In a world where grandiose celebrations and extravagant displays of love take centre stage, there lies a hidden gem of nuptial bliss – the intimate wedding.

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Less is more: Celebrating love with small intimate weddings

In a world where grandiose celebrations and extravagant displays of love take centre stage, there lies a hidden gem of nuptial bliss – the intimate wedding.

It's a hushed haven where love flourishes, untouched by the cacophony of the masses. Here, in the embrace of a tight-knit circle of the nearest and dearest, a couple finds solace, bonding deeply with one another and their chosen few.

It's the romantic rendezvous where each moment is savoured, every exchange cherished. In a world where bigger often means better, an intimate wedding is a beautiful reminder that sometimes, less is truly more.

The Karanis -- David, 30, and Naomi, 29 -- celebrated their love by tying the knot in August 2019 in an intimate ceremony with fewer than 50 attendees. While many dream of grand weddings from their childhood days, Naomi always stood apart. For her, a large-scale celebration was never part of her vision.

"It does not make sense having hundreds of people, 70 per cent of which I will never see ever again, and here I am dealing with debts from the wedding instead of focusing on starting the marriage right," David echoes his wife.

For the couple, the task of finalising their guest list was a delicate one, demanding both resolute choices and unwavering commitment to their vision.

"We chose our grandparents to represent most of the extended family members, and the aunties and uncles from each side who ferried the grandparents, then our friends and immediate family members," Naomi explains.

As a result, the highlight of their close-knit wedding was the delight of their guests over the cuisine.

"We took time visiting different places to taste their food to find out whether we could have a wedding there."

Moreover, the intimate setting allowed for meaningful conversations with each attendee.

"It was not all hi and byes…we got to have a decent conversation with everyone," David elaborates.

To add a personalised touch to their big day, the two wore aprons written Mr and Mrs when they got to the reception and served their parents.


A couple weds.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

As much as their wedding was small and intimate, there were hiccups along the way. "For starters, the bridesmaids' dresses could not fit and the tailor had delivered them a day before the wedding without making adjustments. We had to look for an alternative tailor and get others. The maid of honour had to buy a new dress," she says.

On David's part, he lost his shoes hours before the wedding. "I was running errands as late as 2am and left my shoes at a friend's place and they did not have their keys so I had to walk barefoot for quite some time."

The two lovebirds attribute the less stressful planning of their small wedding to choosing a venue that was far, and exchanging their vows on a Sunday.

"There was very little friction because of very few moving parts. Not too much could go wrong so not much went wrong. Everyone had to sit and enjoy," David notes.

Furthermore, the triumph of their wedding was significantly attributed to the dedicated efforts of their close friends and family, who took on much of the heavy lifting.

"What we did cost next to nothing. My mother-in-law decorated the venue, my maid of honour chauffeured me, and the photographer took the photos for free as a wedding gift to us, to cite but a few," Naomi says.

To couples planning small intimate weddings, the couple advises, "Stand your ground for you will get a lot of resistance."

Unlike the Karanis who did not hold a traditional wedding before their white wedding, the Karumis (Charlie and Melissa, both 32) compensated for their small intimate wedding by having a big traditional dowry payment ceremony (ruracio) months before.

"Traditionally, ruracio has more meaning and value to our parents and relatives than a white wedding," he explains.

Another added advantage for the Karumi's was that their relatives viewed them as married after the ruracio and they were not pressured to have a white wedding.

"My uncle who was presiding over the ruracio negotiations from my end even echoed to me that we were now regarded as married, traditionally, and told me that if we wished to do something else, it should be for our own pleasure," he says.

Consequently, selecting the guest list was as straightforward as flipping a page for the Karumis who focused solely on those with whom they shared a tight bond.

"Everyone who came knew us personally, our love story and we had been hanging out often. No one needed to be introduced to one another, they all knew each other."

Having said their vows on September 2021 with a gathering of 40 attendees, the Karumis credit the triumph of their intimate wedding to their pragmatic approach.

"We were also saving up to relocate to Canada and did not want to commit so much to something and later regret it as we waited for our jobs to align after moving. It was important to be true to ourselves."


A set-up for an intimate wedding.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Given that the wedding was cosy and low-key, the Karumis left out certain things like decor, and a disk jockey.

"We played our own songs. We did not have a lot of service providers because for venue, we used the same hotel in which we had held our engagement party months before," he shares.

Echoing the Karanis, Charlie says that the lack of many moving parts was a plus, as it helped them avoid a lot of hiccups.

