Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Must simchas take a time out from December to March? No, says event planner Rena Soclof. Barring a storm or below-freezing temps, there are ways to make winter events safe, comfortable and warm. Flexibility is paramount.

Tents have the starring role in pandemic simchas, providing cover and structure while letting in plenty of virus-diffusing fresh air. Tents can be arranged and decorated like any indoor space. You can capture the elegance of a formal ballroom or enhance the outdoor setting with rustic décor and a view of the landscape.

You can’t escape the winter dilemma, though: An enclosed tent is just like being indoors; a very open tent will be too cold for a multi-hour event.

There is a middle ground that works. A two-sided tent chases away some of the cold. Then add radiant heaters. With radiant heat, objects are warmed, not air. Like a fireplace, the nearer you are, the warmer it gets. Heat stays in the area, concentrated on people, where it does the most good.

Hosts can keep guests warm with drinks like hot buttered rum and mulled wine. And there’s always hot chocolate. Hot soups are comforting, served in a shot glass at the buffet or as a steaming bowl for the first course of the meal.

Give out favors to keep guests comfortable. Gloves and scarves are a nice touch. Or give hand warmers that sit inside gloves and keep frost away from fingers. The best way to warm up your guests is with energetic simcha music to keep them dancing, socially distant, of course.

And what if the weather doesn’t cooperate? If your numbers are manageable, New Jersey venues are currently allowing indoor events at 25% capacity. But that could change, which is why the key to having a winter wedding during the pandemic is flexibility.

“You have to manage expectations, understand the times and always have some type of Plan B, ranging from an alternate date or venue to cutting the guest list,” said Soclof. “Have your guest list in email form to make notifications.”

Families with a bar or bat mitzvah are making the choice between postponing a celebration until the pandemic is over, or having a less formal get-together. Movie parties around outdoor screens have become popular. Soclof heard about one bar mitzvah party with fireworks and a few hours with friends. Game show style nights also work for bar and bat mitzvah parties. Families that want a big event have to plan as though they’re having a wedding. Soclof arranged a bar mitzvah with two tents facing a nature preserve and park—one for the reception and meals and one for davening.

No matter the style or formality of an outdoor event, everyone should dress properly. Warmth trumps fashion, if you have to make a choice. And remember that high heels on soft ground can sink your simcha. 

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