Farewell to the American Christmas Party

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.


  1. Sharon Brock - December 5, 2020 6:52 am

    My family didn’t have Christmas parties. There wasn’t the money. But Christmas Eve was HUGE. Cheese balls, meatballs, cookies, brownies, fudge, fancy bread, fruitcake, chips and fancy dip, mulled apple cider, eggnog, and enough coffee to float the U.S.S. Missouri. Roaring fire in the fireplace, a real tree, and candles flickering on the mantle. All the children slept upstairs and all the adults downstairs, we had to line up in age order on the stairs until the coffee was ready. And then we were turned loose on Santa Clause and the packages under the tree.
    Christmas morning breakfast consisted of pork tenderloin, eggs, country gravy and biscuits, and stewed apricots. My parents died years ago and we haven’t all been together on Christmas since 2001. 30+ people are hard to gather in one place. But ohhhh, the memories.

  2. Tammy S. - December 5, 2020 7:18 am

    ❤️💚🎄I miss the big family gatherings too. It seems nothing has been the same since our Pop passed away a few years back. And before him each of my grandparents passing changed things significantly, as well. And now with this virus…
    But we have an 8 year old grandson and I am as determined as ever to make things as festive, and fun, and as magical as we can in our home. He was here last weekend and we decorated the family room tree, watched an old Christmas movie together and the evening before he was to leave and go home he got a board game and asked if we could play. It was Scattergories junior. Before we took him home the next day he hugged me so tight and said, “Mima, let’s play another game the next weekend I come over. And you’ll have the Christmas village up by then.” And he smiled so big. Yes, Jack, the Christmas Village will be up and we will be so ready to make more memories. Even if the house is not quite as full. To him, it’s filled to the brim with love and the possibilities of so many memories to be made and I get to be the glue that holds it together, for now, for this precious little man.

  3. christina - December 5, 2020 7:43 am

    I want to be invited to that party!

  4. Jana - December 5, 2020 7:51 am

    I’m from Georgia but I had to look up a saltine firecracker.

  5. Trey - December 5, 2020 8:35 am

    @christina – me too! – maybe so, and we can work out the rest of the real lyrics to Twelve Days of Christmas with Sean & The EggNog Santas. 🙂

    BTW, we had a decent size gathering for Day After Thanksgiving, and intend to do something similar around Christmas. Not all will attend, and that’s fine, but the ones that do will have a grand time. The west end of the Bay is the place to be. 🙂

  6. Te Burt - December 5, 2020 11:03 am

    Well, the Old Biddies (a small group of over-65 women who are friends, relations and the odd newcomer) are having a CHristmas Party on Patsy’s mezzanine overlooking her living room with ham/pickle/cheese rollups, mini key lime pies and pepper jelly cheese balls. Tradition is not dead – and we don’t wear masks!

  7. Bkr - December 5, 2020 11:11 am

    Amen! I was just thinking this exact same thingbefore I got up and read this – I miss Christmas parties. Being in the Navy my husband and I used to go to tons of Christmas parties or just parties for no reason. Let’s get back to it!! There are cheese straws to eat and eggnog to drink! Merry Christmas!!

  8. Amanda - December 5, 2020 12:26 pm

    I had to look up Red Rooster punch!

  9. Sue Kass - December 5, 2020 1:16 pm

    By the time I can remember (I’m the “baby” of the family), we didn’t have house parties anymore. Instead, these big bashes took place in school gymnasiums where everyone constantly had to be watching for the wayward volleyball zinging through the air. I just cancelled ours for this year.😕
    But, yes, we are believing that these good times will return again. Family bonds and friendships are stronger than any virus.

  10. Cele - December 5, 2020 1:18 pm

    I’m with you. Definitely plan to have Christmas parties in the future. Our tradition is to invite the whole church for a come and go. Most people come and stay!

  11. Dana - December 5, 2020 1:47 pm

    I’d love to join in on the singing at your next party! I’ll bring the “poor mans” caviar & a jar of Wisham Wild Mayhaw pepper jelly to pour over the cream cheese! (If you haven’t tried his pepper jellies & grilling goods, I’ll gladly send you some to try! He’s a southern pepper jelly expert!)

