly LeRoy, manager of events. While the weddings have been smaller, she notes it has made them more intimate and says, “the end result for the bride and groom is a feeling of warmth and caring.”

Alyson’s is lucky to have four breathtaking outdoor wedding sites and a large reception hall with a deck and two porches. Their regular capacity for 250 guests still allows for 125 people to attend even when cut by 50 percent for physical distancing.

 “We have followed all of the New Hampshire guidelines without exception, so guests feel safe and are able to enjoy the event,” LeRoy says.

 Some logistics may have changed, but her advice to couples is to forge ahead. Whether it’s with a civil ceremony now and a big shindig later, a pared-down guest list or a ceremony date bumped out by a year, there are plenty of ways to celebrate.

 “We encourage couples to follow their hearts,” LeRoy says.

GUESTS GO ALONG FOR THE RIDE

That’s precisely what Kat Wood and Aaron Shields, owners of Mudita Massage and Wellness in Keene, decided to do this summer, marking their wedding day with a beautiful bike parade through town. The two were married on the bike path atop the stone arch bridge on Route 101, followed by a small, backyard reception.

But to get there, guests joined in for the ride.

“We rode a tandem bicycle and led our bike parade of 25 people on the bike path, down Main Street, and to Kat’s dad’s house,” Shields describes. Friends waited along the path to wave, blow bubbles, and cheer the couple on. “We love bicycling, and this felt like the perfect way to kick off our marriage officially,” he says.

The other big highlight for them was taking pictures in the river below the bridge. Shields says their photographer, Paul Reitano, “was decked out with three cameras hanging off of him, wading through the water in his Crocs to get the perfect angles as we hopped barefoot from rock to rock.”

The couple felt lucky to work with so much local talent to make the day happen. Many of those people would typically have been booked already during a “normal” wedding season, but the pandemic actually opened up many options.

Overall, the couple was able to stay true to their vision despite COVID-19 since they wanted pretty much everything to take place outdoors.

Shields says, “We were bummed that some of our family living across the country were unable to make it but know they were with us in spirit.”

Each of these couples will forever be part of a special club — those who wed in 2020.

“What a story we will be able to tell to our grandchildren. But in order to tell that story someday, we must care about keeping each other safe and healthy right now. That’s all that matters,” says Graves.

Caroline Tremblay writes from Richmond, New Hampshire.