A New York Celebration
Of all the intimate celebrations happening around the world right now, we must admit, this one is speaking to our inner Gossip Girl and we are absolutely green with envy!
Nikki and Don said their “I do’s” in Central Park, surrounded by a few close friends, had their first dance on the Bethesda Terrace (yes, the one where Chuck and Blair got married!) and to end off the day, they toasted to their newlywed status with champagne in paper cups. Now if this doesn’t sound like the perfect intimate ceremony to you, then we don’t know what will!
Nikki and Don share more with us today about their magical celebration, including some amazing words of wisdom for those brides that are still on the fence about having an intimate ceremony, so read on if you are a bride to be, gossip girl fangirl or just have a deep love for New York City!
We know you’ll love this,
Hi guys! Please can you introduce yourselves to the Hooray readers…
N + D: Hello! We’re Nikki and Don. We met nine years ago in Jo’burg at a braai hosted by Don’s coworker, who also happened to be Nikki’s bestie from Rhodes. We both thought the other was cute and interesting but way out of our league. After our paths kept crossing we eventually went on a date on Easter Sunday – we both came straight from family lunches, and it was so last minute that we bought tickets to “the next movie starting”. After that, we sat in a coffee shop talking until they kicked us out because it got so late. Since then we’ve lived in three countries together – including a really challenging period of Transatlantic distance – and have now settled in the Upper West Side in New York City. When we’re not working, and the city isn’t in a pandemic-related lockdown, you can find us browsing bookstores, watching live music, walking through Central Park, attending poetry readings (Nikki is a poet), brunching around the city and hanging out with friends on rooftops.
Hooray: Tell us about your proposal.
Nikki: One Sunday, last September, Don was dead-set on going hiking in the Hudson Valley because, as he put it, “it might be the last weekend of summer weather for the season”. Work had been manic recently and we’d already had a busy weekend so I wanted to stay on the couch and watch bad TV. He convinced me with the promise of pancakes at my fave spot in Cold Spring but proceeded to stress all the way about how full the train was and how many people would be on the trail! It turned out he had mapped out the spot – a rocky outcrop on Mt. Taurus from which you could see NYC – and was worried he wouldn’t find it or it would be full of hikers. In the end, it was just us and he asked me to marry him standing up, hand in hand, so we could make the decision as equals. I interrupted him to make sure he was really proposing, then let him finish and quickly said yes! Don had somehow hiked up the mountain with a bottle of champagne hidden in our backpack, so we had some bubbly and called family and friends from what seemed like the top of the world. It was a long but happy hike down, and even though I didn’t get pancakes it was well worth getting off the couch for! My lasting memory of the day was how ridiculously happy Don was the whole time, even through the stress, and when I realised that was because he was so excited to marry me it reminded me how lucky we both are. We had been together for 8 years and already decided to get engaged, so I thought we’d be relaxed but it was honestly one of the most emotional and exciting days.
Hooray: Ag we just love your proposal! We believe there is a story behind your engagement ring?
Nikki: Yes there is! Don designed the ring himself and had it made specially in South Africa on a trip back earlier in the year. The diamond on it was a gift from his grandfather to his grandmother, who were married for more than 60 years, and he ‘hid’ another diamond on the inside of the band that lies on my heart line. Just so much planning and thought! (Below two images by Hannah Jan Photography)
Hooray: It must have been hard to not have your families with you, how did you keep them “close to you” on this special day?
Nikki: Don and I are both really close to our families, and to one another’s families. My mum lives only 15 min from his parents in JHB and we’ve spent a number of meals, vacations and holidays altogether. So this was reconfirming a commitment we’d made not just to each other but to our families, and as such we tried to weave in a number of heirlooms to honour that. The diamond on my engagement ring was a gift from Don’s grandfather to his grandmother, my wedding dress was made partly from the lace of my grandmother’s wedding dress from the 1940s, my earrings were fashioned from my maternal great-grandmothers’ rings, and I gave Don a watch belonging to my late father as a wedding gift. I think all of those gestures made our families feel closer and grounded our wedding in what marriage truly is. Unfortunately, we lost Don’s grandparents a few years ago but my gran is 93 and she was really excited to see her wedding dress reused 70 years later in NYC!