  12. Beryl - December 5, 2020 2:15 pm

    2020 is a blip on our lifelong radar. There will be many parties to come. Be nostalgic, it will carry you through to the next gathering and soon the conversations at future Christmas Parties will start with, “I remember when Christmas was nearly cancelled…”

  13. Phil (Brown Marlin) - December 5, 2020 2:18 pm

    Dadgum right, Sean. We had to cancel our annual Sunday School class Christmas bash this year due to “you know what.” However, unlike many of the millennials, we are, like you and Jamie, from the “old school.” Therefore, we will party again, just don’t know when. Our now outgoing Prez said he thought the pandemic might be gone by Easter, but he did not say what year. I’m hoping for this coming Easter. What a way to celebrate the Risen Christ by saying farewell to the demon called Covid-19. Now that’s a hope to hang your party hat on.

  14. Ralph Turner - December 5, 2020 3:00 pm

    Please let me know what time your Christmas party starts next year. I will bring my accordion and the Everclear.

  15. Jim Thomssen - December 5, 2020 3:18 pm

    This is a national tragedy. We try to have a Holiday gathering on a small scale every year. This year it’ll be just us 2 and the Dog. We need more Christmas party’s! Sean 2024!

  16. Leigh Amiot - December 5, 2020 3:22 pm

    Fiiiive goldenrods brought a funny memory…when I was about 8 years old, my lovely, native Hawaiian aunt who married into a south Georgia family was teaching us the Hawaiian version of the 12 Days of Christmas. Instead of two turtle doves, there was “two coconuts and a mynah bird in one papaya tree”. Aunt, siblings, and cousins were in a car piled full, no one wearing seatbelts, and I sang loudly, “Two turtle nuts”, and brought down the house. I thought everyone was laughing because of the inadvertent mixup between turtle doves and coconuts, was embarrassed but laughed with them. An older cousin echoed “two turtle nuts”, everyone died laughing again…and it was years before it dawned on me why everyone was laughing so hard!

  17. Glenn - December 5, 2020 3:23 pm

    Thanks for reviving pleasant memories. Like you I look forward to gatherings without masks, football stadiums over flowing with people, having a conversation with someone while not constantly estimating the distance between us…your columns are a source of nice in a world full of journalistic doom and gloom.

  18. Steve E Rafferty - December 5, 2020 3:24 pm

    This brings up a lot of warm memories of holidays past!It seems as the elders pass so do family parties.At least I have those precious warm memories to get me through 2020.

  19. ponder304 - December 5, 2020 3:37 pm

    I pray Christmas parties and family get togethers never go away . What wonderful memories this writing brought back! I wish everyone brought their children up to really love their family just because they loved.

  20. Gordon - December 5, 2020 3:41 pm

    Since I am of the “older generation” (69), I so remember everything you wrote about in this column. My mother LOVED to host Christmas gatherings for family friends, at which time she always had Brenda Lee’s Christmas album playing in the background. Now, I love to host friends in my home, but certainly cannot during these difficult times. Thank you Sean for these wonderful memories.

  21. Robert Chiles - December 5, 2020 3:46 pm

    Every Christmas we would go to the party at Miss Harriet’s. She drove all around the house greeting friends on her electric scooter, and would run over you if you didn’t get out of the way. She wore bright red-rimmed glasses with lenses the size of soup cans, and was the perfect host to the house of 50 guests. The scratch eggnog (with freshly grated nutmeg and billows of whipped cream) was around 120 proof. There was food galore, especially sliced pork loin and BBQ and cheeses of every sort. Young and old gathered around the grand piano and sang all the carols in the book. Harriet’s been dead a long time now. I miss those days.

  22. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 5, 2020 4:40 pm

    Sounds like a party I would have loved. The only Christmas parties with all that food that I can really remember are the ladies ornament exchange parties from church. Someone’s house was festooned with finery. Is ladies dressed up or wore ugly sweaters. Lots of amazing food. A few games and songs and the ornament exchange it was always really nice and I’d take my mom. Haven’t been in years though. We usually have a lot of fun at my brothers but yes the cellphones make their appearance Im afraid these days. I’ll admit I’m racing around taking all the selfies with family members. I don’t know what’s gonna take place in a couple of weeks. We stayed home thanksgiving this year but we’re holding out hope for thanksgiving. My aunt sent a meme the other day that said when this is over no matter what day the calendar says we should get together and have thanksgiving dinner while opening Christmas presents eating birthday cake for desert have an Easter egg hunt in our Halloween costumes and finish the night with fireworks!! I told her I’m done!! Sounds good.

