لا أفراح في صالات هذه المدينة... الانهيار الاقتصادي يطول أعراس اللبنانيين
“We began the wedding preparations at 1,500 [Lebanese Lira exchange rate per dollar] and by the time of the wedding we were at 10,000” This is how R. Jurdaly, 29, summarized her wedding night in Lebanon, which according to her, was supposed to be the most beautiful night of her life, but it turned into a financial and psychological punishment.
In 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19, R. had begun the necessary preparations to have her wedding in the summer of 2020, by holding a small party with family and friends. However, due to the economic collapse and the Coronavirus outbreak, all plans were hampered. She says, “I receive my monthly salary in the Lebanese currency, and therefore the high exchange rate of the dollar directly affects me. The same applies to my husband. We had reserved the [wedding] hall and had chosen the food menu and type of decoration. Then after that we decided to cancel everything because the prices had doubled and we could no longer complete the wedding, because furnishing the house took priority.”
R. explains that she made the logical decision not to succumb to the planners and merchants of the economic collapse, since most of those working in this field are trying to compensate for the loss of an entire year of work by setting outrageous prices. She asserts that she does not generalize this idea, but this was her conclusion according to her personal experience. From the food to the wedding dress, there is profit to be made.
She says, “We decided, my husband and I, to manage our money, so if the dollar exchange rate is close to 10,000 Lebanese pounds, we will decide on everything we want. Thus, in my husband’s Bekaa village and within the garden of his relative’s house, we had our wedding. We chose the decorations, picked roses, and put them on the tables. We even relied on the experiences of our friends who, according to them, said that our wedding was one of the most beautiful nights they had experienced. This is because we refused to succumb to the economic collapse and the merchants, by going for a simple and intimate ceremony that did not cost us more than 4,000 US dollars.”
This is the prevalent thinking in Lebanon, where a wedding turns into a social statement reflecting the status of the family and the bride and groom
George B., a wedding planner, justifies that since 2019, he has been suffering economically just like everyone else. This is due to the fact that people have become unable to hold the type of wedding celebrations that used to dominate the public nature in Lebanon in past years and would start at a cost of $20,000 dollars. He explains, “Most of those I have worked with have a desire to reverse their social and financial status through their wedding night. This is usually reflected in the quality of the food that is chosen, the floral arrangement, the lighting, and even the type of cloth that is placed on the table. This is the prevalent thinking in Lebanon, where a wedding turns into a social statement that reflects the power of the family that the person comes from, as well as the power of the couple.”
He adds, “Since last year, this power has been locked away in banks and spent on food and basic needs. Therefore, weddings can wait or be compromised on their details. Most of the parties that we witness today are for individuals living abroad, or those who live inside Lebanon but are paid in US dollars. On the other hand, and out of necessity, simpler weddings that better suit the general situation are held instead, and this is what we have been witnessing in the recent period.”
We Celebrate to Rise Above the Devastation
Lillian Q., 30, decided along with her partner to move into their marital home without holding any kind of celebration. But following the events of last year they changed their minds, because they wanted to experience one normal night. Speaking on this idea, she explains, “Because of the general situation that prevented us from interacting with the outside world for a long time, and because of the repeated requests from our friends, we decided to hold a wedding with everyone we love.” Regarding the difficulties she faces, she states, “The people are feeding off one another and no one is working with any guilt or conscience.” As she put it, they are trying to compensate for their losses by basically robbing people of their money during this season.
On her first visit to one of the wedding halls, Lilian found out that the wedding would cost her about 40 million Lebanese pounds at the exchange rate, without having fully secured all the necessities. This price does not cover the cost of the alcohol, the zaffa (traditional wedding march), or the music program, and is only for reserving the hall, the food and a specific portion of the decoration. On the other hand, Lilian explains that most planners ask for half the amount in US dollars and the second half be paid according to the official exchange rate of 3,900 LBP. She says, “Why would I want to pay — even if I could — during the middle of an economic collapse, forty million pounds on a wedding?! This is theft. And we still haven’t even talked about the dress and the costs of its rental.”
I would not tell wedding planners I work abroad, otherwise they will only see me as a walking dollar bill and an event to be taken advantage of.
In the end, Lillian found what suits her, after she became acquainted with a young man who began working as a wedding planner this year. Through his work, he aims to deal with the idea of a wedding based on a new concept that is built on the basis of the economic collapse instead of following the usual “Lebanese way”. Regarding this issue, she says, “What he does is very clever, as he is using the crisis to meet the desire of the people to throw weddings without exposing them to any financial anxiety. On the contrary, he relies on their material capabilities for his planning. Therefore, instead of a $3,000 wedding hall, he can provide us with a $600 hall, and that’s what he did. This is what’s going to make customers go find him like I did.”
“The Sad One Came to Celebrate but Found No Place for Herself”
There are those whose weddings were disrupted and postponed due to the economic collapse and the Covid outbreak, and on the other hand, there are those who lost members of their family because of the latter and therefore had to cancel the ceremony. This is what happened with Sh. R., a 33-year-old Lebanese woman residing in Dubai, She has been planning to get married since 2019, but was hindered first by the total lockdown, and then by the death of both her uncle and grandfather after contracting Coronavirus.
She says, “After a relationship that lasted for many years and lengthy, months-long preparations, our wedding was postponed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. I was sad, but then I said it was okay and set a new date. However, it was canceled again due to the deaths in the family. In respect of tradition, it was postponed once again.”
S. feels that the saying, “The sad one came to celebrate, but found no place for herself” applies to her, because she waited for many years to unite with the man she loves and end her isolation in a foreign land that her country forced her to go to in order to escape poverty, and today when she wanted to rejoice, she only found economic collapse and death. Today, she is considering having a simple ceremony with only their close friends in attendance, saying, “Despite my work abroad, I have to commit to a specific amount of money, because my fiancé and I are supporting our families. So, we chose to divide the wedding ceremony between a family dinner and a party celebration with our friends. Up until this moment, I do not tell the planners that I work abroad, because they will only see me as a green dollar bill and a wedding project to be taken advantage of at the expense of our life savings, which had cost us to be away from our families and our country. This is what happened when I visited a hair salon, and they informed me that the costs for a bride reach up to four million Lebanese pounds.”
She concludes with, “There are those who consider that this night is not important. For me it will not change anything, but it is a sharing of our joy and out love with family and friends, and, under the current situation, it is unfair that the joy of the people be transformed into an inhumane trade.”