Christmas Series: The Best Ward Christmas Party Ever

4870085601_bd3e4c2dc8_mAlmost everyone that I know has a decided opinion on the ward Christmas party.  I have discovered that what constitutes an ideal party varies so widely that it is absolutely impossible that everyone would be pleased.  Last week the woman who has been asked to organize ours called me.  She asked if I would be willing to put together a program for before the dinner, because she likes to have everyone gathered and busy in the chapel while food is set out and organized.  She feels it brings the Spirit, and she hates it when dinner is interrupted for singing songs or other things.

Unfortunately, my view is almost entirely opposite from hers.  Our ward is actually putting on a concert the night before in which I am heavily involved.  I told her that given my involvement in the other program I didn’t feel I had resources to put together a new program.  I put forward the idea that maybe we didn’t need a program at all and people could just eat food and the primary could sing a few songs (I work in primary music so I felt I could make this suggestion).  She disagreed and we parted amicably.  She is in charge of the party, so her preference goes.  I’m not at all sure I would want to be in charge just so I could have things the way I like them.  Instead of all that responsibility and stress, I thought we could play a little game here called Best Ward Christmas Party Ever.

You are in your All-Stars ward.  This is my imaginary congregation of all the Mormons I’ve ever loved from any place all magically assembled into one ward.  Your all-stars ward obviously has your favorite people. This magical ward is having an annual Christmas get-together, and because it is ideal and imaginary everything is exactly the way you would want it to be! Hurray!  In the comments, please weigh in on what would be your perfect Christmas party — it can be a concert, or a dinner, or a fireside or really whatever you like it to be.  Mine is a dinner.

The Food

  • The food should be well organized, but not micro-managed.  There should be sign-up sheets or assignments so that the distribution of potatoes, salad and other sides is even and reasonable but what specific form your side dish should take will not be spelled out.  If you love jello, bring jello, but let me bring my green salad please!  The ward may provide dry ham, as per tradition.  Should it be moist and delicious, great shall be my rejoicing.
  • There should be two buffet tables at opposite ends of the gym with roughly equivalent offerings of food. That way the line is shorter.  Water and cups should be on the table so I don’t have to try to clutch everything as I go through the line.
  • Because this is a fantasy world, the kids and teens who rushed to the front of the line have piled their plates only with foods I don’t like anyway, so there are still plenty of delicious things for me.

Décor

  • The ambiance should be festive without giving me the sense that someone has had a miserable week putting it together.  Plastic table cloths in festive colors are fine.  The lights should be dimmed, because when they are all on we are in the gym, but when only the stage lights are on with a few others we are in the Cultural Hall being cultured.
  • If there are centerpieces, they should be items people volunteered to bring that were not hand-crafted for the occasion. The tables need not match. A nice creepy elf that is a good conversation starter would be great, or something that makes me think “so there is someone who buys that!”  Another good option would be those stuffed Christmas trees that every Homemaking Meeting made in the 1980s.  The ideal for me would be anything that feels festive but obviously was not stressful to pull together, nor a pain to clean up.

Seating

  • I think I like round tables better than long ones because you can have better conversations and feel more connected.
  • There will be spots for me and my family at a table with people who are happy to see me and are fun to be with.
  • There will be no one sitting at a table feeling a bit forlorn because no one chose to sit with them, or the one person who did was obviously motivated at least in part by pity or lack of other options.  In the All-Stars ward, that sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

