Everyone knows about Christmas parties. The December issue of women's magazines consist entirely of two articles--how to avoid over-eating (read: stay skinny) in the face of parties and what to make (usually based around cream cheese) for the parties. Holiday clothes ads are all about what to wear to your next holiday gathering, from kids to mom to grandma. The local news always reminds watchers to have a designated driver and that the police will be out doing sobriety checkpoints.
Until this year, I had never really been to many Christmas parties.
Maybe it's because it's not something my generation does as much as previous generations. Maybe it's because I have worked for companies and employers that did not value throwing Christmas parties. Maybe it's because I've spent a pretty significant portion of my adult life being a student or being married to a student, and they are too busy taking and recovering from finals to have a party (or if they do, it's not a Christmas party). My parents hosted a Christmas party for a few years, and there were always school parties, but beyond that, holiday parties just aren't something I had done, and I hadn't missed it. Because, really, why take someone who doesn't like Christmas, make her stand around in uncomfortable shoes, listen to Christmas music she doesn't like, eat all the terrible food, and make her chat awkwardly?
And then this year happened.
It hasn't been a whirlwind of parties--just four. In the grand scheme of what I read about in magazines or see on TV, that's not really that many parties. And a lot of the same people were at most of them. One of them didn't even have alcohol, which is a staple of holiday parties, apparently. I also haven't run across any eggnog.
What the parties have had--the true purpose and mark of a Christmas party--is love and caring.
I helped give a party for the students I work with, creating a comfortable, safe space for students in that tender space leading up to finals week. I learned from those students how to be at ease at a holiday party.
I attended a party with my colleagues in Mission and Ministry with some homemade soft pretzels. I am consistently learning from these men and women how to celebrate and enjoy both Advent and Christmas, how to navigate the tension of preparing one's heart while also going gung-ho Christmas with inflatables in one's yard. (I still don't like inflatables.)
I attended Gannon's Christmas party. (I should say I attended 4.5 holiday parties, because I went with a few colleagues to a local establishment for happy hour before the official party started. At happy hour, I made a couple new friends and learned that I have either somehow bluffed my way into being mistaken for one of the cool kids, that the cool kids have much lower standards about who they will hang out with, or simply being myself and not giving a fuck about being cool has somehow made me cool.) At the school-sponsored party, I was able to use the cool kid (and beer) buzz from happy hour to break out of my comfort zone, to spend time with colleagues that I don't normally have much of a chance to interact with. By being open and flexible, I was able to have a conversation with someone I have previously experienced as difficult, getting an inkling of what motivates this individual. I had conversations with some professors as a graduate and fellow employee rather than a student. witnessed multiple members of the administration truly caring about their employees.
I capped off my Christmas parties with a small but rocking house party. I learned that when your invitation criteria consists of "people I have experienced being thoughtful and trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit," beautiful things can happen.
And I wouldn't have had any of these positive experiences if I had followed my normal Advent plan, which is pretty much bitching about Christmas. Being open to the beauty of the season has given me the opportunity to experience so much more than I thought I would have at the beginning of this project. Best Christmas gift ever.
Now wish me luck as I bust out my entire shopping list this afternoon....