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What Is an Elopement? Everything You Need to Know About Elopements

What Is an Elopement? Everything You Need to Know About Elopements
June 22, 2022 Riana Ang-Canning

So you keep hearing about elopements but you have some questions, starting with… What is an elopement? You probably have some idea of what an elopement entails, but you need someone to clear it up for you.

That’s where we come in! As wedding officiants, we’ve taken part in thousands of wedding ceremonies and officiated our fair share of elopements.

In this post we’ll break down what an elopement is, answer all of your questions about eloping and help you decide if an elopement is right for you!

Ready? Let’s learn about elopements!

helicopter elopement with young hip and married

by Amber Leigh Photography

What is an elopement? What is eloping?

First things first: What is an elopement?

An elopement is an intimate wedding where the focus is less on all of the wedding “stuff” and more on you two and your love. While there is no strict definition, an elopement usually happens with no guests (or just a small group) and without things like a processional or readings. The ceremony is generally very short and the vibe is usually more intimate and casual (though elopements can be fancy too!).

Historically, an elopement marriage meant the couple was running away to be wed in secret without their parents’ permission. And while many modern day elopements still see couples heading out of town to get married secretly in a cool location, that’s no longer a requirement. You can elope in your own backyard and tell all of your friends about it!

Just like a regular wedding, there’s no one way to elope. If a couple says “we eloped!” they could mean they took a helicopter to say their vows on a mountaintop with no one else in sight or they gathered a group of 15 friends to witness their vows in their living room. They could have gotten married in jeans and t-shirts or ballgowns and tuxedos. They could have spent two years planning their elopement or decided to elope the morning of!

While every elopement looks different, they all have this in common: a small wedding with less frills, fewer guests but lots of love!

What is the difference between a wedding and an elopement?

The biggest difference between a wedding and an elopement is size. At Young Hip & Married, we consider any ceremony with more than 20 guests to be a wedding – and usually ceremonies with 20 guests or fewer are considered elopements.

Another big difference between a wedding ceremony and an elopement ceremony is the style. A wedding ceremony is generally longer than an elopement and has more components. A wedding may have a processional, a wedding party, readings and unity traditions, like a handfasting ceremony.

An elopement, on the other hand (no pun intended!), will be more simple. We like to think of elopements having a “gather and wed” approach, rather than a more ceremonial process with an aisle walk, readings, etc.

Here’s a little cheat sheet:

  • Wedding = longer and more elaborate ceremony, more guests
  • Elopement = shorter and simpler ceremony, fewer guests
young hip and married wedding officiants elopements

by Erica Miller Photography

What should go into an elopement wedding script?

Like any ceremony, we believe your elopement wedding script should still be meaningful and contain words that fit you as a couple, even if it’s a shorter script than a regular wedding ceremony. You still have the option to personalize your elopement ceremony with personal vows or a short reading.

An elopement wedding will likely include brief words from the officiant and vows shared by the couple, in addition to a ring exchange, first kiss and licence signing.

Click here to learn exactly what happens during an elopement! 

Can you elope anywhere?

Pretty much! You can elope wherever your ceremony can be legally officiated (more on that below). While we often see elopements take place at City Hall in the movies, you can elope just about anywhere. From your backyard or a local park to the beach, the forest or a hotel suite, you can elope wherever you want.

Here are some of our favourite elopement spots:

Plus some of our featured elopement locations: Pitt Lake, Stanley Park and Blackcomb Mountains!

young hip and married stanley park elopements in vancouver

by Erica Miller Photography

Is an elopement marriage legal?

Yes, an elopement marriage is legal as long as it contains all the parts of a legal marriage ceremony.

In Canada, for your marriage to be legal it must be officiated by someone who can legally marry you (like a wedding officiant, marriage commissioner or justice of the peace), witnessed by two people and end with the signing of the marriage licence. You must also declare during your wedding ceremony your intent to marry each other (also known as the declaration of intent) so your officiant and witnesses know you want to do this thing!

Everything else – like your wedding party, readings and even your vows – are not legally required. But they can be nice extras to include!

Who gets invited to an elopement ceremony?

That’s up to you! Traditionally an elopement ceremony would not have any guests. However, to be legally married in many places, you do need two people to witness your ceremony. But if you’re wanting as private an elopement as possible, you can always ask kind strangers in the area or your other wedding vendors (like your wedding photographer) to serve as witnesses.

If you want to get married secretly, privately or without friends and family, you don’t have to invite anyone to your elopement. You just need two witnesses to make it legal, but your wedding officiant can help you find those people.

