This weekend, my husband successfully threw me a surprise party for my 30th birthday, and as a very detail oriented and social person, I’m not easy to surprise. I’m so proud of him for pulling it off! After arriving home post-party and reflecting on the night’s events, I was inspired to write about a surprise wedding! Surprises aren’t just for birthdays, you know…
Enter Erin and Jon. In February 2009, this couple did something many couples consider, but few follow through on when knee-deep in wedding planning and the accompanying frustrations and family drama: They pulled the plug. Not on their relationship, but their wedding. Well, not completely. You see, there was a wedding, just not in the “traditional” sense of the word.
Erin and Jon were five-months into their planning process, and six-months from their set date, with deposits paid on their venue and rentals. By some kind of miracle, they’d booked the only wedding venue in the state that offered a 100% refund for cancelled events. This is next to unheard of! So cancel they did. Next, they told their nearest and dearest that they’d had a change of heart and were planning a destination wedding to take place the following winter, buying themselves time to plan and execute the ultimate foil: a surprise wedding four months hence.
The idea first came to Erin and Jon long before they got engaged. How cool would it be to summon their friends and family to an innocuous event – a birthday party perhaps – and surprise them with the news that they were actually at their wedding? But it seemed like a logistical nightmare, what with so many people several states away, and the thought escaped them. But not for long…
On a fateful day in February, Erin and Jon reached their breaking point. After several weeks of passive aggression and pressure from their families to plan something other than what they envisioned, and with the economy tanking (Erin was laid off two weeks later), Erin and Jon had had enough. Erin especially. That day, she logged into a popular wedding planning website and was informed that there were 157 items on her “to-do” list, and decided right then and there that she was not up for such tasks.
Erin, not being a planner by nature, prefers to fly by the seat of her pants 99% of the time. And while weddings are a lot of things – fun, beautiful, joyous occasions to celebrate love and commitment – they are also a lot of work. So much so that some people – such as myself – turn it into a career. Other people are not cut out for the demands upon their time, their attention or their pocketbook.
Once the decision was made, things fell into place rather seamlessly. Months earlier some friends had thrown an informal engagement party for Erin and Jon, and at some point that evening, the couple talked about how lovely their backyard was and how perfect it’d be for a small, casual wedding. So of course, they were the first stop on their new hunt for a “venue,” and they readily agreed.
Next, Erin and Jon took a hatchet to their guest list and decided to invite only those who know them best and love them most, paring it down to 45 friends and family members. A few of those folks lived out of state, so the couple was forced to let them in on the secret, as their presence was far more important to them than shock and awe.
Erin and Jon, being foodies, but wanting a bit more of a casual feel without doing it all themselves, decided on a local BBQ restaurant to fill some of their catering needs, and hired a friend of a friend who has loads of experience with small events to handle the rest. Erin ordered her dress – a simple, knee-length frock– online, sight unseen, and Jon splurged on a gorgeous suit. The couple spent months perfecting their iPod playlist, but no more than a minute thinking about flowers. Instead, Erin, along with her step-mom and mother-in-law went to the Cherry Creek farmer’s market the morning of the wedding and bought the most beautiful blooms on offer, fashioning fabulous centerpieces together -To this day, Erin says that this is one of her favorite memories of the whole weekend.
A month in advance, Jon invited their unsuspecting friends to a “surprise party” for Erin’s 31st birthday and the stage was set.
Erin and Jon would love to say that they pulled it off and succeeded in surprising ther nearest and dearest with their nuptials, but alas, it didn’t work out that way. They say they just weren’t devious enough. In the days leading up to Erin’s “surprise party” a friend joked that it’d be wonderful if it turned out to be the couple’s wedding. It was an innocent and honest suggestion – the friend suspected nothing – but it planted a seed, and soon, that seed blossomed into a full-on inquisition and it became clear that the jig was up.
Two days prior to the party, the couple spilled the beans and told their guests that they were in fact getting married, and while that may sound bittersweet, Erin and Jon are actually quite glad it worked out that way. Every single one of them was overjoyed and immediately rallied around the couple, asking how they could help. Sure, they didn’t get to surprise them at the wedding, but they were surprised none the less. Shock and awe, indeed.
Looking back, the couple loved their wedding more than words can say. It was an honest expression of Erin and Jon as individuals and as a couple, and it enabled them to focus on those things that matter most to them: friends, family, food, fun, and to avoid the one thing neither of them has any patience for: formalities.
Often, it’s hard for couples to not lose sight of the most important part of the wedding: The marriage- the life together that follows the wedding day. Erin and Jon’s surprise wedding made it easy to not sweat the small stuff. A surprise wedding may not the best decision for everyone, and it was not without its own set of sacrifices. For example, Erin didn’t have the traditional bridal experience of dress shopping with her favorite females. There was no bridal shower and her “bachelorette party” was a simple birthday dinner the night before the ceremony. Jon didn’t have a bachelor party at all.
Looking back though, the couple says it was worth it, and that if they could change one thing about their wedding and their efforts to plan it, it’s this: They would have hired a wedding planner – or at the very least – a day-of-coordinator. Because even something as simple as a big backyard barbecue would benefit from the eye and the expertise of an experienced and detail-oriented planner.
Venue: A friend’s back yard in Denver, Colorado / Florals: Cherry Creek Farmers Market / Erin’s dress: Reem Acra’s bridesmaid collection, purchased online / Jon’s suit: Hugo Boss, purchased at Nordstrom Rack / Photos: Friends and family / Food: Yazoo BBQ