According to an article I just read, Christmas house parties have disappeared forever. The article also says that a staggering percentage of American millennials have never even attended a house party; most have no interest in them.
And now, thanks to a pandemic, experts believe that house parties are not just fledgling, but already resting in peace. The article named technology as the main killer of the American get-together.
Well, I don’t mean to be Debbie Depression here, but if this article is true, it’s sad news. Because no amount of video calls, text messages, or online hangouts can compete with the holiday celebrations of yesteryear. Yes, I realize that during the past eight months we’ve lost many things, not to mention our mental health, but please, Lord, don’t let us lose Christmas parties forever.
If you’re like me, you remember an era filled with grand Christmas parties. It was also an era without the internet, back when the most advanced technology in your home was the four-ton electric KitchenAid mixer your mom used for making cookies.
Christmas parties were our fundamental forms of holiday socialization, and almost everyone considered these to be big deals. Adult men dressed in Santa hats and hideous neckties. Ladies wore hosiery and dresses. Elderly women wore tweed skirt suits with holly-berry brooches. Old men pulled their trousers up to their armpits and reeked of Old Spice.
Our mothers would spend weeks decking the halls with ACTUAL boughs of holly. This is not a figure of speech. Our hallways were literally festooned with plastic greenery.
Also poinsettia plants. Everyone’s mom had a minor poinsettia obsession. Our mothers were constantly reminding us kids not to eat these poisonous poinsettias because one bite could kill you. Which was a weird thing to be worried about if you ask me.
It was as though our moms thought poinsettia-eating was a serious temptation among America’s wayward youth. As though you’d be at some wild party where one of your adolescent peers would reach into his jacket pocket, glance both ways, then lower his voice suggestively and say, “Anyone wanna eat some poinsettia?”
Still, our mothers were different back then. And so were our Christmas songs. Which reminds me, I miss old holiday music.
I miss the days when there were no computerized playlists, no voice-recognition virtual assistant consoles in your bathroom, and no on-demand streaming services. I miss a time when it was nothing but the old hifi in the corner with a selection of crummy albums like: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by the Ray Coniff Singers. And, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevey.
This was the music our people listened to at Christmas parties, and it was blissfully corny. People would gather in someone’s den and be extra jolly, sometimes even dancing. Not serious dancing, mind you, but light swaying.
And here was the greatest part: there were no touch screens. None. They hadn’t been invented yet. So people hung out and actually talked. For hours they had long back-and-forths without once reaching into their pockets so they could start thumbing away on their phones. Men talked about cars, batting averages, and saving on home insurance. Women talked about what other women partygoers were wearing.
These soirées were even better when you were a kid. You’d crawl through a sea of adult legs like a bug lost in the forest. And while adults were sipping eggnog that was strong enough to strip paint, we kids swiped handfuls of food from side tables.
That’s another thing. Snack food. Every sofa table in the U.S. had buckets of incidental Christmas vittles lying around. Chex Mix, puppy chow, haystacks, cheese straws, cheese logs, cheese balls, cream cheese with pepper jelly, Saltine firecrackers, peanut brittle, praline pecans, lady fingers, lemon squares, expired caramel popcorn, Brazil nuts, red pistachios, white fudge, chocolate pretzels, and peppermint bark.
I could write an entire book about peppermint bark.
A few years ago my wife and I threw a huge Christmas party at our house. It was one for the books. My wife took weeks preparing food; a KitchenAid mixer was always whirring in the background. She fussed over our guest list and menu like she was throwing a coronation ball for the royal family of Sweden.
It was a great night. The street was lined with multitudes of cars. There was a band playing in the den—me and several musician friends who sloshed eggnog all over the floor and into our guitar soundholes. There must have been ten of us picking Christmas carols. People were dancing. Laughing. Eating.
My pal Don stood in front of a crowd and slurred the words to “Twelve Days of Christmas,” insisting that the official lyrics were: “Fiiiiiiiive goldenrods! Four commie birds, three little ducks, two French maids…”
It was a beautiful evening. There was a washtub full of flammable red rooster punch on one table, and more cheese straws than ought to be legal. I was wearing a Santa hat, my wife wore a silver brooch. I don’t remember ever feeling so warm inside.
When the party was winding down, I’ll never forget sitting outside with my elderly neighbor. It was the year before she died. She was smoking a cigarette and staring at the night sky. It was one of those reflective conversations you have with an elder. She rested an old hand on my shoulder and offered a quiet but heartfelt “Merry Christmas, Sean.” I choke up thinking about it.
When the evening ended, my wife and I watched hordes of tail lights disappear in the distance, then we sat on our porch and held each other until we fell asleep. It remains one of the best memories I ever made. And when this pandemic is over, so help me, I intend to make more of them.