Hooray: What was the one non-negotiable of your wedding
N + D: This is ironic because all of the non-negotiables of our wedding ended up being the things that fell by the wayside when COVID-19 happened! We’re both feminists and wanted a wedding that was our own rather than anything too traditional. Our running joke was that if we ended up discussing napkin rings we’d gone too far! Our only “must-haves” were family and friends, good food, an open bar, a fun playlist, and an excellent photographer, all of which we had lined up weeks after getting engaged. But on the day, our friend Alex took photos, our friend Tom – along with numerous buskers in the Park – provided a soundtrack for the day, and we ate cupcakes and drank champagne from paper cups next to the lake with the friends we call our New York family.
My one idea that I’m really sad about that couldn’t happen was our wedding favours. We really wanted our wedding to be as sustainable as possible and sought out locally-owned vendors with modern takes. As part of this, we considered a few wedding favours that would be meaningful but not wasteful. In the end, we settled on secondhand books and spent months shopping at local independent stores to source some of our favourite books, from The Lord of the Rings to The Great Gatsby, that guests could browse during cocktail hour and take home. We felt this was an unusual way to share something we both love while giving guests a novel way to remember our wedding! We even had custom bookmarks made. We’ll still share these with people in the future, I’m sure.
Hooray: What “original” wedding date things did you have?
N + D: Basically just our dress and suit, and each other! And the date! We had planned to get married at City Hall with just our families and then have a big dinner on the waterfront in Dumbo, Brooklyn. So that all completely changed. I will say, I’m super pleased that in the end, we had a personal ceremony that we were able to share with so many people – I could not have known before the time how emotional and important that would be.
Hooray: Tell us about your bridesmaids and groomsmen?
N + D: We are both really lucky to have close friends from various stages of life, scattered around the world. As a result, we decided not to have a wedding party because when we started to try to narrow it down it still ended up looking like a football team! In the end, this decision made it a lot easier for us to shift our plans after COVID hit. On the day, a handful of friends joined us in Central Park to celebrate, so in some ways, they were guests, family, and the wedding party! For the record, they all wore masks and stayed socially distanced throughout.
Hooray: Which wedding traditions were you able to do and which did you have to forgo?
N + D: Our ceremony, despite being in the middle of Central Park and broadcasted on Zoom, was fairly traditional but represented us very well. We based our vows on the traditional Catholic ones but took out any promises to “obey”, and then wrote our own ring vows that depicted the promises we live every day as a couple. We chose a secular reading – the poem “Scaffolding” by Seamus Heaney – and our officiant Sarah did a great job at modernizing the ceremony to make it reflect our values. Think the only other tradition was the first dance, which was a last-minute add! We chose our wedding song about 6 or 7 years ago so it was amazing to see what began as a “wouldn’t this be a cool wedding song?” chat come full circle.
Hooray: What role did your parents play in your wedding?
N + D: The hardest thing for both of us was not having our families with us on our wedding day. It was meant to be the first time we’d have our parents, siblings, nieces, and nephew all in NYC together, so the hardest thing was to let that go. But our parents were really supportive, and encouraging even, of our decision to get married despite the pandemic and we did everything we could to keep them involved throughout. We had a Zoom rehearsal dinner the night before, where our nieces gave the most heartwarming speeches officially welcoming Uncle Don to the family, and we spoke to our families before and after the ceremony. It might sound kooky, but my Dad passed away 13 years ago and I knew he was there because it was predicted to rain but instead we had perfect spring sunshine! That felt like divine intervention.
Hooray: The best moment of your wedding day?
Nikki: This is a hard one. The ceremony was really beautiful and meant the world to us – Sarah, our officiant, had done such an incredible job at pulling together something meaningful in a short period of time. Don gave this funny, romantic speech that reminded me again of what a splendid human he is. Getting ready in our apartment, in a building I’d lived in for four years, was really special because it felt right to start a new chapter in a place that held so much of our history. Walking around Central Park and our neighbourhood all dressed up was such a glorious reminder of why we love NYC, so many strangers came over to congratulate us and share their own love stories – after almost 3 months of quarantine it was so uplifting to brush up with life again and be reminded of the community we’re part of here. Finally, our first dance is something I’ll remember forever. We didn’t think we wanted the first dance at all but our friends pointed out that this was probably the only time we’d have the famous Bethesda Terrace to ourselves. So they played our song, ‘Never Had Nobody Like You’ by M. Ward, and we danced as friends and strangers cheered for us. It looked and felt like a movie.
