Surprise Ceremonies - Heaven or Hell?

Valentine’s day is just around the corner and I wonder if you will be asked to conduct a ceremony where someone is ‘surprised’? The surprise could be planned by well-meaning children or by one of the couple surprising the other.  Or turning it around, the couple can surprise their guests with the ceremony! Usually renewal of vows or commitment ceremonies are the focus of a surprise for one or both of the couple, but weddings can be the surprise for the guests, who all think they are attending something quite different.

It probably happens to all celebrants at some point that they are asked, but of course no one has to take any ceremony, and celebrants who are not keen on this idea can refuse, but what is the upside and what is the downside of these ceremonies?

The upside of surprise ceremonies is surely that the person does not have to do any planning or worrying. They can be ‘in the moment’ without worrying about the food! If they love spontaneity, then this may be for them. They may consider it to be the most romantic gesture from their partner and adore the whole thing.

However, a trawl through couples’ experiences, coupled with Civil Ceremonies’ own experiences of leading ceremonies, reveals the following warnings:

·         They may be so overwhelmed they remember very little of the event afterwards.

·         They may be quite shy and will certainly be unprepared to be the centre of so much attention.

·         They may not have the same feelings about the actual relationship as the ‘surpriser’ and the event could be their worst nightmare!

·         They may be very disappointed that they haven’t worn different clothes.

·         On a practical note - they may not actually arrive when expected.

So we recommend…

If you are involved in creating any sort of surprise ceremony, check with the surprised person, just before you start, that they are happy to go ahead. Create a ceremony that means the person only needs to speak very little and make it straightforward in terms of content. Involve the close family and friends as much as possible with meaningful contributions and give the surprised person a written copy afterwards as they probably won’t remember a word!