NEW YORK — The heck with lovey-dovey Valentine's Day. Turns out December, with its holiday cheer, romantic winter backdrops and family gatherings, is among the busiest months for popping the question.
"It's a pretty time of year," said Jake Nyberg, 31, a video producer in Minneapolis. He chose Christmastime to drop to one knee in a gorilla suit while teetering on ice skates in front of his beloved. "You know you're going to be around a lot of family. You're going to be seeing all the people you'd like to see after something like this happens."
Sarah Pease, a professional proposal planner in New York, usually gets one or two inquiries a week from nervous grooms-to-be, but once Thanksgiving rolls around, it's more like one or two a day, with most guys looking to propose in December.
While she specializes in elaborate surprise proposals, she says the simple engagement-ring-under-the-tree trick is still popular. "That's a great way to have it as a family affair," she said. "It's dreamy. This is definitely THE busiest time of the year."
Laurent Landau in New York, a partner in the jewelry site DiamondIdeals.com, also sees the December bump: "October, November and early December, we probably see a 50 to 60 percent increase in the number of people buying rings with the purpose of proposing during the holiday season."
And it's not just regular folks; celebs confirm the trend too. Matthew McConaughey announced in a tweet that he proposed to his girlfriend, Brazilian model Camila Alves, on Christmas Day this year. And two days after Christmas, a spokesman for John Legend revealed that the singer recently proposed to his girlfriend, model Chrissy Teigen, in the Maldives.
Christmas is considered one of four big proposal days, along with Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving and New Year's. Thirty-nine percent of proposals occurred between November and February among 20,000 newlyweds surveyed by the popular wedding website TheKnot.com. Of those, 16 percent got engaged in December, more than any other month, according to TheKnot editor Anja Winikka.
Winikka's on board. Her fiance, Benjamin Bullington, proposed Dec. 20 by matching a fantasy she'd had "as a child that on my very first date ever I would wear a red dress and we would go to Red Lobster in a red car." Bullington sent a red dress and shoes to her office, then whisked her off in a red car to dine on red lobster.
With help from Pease, the wedding planner, Matthew Fowkes surprised his honey with an impressive yellow diamond on a romantic Christmas week getaway to New York.
"We thought it would be a magical time in the city with all the lights and everything — and it was," said Fowkes, 35, a website founder in Pittsburgh.
Fowkes took Melissa Barnickel, 25, to a French bistro in Brooklyn on Dec. 2 where they were the only guests. The evening included singers belting "Marry Me" by Train, a videographer and photographer recording it all, a tiered proposal cake and a bottle of wine identical to one the pair drank during their first trip together, to Canada.
Fowkes had the wine placed in a box made of Canadian wood, carved with their names. They'll fill it with remembrances at their Sept. 29 wedding and seal it as a time capsule to be opened on their 10th wedding anniversary. And they might just duplicate the proposal cake for their nuptials.
"I was completely surprised," said Barnickel, an analyst for an insurance company. "It was such a fairy tale. Everything was just so thought through."
Brad Carlson, 41, a production executive for Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, went for the fake-out.
He and Allison Koeppe, 34, had been talking marriage for a while. She thought it might be nice to get engaged the weekend of Dec. 16, when he had business in New York, but he held her off, suggesting they wait until they could figure out a plan.
"She was, like, a plan. What do we need a plan for," Carlson recalled. What she didn't know was he had hired Pease months before to make every moment meaningful when he proposed that Saturday.
They stayed at a fancy downtown hotel and strolled through Washington Square Park on their way to dinner at Babbo. Along the way they encountered a painter in the park whose easel bore a replica of a favorite photo Koeppe had taken on a trip to Italy. As she realized what was about to happen, a guitarist materialized and played "Reminiscing" by Little River Band: "How to tell you girl/ I wanna build my world around you/ Tell you that it's true/ I wanna make you understand/ I'm talkin' about a lifetime plan ..."
Carlson let Koeppe's closest friends in on the secret and presented her with a video featuring their congratulations back at the hotel. That gesture moved her to tears.
"It was beyond anything I could have imagined," said Koeppe, who's originally from Hopewell Valley, N.J. "New York in December is one of the more romantic places you could be."
Nyberg also went stealth. His fiancee is a freelance photographer and he concocted a fake client who was going to propose in gorilla gear at an outdoor skating rink in downtown St. Paul, Minn.
Nyberg showed up himself Dec. 16 with several friends, all dressed as gorillas who took to the ice.
"There's a nearby park and the trees were all lit up with Christmas lights. The rink is framed by all of these historic buildings. It was perfect," he said. "And I'm not a good skater. I managed to drop to one knee in skates on ice in a gorilla suit. It's sort of a minor miracle."