When I was growing up, my parents hosted some unusual parties, typically themed on a historic event that had occurred on the date of the party. I especially remember the President William Henry Harrison Day Party. President Harrison died of pneumonia a month after his bitterly cold inauguration, earning himself the dubious distinction of having the briefest presidential tenure. His entire 31-day presidency was spent in bed.
My dad wrote a lame, but hilarious, poem about President Harrison, then recorded the poem on a 45-rpm disc. (For those readers under age 50, 45s are small, old-fashioned records.) Then he mailed out the 45s, which served as party invitations. Everyone came except a woman who thought the record was junk mail.
Thus began my appreciation of unusual parties.
A generation later, when Peter and I were relative newcomers to town, we got hit with a Nor’easter that dumped 19 inches of snow in a matter of hours. Even if neighbors could clear their driveways, no one was going anywhere because the streets had not been plowed.
After being cooped up all day, it occurred to me that everyone else had been cooped up, too. On a whim, we decided to host a Blizzard Party that evening. We invited every neighbor who could safely walk to our house through the howling winds and snowdrifts.
People brought whatever they had on hand — salad, dessert, paper goods, drinks. I made a huge pot of chili, we shoveled a walkway to the door, built a blazing fire and waited for the party to start.
We had a fabulous time. Neighbors were delighted for an excuse to get out of the house and catch up with friends they hadn’t seen all winter. We ate and drank whatever victuals were provided, which turned out to be a feast. The party was a huge success, repeated many times over the years.
In that same era, I again found myself cooped up, but this time it was late at night wrapping Christmas gifts away from the prying eyes of children. This led to another crazy idea. Most of my friends had young children, so they, too, had to sequester themselves for gift-wrapping. Why not do it together?
I reached out to a dozen women, inviting them to the first annual Wrapping Party. I held it two weeks before Christmas, but avoided the first night of Hanukkah. I told them to bring their unwrapped gifts and one roll of wrapping paper to swap (“Santa Claus paper”). I provided all the wrapping essentials and plenty of refreshments.
I cranked up Bing Crosby Christmas tunes, made a pitcher of margaritas and waited.
What if nobody came?
I needn’t have worried. The women loved getting out with friends, while simultaneously completing an important task. They didn’t want to go home.
I recently hosted our 25th annual Wrapping Party. Several times over the years, I’ve broached the fact that we don’t actually need to do this anymore. I mean, it’s not as if we still have small children with prying eyes.
Oh. My. Goodness. You’d think I’d stolen their secret stash of chocolate. While the wrapping element is no longer essential, the social aspect is as important as ever.
So each year, we gather with gifts in tow. We drink less than we used to, and we retire earlier, but we are just as delighted to be together.
William Henry Harrison. Blizzard parties. Christmas wrapping. It’s all about community and friendship.
Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.