With This Crowd I Thee Wed


Last Saturday, one maid of honour, 17 bridesmaids, a flower girl, a best man, 18 ushers, two junior ushers and a ring bearer assembled for the biggest wedding party ever. Oh yes, there was also a bride and a groom

It was 8 p.m. on a Wednesday evening 10 days ago, a warm spring breeze blowing outside St. Agnes Church in downtown Toronto. In just 2 1/2 days, Anna Rosa, 32, and her groom, Sidney Pereira, 28, were to celebrate their big day. But their big day was going to be a lot bigger than most.

Most wedding parties include three or four bridesmaids, a maid of honour (or matron of honour if she’s married), an equal number of ushers, a best man and often a flower girl and a ring bearer. But for the Rosa-Pereira nuptials, everybody and their cousin (well, at least everyone and Anna’s and Sidney’s cousins) ended up in the bridal party — 45 people, to be exact, out of 300 invited guests. In addition to the mother and father of the bride and the groom, there was a maid of honour, 17 bridesmaids, a flower girl, a best man, 18 ushers, two junior ushers and a ring bearer. Oh yes, and of course one bride and one groom.

Father John Monico, the Catholic priest who was to officiate, learned at the reception that he was about to preside over a wedding that might well end up in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (Ripley’s research co-ordinator Karen Kemlo has since said it will probably qualify for the daily newspaper feature).

“It’s too much,” said Father Monico. “But it’s for them, though. It’s their special day.” He then valiantly attempted to shush the young men and women who were laughing and teasing one another, the long lineup stretching from the rear doors right up to the altar. “It’s an army,” said one of the 17 bridesmaids, laughing.

Wedding planning can often result in fisticuffs over small differences of opinion about, say, wedding invitations. So why would anyone put themselves through the stress of a 45-member bridal party? Groom Sidney, a quality analyst with Rogers AT&T, explains, “I never thought I was going to have a wedding party this big. But we sat down and started counting family and friends, brothers, sisters, cousins. Then we figured out a budget and decided that we’re only going to do this once, so let’s go for the bang.

When I told my friends how many people were involved, they said, ‘You are nuts.’ But the thing is, everybody who is involved has played a significant part in our lives.”

Having a whole lotta love for a whole lotta people is fine, but Sidney and Anna admit the size of the wedding party didn’t really hit home until that Wednesday-evening rehearsal. “I’m thinking 50 people is a lot, but to see it was something else,” says Anne. “We were out of the church already and people were still coming out. It’s hard to try to get 50 people to listen to you.”

Italian weddings are renowned for their large number of guests. But Anna, who is Portuguese, and Sidney, who is Brazilian, say their heritage had nothing to do with choosing a huge bridal party. “You might normally see six to eight couples in a bridal party, but we tripled that,” says Sidney.

No matter. Everything was bound to be fine. The bride’s mother, Guilhermina Rosa, said in her understated way what many were thinking: “I think this is a little bit big, but it will be OK.”

Anna, a hall manager at Bingo Country, who had an expression of mute terror on her face during the rehearsal, admitted one of her strategies was to delegate as much as possible. (On the day of the wedding, as 17 bridesmaids gathered on the porch of Anna’s home, puffing cigarettes and admiring one another’s hair, they confided that Anna had frequently been heard to say as the big day approached, “It’s not my problem.”)

Delegating is one thing, but you have to be pretty organized to pull off a show like this. To prepare, the bride booked off work a month before the wedding. She also relied greatly on one of the couple’s best friends, Maria Tavares, who runs Romantic Designs, a wedding-planning company. Maria had 32 people in her wedding party when she got hitched, and observes that, “Back when I got married, it was actually a bit more difficult because e-mail wasn’t that popular. Now it seems so much easier. We would have one person send an e-mail to everyone.”

And, as maid-of-honour Paulette Resendes, points out, “having so many people in the wedding party meant there was always someone to help out.” For example, all the boutonnieres were made by members of the party. Maria did all the centrepieces. If she needed help, people would pitch in.

And as a warmup to the big day, Anna had a Jack-and-Jill shower that involved 220 guests. “One of my friends said, ‘Why bother with a wedding after this?’ ” recalls Sidney.

Despite the size of the wedding party, it all came together remarkably smoothly. Within the first month, “We had the hall booked, the photographer, the DJ, the videographer,” says Sidney. But Anna adds that starting early was crucial. “Don’t keep thinking it’s a year and a half away. That year and a half goes by fast.”

What kept them from getting too stressed, says Anna, was some good advice a friend gave her. “If something goes wrong, you are the only two people who will know.”

And oddly, having a large wedding party didn’t add all that much to the cost — well, other than the rental of two limousine buses — which cost $3,000 — to transport the wedding party. And of course, as is traditional, the couple also had to give a gift to every person in the wedding party, which added up. Each of the 17 bridesmaids received gold bracelets. The 18 ushers got silver money money clips engraved with their initials. The two junior bridesmaids and flower girl received I.D. bracelets and the two junior ushers and ring bearer were given initialled rings. The maid of honour and the best man each received watches.

Veronica Yong, of Veronica Fashions in Toronto, started making the gorgeous champagne satin and chiffon dresses for the 17 bridesmaids and two junior bridesmaids last September. The assignment took 120 metres of champagne satin and 160 metres of champagne chiffon. And, predictably, some women didn’t come in for a fitting until the last minute. “Some people came late,” she said, emphasizing the word late, “so we finished it overnight. Some people wanted to lose weight. Some people lost, some people stayed the same, one person gained.”

