5 Newlyweds On Why They Opted For A Wedding Planning Pivot In 2020

Love is all they need.


This article is in partnership with Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas.

Bells are ringing and chestnuts are roasting, signaling to the world that it's that time of year again. And though the way we approach the holidays looks a little different this year, it doesn't change the fact that Christmas is a time to highlight the love in our lives: our family, our friends, and our significant others. 2020 in particular has meant finding the silver linings in all areas of life, and that includes the way we approach our wedding planning.

While the pandemic could have very well prevented engaged couples from jumping the broom and saying "I do" for another year, a beautiful pivot has occurred where couples are opting for intimate weddings over larger ceremonies. Such an action has emphasized the importance of the when and where of getting married over the who and how. Love is truly all you need in life's grander scheme.

The when and where of wedding planning is touched on in Hallmark Channel's latest holiday movie, premiering this Saturday (December 5 at 8pm/7c), Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing. A part of Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas, this film stars Holly Robinson Peete and Rukiya Bernard and centers around Michelle (played by Peete) and Hannah (played by Bernard). Michelle's wedding is on the horizon, while Hannah is preparing the Evergreen museum for its launch. Amid the excitement and the chaos of the two auspicious events, Hannah finds herself questioning if the love she has for Elliot (played by Antonio Cayonne) can withstand a new challenge.

'Tis the season and in celebration of the film and the theme of love conquers all, even amid wedding planning, we spoke to real-life couples about their wedding planning pivot, why they chose the spaces they wed in, and the way the holiday has changed and not changed in 2020.

Cynthia “Onye” Onyejiji & Lawrence Edem

Courtesy of Cynthia "Onye" Onyejiji

When They Said "I Do":

September 19, 2020

Where They Said "I Do":

"All my life, I dreamed of having this over the top, Disney-love-story type wedding. I had a Pinterest board full of all my dress ideas. I had my Spotify playlist locked and loaded. I was ready! Then the pandemic happened and momentarily shattered my dream!

"However, Lawrence and I quickly pivoted. We decided to have a 40-guest count wedding, instead of a 500-guest count. And we celebrated our love in the backyard of my childhood home. The home where I spent all those nights dreaming of my over the top, Disney-love story type of wedding! It didn't all unfold exactly how we planned, but I sure did still feel like Cinderella (the Brandy version)!"

Why They Decided To Pivot Their Wedding Plans:

"Lawrence and I are all about saving our coins, mmkay! So when we had to decide between a small wedding now or a big wedding later, it was a no-brainer. Not only were we able to save a lot of money by having an intimate wedding, but we were also able to begin our married lives together pretty quickly. I planned our wedding in just two months and it turned out to be everything I never knew I needed."

Courtesy of Cynthia "Onye" Onyejiji

"Not only were we able to save a lot of money by having an intimate wedding, but we were also able to begin our married lives together pretty quickly. I planned our wedding in just two months and it turned out to be everything I never knew I needed."

The Benefits Of Having An Intimate Wedding:

"Before the pandemic hit, we were spending a lot of time, money and energy on planning this big wedding. It was extremely stressful. Once we decided to go with a smaller wedding, it allowed us to focus more on what really mattered to us. And what mattered to us was saying 'I do' and starting the rest of our lives together."

Their Favorite Holiday Traditions:

"This year, Lawrence and I are looking forward to celebrating our very Christmas together as a married couple. Usually, for the holidays, we'd exchange gifts and spend time with all of our family. However, due to the pandemic, we won't be able to celebrate with our family, so we're looking forward to starting our very own traditions and hopefully one day sharing them with our children."

Their Biggest Love Lesson Of 2020:

"The one thing that the pandemic will never be able to cancel is love. Our story is proof of that!"

For more of Onye, follow her on Instagram @piecesofonye and on YouTube.

Cara Thibodeaux & Harley West

Courtesy of Cara Thibodeaux

When They Said "I Do":

November 22, 2020

Where They Said "I Do":

"We were married at Chapel Dulcinea in the Texas Hill Country of Austin. We decided to elope after learning that the venue was totally free!"

