A Surprising Way to Say “I Do”


“I do” and “Surprise!” aren’t generally heard on the same night, but these couples astonished their guests to make their weddings unforgettable.


Jeffrey and Naderé Sternberg had only been engaged for two months when they sent out invitations for their engagement party. They told their friends that their wedding was going to be a family-only destination wedding, so they hoped everyone would make it to the engagement party. Of course, that was a clever cover story, which they went to elaborate lengths to make believable.

The night of their party, they greeted guests in cocktail attire, socialized for the first hour, then quietly slipped away. When Jeffrey’s grandfather took the stage to welcome everyone with a toast, he said, “We have a little surprise for you before dinner.” At that, a curtain parted, revealing a room set with chairs, an aisle, flowers—clearly ready for a wedding.

“We could hear the guests screaming, cheering and laughing,” Naderé says. “There was just so much energy in the room,” Jeffrey adds. “People were so happy and surprised.” Including one aunt and uncle who were doubly surprised because Jeffrey and Naderé had secretly flown in their daughter from Paris to be there for the wedding.

A great cover story is clearly a must for a surprise wedding. For poet Barry Siegel, his 60th birthday party was already planned. As he was writing a poem about his longtime girlfriend, Sheila Flaherty, he decided that he would surprise her, and not only ask her to marry him at the party, but actually get married that night.

“I got up to read ‘November Sun,’ ” Barry recalls. “And everyone assumed it would be about turning 60, but when I got to the lines, ‘Marry me now, Marry me please,’ there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Sheila admits she would have worn a different sweater if she’d known, but loved every minute of the surprise and their wedding.

For Lara and Ed Nusbaum, their cover story was their eminent move to London. To say goodbye to friends and family, they planned a bash at Salvage One.

Lara told 20 of her closest friends that a magician was going to start the evening off, so she needed each of them to hold a flower and envelope as part of the act. Instead, when the surprise was revealed, Lara walked down the aisle, kissing and hugging her girlfriends; their flowers became her bouquet. Each envelope held a letter, telling why Lara valued their friendship.

Again, not a dry eye in the house.

The usual surprise party has one honoree who’s shocked, but the dynamic changes when every guest gets to have that moment of thrill, when they all realize that the evening is not what they expected and a magical moment is about to happen. For these couples, their weddings were the beginning of a lifetime of surprises.

Surprise! Tips for Secretly Planning Your Nuptials

  • If you’re considering a surprise wedding, the three couples we talked to recommend these steps:
  • Have a plausible cover story and stick to it.
  • Keep your mouth shut.
  • Plan for the moment of surprise. Both the Meisners and Sternbergs had a curtain open after a toast for the reveal.
  • Accept that not everyone will come. Every couple mentioned that one or two people didn’t make it, but the people who care the most will make it.

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