Hooray: The one thing you would change about your wedding if you could travel back in time?
N + D: We wish our family could have been there but otherwise, nothing. We were lucky in a lot of ways. As I said earlier, we had perfect weather followed by three days of rain. While our family and friends couldn’t join us in person, Zoom meant that we celebrated our ceremony with guests from across five continents, including a number of people who wouldn’t have been able to travel originally. Yes, Don’s shirt and tie were stuck in a closed store, but it’s a great story that he wore a work shirt with a bow tie I once wore to a Madonna concert. Yes, I would have loved professional hair and makeup, but the fact that my husband learned how to use a curling iron to help me get ready is a real reminder of what makes our partnership so special. Basically, for everything that went wrong something better went right.
Hooray: The biggest hurdle you faced planning your wedding?
N + D: COVID-19! We had joked that our wedding date picked us – after we got engaged the plans fell into place really easily for our Spring wedding, which made it even more heartbreaking when we had to cancel it as the outbreak worsened in NYC. The pandemic just put us, like so many couples, into this very trying time of uncertainty. Once the order allowing online weddings was announced, it was a pretty obvious choice to go ahead. It took a few weeks of hustling but our new plans came together and we managed to keep our original date, and even if it was nothing we planned it was so much better than anything we imagined.
Hooray: Are you planning on having a second celebration?
N + D: We are! We had been torn before getting engaged about if we’d get married in NYC or South Africa. Both are such integral parts of us and our story, and now we don’t have to choose! Once restaurants are open we’ll still host a celebratory dinner for friends in the city at our original venue (Celestine), and once we can travel again we’ll plan a party in SA with family and friends there. Such a great excuse to keep putting that dress and suit back on!
Hooray: The future of weddings is now leaning towards intimate celebrations, do you have any advice for couples who are thinking of having an intimate ceremony?
N + D: Do it! Look, we can’t speak for all couples, but we loved how much time we had together and that a smaller wedding took a lot of pressure off. My advice is to still have whatever makes it feel like a wedding to you – I’m glad we got dressed up because when I saw Don in his tux it didn’t matter what happened next, I knew we were getting married and it was perfect. Don’t be scared to incorporate technology, I was worried about Zoom but honestly, everyone felt included and had fun! Find a good officiant, the ceremony is the heart of the day – make sure it suits you both, and you feel safe with the person marrying you. Ask your vendors for help, my dress designer hooked us up with the florist and wedding cake baker and our original photographer knew our officiant. All of those recommendations saved us time, money, and anxiety. Finally, embrace that it’s different. It won’t feel like other weddings you’ve been to but it’s yours, and there are so many benefits you may not have thought of yet, so enjoy those.
Hooray: Lastly, do you have any words of advice for brides that had to postpone their wedding day?
Nikki: You’re allowed to be upset. I battled with that guilt a lot – it felt really selfish to be sad about a wedding when there was so much else going on in the world, especially in our city. And I didn’t want to make that time any more difficult for our vendors. But in the end, as a bride or groom, it’s okay to feel frustrated or just really sad. This is a big life event and it’s hard to see that excitement turn to disappointment. Those feelings can exist alongside processing world events and that is all okay. I think if we hadn’t addressed that disappointment we may not have been able to let go of our expectations and pull together the amazing wedding we had!
Nikki and Don, thank you so much for sharing your story with our readers today. We are sure it will inspire many more to have an intimate celebration and say their I do’s!
We cannot wait to see the magic that is your second celebration in South Africa.
Dress: Loulette Bride
Coordination: Simply Eloped
Bouquet: Doe & Jay Studio
Cake: Honey & Oak Catering
Photography: Alex Felsenstein
(with assistance from her husband, Steve, and our friend, Tom.)
Music: Our friend, Tom, who happens to be one half of the DJ-duo, Anden.
Shoes: Badgley Mishka and Keds
Engagement Photos: Hannah Jan Photography