Lest anyone think I’ve gone all Scrooge, I love Christmas. I love the Christmas carols and the crèche display at church. I love the lights and decorations (as long as they were put up and taken down by someone else). I really love that even amid the hustle and bustle of the season, people seem to smile more and show more compassion for one another during the Christmas season. Charitable giving always increases at Christmas (no need to burst my bubble—I know end-of-year giving is not always altruistic) and volunteering spikes during December. And really, who doesn’t love A Christmas Story or Charlie Brown Christmas?
I even like Christmas parties. You open your mailbox to find a brightly colored envelope containing a meticulously worded invitation asking if you and a 1 would like to be a friend’s guest for the evening. You pick up the phone to répondez s'il vous plaît, you pick up a cleverly named or highly scoring bottle of wine as a hostess gift, don festive clothing and go have some fun.
Only Christmas parties don’t work like that anymore.
A quick peek at my calendar shows no fewer than six parties (not counting work parties--obligations unto themselves) and it is only the first week of December! But these aren’t parties like the ones I mentioned above. These aren’t parties the way Emily Post would define a party.
No, Christmas, which was once the season of anticipation and excitement and fun, has become the season of obligation.
Every single party was relayed through word of mouth, facebook or an evite. Not a single invitation was sent. Fine, I can deal with that—I am immersed in social media all day (and I’m not known for checking my snail mailbox every day). The problem begins in that each party requires me to provide something. Not a hostess gift. No bottle of wine or fancy evergreen candle or poinsettia I picked up on the way. I’m obligated to provide part of the meal.
Last time I checked, that wasn’t called a party. That was called a potluck.
Even Emily Post calls this “Ultra Casual Party” a potluck. Though this trend is not new, it still annoys me. Sadly, these “Bring a dish/appetizer/side/dessert to share!” parties have become the rule instead of the exception. People have become comfortable with the idea that the only duties required of a party host is to pack the kids off to Grandma’s, sweep the crumbs under the sofa and open the door. Instead of one person making the sacrifice of time to properly host a party, everyone now sacrifices time making food for to take to someone else’s party.
If I have a party, if I host the book club, if I simply invite you to dinner, it is because I want you to be my guest. That means I will plan the menu, pair the wine, and prepare the food. If I expected everyone to do their own thing, I’d suggest we go OUT to eat.
Oh but this gets better. Of those six parties on my calendar (each of which requiring an edible contribution to share), two require “White Elephant” gifts, two others require three (yes, 3!!!) dozen cookies to “swap and share”, and one requires a craft ornament. That doesn’t even count the one with the “tacky sweater” requirement (I don’t do tacky).
This is not fun folks, this is work. With all this white elephant gift-giving, my ebay income is going to plummet--especially since I arrive with semi-useless garbage and bring home completely useless garbage in its place!
But I’ll suck it up, because I love the people throwing these potlucks and love the people who attend them. I’ll make six dozen cookies (to swap, share and enjoy!!!), three batches of broccoli salad and two cheese balls. I’ll craft the heck out of that ornament, and I’ll offload some white elephant junk previously destined for the trash bin. I’ll even slap on a sticker that says “Tacky Sweater” and smile through it all. And it once the work is done, I’ll have a great time being with people I genuinely love and be glad I attended.
But I still miss real parties.