Why They Decided To Pivot Their Wedding Plans:

"At the beginning of 2020, we planned our wedding for 2021 in Hawaii to bring our family and friends back to the island of Oahu where we got engaged. Unfortunately, there have been many restrictions in regards to traveling to Hawaii from the mainland so we decided to push our wedding back to 2022 to allow more of our friends and family to come to our wedding. We got the crazy idea over the summer after we decided to push our wedding back to have a small elopement ceremony with our immediate family."

The Benefits Of Having An Intimate Wedding:

"We kept the decorations minimal, the guest list was our immediate family, and we broke tradition by helping each other get ready with each other the day of our ceremony. We feel that an elopement ceremony allowed us to focus on each other more than the event itself and we are so glad we did!"

Their Favorite Holiday Traditions:

"Every Christmas we make vegan sugar cookies together and it's always so much fun to bake together. We also buy matching Christmas pyjamas to wear on Christmas Eve. Now that we are husband and wife, I don't think those traditions will change but we are excited to hopefully have a little one soon to enjoy the festivities with!"

The Biggest Love Lesson Of 2020:

"Being at home with your significant other almost 24/7 really shows you if you are fit to be married. We've become even closer during these crazy times of 2020, had more meaningful conversations, and without the influence of other friends and family around us all the time, we've been able to define how we want our marriage to look like, what kind of parents we want to be, and what type of life we want to live."

For more of Cara, follow her on Instagram @greatfullgirl.

Anika Joseph-Henry & Marvin Henry

Courtesy of The Henrys, #HenryThingIsPossible

Photo Credit: Kevin Warren

When They Said "I Do":

October 23, 2020; "The three-year anniversary of our first date."

Where They Said "I Do":

"Fortunately for us, our plans remained the same from our August 28th engagement to the October 23rd wedding. Our ideal location was Central Park, since this was the same location where we had our first date on the same exact date (October 23, 2017). Recreating the intimacy of our first date on our anniversary couldn't have been any more beautiful. We would also say that COVID made it easier for us to break the news of an intimate wedding to our guest."

Why They Decided To Pivot Their Wedding Plans:

"Having an intimate wedding was always the plan. From early on in our relationship, everything we did was intentional. Marriage was already a plan, but having a big wedding wasn't ever something that we wanted to do. We knew it was time, and once engaged, we saw it fit to marry right away."

Courtesy of The Henrys, #HenryThingIsPossible

Photo Credit: Kevin Warren

The Benefits Of Having An Intimate Wedding:

"Marriage was always a goal. We moved as a unit in just about everything we do and knowing that we didn't want to have a huge wedding made planning an intimate ceremony even easier during COVID. Additionally, our joint decision to have an intimate wedding came from the very idea of 'not wanting to put more thought into a wedding than the MARRIAGE.' Plus, larger weddings do not necessarily translate to a perfect marriage, okurr!"

Their Favorite Holiday Traditions:

"The holiday season have always been about family for us. Since our shared love language is quality time, we take advantage of any time-off opportunities to have dedicated family time. As a tradition, we both enjoy having at-home gatherings and entertaining family and friends. 2020 will limit our plans of having folks over, but it's a tradition we started when we met and will continue."

Their Biggest Love Lesson Of 2020:

"Love is something that is imperfect. But you must work at it and being intentional with the ones you love is so important. We're living through times that none of us have experienced in this lifetime. This is the time to make sure you keep your loved ones close and be sure that they know it."

For more of The Henrys, follow Anika on Instagram @madam_anni and Marvin @dimeana_rips.

Kendall Keith & Rob Newell

Courtesy of Kendall Keith and Rob Newell

Photo Credit: Gin and Sake, shot at the Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas

When They Said "I Do":

November 20, 2020

Where They Said "I Do":

"Originally, we had plans to be married soon-ish (like in a few years) in Hawaii (ideally). Our actual plan this year was just to have a big engagement earlier back in July on our 10-year anniversary, but because of COVID, we had to use those savings (that was for my engagement ring) so we could survive the first few months being in financial uncertainty while adjusting to the changes of the pandemic.

"Because of this, our ideal engagement and marriage plans went on hold indefinitely, which made me rethink over time what it means for us to get married. I then decided to forego the engagement all together and tie the knot, just the two of us. No one else there. Because we can't travel, we figured the best alternative to a 'destination elopement' was to run (drive) off to Vegas!"

