You’ll have to let a few people in on the secret, of course. Your officiant, obviously. If you want to have a bridal party, you can ask them in advance (and ask them to help plan!) if you trust them to keep it a secret, or you pull them aside the night of and ask them on the spot. If you give them short notice, make sure to tell them they don’t need to give a speech or a toast so they don’t feel like they have to scramble to prepare.
A surprise wedding may take some extra effort on your part because you don’t have as many people who know about it to help, but at the same time, you avoid the stress and drama involved in planning a traditional wedding, so it pays off. In particular, because no one else knows, you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone else. Your mother-in-law won’t stick her nose in, your best friend from college who you haven’t spoken to in years so you didn’t invite her/him won’t have a chance to be offended, and you won’t have to find a bridesmaid dress that flatters everyone. You can plan at your own pace as well, and your engagement can be as short or as long as you want it to be, without anyone else’s input. It can truly be your wedding filled with details you are passionate about, and none that you are pressured to include.
Besides relieving some of the pressure on the bride and groom, you’re also relieving some of the pressure on the guests. Particularly, the pressure to bring a gift. For a plethora of reasons, many couples find it awkward to ask for gifts, even though it is common practice for weddings. If your guests don’t know it’s a wedding, they won’t feel forced to find a perfect gift. Or, maybe you already have everything you need – so there goes the stress in trying to register for gifts you may or may not use! Your bridal party won’t feel pressured to be perfect or worry about toasts.
Without all that stress and pressure, everyone is left to have an incredible time. Not to mention, a happy surprise adds an almost child-like feeling of delight to the evening.
One other downside to be aware of is some individuals might be offended by being left out of the planning. If you know someone like this and you’re worried about even a partially negative reaction, luckily you can fix it easily. If this person is someone you would have asked to be a part of your traditional wedding, you should consider inviting them to help. Even if you just give them a small task or let them in on the secret a little early, it could go a long way towards protecting your feelings. Or, if you’re really set on keeping the wedding a complete secret, write them a sincere letter explaining your decision to keep everyone out of the wedding, and let them know how much you care about them and that you’re looking forward to all the new memories the two of you will make. If the person would have been in the bridal party in a traditional wedding, you can throw a secret bachelorette/bachelor party (it’s your choice to tell them whether it’s just another night out or what it’s actually for), or you could wait until after your honeymoon and have a post-wedding bachelorette/bachelor party.
Maybe you’re thinking there are other downsides – what about cake and having a photographer and a guestbook?! Don’t worry: you can have all of those too. If you want a cake that really looks like a wedding cake, just keep it hidden until after the ceremony. You can have a photographer there too, but it’s better if it’s someone you know, who wouldn’t stand out. You could even set up hidden cameras in the area you’re going to reveal the big surprise. This way, you can record everyone’s reactions to your news as well as the ceremony without giving anything away. One cute idea is to set out a few Polaroid cameras or even a photo booth. Encourage guests to take pictures all night, and later on, ask them to write a note on the back of the pictures so you can use those as your guestbook or put them in a scrapbook.