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Anticipation is the best gift - or why surprise parties are like funerals

Posted by pbeckman at 3:19 PM on Jan 4, 2021



ANTICIPATION is the best gift


Why surprise parties are like funerals


Has anyone ever thrown you a surprise party? How did you feel? I do NOT mean a surprise party that you figured out but didn’t fess up to knowing about so you didn’t spoil the fun. I mean a party that was a GENUINE surprise. Sure it happens, but it’s unlikely.

Cue the crowd…. “SURPRISE!!!!!  After that awkwardly, critical moment when people pop out of God knows where and you display the prerequisite look of astonishment, EVERYONE asks “were you surprised? Did you suspect anything?  How did they manage to fool you? “

If you did know it was coming, you really can’t say so or everyone will be disappointed that you weren’t surprised, deeming all of their subterfuge irrelevant.  So, you feign shock to be polite because of course you are that easy to fool!

Okay guest of honor, did you have a rough day? What? You didn’t get to wash your hair? You’re really in the mood to be alone. Maybe you’re not too crazy about that person you just saw in the corner. FORGET all of that.  You MUST, I repeat MUST be ready to party with abandon or risk insulting whoever went through the trouble to arrange this surprise. It’s a party for you dammit! Ready or not, like it or not, you will have fun and be jubilant!

Whoever planned this fete will be fussed over. How on earth did they pull it off? That was so clever! Didn’t he/she have a clue? Everything looks awesome, great job, way to go, you’re amazing! On top of it there may be a friend or relative who flew in from halfway around the world to be there as part of the surprise and they will get unbridled attention as if it was their special day!

After many years of planning surprise parties for my clients, I have come to the conclusion that they are like funerals. They are NOT for the recipient as much as for the person throwing them.

Now do not get me wrong. I would like to commend those who want to throw a party for their spouse, mother, coworker or bestie, because their heart is in the right place and heck, who am I to turn down business and discourage a good party?  But, I beg of you, consider why it is not always the best idea. 

Whoever throws a surprise party or a funeral is in charge and in control. When you are that person, you try to make it all about the guest of honor but have to presume what the guest of honor wants.  Does the guest of honor (or the deceased) get to pick the date, time, place, food choice, guest choice? Do they have the luxury of shopping for a special dress or suit, getting a manicure, resting up so they are ready to party?  No NO and NO!

When the surprise hits... the guest of honor has to slap on a happy party face no matter what has happened that day and no matter how they look or feel. If they are not thrilled with the surprise, no disappointment can be shown lest they insult the giver.  You may argue these are hurdles that can be prevented by careful planning, but the one thing that you can never ever give the guest of honor with a surprise party is the gift of anticipation.

Would you ever give a bride a surprise wedding? WHAT?! Deprive her of the year she gets to live in anticipation of the big nuptial extravaganza? Deprive her of the joy she gets planning the entire soiree down to the last detail? Not allow her to bask for a full year in a trance like state of euphoria where all she can think about is the joy that the right cake or perfect color combo will bring to her world? There are pretty slim odds that any bride wants a surprise wedding.

Did you ever go to prom? Remember the thrill of shopping for the dress, anticipating how your date would look, what kind of corsage you’d get and giggling with your friends about what the night would be like?  It was all so magical and exciting. THAT is what the lead up to a party is like for any guest of honor. It is an opportunity to anticipate and relish the joy preceding the event.

I once had a client ask me to arrange a surprise party for her husband who was turning 80.  I know 80 isn’t that old, but I asked her how many things John had to look forward to.

By making this party a surprise, I told her we were robbing John of the chance to enjoy the planning. We were depriving him of the chance to think about how great it will be to see his friends. We removed the chance for John to ponder how touching it is that everyone cares and wants to celebrate his birthday. The gift of anticipation lasts the entire time leading up to the party.

My client reconsidered. We told John about her plans to throw him a party.

John was surprised (hurray) and absolutely thrilled!!!  He was incredibly enthusiastic and wanted input on a million details. The joy lasted for the entire time before the party. Not only was the party fun, but the fun was multiplied by giving the gift of anticipation.

Now lest you think I am a surprise curmudgeon, heck no, I LOVE great surprises.

For me, the best surprises are those that happen DURING a party. I’ve created touching videos that take the guests on an unexpected stroll down memory lane. Friends have performed a silly song that they rehearsed. At one party, a bagpiper strolled in with a mariachi band because the birthday boy loved them both!  At a birthday party for a well-traveled executive, I asked that every invited guest send a bead (with a note as to what it meant) from their corner of the world. The guest of honor was presented with a necklace strung with the beads sent by friends and family from around the globe.  Even those that could not attend where there in spirit. At a retirement party I created for a famous rock star, his friends dressed as him and performed one of his songs. These were all amazing surprises.

There are a million small special surprises that can make your party memorable and personal. So, ask yourself who really wants the surprise party? You or them?