Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and chances are you’ve already begun to get invites and save-the-dates for the year’s spring and summer weddings. So. Many. Weddings. It’s not rocket science why people should want to get married when the sun is warm and the leaves are green: Just the smell of LIFE in the air is enough to put almost anyone in a romantic mood, and let’s not even get started on how much easier it is to pose for wedding pics when you’re not a shivering mess. But for some people, a spring or summer wedding is just so been-there-done-that. Even a fall wedding is a little too conventional for these trailblazing couples. Enter that dark horse of the wedding world: The winter wedding.

Winter weddings are kind of like that kid in your elementary school classroom who sits in the back unnoticed until one day she raises her hand and announces some totally on-point piece of genius, dryly funny wisdom that nobody saw coming. They’re delightful in ways that you might not expect, and for reasons you hadn’t even considered. For some people, that magic and unpredictability make planning a winter wedding exciting — even more than the potential savings on off-season reception venues.

Tracy Ryan Wedding

Tracy Smith is one of these people. The Madison, Wisconsin microbiology researcher and theatre producer had always planned on an outdoor autumn wedding until she got engaged to her love, Ryan, in September 2012. “I wasn’t willing to wait a year before we got married,” she says. So the intrepid (and impatient) bride-to-be opted for February 2013 nuptials.

Outside. In Wisconsin.

“I ain’t ascairt of nothin’!” Tracy jokes. “Outdoors in February? Why not? With my background in theatre production and Ryan’s and my love of adventure, we knew we’d be able to pull it off.” Here’s what Tracy has to say about what went into her unusual winter celebration of love.

outdoor winter wedding

B+C: Let’s get this out of the way for those at home who might be considering doing this kind of thing: Were you wearing winter, uh… underthings?#realtalk

TS: Unders. A great question! I was wearing a nude strapless bra from Victoria’s Secret, sexy panties, a borrowed pair of Merino wool arm warmers (Ryan’s), two pairs of black Smartwool long underwear, my grandmother’s blue ribbon and lace garter, and wool socks. I got a sweet pair of “wedding boots” from REI, blue Sorels.

wedding sorels

What did it feel like? Temperature-wise, that is.

They tell me it was around nine degrees F when the wedding started. It certainly didn’t feel that cold. Being jacked on adrenaline really helps. I was actually out in the cold longer than anyone else. The way we had planned the processional across the bridge was that each of us would walk out of the woods, across the bridge, to the crowd (instead of the traditional through the crowd to the altar thang). I didn’t want the groom seeing me all dressed up, so my attendants and I had to go hide in the woods before anyone else showed up.

I was warm for most of the ceremony but I was worried when I took my hands out of my fur muffler (which was hiding a hand warmer) to exchange rings that my hands would shake so much I’d drop Ryan’s ring in the snow.

We stayed outside for pictures after the short (15 minutes-ish) ceremony, first with our families, and then couples’ shots. That’s when my feet starting getting cold. At least it was after we were married… am I right?

After pictures we had a horse drawn carriage ride to the reception site. That was cold on my ears! We had an early-1900s bear fur sleigh blanket on our laps and that was amazing! Anti-fur people can holler all they want, but that fur blocked the wind like nobody’s business!

What did y’all do to prepare and to warm up afterwards?

When we got to the reception hall I took off my long unders and boots and changed into my heels. We warmed up pretty quickly.

Carriage ride

What was your family’s reaction when you were like, “We’re getting married outside in February!”?

Ryan’s family was all for it. They knew we’d figure out all the details and they were ready to help us with whatever. My family was a little harder of a sell. I think my dad’s reaction was “You’re doing what?” He had concerns about what guests would wear to stay warm and still look nice but I assured him that we didn’t care what anyone looked like at the wedding.

We tried to make that clear on the invites as well. We urged everyone to dress as warmly as possible, and not to worry about fashion. We had extra blankets, hats, scarves, and gloves at the park site and had people stop at the reception venue on the way out to get a hot cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. When guests got back to the venue we had a changing area set up so people could get out of their warm things into their party clothes and we had hot butternut squash soup (made by us, of course) ready to warm their bellies.

How’d it all go?

The wedding was amazing. As far as the cold went, some family members have told me their toes got cold and whatnot but whatever, I was out there the longest and I survived. In a wedding dress.

We were so super lucky to get the perfect amount of snow. Like just unbelievably lucky. And it has stuck in people’s minds. It has been three years since the wedding and just a month ago someone was telling me how much they loved our wedding. How unique it was. How beautiful it was. How when the snow lines all the trees it looks just like our winter wonderland wedding. I was told I looked like an angel floating down the aisle. When I came out of the woods and onto the bridge there was an audible sigh of wonder from the congregation. It was breathtaking.

Ryan and I know that things could have gone very differently for us. The rain could have kept up. It was muddy at the bridge site just days before the wedding. It could have been six below zero. I know, I know, nine degrees isn’t THAT much warmer than minus six. But we also know that we would have made the best of whatever we were given. If it had been any colder we had a backup plan to hold the wedding indoors at the reception hall.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention getting the drive to the bridge plowed! And figuring out where to park all the cars! It was so many layers of adventure.

wedding pic

And you haven’t asked me these questions but I’m just bragging:

Ryan and I made the majority of the food for the wedding (150 guests). We made stuff we could freeze ahead of time: Shepard’s pie, veggie pot pie, squash soup. I made our wedding cake, four tiers of maple & honey pecan carrot cake with a maple buttercream.

I invented a style of food service. You know how at most weddings either the food is delivered to your table and some people are already done eating by the time the last people get their food OR you have to get up and wait in an endless buffet line to slop the food on your plate? Well, I came up with what I’m calling “Modified Family Style.” I made little cards (like for a board game) with different tasks on them like “Get a Shepard’s pie” or “Ask everyone if they want seconds” or “Clear the table.” Each person seated at the table took a card and had a job to do. Then our emcee announced each card: to get a pie, or a basket of bread or whatever, and the people with that task took care of it for their table. Everyone worked together and did their jobs. It was wonderful to witness. And very little waiting! So we could all eat our delicious food!

All this and more was made possible with a 72 page spreadsheet and so much help from friends and family. And a helluva lot of work on the part of the bride and groom.

We’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Would you consider an outdoor winter wedding ceremony? Tell us about it @britandco!

(Photos via Katie Kaszubski)