  23. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 5, 2020 4:56 pm

    Holding out hope for Christmas. One day I’ll learn to proof read

  24. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - December 5, 2020 5:11 pm

    Amen my friend!
    When mom died a few years ago they sort of fizzled out but the memories will be in my heart forever.
    I truly feel for those that still have a lot of family left this year. How sad to miss out on all that hugging.
    Merry Christmas to you all.
    Please drive safe.

  25. Opal Durham - December 5, 2020 5:26 pm

    Those were the days. Pray they are not gone forever. Also New year’s Eve parties in people’s houses. What fun times.

  26. Suzanne Moore - December 5, 2020 5:27 pm

    I’m with you, Sean. Next year we definitely must have a Christmas party!

  27. Sharon Hanning - December 5, 2020 5:30 pm

    Thank you, Sean, just Thank You.

  28. Elizabeth - December 5, 2020 5:49 pm

    Leigh Amiot, your “two turtle nuts” has me laughing out loud!

  29. Linda Moon - December 5, 2020 5:53 pm

    Debbie Depression often speaks truth that others won’t talk or write about. I respect her honesty at times, hard as it might be. My guy and I listened to your LIVE EVENT that benefitted Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Listening was bittersweet for me because it reminded me of the recent loss of someone I knew and loved who helped Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Coast. Memories of him and past Christmases will become remembrances of joy because Debbie leaves early or gets thrown out of the party. She left your LIVE EVENT for me, and I’ll listen again soon!

  30. Roxanne - December 5, 2020 5:54 pm

    My daughter and her high school friends have a “Friendsmas” every year at our house. She’s already planning this years…we live in Texas (NOT Austin, though) and no one would would DARE tell us what we can or can’t do on Christmas. Come one, come all…I’ve got gallons of hand sanitizer, and take some Zinc on you way home.

  31. Kay - December 5, 2020 6:29 pm

    My son married well. His wife comes from a large enough loving family that loves celebrating birthdays, holidays, family dinners. I am blessed to have been adopted as their Saucy (though one of the kids says I am his grand mother in law) Each Christmas Eve we gather together for a casual barbecue dinner with plenty of snacks lest we feel the least bit less than overstuffed. There might be some Karaoke or the kids will show us the latest dance moves. Aunt CiCi and I always sit in a corner and giggle or scream laugh at shenanigans. Uncle Bud makes sure our wine glasses never get empty. Then we play Dirty Santa. It always brings laughter! This year though we won’t gather together so that we will be able to gather many other times in the future. Each of us must do what we feel is best for our loved ones. Every family is as different as each Christmas Party. May we all feel the love and blessings of Christmas whether we are with friends and family or celebrating alone.

  32. elizabethroosje - December 5, 2020 7:24 pm

    Yesterday I pretty much did not get on my computer (other than quickly) so I am just catching up. That party sounds really special. I love your re-tellings. Sean, I promise you, I am 100% convinced that things WILL get better and people like you and Jamie and the likes of myself WILL have Christmas parties. We usually have a meal before the vigil service for St Nicholas day (I rather love St Nicholas) but we had the meal (with a Mom and her Munchkin) at a restaurant…now we will hopefully get takeout and eat outside together. So if we are going to all those lengths to keep our culinary (and church) traditions alive, and I think many others are too, then when the pandemic gets better meals for special occasions including Christmas parties WILL begin again!!! 🙂

  33. Ginny Judson - December 5, 2020 8:05 pm

    Sean, I refuse to believe this is over. Heck I’d throw a party this year if I thought anyone would come, and I hadn’t had rotator cuff surgery yesterday, and my house wasn’t a mess that won’t be going away soon with my right arm in a sling, and the only Christmas decorations I managed to get up before surgery weren’t a single sprig of mistletoe. The mistletoe is about hope you know. Hope for love, a heart stopping g kiss, and someone to help me put on the biggest Christmas party this block has ever seen…next year !

