When I was 4 years old, I threw my Grandma Roslyn a one-man surprise party; me being the one man. I hid under our dining room table, and used marbles as confetti. I actually have a very vivid memory of crouching underneath that table, excitedly anticipating her arrival. When she walked in the door, I jumped out from under the table, and yelled ‘SURPRISE!’ I hit my head pretty hard on the underside of the table, as I pounced up, but quickly forgot the pain when I saw her genuine reaction of amazement and joy.
Then and there began my love-affair with surprise parties. Maybe it is all of the secret plotting, maybe it is the look of shock on the person’s face satisfying my inner practical jokester, or maybe I just really enjoy the production aspect of it all. Either way, I’m pretty obsessed with the whole process.
The month of November is a pretty festive month, for my family, We have lots of birthdays and reasons to celebrate. I was lucky enough to plan a surprise birthday party for my big sis Julie, (who turned the big 4-0), and my incredible hubby Mike, who celebrated 5 years of sobriety.
The process of planning got me thinking though, that maybe there are folks out there who would like to plan a surprise party for someone they love, but don’t know how or where to start. I thought I would share my process, and what has worked for me.
That Art of Planning a Surprise Party:
1. T/L/S: Theme, Location, Party Size
Start with the basics. Pick your theme, (if you are having one), choose where the party will be and decide how many people you will invite. Some people, (me), feel obligated to include everyone. While others, (my husband), get overwhelmed with big crowds.
Julie and Mikes parties were exact opposites. Julie’s party was in her own home, while Mike’s was at a friends home. Julie’s party had a 40th sparkle theme, while Mike’s had no theme and was more food-centered.
2. Gather Cohorts
At this point, you should know where the surprise will be taking place. If you are going to have the party at the person’s own home, you will need to recruit some cohorts to help pull it off and get the subject out of the house. If you plan to use a friend’s home or even a restaurant, you will still need some outside help to have everything in place for when you arrive with the guest of honor. Make sure you pick people who won’t blow the surprise, and who are reliable. Relinquishing some of the creative control to others is necessary.
3. Write the Story
You don’t have to actually write a story. What I mean is, what are you going to tell the surprisee, to get them to the party without suspicion? For example, with Mike, I made fake dinner plans ahead of time for the night of his party. The couple hosting the party had the same story-guise, in case it came up in conversation. So the plan for that night was, we were going to their home for dinner to celebrate his milestone. It was a simple and believable story, and didn’t draw too much attention to itself.
Julie’s party was in her own home, which made things a bit more complicated. She is also a planner, and we had to really ‘write’ a believable story. After many drafts via email between myself and her boyfriend Heath, we decided that he would stage surprise car troubles. This would get her out of the house, and his job was to stall her long enough for us to set up the house.
As much as I wish I could, it is impossible to do it all. Employ loved ones to help with the set up, the food, the deco–something. For me, my favorite part of creating a party, is making everything look pretty. Maybe for you, your favorite part is doing the cooking. Do what you do best, (even if you do a lot of things best), and let others help with the rest, especially if you are on a time-crunch.
For Julie’s party, my dad did the cooking, my mom helped a bit with the deco, but her main duty was to occupy the kids. (Thank goodness she was able to do that.) For Mike’s party, the hosts handled all the food, (God bless them), a friend picked up the deco and my main job was to get Mike to his party.
5. Communication is Key
You will need someone to be the point of contact. It can be you, or another party-goer, but communication about the guest’s arrival can really make or break the surprise.
For Julie’s party, I was the point of contact. They were in separate cars, so I was getting arrival updates from both Julie and Heath. I made sure Heath alerted me when they were about to turn on to their street.
With Mike’s party, my friend Brittney was my point of contact. We arranged this ahead of time. I alerted her of our arrival, so she could corral everyone inside.
Be prepared and keep it simple.
6. Make Like Elsa, and ‘Let It Go’
I have a funny habit of noticing what I should or could have done differently / better, right before party-time. This serves no one. So when it is party time, it is best to make like Elsa, and let it go. You have done all you can, and it is time to relax, enjoy, celebrate and EAT.
For more tips on party planning, see my post about tips on planning a party on a budget.