July 8, 2014 -- The element of surprise has long been a component of traditional marriage proposals, but over the last few years more and more to-be-weds are incorporating it into the big day too.
Surprise or "flash" weddings are increasingly taking place in alternative venues from churches, temples or reception halls. While the trendy events can range in size from just the couple and an officiant to a group of 50 unsuspecting friends and family members, what all share in common is a moment of reveal.
"OMG!! On a yacht in NY Harbor!! Surprise wedding of Jane Pullman and David Standish!!!!" tweeted Elena Anderson upon realizing the couple were about to get married at the annual Pullman family Independence Day party on July 4th.
Khuong Phan and his bride Shannon Belisario had the perfect ruse for gathering friends and family together for their surprise wedding last year: the pair was moving across the country from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Los Angeles and invited unsuspecting loved ones to gather for a going-away pizza party.
Phan credits his now wife as coming up with the plan.
"I thought she was a bit crazy to be honest," he said of first hearing the idea. "But it sounded like it could be a lot of fun! Plus, we had never been to a surprise wedding before and figured our family and friends hadn’t either."
When half-way through the festivities Phan announced that the pair were going to get hitched before leaving town, he said the crowd let out a raucous applause.
Some flash-specific consultants have even emerged in response to the trend. PopWed Co., founded by Maggie Winters and Steven Gaudaen in Washington, D.C., offers officiant and photography services for unique wedding ceremonies that take place in what they refer to as "hidden gems" and the "coolest spots" around the capital.
The catch? The venues are often unaware that nuptials are taking place, so you may be asked to leave mid-vows.
During one recent PopWed Co. event at the National Museum of Natural History, a pair of security guards interrupted the ceremony before the bride and groom had a chance to say "I do."
Fortunately, the couple was able to still seal the deal with a kiss on the front steps of the museum.
But just because a bride and groom chooses a flash wedding, that doesn't mean there isn't some recommended etiquette to consider observing.
"If you choose to elope, it’s important keep those closest to you in the loop about your plans," said Amber Harrison of Wedding Paper Divas. "That isn’t to say they have to be in attendance, but it is an important step to avoid any hurt feelings or surprises that may damage friendships/relationships."
Harrison advises couples send out wedding announcements to let loved ones feel included.
"Keep it simple or include a photo from the wedding day to allow others to see your joy," she said. "For those that you are very close with, including a personal and hand written note to complement the announcement adds a special sentimental touch that the recipient is sure to appreciate."
For larger flash weddings, clear communication is also key, she said.
"It’s important to keep those closest to you informed about your plans," said Harrison. "For example, when swearing those insiders to secrecy, make sure you clearly share who is in on the plan so they know exactly who they can and can’t collaborate with. This will help them support you in pulling off the surprise of a lifetime."
Also beware that feelings may be hurt from keeping others in the dark. "Having the couple give a speech and addressing why they decided to have a flash wedding may help smooth things over," she said.
And a little Champagne afterward never hurts.
"Our guests flipped out when they heard they were attending an actual wedding," Phan said. "To add to the fun, we announced our wedding party right before the ceremony too, so we had friends who had no idea they were bridesmaids and groomsmen in our wedding. We also changed into our wedding outfits, so that was sort of the last surprise for the group."
Going the flash route did mean the couple had to let go of some other traditions too.
"The only “downside” to the surprise wedding is not getting any gifts," said Phan. "but then again, if you’re getting married for the gifts you might be getting married for the wrong reasons."