A Purple-and-Black Carnival-Themed Wedding on New Year's Eve at Union Market in Washington, DC
The clock strikes midnight, gold confetti blankets the dance floor, and you share your first New Year’s kiss as a married couple. But let’s back up—because Timmesha Butler (33, a professor and psychotherapist) and Donell Davis (36, a senior manager of biomedical engineering) didn’t get here overnight.
Years ago, while mindlessly scrolling Instagram’s “Discover” page, Timmesha came across a photo of Donell and could tell right away that he was “a handsome man who clearly had a large personality.” At the time, Timmesha lived in Maryland and Donell in New Jersey. After briefly messaging back and forth and scheduling a few failed meet-up attempts, the two fell out of touch. A few years later, the pair once again connected on social media— this time for good. Donell slid into Timmesha’s DMs, and from there, they were hooked, as evidenced by their five-hour initial phone conversation.
To avoid letting history repeat itself, the determined future spouses set a firm plan before hanging up the phone: They’d meet halfway in Philly. “From the moment Donell pulled up to meet me, it felt like God purposely crafted us for each other,” recalls Timmesha. “Our first date lasted for three days, and it was filled with laughter and some of the best conversations we ever had. Five years later, here we are.”
Shortly after becoming an official couple on New Year’s Eve 2017, Donell knew he wanted to “do life with her as my partner. It was as if time stood still and nothing mattered.”
Picking a wedding date was straightforward after that moment: They would ring in the new year while celebrating a new union. Appropriately, they planned to set the stage at Union Market in Washington, DC, which holds sentimental value for Timmesha.
“When I was a child, Union Market was known as 5th Street Market,” says Timmesha. “In 2011, the market burned down and over the past decade, it has been revitalized as Union Market, with a warehouse at the rear of the building that serves as an event space. My family and I would grocery shop at the market when I was a young girl, and my grandfather owned a small food stand inside it. This location was a reflection of my childhood.”
With December 31, 2022, set as the date, not just any wedding theme would do. Early on, the couple bonded over a shared love of speakeasies, carnivals and fairs. And Donell loved the circus-themed romance film Water for Elephants. But a red-and-white big tent look wasn’t the vibe they wanted for their special day. Instead, they infused it with a moody palette and a “more grown-up and sexy” edge to steer the aesthetic in the direction of Cirque du Soleil. Thus, the plum, emerald and black Cirque du Davis was born.
Before diving into design, though, Timmesha and Donell had to conquer one of the hardest planning tasks: their 170-person guest list. Donell believes couples should put a lot of thought into who makes the cut. “Initially, you may want to invite everyone under the sun, but that comes with a lot of pressure and funding,” he says. “When thinking about your wedding guests, think of the people who will hold you both accountable in your marriage, who will support you along the way and who truly wish you well.” And a killer wedding menu to feed those who love you so dearly is a nice token of appreciation for your core group of pals.
“Come on. We know that the best part of any fair is the food,” says the couple. (Truer words have never been spoken.) Timmesha and Donell dished up BBQ pulled-pork croissant doughnuts (an inventive combo), maple-glazed pork belly, honey-butter fried chicken biscuits, truffle mac-and-cheese tarts and black-sesame shrimp toasts. Now that’s the definition of a delicious menu if we’ve ever heard one. But wait—that was just the cocktail hour.
“We are foodies to the core,” they say. “We wanted to take our guests on a journey of some of our favorite entrees, but more elevated.” At dinner, guests chose between Bordelaise short ribs, shrimp and grits or smoked tomato and basil risotto.
Keeping the mouthwatering theme going, the couple offered a sweet and savory late-night combo of mini cheesesteak and fried pie stations. Guests ended the night with custom buckets of popcorn as a parting gift.
Was it even possible for the drinks or cake to top that? The couple’s signature cocktails nodded to two carnival acts: knife throwers and tightrope walkers.
Donell’s Flaming Knife Thrower was a PB&J-flavored old fashioned with spicy cinnamon. Timmesha’s Equilibrist was a classic gin sour creatively garnished with a smoke-filled bubble.
To top off the epic menu, the couple served a three-tier elderflower-soaked lemon cake with blackberry-lavender buttercream and blackberry jam filling. A black-and-white swirl design decorated the side.
The decor and entertainment were as carnival-worthy as the food, beginning with ticket-inspired escort cards. An aerialist and juggler dazzled in front of a custom carousel sweetheart table that anchored the space. Lush flower arrangements reinforced the night’s look thanks to an assortment of astilbes, hydrangeas, orchids, ranunculus, roses and thistles.
Leaning into a more-is-more mindset, Timmesha and Donell didn’t choose one first dance song: They had two. “Anything,” by Jahiem, started things off before “No Better Love,” by Young Gunz, came on. For the rest of the evening, the DJ spun hip-hop, R&B, oldies, DC go-go, Jersey club and house music.
Timmesha recalls just how overjoyed she was when she and Donell first got a sneak peek at the reception space. To “see all of our ideas come to light was a dream come true. We never imagined a blank warehouse turning into this lavish event,” she says. And the couple’s key to an event that slayed? A stellar wedding planner. “Our number one piece of advice is to hire a planner,” Timmesha says. They initially thought they could do it on their own, but soon realized it was too intricate to pull off. “A wedding planner relieves you of so much stress and pressure. Our wedding day ran smoothly, and we never had to worry about any mishaps because of our amazing team. It was beyond our wildest dreams.”
“When we saw the transformed reception space, I cried tears of joy,” says Timmesha. “It was breathtaking and beyond our wildest dreams.”