"The only hiccup was that we forgot to incorporate a master of ceremony (MC), but luckily, one of our guests took up the role."

With the day holding its significant value to the couple, a day engraved in their hearts forever, Charlie encapsulates the heart of their intimate wedding with a simple sentiment, "All that mattered on our special day were the people who mean the most to us."

Unlike the Karanis and Karumis, the Nyagas (Peter, 34, and Grace, 30) did their small intimate wedding during the Covid-19 period.

"Initially we had planned for a wedding with a bridal team of 10 and guests of about 700 being family and friends. However, our wedding day fell at the height of Covid (July 17, 2020) which had implications for all our plans. At that point, only a maximum of 15 people were allowed in weddings, so we had to comply," Peter reveals.

The process of populating the guest list necessitated tough and challenging discussions with family, as the limit of 15 couldn't even cover all immediate relatives.

Grace says, "We had to have hard conversations with our siblings to agree on who would represent the others."

Peter adds, "Some friends never took it kindly that we were inviting them for a virtual wedding, and sadly it led to the end of our friendship."

Their guest list included their parents from both sides, the best couple (who doubled up as the MC), the officiating pastor, three friends, one sibling, and four service providers.

Even during those uncertain times, planning weddings was as challenging as they have always been. The Nyagas note that the uncertainties during that pandemic period were nerve wracking.

"With the shutting down of the country, the hotel we had booked and paid for our honeymoon closed indefinitely and we couldn't reach them," Grace shares.

Be that as it may, the love birds reveal that the most memorable part of their intimate wedding was having everyone who attended being in the photo album.

Additionally, "The small cake that we served was in excess given the number and it was such a joy to see people share and carry some of it home."

During their special day, the Nyagas made memories and even enjoyed the day. They attribute success of the day to making merry with their close family and friends.

"As much as it was not what we expected, it was good for the pocket," Grace adds.

Advising couples who are considering an intimate wedding during uncertain times, Peter says, "Learning from our experience, uncertain times call for objectivity. So, if your goal is to do a wedding, identify your critical components and make it happen."

Wedding planner

Abigael Ojwang says that creating a personalised experience is the thread that neatly wraps the whole process of wedding planning.

Abigael, the founder of Dhahabu Wedding Planners, emphasises that to craft a personal touch, it's vital for her to sit with the couple and gauge if there's a mutual connection between them.

"I take wedding planning as the beginning of a friendship not just a business relation and a one-day thing. When you approach it this way, couples are more willing to open up, express themselves more freely and you are able to pick up their personalities, likes, dislikes, and then you are able to package something that is unique to them."

The essence of intimate weddings lies in gathering close friends you are familiar with and building enduring memories. In contrast, large weddings often host hundreds, yet you might recognise only half or fewer.

"Every time you think about your wedding you should be able to reminisce on the guests, food and funny moments. You should actually recall what your interactions were all about."

However, planning such intimate weddings comes with its share of challenges, even though the drama is less.

Abigael reveals, "There was an interracial wedding I planned of 50 people and only 25 came. The bride did not have so many relatives and the groom's relatives could not jet in. As unavoidable as it was, the venue looked off due to the empty seats."

While the budget is neither here nor there in the planning of small intimate weddings, Abigael underscores that she has planned a Sh1 million wedding for 50 people.

"Details in small weddings tend to scream a lot and planning always encapsulates such elements like decor, venue, colours and tents."

She elaborates that, when assisting couples in crafting a more intimate guest list, she recommends choosing family members and friends who play an active daily role in their lives.

"Who talks to you the most? Whom do you open up to when things are rough and during your happy moments? Who are you close to?" These are some of the leading questions she asks the couple in order to narrow the guest list. Yet, for many couples, trimming the guest list often comes with its share of challenges, requiring them to remain resolute in their choices.

On the topic of themes, Abigael notes that intimate weddings often gravitate towards rustic, open-air settings, predominantly in garden venues.

"Couples doing small weddings tend to look for character in their venues, unlike plain ones." In order to strike a balance between having the most essential elements in the wedding and ensuring the budget is still intact, Abigael advises on making a list of the elements in order of priority.

"There was a couple whose food was the most important element, so I ensured that their food was top notch then we worked backward with them, compromising on the others," she explains.

Abigael reminds couples planning for small intimate weddings that the magic is not found in the extravagance, but in the moments where every detail resonates deeply with the couple's journey, making their day truly unique.

"As they say, it's not about how grand the wedding is, but how grand the love story it represents is."