My now husband and I had been together almost four years and knew we wanted to tie the knot—just without all the pomp and circumstance that usually comes with a traditional wedding. I had been diligently planning our imaginary wedding on a secret Pinterest board but hadn’t done much else to prepare. When we discussed our potential vows we always ended with the same must-haves:
- Say our vows at a fun and memorable event with our family and closest friends
- No family stress—who’s wearing what, who’s doing what, who’s paying for what, who’s toasting, who’s sitting where
- No obligatory invites (“…we have to invite Great Aunt So-and-So if we’re inviting Cousin So-and-So.”)
- No bridal party stress—bachelor/ette parties, engagement parties, coordinating outfits, best man/maid of honor decisions
- No extra cooks in the kitchen—we wanted to make all the decisions without the swirl of extra opinions (as much as we love them)
- At the end, we wanted to be married
One night we were discussing our future nuptials and reminisced on an episode of Girls (my favorite HBO show) where the character Jessa invites everyone to a mystery party which ends up being her wedding. Naturally, we knew our outcome would probably be better than Jessa’s, since hers was a disaster, but we still LOVED the idea of a surprise wedding. No stress (at least not for our friends and family), just a celebration of our commitment to one another. Right then and there we fully committed to having a surprise wedding.
How does one plan a surprise wedding, you ask? Very carefully. Here’s how it went down in a nutshell:
- We did NOT announce an engagement—just kept it a secret between the two of us.
- We made a very short list of who needed to be in on it—my brother and my sister-in-law (see number 3), officiant, a few vendors, one out-of-town aunt, one out-of-town uncle, and two friends—all sworn to secrecy.
- We created a diversion—we would invite everyone to a relaxed summer dinner party for our family business, Thelma’s Treats, to celebrate our recent growth and make an “announcement” about the business.
- We created a streamlined invite list—immediate families, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends we had spoken to within the prior two weeks–about 110 when all was said and done.
- We did a verbal “confirm” with all the key players to make sure they marked their calendars for the upcoming event—missing a dinner party is one thing, missing an entire wedding is another.
- We called my husband’s aunt in Colorado and my uncle and family in Ohio to confirm the date and secrecy. Flights were booked. Secrets were kept.
- We planned a wedding—venue, photographer, flowers, cake, catering, décor, veil, dress, rings, music, cash bar, favors, guest book, etc.
- We mailed a formal invite including an RSVP request—mingle at 6, dinner at 6:30.
This is when the real secret-keeping began….
My two friends sold their souls to keep our secret, helping us to confirm all the details and DIY everything under the sun. We had wedding supplies hidden in the basement under bed sheets. We had secret pre-marital counseling with our retired pastor friend (who also happens to be an employee of our family’s business). My brother had a decoy meeting with the venue coordinator. My husband even went to each set of parents to get their blessing for a proposal sometime in the summer.
Two days leading up to the event it was all hands on deck—the few that were in on the surprise. My brother, sister-in-law, and two friends helped hang lights, wrap tables, sprinkle confetti, hot glue a backdrop to a cement wall, and most of all… continue to keep a secret. Our family friend even arrived to do all the florals for this so-called “dinner party.” Our out-of-town relatives had arrived and were in hiding. The surprise wedding was ON.
The day of the wedding we double checked our venue and the primping began. My husband went go-karting in a secluded location with our out-of-town uncle and family to keep them in hiding (call it an impromptu secret bachelor party). All the while, I curled, pinned, bronzed, and veiled.
Around 4 p.m., before any guests arrived, my soon-to-be husband got his “first look.” Around 5 p.m. we were all officially in hiding in a back room of our venue. At 6 p.m. my husband went to mingle with the arriving guests and told everyone that I was working on last minute party details and would be arriving shortly. At 6:30 on the dot, he grabbed the mic and said, “Thanks so much for coming, everyone! We know you’ve been wondering what this announcement is. Well, Nola and I are getting married and that’s happening… NOW.”
Insert cheering, crying, clapping, shock, and excitement. My friend escorted my parents to the back room where I surprised them yet again with out-of-town family members and our family-friend officiant ready to perform a wedding ceremony! Meanwhile, my husband was creating a semi-circle of chairs for our immediate family to surround us while we said our vows.
After only a couple minutes to pinch themselves, my parents were walking me down the aisle to an instrumental version of Beyoncé’s “1+1.” At the end of it I met my very dapper fiancée where we both sighed with relief—we pulled it off. A beautiful ceremony commenced in front of our most cherished people. The night ended with a rooftop view of the Principal Park Fireworks, and we went home as Mr. & Mrs. Morris.
Turns out, planning a surprise wedding can be just as stressful as a traditional one. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s sure worth it in the end if you can pull it off! We created a lifelong memory with our closest friends and family and, in the end, it was exactly what we had hoped for. I could write an entirely different blog post on my love for wedding planning (surprise or not), but it might be easier for you to see the fruits of that labor and this entire surprise through our friend Graham’s photography: Graham Gardner Photography | The Morris Wedding.
Meet Guest Blogger Nola Morris
Hey, I’m Nola — a social media professional by day and creative dabbler by night. I am the wife of a pretty amazing husband, Cody, and a mom to our fur baby, Luca (human babies to come). I am a planner and do-er of many things — weddings, home décor, beauty, fashion, and any DIY I can get my hands on. Thanks for letting me share my story with you!