How to Organise a Surprise Wedding

Steff Green • April 18, 2013
How to Organise a Surprise Wedding - WeddingWise Articles

Are you fed up with all the stress of wedding planning? Does the thought of another perfectly styled wedding magazine layout make you want to vomit? Are you wondering why you can’t just throw a big party and get married in the middle of it … well, why not?

Surprise weddings are becoming more and more common and brides and grooms are worn out from the stress of wedding planning on top of already hectic lives. Instead of going through months of drama, you organise a shindig, get a celebrant to turn up, and get married right in the middle of the party, to the surprise and (hopefully) delight of your friends and family. If that sounds like just the thing for you, then read on to learn how to plan a surprise wedding:

Choosing a Venue

For a surprise wedding, the best option for a venue is someone’s home – perhaps a parent or close friend. Having the wedding at a home allows freedom in décor and colour scheme, and ensures you can set up, take deliveries and hide props without complaint.

If no home is available, then look for a fun little restaurant, bar or other local venue that will accommodate your needs. A purpose-built “wedding venue” will probably give the surprise away, but a community hall or bar definitely doesn’t give any clues to the true nature of the evening.

Make Sure the Important People are There

The major stumbling block to planning a surprise wedding is ensuring that all the people you really care about are able to make it. Everyone makes a huge effort to attend a wedding – often missing work or travelling for hours to be there. But if you’re inviting friends and family to a “party”, they are more likely to stay home.

To try and combat the issue of AWOL guests, try to theme the party around an important occasion to ensure they don’t want to miss it – perhaps a 21st or 30th birthday, a wedding anniversary, or a child’s christening or a family reunion. Many surprise weddings occur at “engagement parties”. You may have to reveal the secret to a few select people – sure as your parents or grandparents – to ensure they show up. You will probably need a few people “in the know” to help you organise the event, anyway.

Finding a Celebrant

Finding a celebrant to officiate a surprise wedding can be difficult, as you need them to show up and not reveal the true purpose of their presence until the big surprise. This can be made much easier by having a close friend as a celebrant (see the Department of Internal Affairs website on how to become a wedding celebrant) or choosing a celebrant who understands the concept of a surprise wedding. Talk to a few different celebrants and choose one who would fit in well at your surprise wedding party.

Get your celebrant to show up later in the evening, after most of the guests have arrived. You may like to ask your celebrant to bring a date, and to tell people he/she is “an old college friend” if they ask.

Decorations and Details

Have fun choosing decorations and making the party look festive. Decorations add a real sense of occasion and tell people they are in for a special night – even if they don’t know why. You can find plenty of DIY decoration ideas online.

Remember that you are decorating for a party, not a wedding, so avoid creating an obvious “aisle” area and other weddingy features that could give the game away. In saying that, make sure you have planned in advance where the ceremony will occur (and any helpers you need to quickly arrange chairs or perform crowd control).


Obviously, if you show up at your party dressed in a white wedding dress, your guests are going to figure out what’s going on. Instead, either choose a pretty but casual dress to wear for the whole night, or have your wedding outfit at the venue waiting for you. You can disappear to get changed a few minutes before the big surprise.

Keep your outfits fun and funky, to match the spirit of the surprise wedding. Vintage dresses, bright colours and fun details are definitely favourites with couples. Instead of a floral bouquet, you could carry a candle or another one of our bouquet alternatives.

Documenting the Day

A surprise wedding is usually pretty casual, but that doesn’t mean you still don’t want some document of your special day. It can be a good idea to ask a friend to bring his video camera and make sure it’s rolling before you reveal the surprise. Likewise, ask a photographer friend to document the ceremony, or hire a photographer who will also go unnoticed at the party.


A spread of delicious party food will go down a treat, and will cost significantly less than a catered, sit-down dinner for everybody. You can make some foods in advance and freeze them, order some catered platters or ask friends to bring their favourite dishes to share. Just make sure there is plenty of food for everyone.


Keep the party pumping all night by booking a DJ or a live band. Or just do whatever you prefer to do at a party – play board games, talk to people, sing along to the stereo – after all, it is YOUR night. It’s the people, not the money spent, that make a wedding memorable.

A surprise wedding isn’t for everyone – in some families the idea might be offensive and, of course, you always risk having some guests not show because they don’t realise the significance of the day. But if you enjoy surprising your friends and family and want a fun, casual wedding that won’t break the bank, then consider throwing a surprise wedding party!


Steff Green
Steff Green
WeddingWise Blogger

Steff Green is a freelance writer, blogger and alternative wedding celebrant based in Auckland. Check out her celebrant services and blog for fun, weird and unique weddings at And keep an eye out for her gothic wedding book, Till Death Do Us Part, coming out soon.

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