So, this is it.
This is one of the Big Lebowski photos of my entire life.
I know exactly what Jim is saying to me in this photo, and exactly why I’m smiling.
A simple “we pulled it off, we really fucking did it”.
July 30th, 2016, at approximately 5pm, we had a yard full of folks attending a giant family barbecue. New babies around, family and friends who haven’t seen eachother in awhile shooting the shit, folks smelling pulled pork and baked beans smoking on the grill… And then there’s me. Walking out of the house, holding both of my parents hands as we walk across the yard to meet Jim and the officiant, Pat, to get the job done. Folks were saying “I KNEW IT!” and “What, is this really a wedding?” and that was one of the most exciting parts of all. Some people’s guesses were verified, others had no idea it was coming. And we were absolutely happy with the whole thing.
So, how did we pull off this day you might ask? Well, it took a lot more work than what a normal wedding does for the bride and groom, as it was just us doing the food prep, setting up, and planning every detail. Every time we mentioned something to someone (like getting the big tent), the eyebrows would raise and they would say “You’re going through an awful amount of work for a barbecue…” But, we didn’t leak it to anyone and we kept trudging through!
The first thing you need to do is decide on a guise. The reason for getting everyone together. Ours was a family Bitchin’ Barbecue. Some online are the engagement parties, some are dinner parties, some are birthday parties for the spouse. There are a ton of reasons to get everyone together, just make sure that your reason suits the bill. For example, if you’re having 100 people over for something, make sure it isn’t something that you would normally cut the invitation list at 20 for. We slipped ours into a family barbecue/family reunion, because everyone knows that our family doesn’t get together often, and we said on the invitation that we would provide the forum for that.
Get your guest list, figure out the best guise for the amount of people, send out invitations.
The second thing to decide upon? Your wedding party. If you want to have a wedding party, you can. Your options are to let them in on the surprise (so you have a hand), call them up at the last minute to stand with you (which is super exciting!), or to nuke the wedding party idea all together. As Jim and I only have one grandparent left each (Grandma Nuhn and Grandma Fleury), we decided to make our day extra special by having them witness our wedding and sign our license. It was something special that we could NEVER duplicate again, and it meant the world to both of us. Thankfully we had thought of that idea prior to our wedding!
The third thing we did was decide on a simple menu. Keyword: SIMPLE. Unless you’re going to have your event catered, which would definitely be less stressful but more costly (and a little less secret), go simple. We made pans of pulled pork ahead of time and froze them. I made baked beans a few days before and simply reheated them in the oven. All of the salads were made ahead of time and ready to go. My sister tossed together a couple cheese trays, which were perfect, fit nicely into the fridge, and everyone hammered. We made cooler corn which took really no time at all (thanks to my family shucking the corn the night before… 100 cobs in under 10 minutes). Our signature food item, the barbecue sauces, were made the week before and kept well in the fridge. And our dessert pies were kindly donated by a bunch of women in our families who wanted something to contribute to the barbecue.
But if you look at all these items, you will see one thing in common. Really easy stuff that required little to no time to get together on the day of the wedding. I was still running around like a madwoman because items didn’t have spoons and I forgot the plates in the house, but overall, the food wasn’t a stress point for either of us. And by making it all ahead of time, we were able to enjoy our guests a whole lot more in the afternoon!
One thing we also did was ensure that our event was a little more green, and we used compostable plates (from http://www.greenmunch.ca), Bambu sporks (from http://www.well.ca), and recyclable cups. We also made sure we had an area for glass, cans and plastic that people were drinking out of. It was a little more clean up in the end, but we were able to burn the “dishes”, recycle a ton of stuff, and take all the empties back, so it really was a win win. I understand that during events it’s hard to find exactly what you want in an eco friendly design, but please have a look into it before you buy a bunch of plastic!
So, once we had all of our stuff ordered, cooked and figured out, it was really a snap of a day. We received a ton of compliments on how simple and beautiful it was, about how it kept to the meaning of a wedding (family, friends, the couple), and that people couldn’t really imagine Jim and I getting married any other way. Whew.
So, why have a surprise wedding?
Well, for us, it was a non-traditional wedding approach that fit our non-traditional lifestyle. The big fancy dress, Jim in a tux… That simply isn’t who we are. We love going to big weddings with the fancy decorations, but that wasn’t what we were going for. Also, the smaller surprise wedding fit into our small budget, and let us keep to what the day is about.
Surprise weddings are also a lot easier on the guests! Everyone showed up to our barbecue in casual clothes, and were relaxed the whole time. There was no rushing out for a new outfit for the wedding, the cost of bridal showers, stag and does, bachelor parties, or wedding gifts for us. Because it was a surprise, none of these things were anticipated or required for coming. We just wanted to get everyone together! Other than the cost of folks travelling (we had some from Southern Ontario and Thunder Bay, and even Michigan!), we didn’t need a dime from anyone who came! Also, there was no stress for people planning all of the supplemental wedding parties!
The one thing that I would forewarn folks about who are planning a surprise wedding is, if there are people who you absolutely want/need at your wedding, you either want to make sure they are in for the party or you tell them about your idea beforehand. We invited a ton of people to our barbecue, and less than half actually showed up for the day. We had some people that we knew wouldn’t be able to make it for financial or health reasons (as we do kind of live far from a lot of people), and also, as we advertised it as another event, we knew some people wouldn’t make time for it like they would a wedding. This is something that Jim and I had anticipated and discussed though, and we were ok with having a smaller crowd for the day!
Overall, the surprise wedding idea was one of the best things we could have come up with. It made our day absolutely fun, and I’m sure our guests will never forget the time they went for a barbecue and saw people get married!
Thanks to everyone for helping out with our day! ❤