  34. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - December 5, 2020 10:51 pm

    Our family still has those family Christmas parties. This year has to be different but, I am already grieving about not having it during Covid. Merry Christmas Sean! Those are great memories.

  35. Virginia Grantham - December 5, 2020 11:22 pm

    We moved from Georgia to California 20 years ago and left behind the Christmas gathering of family. They were such a special part of my
    growing up and younger adult years. I miss them still.

  36. Kathryn - December 5, 2020 11:41 pm

    Loved your story.

  37. DiAn - December 5, 2020 11:47 pm

    Sean – Bravo and a very Merry Christmas to you and your dear wife! In the midst of the Pandemic, it is so heartening to read your column. Thank you for making my day! Keep up these observations and your hilarious commentary! It’s both a blessing AND a gift. Please keep on writing! – DiAn

  38. Joy Dollar - December 6, 2020 4:23 am

    😢 you’re right, Sean….it’s going to be so different this year. My hope is that even though we might not be able to fellowship like usual…that we all take this time to really think about and remember what or Who Christmas is really about!

  39. Susan McCall - December 6, 2020 12:51 pm

    I love the way you remember and share things we all hold dear. Thanks for sharing your memories!

  40. Marcie Emory - December 6, 2020 2:52 pm

    This really hit home for me. My husband and I have been throwing an annual Christmas party for at least a decade. It was the highlight of our year. My husband would deck our halls, we looked like the Griswalds. He put a train display up under the tree that measured about 6 feet by 4 feet, filled with trains and cars, buildings that lit, buildings that moved, buildings that played music, and populated it with tons of tiny people. I lost him unexpectedly in June of 2019. I had the annual party last year…minus the trains, which I’m unable to do. My oldest son wanted a party again this year. You see, he lost his dad and his grandfather in less than a year, and graduated college without any of the fanfare. With hope in my heart, I put out the invitations, and everyone declined. Which wasn’t unexpected but still hurt. I sat at my table and cried, for it felt like I was losing my husband all over again. I’m hoping next year will be different, and people will want to come again. But I’m so very afraid that large groups in the cold and flu season may be a thing of the past. God bless you and your loved ones.

  41. Elaine - December 11, 2020 5:21 pm

    Sean, I love you! I used to be a big fan of Steven King stories, Then I became afraid of the stories. Then I had to stop reading because I couldn’t fathom a mind that could make up that stuff!

    Somehow I can’t fathom having to stop reading your essays. I, like you, miss real parties. No phones in hand; a small crowd of smokers huddled outside I miss the parties that attracted real friends and some that had to be invited because they were married or tethered to a friend. Crock pots of chili or meatballs. Trays of lasagna; no one had yet heard of vegan. All, competing for space on a plate with brownies (some enhanced) and cookies.

    You are a blessing to many of us Sean. You make a difference in people’s lives when your stories que up memories of happy times long ago. Merry Christmas to you and your family as we pray for a new year with less strife and lots more joy.

    Elaine in Marietta…P.S. I absolutely love your metaphors!!!

  42. Elaine - December 11, 2020 7:38 pm

    Marcie, I don’t know where you live, but consider a very big hug coming your way. I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and the joy he brought to you as he assembled his famous train display.
    My Dad unexpectedly passed on Christmas Eve. I was 17, the oldest of 3 siblings and had to take on the roll of Mom while my Mother took on the roll of breadwinner. This was 45 years ago and I still can’t hear Christmas songs without starting to cry, turning my head and hoping no one sees that tear escaping down my cheek, just as it is now.
    Marcie, please know that you are loved. Friends would tell me it takes time and things will get better. It doesn’t necessarily get better; it just gets different. I live with my son’s family which includes two awesome grandchildren. The holidays are now different and more joyful.
    My prayers for you Marcie are that you can get used to different. That you can create new memories

  43. Julie - December 30, 2020 7:37 am

    Party On, Sean! That’s just what this world desperately needs, once the pandemic ends…SOCIALIZATION‼️‼️


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