It was the subterfuge of a lifetime.
When Rob and Crystal Majury decided to wed after three years of dating, they also chose to hoodwink their guests. In August, after five meagre weeks of planning, the Sault Ste. Marie couple had 60 family members and friends over to a local lounge and gallery for an "engagement party" complete with save-the-date cards that slated nuptials suspiciously for April 1, 2012.
When the moment came, Mr. Majury took the stage as his wife-to-be threw on her wedding dress in a back room. Then he came clean. "It was strangely quiet – a lot of blank faces," he says. "I looked around and then said into the microphone, 'I'm serious.' That's when people started clapping."
As a minister popped up on stage, Mr. Majury asked Crystal's shell-shocked parents to walk her down the lounge "aisle." The most bewildered of the bunch was his own father, who had missed the announcement while in the loo and was now being asked to stand up for his son: "He said, 'What's happening? They're out of soap down there. They've got to get that refilled.'"
For the duo, both 28, a surprise wedding was the best way to save time and costs, dodge bridezilla/groomzilla drama and skirt overbearing family members, like the time Mr. Majury witnessed a father of the bride screaming down a caterer: "It was that kind of stress that we really wanted to avoid. Marriage is supposed to be about those two people, not about all that other junk."
The surprise wedding was also a study in the delights of a well-executed hoax: Before they set the fake April 1 date, the couple told loved ones they wanted an outlandish winter wedding, complete with snowsuit tuxedos and a carriage pulled by exotic animals.
"We just wanted to trick everyone, I guess," Mr. Majury said.
As couples like the Majurys dupe their guests and men propose to stunned girlfriends in elaborate scenarios filmed and posted to YouTube, an even more extreme form of nuptial deceit has recently taken hold: partners springing impromptu ceremonies on each other.
Last weekend, it was New Zealander Cherie Butler, who had boyfriend David Shoemark schlep to a "picnic" after his fishing trip. (He said yes.)
In August, Shawn Lippert sprung a wedding on Colleen, his girlfriend of seven years, at a Tecumseh, Ont. sports bar. With 200 guests playing along, "Operation White Cake" took a full year to plan, this after Mr. Lippert, 37, botched an earlier proposal.
"I'm not the most romantic guy. I'm a coach," said Mr. Lippert, who drills the University of Windsor Lancers volleyball team.
Privately, the couple had decided to elope in Vegas and later announce their union at a barbecue. The plan was the perfect ruse for Mr. Lippert, who peppered his girlfriend, a hair-and-nail salon owner, with questions about the particulars. When she said she wanted Mason jar candle holders and Martha Stewart paper balls at the barbecue, he wrote it all down in a diary.
He also goaded her into buying a gown in January, just in case they had to fly to Vegas last-minute on a seat sale.
As for the day itself, Ms. Lippert was told she'd be attending a retirement party; friends convinced her to get her hair done. The 32-year-old spent the earlier part of her big day giving manicures to women who would later attend the ceremony.
"Colleen's probably the only bride in the history of all brides who actually worked on her wedding day," Mr. Lippert said with a hearty laugh.
Ms. Lippert (she said yes) took it in stride: "When I realized that my wedding day was happening, it was just fun. I didn't have to worry about it," she said, adding, "I'm a big surprise person."
After their wedding video went viral, the Lipperts' nuptials became a public spectacle, something the bride also didn't object to: "Usually, you talk about your wedding before it happens and then no one really talks about it after. Well, I get to talk about it after, and everyone wants to see my video. That's exciting."
Momentary Internet fame aside, Mr. Lippert worked hard to get Colleen's circle on board. They hesitated until he convinced them he was crafting the wedding based on Colleen's directives for the mythical barbecue: "I had to sell it."
More terror ensued when Mr. Lippert revealed his plans to the seamstress: "There were three brides getting their dresses altered, they were all up on their boxes standing in front of the mirrors. They heard the whole conversation and when I turned around, all three were staring at me in horror at what I was planning to do for my bride."
In the case of the Majurys' nuptials, a surprise only to guests, the groom said he was unaware of any disapproval "other than my mom smacking me on the back of the head and then giving me an immediate hug."
Springing a wedding on unsuspecting guests is an "amazing gift," said Catherine Lash, creative director at the Wedding Co. in Toronto.
"It gives them the element of surprise," said Ms. Lash, pointing out that many guests will have already suffered through several dreary ceremonies that year.
That said, pranking the guests is still a gamble. Since the ruse event won't be declared a wedding, some guests simply won't show up, she said. Others might be miffed that they dressed for Uncle Marv's retirement party – arriving in jeans, sans gift.
"You can't do it if you've got people who are expecting real tradition. When you're the host of a party, you have to take everybody into consideration. It's not all about you."
Still, that's precisely why many couples go the surprise route with guests: It gives them full control over their wedding.
"There is unsolicited advice from mom, dad, brothers, sisters, friends. This keeps people out and the bride and the groom get what they want," said Julianne Cragg, owner of A Modern Proposal Event Planning in Edmonton.
But she and other wedding planners agree that surprising a significant other is much more dicey than fooling some guests. Ms. Cragg painted this dark scenario: "The risk is the other partner getting upset that they didn't get to be a part in the planning and maybe storming off – or maybe saying, 'I never wanted to marry you!'"
"You have to have a really good sense of who your partner is. It's a really unique couple that could actually pull that off," said Ms. Lash.
With the benefit of hindsight, Mr. Lippert said he wouldn't recommend any man plan a wedding for his bride, let alone a surprise wedding.
"It's a lot of work and stress. I took all that pressure away from her. She even slept that night – I didn't."