Navigating the Holiday Party Scene
Sometimes it is a chance encounter with someone new that makes a gathering special
I happen to be on a lot of invitation lists. This does not mean that a lot of hosts and hostesses are my good friends. This means I am on a lot of invitation lists.
Sometimes I think people just merge their e-mail lists willy nilly and I am somehow digitally attached as a guest to people I really do not know well, but who assume they know me. As a result, I am lucky enough to be asked into their homes, all decorated with lights and glitter and greenery.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the polite and generous offers, but each invitation sends me whirling into a near coma of insecurity, forcing me up to my closet to see what I will wear to what festivity — with no repeats. That repeat phenomenon is of peculiar concern because of the frequent Facebook photo chronicling of every gathering of two or more taggable friends. You can’t wear the same emerald satin tunic in two sets of party photos a week apart, right?
Sometimes the parties are massive. Forced to park five blocks away, you arrive at the house to see dozens of people you do not know shivering, waiting to get in, shuffling their boots along the sidewalk marked by sand-filled lanterns illuminated by standing candles. I dutifully make small
talk, clutching the white wine or champagne I brought for the host — ribbon affixed to the neck of the bottle, knowing the gift will be placed haphazardly in the kitchen alongside the scores of other such bottles, simply adding to the inventory.
Once inside, I hunt for a friendly face and shimmy to the buffet to see if there is a bucket of potato chips and a vat of onion dip made from Lipton onion soup mix. Not likely. Not these days. Instead, there are blue-cheese stuffed portobello mushrooms, shrimp as large as fists, chicken skewers with four dipping sauces and figs wrapped with prosciutto and anything else that would make Anthony Bourdain swoon.
If I can find a friend I know well, I ask about her day. If I cannot, I look for someone who is standing awkwardly in the corner waiting for anyone to feign interest. This often ends up being the best conversation of the evening.
“How do you know the host?” I ask.
“I don’t, really.”
“And what do you do?”
And from that simple question, one we have all been answering for millennia, bursts forth a volcano of unexpected brilliance.
I am the director of an organ transplant center, he or she says, or a literacy program for adults, a yoga studio or a non-profit to help AIDS victims in Haiti. I am an amateur musician. I just moved here from Montana.
It never stops surprising me what a total stranger will reveal — no matter how personal or poignant — to someone he or she meets at a holiday party while standing off in a corner. So that is where I tend to gravitate, in hopes of burrowing deep into a conversation with someone I do not know, preferring that over the squealing din of gossipy minutiae from people I see every Saturday in the dairy aisle.
And if I am really lucky, I will have succeeded in making a friend — or at least the shining hint of a new friendship. I will have heard part of the life story of someone I did not know the hour before I arrived, as I sat in front of the mirror trying to decide if the necklace and the earrings were too much, and if so, which should be sacrificed for simplicity’s sake.
As the party winds down, I sway in and out of the dining room, living room, kitchen and den, swooping back to the dessert table before making one last loop to the bar for a glass of pinot grigio with ice, smiling if just to myself. I have learned from this ritual of holiday festivities that fill the calendar with possibility that what makes me happiest is not the accrual of so many people I can hug hello — or goodbye — but the chance opportunity to speak at length with people I have never met and learn something new.
Sometimes engaging in the one meaningful conversation with the one new acquaintance will make all the difference. That alone is not what makes me feel blessed, but it is what makes me feel blessed more.Edit Module