On the other hand, if you do want to share your elopement by inviting a few guests, you can do that too. Since elopements are small, your guest list should be reserved for just your nearest and dearest friends and family. Sometimes couples will invite their parents or children, or very close friends who live in the area.

mountaintop elopement with sky helicopters and young hip and married in vancouver

by Clint Bargen Photo

Why do people choose to have an elopement? (And should you?)

So now that you know what an elopement is, how do you know if eloping is right for you two? Luckily, we have a blog post to help you answer the big question: Should you elope?

There is no right answer. Elopements aren’t better than weddings and weddings aren’t better than elopements. It comes down to who you are as a couple and what you want out of your wedding experience.

If you prefer smaller groups, private moments and a more casual vibe, an elopement might be for you. If you want to save money with a smaller celebration or get married on a mountaintop or after a hike through the forest, an elopement could work well.

Your wedding ceremony is what you make of it! You can get married your way in whatever style of ceremony you choose, incorporating your favourite elements of big weddings and small elopements.

What are the pros & cons of having an elopement? 

The pros of choosing to elope include:

  • Less expensive
  • Less to plan and coordinate
  • Can be done with a shorter time frame
  • Focus is just on you two

The cons of choosing to elope include:

  • No big party
  • Fewer people involved
  • Missing out on some traditional wedding elements like an aisle walk, first dance, etc.

What if I want to elope but still have a big wedding party?

You can do that! You can have an intimate elopement ceremony and still have a big wedding reception afterwards.

In fact, many couples chose to “elope now and party later” in 2020/2021 when pandemic restrictions meant elopements were their only choice. They got legally married in intimate ceremonies and then, when things were safer, hosted larger wedding celebrations!

But you don’t have to be getting married in the middle of a pandemic to elope now and party later. If you’d prefer for your wedding ceremony to be more intimate, go ahead and elope!

Many couples choose to keep the ceremony small and private, only inviting their closest loved ones or no guests at all. Others will choose to elope abroad before hosting a wedding reception back home or, conversely, elope at home before a destination wedding abroad.

So yes, you can have the best of both worlds: You can elope and still have a big wedding party!

Rotary Park Calgary elopement

by Deanna Rachel Photography

How do we tell our family we want to elope?

So you’ve decided an elopement is right for you, but how do you break the news to your loved ones? Luckily, we’ve got your back. Here’s how to tell your big family you want to have a small elopement wedding.

At the end of the day, it comes down to you two. If an elopement is truly what you want, we want to help you make that happen. It may not be traditional and it may not be what your family always imagined for you, but it is true to you. And that’s what matters most!

Plus, you can still involve your family in your wedding day and share your elopement with your loved ones. Even if they don’t attend as wedding guests, they can still be a part of your celebration. And, more importantly, they can still be a part of your marriage and life moving forward (if you want them to be)!

What is the history of elopements?

Surprisingly, the history of elopements is more scandalous than you might think! The term was first used in the 14th Century to describe when a woman would leave her husband to run off with her lover. By the 18th Century, elopements involved young couples running away to get married in secret without their parents’ blessing.

Notable elopers from this time include Betsy Ross (t0 John Ross, who was from a different faith) and Mary Shelley (to Percy Bysshe Shelley, her dad’s penpal).

By the 20th Century, more and more couples were choosing to elope and fewer were doing it in secret. Simple weddings and Vegas-style elopements began to grow in popularity, as did small destination weddings and secret celebrity elopements.

And now, in the 21st Century, eloping has firmly shed its shady reputation and is a valid option for many couples. After the boom of elopements in 2020/2021 thanks to a ban on large gatherings, eloping has taken centre stage as one of the most intimate, affordable and meaningful ways to celebrate marriage.

Still have questions about eloping? Get in touch! Drop a comment below or send us an email.

Book your elopement today!

Content Queen at Young Hip & Married

Riana Ang-Canning has been working with Young Hip & Married since 2017. She is a professional content writer with experience in travel, lifestyle and weddings. Riana not only writes Young Hip & Married blog posts but is also involved with the company's internal communications, social media, copywriting and more. She knows YHM, and the wedding world, inside and out!

Riana Ang-Canning has been working with Young Hip & Married since 2017. She is a professional content writer with experience in travel, lifestyle and weddings. Riana not only writes Young Hip & Married blog posts but is also involved with the company's internal communications, social media, copywriting and more. She knows YHM, and the wedding world, inside and out!