The male contingent headed for Syd Silver Formals in Woodbridge, where store manager Mimmo Salerno took it in stride. They required tuxes for 25, including the two fathers, ring bearer, groomsmen, best man and Sidney himself. “This is the largest I’ve ever seen,” said Salerno. “We had them all come in separately. The greatest part of it was that 99% of them were average sized.” The other 1% was Matthew Silva, 5. The pants were too big but everything else fit.

Ushers would wear black full-length tuxes, just above the knee, with champagne vests and ties. Because plans were laid 18 months before the event, there were the usual casualties: Two ushers broke up with their partners and a third moved back to Portugal. So that meant that bridesmaid Gina Galrao would walk down the aisle with a guy on each arm. No complaints there.

It is traditional, the night before a wedding, for the bridesmaids to spend the night with the bride’s family so they can all get dressed together on the big day.

Well, just because this wedding party was supersized didn’t mean they were going to do things any differently.

But there was no way the Rosas’ home could accommodate all those bridesmaids, plus Anna and her mother and father. So the obvious thing (and the Rosas like a challenge, after all) was to renovate, which the bride’s brother, Joe Rosa, has been doing over the past 18 months.

“I knocked down walls, put up drywall. The rooms and the hallways are wider. I would work full time, come home, work ’til 12 or 1 o’clock every morning.” Joe wasn’t alone, though. When he needed help, he could call on the posse of bridesmaids and ushers. “Eighty per cent of the wedding party tore down walls, helping with garbage, cleaning,” says Joe. “The women did all the painting.” Sidney’s sister, Valerie Pereira, mock-complains: “We did drywall, sanding. I spent five hours scraping hardwood floors.”

– – –

The big day began last Saturday at 5 a.m. That’s when the hairdresser knocked on the Rosas’ door and set to work on the groom’s mother, followed by one bridesmaid after another. There were only two bathrooms, but somehow everyone managed to apply their makeup — and, yes, the bride managed to fight her way past all the bridesmaids for a last peek in the mirror. And, yes, she did look gorgeous, albeit a little squished, surrounded by her bridesmaids for the first round of photos. “I’m going to lose about 10 pounds today, thank God.”

Meanwhile, in Mississauga, at the best man’s house, a herd of ushers was getting ready in their own way. Usher Stefano Perfetti confided: “When I got there at 7:30 they were all standing outside having a beer.” (Anna’s brother Manny Rosa, who wasn’t in the wedding party, later sat in a pew in St. Agnes’s looking a little green, and regretted his choice of early-morning beverage.) The fellows then wolfed down breakfast, climbed into one of the buses and headed east to the church.

At noon, as people walked their dogs and children pedalled their bikes down Dundas Street, a very long lineup of very dressed-up people snaked its way into St. Agnes Church, awaiting the beginning of the ceremony. No one needed a stage director. At the Wednesday rehearsal, Anna Rosa had told them to remember who was in front of and behind them.

And then it was time. The 300 guests held their collective breath awaiting the bride, a vision in her traditional white organza wedding dress and white tulle veil to float by … and they continued to wait as, first, the flower girl and the two junior bridesmaids, ring bearer and two junior ushers happily shuffled past … and they waited some more as that lucky bridesmaid with her two ushers made her way down the aisle … and they waited some more as bridesmaid and usher after bridesmaid and usher after bridesmaid and usher breezed down the aisle … and then, and then …. no wait, then another bridesmaid and usher came down the aisle … and finally … well, almost … the maid of honour and the best man came down the aisle … and then, gulp, the guests filled their lungs with air once again as, finally, here comes the beautiful Anna Rosa with her parents, Guilhermina and Amancio, one on either side, up to the altar where Sidney was waiting.

The wedding party took up the first two rows of the church. The guests, including the bride’s parents and the groom’s parents, Rita and Jose Pereira, sat behind them. Still, for a wedding to which 300 people had been invited, the church seemed quite empty. But as one of the ushers, Nelson Lemos, quipped after the ceremony. “That’s a Portuguese wedding for you. No one comes to the church. They all wait for the reception.”

After a wedding ceremony, Kevin Serediuk, the photographer, likes to take a picture of each couple in the bridal party as they leave the church. But for this wedding he might as well have been an automatic camera posted at a midway ride to catch the screaming faces of roller-coaster riders. Snap, snap, snap, snap. Serediuk grimaced: “I’ve done 15 rolls of film already. Normally a whole wedding is 25.”

Then it was onto the buses and out to a Mississauga park to take photographs. Fortunately it didn’t rain, which was Sidney’s biggest worry.

Serediuk knows this location well. “I’ve been to the park more times than you can count,” he observed. “It’s on an upgrade, so I can cascade the bridal party down. There will be four or five rows.” For this wedding, he used a fisheye lens and shot lying down in the grass.

Next the bridal party moved to Roma’s Place in Mississauga. Two head tables were set up to seat the bride and groom, maid of honour, best man and all the bridesmaids and ushers.

Would they do it again? In a heartbeat, they both say, but of course, they don’t have to worry about that. They have every intention of staying happily married.

Anna says having such a large wedding party made it just that much more special, “They [the wedding party] were in awe, they were so honoured. They kept thanking us for doing it. And we told them, ‘We just really wanted you guys to share this day with us.’ ”

With all that love, Anna and Sidney have a pretty good start in life. And if they ever get bored, there are all those wedding photos to look at.