Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Parties Past

This weekend, I had my annual tree-trimming party, and something unexpected happened about halfway through the afternoon. I was talking to a small group of adults by the fireplace in our dining room. We were sipping wine and nibbling mini quiches. 

Suddenly everything in the room was shaking.

No, I don't live in California; this wasn't an earthquake. It was two boys, the sons of good friends of ours, running across the second floor of our antique house. Talk about a blast from the past! My own offspring is now seventeen years old. She and her friends hang out in her room sometimes (when they're not buried in homework), but they don't race around. They're way too laid back for that. 

But they used to.

Our holiday party tradition predates my teenage daughter, my handsome husband, my grownup house ... pretty much everything. It started in 1985. I had a one-room apartment on Beacon Hill and a tall, virtually empty Christmas tree. I invited college friends, a handful of neighbors and the other women who worked at Talbots (my survival job while I job-hunted, which was great fun and where I scored a Coach briefcase I still use a quarter of a century later). "Make or bring an ornament" read the invitation. I still have some of the wonderful trinkets from that first year: glass icicles; a little wooden Santa; handmade seashells glued together, hanging from green yarn (they're much prettier than they sound).

I had a Christmas party every year and once I moved to the suburbs with my boyfriend (soon to be fiance and eventually husband), we continued. The ornament collection grew and included everything from vintage baubles found at antique marts to gorgeous original works (it really helps to be in marketing and have so many friends who went to art school). One bona fide artiste crafted an ornament out of a deer's thigh bone and some wire. Another spray-painted a dried artichoke and decorated it with pearls and cat teeth. Two women spent the day before one party bar-hopping through Boston; they pinned matchbooks from each stop to a styrofoam ball, hung by a red ribbon. The same enterprising ladies gave us a rather suggestive (and well-endowed) ornament: a particularly long pinecone wrapped in a protective latex sheath with two glass balls (blue ones at that) dangling from the top. This particular piece fell apart after a time, but we still hang the balls each year — and get a knowing grownup chuckle from it.

Eventually, with four trees full, we had to request no more ornaments. In later years, we had guests bring hats and mittens or donations to Toys for Tots.

Of course, the nature of our parties changed when our daughter was born. She attended her first at just three months old. That may have been the year one of our trees fell during the festivities. Not on her or any other young guest, thank goodness, but into the arms of a stalwart friend who maneuvered it back into its stand with nary a decoration lost. 

As our daughter started to grow and attend preschool and elementary, the house was filled each year with dozens of little girls in party dresses. And that's when the racing across the second floor began in earnest. They were like a herd of miniature velvet-clad elephants. "Please stop running!" I'd beg them, but as quickly as they stopped they'd start up again. Whether it was the excitement of the season or all the sugar they were ingesting, they couldn't help themselves.

The last few parties have been oddly civilized and quiet. My daughter has stepped back from some of our traditions. ("No tree in my room this year," she insists with a world-weary sigh. "It's just too much.") As parents, we shake our heads and marvel at how quickly time has passed. We compare notes about college applications, and the handful of her friends who show up tend to keep to themselves. 

This year, my daughter had a conflict during our party, but I asked her to come for the last hour after she closed the shop where she works. Everyone was happy to see her and she didn't roll her eyes once. I'm so proud of the woman she's becoming, and I have to admit that spending a few festive hours with other adults was delightful.

But, I still smiled when I heard the two young pachyderms upstairs. Christmas is about family and friends and cherished memories.

And I certainly didn't ask them to stop.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

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