The Christmas Party Hop

Haven’t posted in a day or two, as the annual holiday house party is tonight.  Remember that line in The Most Wonderful Time of the Year that promises “…  parties for hosting…”?  There you go, though there isn’t, that I know of at the holidays, “… marshmallows for toasting!”  Anyway, my folks have a terrific, annual holiday party that’s a chance to catch up with old friends, and it’s tonight at 6 pm, so stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.  In the meantime, here’s a essay on the party from a year or two ago.  It’s a bit sentimental, but it’s Christmas.  I’ll go make the jello shots now…

Why yes, those are Marty Moose glasses!

Christmas is long gone.  You rarely see a tree lying in the street anymore; you can’t quite remember what exactly it was your aunt and uncle gave you; and if you find yourself humming a tune about a snowman as you go about your day, you stop and hope no one heard you.

My parents, after leaving the city (as far as we are all concerned here, there is still only one city, as there is only one newspaper in that city) and having a bit of a false start at a too-small suburban home two towns over, raised us children—three sisters and one half-sister, and me, the only boy, thank you very much—in a rambling Victorian house in an upper-middle-class suburban town.  I say rambling as that is the official name that my father had printed on windbreakers that only he and my mother ever wore: Ramblin’ Wreck.  (The second set of windbreakers were emblazoned with the words The Griswolds, and didn’t get much more use.  Though they certainly were apt.)  Christmas in our house is a time for tradition, many, I’ll admit, borne out by my father and I, especially the paramount one: Tacking up an amount of figures and lights that made a friend of my sister Alexandria’s once remark to her, ‘It looks like Christmas threw up on your house.’

During the days when the sitcom ‘Alf,’ was, to us, the finest example of high culture, my parents held an annual holiday party.  Adults in suits, youngsters in crushed sport coats and frilly dresses—everything right and proper with suburbia.  Truth be told, I only remember what’s in the pictures.  It was all brought to a halt when the cute tykes would rather play videogames and the adults couldn’t control ‘em.  I think the end might have involved the death of a hamster; I’m still not sure.

My sisters and I weren’t the most popular kids in high school (these days I’m glad, but ah, you don’t think like that then), but we each had our sets of friends, and thanks to summers on Nantucket and later-year nights out, we became friends with each other’s friends.  And the year after college (where I finally learned to drink properly), I suggested we hold what we came to call the annual ‘Cookies & Cocktails’ holiday party.

That was now nine years ago.  The old Ramblin’ Wreck has been flooded, over the years, with strangers chatting with people who’ve lived in town for their whole life; high school graduates teasing a particularly handsome, young history teacher; a favorite blonde relative guzzling down the red-and-green jello shots that were, ahem, made for the kids; meeting my sister Tricia’s new husband, and seeing how everyone we knew liked him; and my father in a Santa suit on the roof, welcoming people in.  The party has functioned as a yearly high school reunion.  I’ve never seen adults and kids get along so well—until my sister Marielle’s famous grog runs out.  Its what we now call ‘the kind of neighborhood holiday party you’ve always wanted to attend,’ and perhaps best summed up by that line in It’s A Wonderful Life when George Bailey says, “Mary, Sam, Janie.  It’s like old home week.”

There are the same faces, year after year, mainly, and that’s the beauty.  The invitation for the party the year after September 11th said: ‘Now more than ever, take a moment to come see old friends.’  And yet there are three people—three people my parent’s age, three people I didn’t know all that well—who can no longer come to the party ‘cause they’re no longer around.

The first was the husband of our second grade teacher.  When I say ‘our,’ I mean ‘our’: she taught four of us, and recently attended my sister Francesca’s wedding.  Her late husband was a portly, gregarious fellow, and he was always supportive of whatever the kids we’re doin’.  I remember seeing my former teacher at the party the year after he died, and we talked of how glad we were he got to come last year.

The second was my dad’s old secretary.  She was a sweet woman with lots of kids of her own, who made the stuffed Santa Claus that still hangs above the entrance way.  I don’t see her family at the party any more, but we still get a Christmas card update.  And she’s mentioned every year.

The third was the mother of a boy in my grade whom no one liked very much.  (He was mean, so it was okay.)  She was a sharp lady who went way too early, and her husband is a kind, befuddled guy.  They had one other son, whom everyone liked (Isn’t that the way it always works?), and we used to socialize with their family when we are all young, and then it stopped.  And then I would see the two of them at the party every year.  Like a lot of other neighbors—good folks, really— I only saw once a year.

Christmas can be a stressful time, especially when you add in trying to hang the little reindeer and ordering cases of wine for over a hundred.  But you go into the season thinking maybe you’ll throw a party again, and you come out of it realizing you created the kind of thing Frank Capra used to make movies about.  Corny, sure, but real.

Yes, there are actual Christmas jello shots: A tradition.

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4 Responses to “The Christmas Party Hop”

  1. PRISCI Says:

    THAT WAS A WONDERFUL READ……….I FELT THE COOL CRISP AIR AND LOTS OF CHATTER AROUND ME..AS IF I WAS THERE!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!! AND CHEERS!

  2. Joanne Wisniewski Says:

    Hi Wally,

    I absolutely loved reading your memories! I appreciate that you remember Tommy. He always felt right at home with your parents and throughly enjoyed your “Wonderful Life” Christmas party. In December I wait for the annual holiday invitation so I can catch-up with “my Lesnevich kid’s” every year! You all have such a special place in my heart.

    We’ll do lunch before you go back to California,
    Love ya,
    Joanne

  3. Barbara Lefleur Says:

    Hi Wally, Love reading about your Christmas Parties. I was soooo sick this week with the flu. I didn’t want to infect all of Tenafly. Come to think of it, those jello shots might have been just what i needed.I want you to know I was there in spirit. Not only do you guys have the best backyard , you also throw the best holiday party!
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all .

    Barbara

  4. thiswaytotheegress Says:

    Barbara: Ah, you were missed! I had a cup of cider for you. And by the way, I now do have the flu. Happy New Year! Wally

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