Why They Decided To Pivot Their Wedding Plans:

"We've always been a little unconventional and had teetered with the idea of having some sort of small wedding or destination elopement, and while we never had any concrete wedding plans prior (other than we planned to marry someday), COVID just somehow solidified what marriage means for each for us, as opposed to getting caught up with the idealization of a perfect wedding/elopement."

Their Favorite Holiday Traditions:

"You know, we've been living together for nine years, and funnily enough, we don't have big holiday traditions! The closest we have to a tradition is watching Die Hard on Christmas Day every year (this started as a direct rebuttal to my husband's family's yearly ritual of having A Christmas Story on 24/7 on Christmas day, haha). As to how it will evolve as a married couple and the times we're now in, I think any traditions we take on will just have that much more meaning in appreciating the people we have in our lives and spending time with them, whenever we are allowed to again."

Their Biggest Love Lesson Of 2020:

"The biggest takeaway I've learned is that at the end of the day, when we all leave this world behind, is that all we have is the people we know and love and how we treat them. Our family and friends. And the times we get to spend with them are precious, because this year has taken a lot of that away for most of us."

For more of The Newells, follow Kendall on Instagram @kendall.keith and Rob @robbien38.

Nakia & Andrew Means

Courtesy of Nakia and Andrew Means

Photo Credit: Kendal Lanier/Champagne Love Stories

When They Said "I Do":


Where They Said "I Do":

"In my parents' living room [in] Atlanta, GA. Our original venue was the Biltmore Ballrooms. It was the first and only venue we visited. We were in love with the classic look! The ceilings reminded me of the Louvre museum in Paris, France. Although we did not get to get married there, my parents went above and beyond to transform our home. They assembled a floral arch, floating candles and a draped backdrop. They have huge windows in their living room which made for beautiful lighting in the pictures. Many people who saw our pictures thought we got married in a cathedral!"

Why They Decided To Pivot Their Wedding Plans:

"We both realize this is a very sensitive decision for each couple, and it will look different from ours for many. While we were looking forward to the big celebration with our family and friends, we just could not wait to start our lives together. There was a little uncertainty about moving forward without all of our friends and family present. However, the longer we are married, the more confirmation we receive that we made the right decision. I cannot imagine 2020 without getting to marry my best friend!"

Courtesy of Nakia and Andrew Means

Photo Credit: Catherine Cansler Photography

"More than having a wedding, we really wanted to start our lives together. The joy we have experienced living life together as husband and wife far outweighs the sting of changing our original plans."

The Benefits Of Having An Intimate Wedding:

"More than having a wedding, we really wanted to start our lives together. The joy we have experienced living life together as husband and wife far outweighs the sting of changing our original plans. We had to condense our wedding guest list down from 200 guests to 10. Needless to say, only our parents and siblings were present. Many of our guests were disappointed, but everyone understood. We opted not to broadcast the wedding via Zoom or any other platform to preserve the intimacy of the ceremony."

Their Favorite Holiday Traditions:

"We love visiting the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta, GA to see their Christmas lights display. I also love watching Christmas movies. Drew typically just plays along, as he would rather watch re-runs of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air! The wonderful thing about Christmas this year is the fact that we get to experience it in our home, together! We have our tree decorated and we've also taken some Christmas pictures to send out our first Christmas card to friends and family. Drew insists this is a sign we are getting old!

"As we navigate COVID-19 during this holiday season, the main change in our plans will be around visiting extended family. We plan to reserve that for another time. With immediate family, we plan accordingly to get tested prior to holidays for everyone's safety. It just gives us peace of mind before going into their homes. Our parents appreciate it too!"

Their Biggest Love Lesson Of 2020:

"I think our lesson can be summed up with one of our favorite songs - 'Can You Stand the Rain' by New Edition! The male group sings, 'Sunny days, everybody loves them. But tell me baby, can you stand the rain?' When the cute Instagram posts are done and the honeymoon is over, what matters is our ability to work together as a team when challenges come. The way we navigated the change in plans, challenges with vendors, financial decisions and other stresses from COVID-19 validated that we are built to withstand tough times together."

For more of The Means, follow Nakia on Instagram @kiatastic and Andrew @by_any__means. You can also subscribe to their YouTube Channel, This Means Love.

Don't forget to watch the premiere of Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing on Hallmark Channel this Saturday 12/5 at 8pm/7c!

Featured image courtesy of Cynthia "Onye" Onyejiji

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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