by Christina Andrews
Many questions arise when considering whether eloping is best choice. Most people are unfamiliar with elopements because they don't have immediate family that have gone through this type of marriage. Why should you elope? What traditions carry through? Is there a protocol for dealing with family and friends? Do you announce your marriage in the same way as if you had had a traditional ceremony? How do you share your joy without upsetting those who don't get to attend? Where should you elope? How do you put together a ceremony with only two people? Is it appropriate to invite a few friends and family?
Let's explore the answers to these questions…
Why Should You Elope?
* You want to create a wedding ceremony that is meaningful and beautiful without the expense and/or hassle of a large event.
* You have a time critical situation that requires planning your event quickly… a pregnancy, deployment, financial challenges, child custody issues, job relocation issues, illness, etc.
* This is not your first marriage or you are an older couple.
* Your marriage would not be recognized by your church and/or is not accepted by your family(s) for religious, ethnic or socio-economic reasons.
* A large event is too stressful or inappropriate for the two of you.
* You strongly desire to get married in a setting that would not be suitable for a larger wedding.
* Family members are not supportive of your marriage and it is important for you to protect each other from their scrutiny.
* You don't have the time or inclination to plan a big event and your style is to be "hassle-free."
* You wish to combine a wedding and honeymoon.
* It makes sense financially to move from "living together" to being legally married but you're not interested in making a big "to do" about it.
* You love each other and this sounds like the most romantic way to express that sentiment!
What Wedding Traditions Carry Through To Elopements?
The most obvious tradition that remains the same is the actual wedding ceremony itself, be it a religious service or civil. Most couples also enjoy keeping many of the elements of the larger wedding but on a smaller scale. For instance, beautiful wedding attire is still an important part of the event, but in a more intimate setting, the couple may choose to wear clothing that is less showy that incorporates something other than the traditional white, with a design and texture that is especially flattering and/or appealing to their partner. Other couples want to remember the day in a very traditional way… they want the "historical" portraits in the full wedding regalia!
Traditions that enhance the romantic elements of the wedding and honeymoon are also very important, but need to reflect what is important to both the bride and the groom. Many women enjoy having traditional components as part of the ceremony: a beautiful bouquet, cake and champagne, the "big white dress," the groom in a tux, etc. The process of selecting these elements and the anticipation of a beautiful setting enhance the event for many women (and men also) and make for a more special, memorable experience.
Men tend to find the most enjoyment in seeing their bride exquisitely coifed and elegantly dressed. The wedding experience for them is enhanced by seeing the bride at her physical best. Men also enjoy celebrating with great food and wine and often want more of a say in planning honeymoon activities. Every couple is different, however, and part of the fun of planning your elopement is finding the best ways to express yourselves as a couple while paying homage to each other's proclivities.
Other "traditions" to incorporate may come from your families, your religious background, the region or country where you grew up, your ethnic group and popular culture.
What is the Protocol for Dealing With Family and Friends?
Due to the nature of eloping, it is important to be discrete and matter-of-fact during the planning so as to protect the feelings of those who would wish to be part of your special day. There is no reason to explain the reason(s) behind your decision to elope, that is between you and your future spouse, but proper etiquette would dictate that you do whatever possible to prevent disappointment. You need to be prepared for some upset, especially when a wedding is planned and parents are not asked to participate. The most effective salve is to share with your family, after the fact, how very happy you are and how meaningful and enjoyable the experience was for the two of you. For those who look out for your best interests, this will be all they need to know.
Who to tell about your event and when is dependent on the circumstances surrounding your decision to elope. Generally, it is best to wait until the event has passed and then to make your announcement in the same way you would for a typical wedding, by telling everyone at the same time. There are many methods for doing this… through traditional mailed wedding announcements, through an email blast (perhaps with a link to your wedding photos online) or by calling those closest to you by phone.
Should you announce gift registries? Of course! Just because you did not have a traditional ceremony does not mean that family and friends won't want to send their good wishes to you through gifting. The nicest way to handle this issue is to give family and friends a chance to share in your wedding by linking them to your wedding pictures online and also by presenting them with a description of your event and the setting in which you were married. They'll enjoy hearing the details. Sharing your story and photos will make them feel they are an important part of your life as a couple.
Can You or Should You Invite a Few Family and Friends?
Many couples are concerned about the issue of the "witness" for their marriage license and think they need to invite at least one other couple to act as their witnesses. This is not the case, most of the time. Your photographer, the concierge at your venue or any other person involved on the day can act as your witness.
Some couples want a few family members or friends to share in their "elopement." While the traditional definition of "elopement" would imply that others are not involved in this process, this is not the case for many couples. Very often couples invite a few close friends and may even vacation with them after the ceremony. Others invite the parents from both sides and perhaps a few siblings. No matter the variation, the goal remains the same: to keep the ceremony simple, intimate and heartfelt and to keep the focus on the couple.
Where Should You Elope?
The great thing about eloping is that you can do it almost anywhere. Choosing just the right spot will depend on the circumstances surrounding your elopement. If you are pregnant, you may want to choose a location close to home, or even to have your ceremony at home. Your event professionals will have no problem turning your living room or backyard into a mini-sanctuary for your vows and what a blessing for your home… to have been married there!
Other couples might seek out a location where they can partake in a common interest. For instance, if you love to hike, find a region with spectacular hiking trails. If you love sipping pina coladas on the beach, look for a resort setting on the ocean. Northern California's wine country is especially popular because it covers a wide range of activities and settings that are appealing to honeymooning couples… wineries and vineyards, mountains, outdoor activities of all kinds, coastal settings and beaches, redwood forests, spas, great restaurants, world-class resorts and hotels, exciting nightlife, and close proximity to a beautiful city setting (San Francisco!).
You'll find many wonderful places to elope on the internet. A good starting point, however, is to imagine where you'd like to honeymoon. The honeymoon location of your dreams will most likely make a great place for your elopement.
How Do You Put Together A Ceremony With Only Two People?
The great thing about an intimate elopement ceremony is that you can say anything you like without feeling self-conscious. Many couples find it difficult to express themselves fully in front of an audience but with an elopement this is not an issue! You can be as romantic and heartfelt as you wish… it's a wonderful feeling and will mean so much to your partner to hear your deepest emotions expressed on this important day.
The best way to create a memorable ceremony is through the guidance of your officiant. Your officiant will have performed many weddings and services for other life events and will have a wealth of ideas on how you can meaningfully express your beliefs and commitment to one another, either through religious sources, literature or in your own words. Most couples find that ordained clergy and civil officiants with experience on the bench have the most to offer because of their close connection to important life events. Put yourself in the hands of someone with wisdom and emotional depth on this important day, especially if you are separated from close family and friends.
About the Author…
Christina Andrews is a seasoned event professional who resides in both Napa and San Francisco, California. Christina is the owner of NapaWeddingSource.com
and SonomaWeddingSource.com and is closely connected to all the best wedding-related resources in Northern California. She is also the owner of California Wedding Packages which offers complete wedding/honeymoon packages to couples planning elopements and small weddings in Northern California.
For more information on eloping in Northern California, contact Christina at: (707) 225-1862 or Chris@NapaWeddingSource.com.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Van Gundy and Edyta Szyszlo