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Backyard weddings, parties carry on this winter on Long Island

Michelle Gittmar, of Islip Terrace, spoke on Jan.

Michelle Dittmar, of Islip Terrace, spoke on Jan. 17 about her passion for outdoor winter celebrations while she and her neighbors gathered outside for brunch. Credit: Morgan Campbell

On Jan. 17, Michelle and Richard Dittmar hosted a small gathering at their home in Islip Terrace after hitting a hiking trail with friends in Connetquot River State Park Preserve.

On the menu: fresh bagels, steaming coffee and a sweet-tart lemon cake. On the guests: hats, gloves, thermal layers and masks, all fitting garb for a socially distanced backyard get-together when the temperature is hovering around 40 degrees.

Brrrr-unch is served!

"The key is dressing right. We’re all used to the cold and our yard gets a lot of sun," says Michelle, 67, a retired nurse. She and her husband, a retired ultrasound technician who’s 65 and helps run the Brookhaven Bike Coop, love the outdoors year-round.

"We’re safe. We’re cautious about COVID," she says, adding that for single friends, "stuck at home without any interaction," the party offered a mental boost.

Open-air winter gatherings may not be everyone’s cup of (iced) tea, but there are Long Islanders going that route to mark milestones and happy occasions in small gatherings. Call it the pandemic-era Big Chill. People are taking the party outside for safety’s sake.


That’s what Michael Fonseca, 35, who works in financial services, and Lauren Fonseca, 35, a homemaker, did for their daughter Amelia’s 6th birthday on Dec. 19. "She wanted a ‘Frozen’ theme," says Lauren.

The birthday girl got her wish in more ways than one. The celebration took place on the porch of their home in Garden City after Michael "spent four hours clearing snow that had fallen. It was definitely cold," he says.

A handful of Amelia’s besties, dressed in toasty coats and ski pants, plus masks, snacked on cupcakes with blue icing below a banner featuring Arendelle’s finest. The temperature was so frosty that Olaf, the snowman, wouldn’t melt. Unless, that is, he cozied up to the hot chocolate station or the fire pit, where kids roasted marshmallows under a watchful adult eye.

Carol Klein, who’s one half of a kids entertainment duo called MisMatch & Yoohoo who’ve been clowning around since 1984, also wore a covering for her face. "I take precautions," she says. For about an hour she did magic tricks and twisted balloons into unicorns, headbands and more shapes.

"We’ve been cautious because of COVID," says Lauren. "The kids loved it." So much so the Fonsecas are thinking about heading back outside for their daughter Susan’s birthday in February. "We want to do something like it again," says Michael. "Except for all of the shoveling."


Amid opportunities for fun, party planning pros acknowledge that COVID concerns, the Northeast climate and government regulations limiting attendance at private homes (the current cap is 10, outdoors or inside) make even al fresco gatherings at home a challenge to pull off.

Brides-to-be are in a league of their own. Heather Cunningham, 32, who lives in East Patchogue and launched the nuptials resource, Brides of Long Island, says "winter is always a slow season for weddings. There aren’t many brides doing things outdoors — even at their homes. The weather is one thing. Revised rules have made it harder to have a wedding at your house."

But not impossible. Brianne Stewart, 35, a teacher, and Thomas Duncan, 36, who works in advertising and marketing, tied the knot on Nov. 28 in a rented heated tent in their backyard in Baldwin Harbor. "I think it was in the 40s," says Stewart, who wore a sleeveless gown and opted not to wear the faux-fur wrap she had at the ready.

Vows took place in front of immediate family members, the couple’s rescue dog, Dexter, and about 30 virtual guests who joined in via a Zoom connection provided by Long Island Tent & Party Rentals based in Bay Shore as part of its COVID-19 micro weddings package.

"We mentioned to guests that this wasn’t the wedding we thought we’d have," says Stewart, "but that it was still perfect and beautiful."

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