Once a lavish dream, now a heavy burden, weddings in Lebanon are shifting towards a much simpler event with almost the same expenses as a grand marriage. The culprits are none other than the novel coronavirus pandemic and the Lebanese economic crisis that superficially dates back to Oct. 17 of last year.
The Lebanese are known for their extravagant weddings and the enormous amount of money they spend on catering, planning, decorating, and enjoying what is typically a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, and to no one's surprise as the economic downturn caused by the lockdowns has shadowed the globe, 2020 had other plans for newlyweds and those to-be. Couples suddenly found themselves forced to abandon their extra magical day for a minimalistic, more modest one.
"We thought that by inviting less people we will be both, following certain safety measures and saving some money. We achieved the first, but not the second," said Safaa Dokmak, a nursing student who was recently engaged during the imposed quarantine.
Small, lockdown weddings can be a challenge, especially that Arabs sanctify the concept of family and emphasize the importance of every relative's presence on the big day. Today's struggle, though, isn't tied to the number of attendees but to the financial weight that follows tying the knot amid crises. While marriage remains an institution founded on love, earthly requirements like housing, bills, and basic survival means are eating away the joy of getting married.
Lebanon's currency, the Lebanese lira, has been plummeting since October 2019 and has now lost over 60 percent of its value, leaving the market with incurable wounds and deeper roots in recession. Although lockdown is gradually easing in the country, most businesses are either increasing their prices at abnormal rates or closing their doors, an expensive series of consequences thrown at couples getting ready for their wedding.
"Everything is double, if not triple its old price, so we were forced to postpone the wedding till next year, in hopes of less prices and better conditions," added Ms. Dokmak.
According to Numbeo's Cost of Living Index indicator, a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment outside the center of the capital Beirut would cost around $430 per month, equivalent to 645,000 LBP pre economic crisis. With the drastic devaluation of the country's currency today, this apartment is worth 1,720,000 LBP per month.
The tragic economic collapse has also sent food prices to the moon but not back, with a minimum 55-percent hike since April 2019, according to a recent report by Lebanese think tank Triangle. This alone is a catastrophe for couples who are trying to start a family and who will not be able to afford living expenses, especially with the monthly minimum wage in the country dropping from $450 to about $160.
The owner of a furniture gallery in Lebanon confirmed that they used to buy their merchandize in dollars before the political and economic crises hit. Now, selling at a different rate than the nostalgic 1,500 LBP per $1, sales have been declining. "Not all customers are being able to buy in dollars, and if we wanted to sell at the official lira rate, we would be losing from the original share capital. Some people are buying in installments, and some are buying using both cash and bank cheques," the business owner added.
As if it isn't enough that residents can barely afford basic food items, banks (aka the main controllers of people's money) aren't helping. Not too long ago, local banks offered housing, wedding, and personal loans in both lira and dollar to help young couples cope with their new life. With the current situation, some banks have temporarily halted these offers, while others increased the loans' interest rate and made them available only in LBP.
"We decided not to take a mortgage, because we don't want to spend all our life paying this dept [sic]," commented Ms. Dokmak.
Marriage is not exactly a piece of cake, especially not amid Lebanon's tragic situation, which isn't making it any easier for couples to move ahead. With the pandemic and the shuttered economy, newlyweds are left to face back-breaking circumstances they can't escape. One thing remains a constant, however, and it's that as long as they're together, love will always win.