Entertainment

  • Food must happen first.  If people are hungry they feel very cross about having to sit through a program. Having a program second will possibly keep kids busy or entertained instead of tearing around like maniacs.  Possibly.  The program can happen in the gym so I can continue to nibble brownies and talk quietly to my friends as necessary.
  • As someone who frequently ends up playing piano or singing this time of year, I think the gold standard on this should be stress-free.  It should not be a pressured performance, and given the context it is okay if the spiritual and less spiritual Christmas tunes rub shoulders.
  • One great option is the ever-classic nativity play, as long as I do not have to organize it.  You really can’t go wrong with the greatest story ever told, complete with fidgeting angels.
  • Another great option is singing a few songs as a ward, everyone still at their tables.  The song list shall not include Frosty the Snowman, for I hate that song.  It has the thumpity-thump of witchcraft about it in my opinion.
  • I love hearing instruments that usually get banned from Sacrament Meeting.  If a young woman wants to play “Good King Wenceslas” on her trombone, I am happy to applaud it.
  • My favorite memory of ward Christmas parties of my youth was our tradition of singing “the Twelve Days of Christmas” by birth month.  Everyone was divided up so you took the verse that corresponds to your birthday — I am a May baby so I along with those of my ilk joined together to represent “five golden rings.”  Maybe I like the tradition because mine is definitely the best verse — the best present, and the maximum opportunity for dragging it out.  It had everyone in the ward involved, and it was fun to join with people I didn’t really know since what we had in common was our birth month, rather than our age or gender or other factors.  Five goooooooooooolden riiiiiiiiiiings!!!!!!!!

I have often wondered if in other parts of the world the Ward Christmas Party is a firmly entrenched institution. It seems like wards or stakes get into patterns of what is expected and tradition can easily resemble doctrine after a few years.  It seems unthinkable that I would experience December without this mandatory fun, but I suppose the church is true even without dry ham and jingle bells.

You might have read my description and thought “that is everything I hate about ward parties.  The perfect ward party is _______!”  If so, please weigh in!  Remember, this is an armchair exercise.  No one is going to ask you to actually run the thing (you hope….).

What would be the Best Ward Christmas Party Ever for you?

 

 

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20 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    I like it when people host tables and bring real plates. The decor isn’t coordinated and hosts just focus on making their own table nice. The lights need to be dim and lots of people need to bring those fake candles. Someone should be playing carols on the piano to set the mood. I like singalongs. I wish I could get everyone to sing Dona Nobis Pacem as a round. I taught it in Gospel Doctrine the week before the party but it was still a flop. Silly skits are good. I will always remember the bishopric portrayed as Fandango puppets, one of whom was “SpongeBrian SquareBishop”. Totally intended in fun and totally taken that way. We are having a luau this year which will be fine, but it’s just not my idea of Christmas. The large Polynesian family in charge will have a great time and I am sure it will actually be fun. I love the 12 Days of Christmas idea!!!

    • Em says:

      That does sound fun! I think the ward christmas party is the opportunity for collective silliness and mirth. Ideally we should be cultivating spiritual moments at church and in other activities. To me it is less important (and also fairly improbable) that the ward party will be a sacred spiritual feast. So embrace it, enjoy fellowship and laughter!

  2. Left Field says:

    Run the line down both sides of the table. And for Pete’s sake, put the utensils and napkins at the end of the line, not the beginning. That way I don’t have to carry them with me while I dish up food. And after I get my food, I’ll know whether or not I actually need that plastic spoon.

  3. spunky says:

    I confess that I Linda love the Aussie ward Christmas party; one year, we had an afternoon picnic at a beach- fully laid back, so some people came and went, others played volleyball, it was flexible and comfortable. Another year, we had a BBQ at the ward, primary sang a song or two, and again, it was just laid back.

    This year, we are in Canada, and people are so divided about what the party “should” be that last I heard, there is no party in the works. So lame.

    • Glenn Smith says:

      Sitting on a beach or shoveling out the driveway???? Well, welcome to Canada You will be welcome at the Coutts (Alberta) Ward Christmas Party!!

  4. Heather says:

    Oh Em this is fun. At MY ideal ward party there would be yummy food and then lots and lots of games. Name that carol. Yuletide Jeopardy: “I’ll take Claymation Specials for 400 Alex!” Christmas Charades: Act out “Angels we have heard on high.” I don’t care if I win I just want to have fun and crack up at who turns out to be competitive and who doesn’t–you can’t tell by looking at people if they have that killer instinct. Followed by plates of chewy sugar cookies with thick cream cheese frosting. Not that I’m high maintenance.

  5. OregonMum says:

    My ideal party is one where there is lots of food and chatting. I don’t care much for singing (mainly due to the fact that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket) or skits because I am so easily embarrassed. My calling as a nursery leader is extremely isolating (I don’t get a chance to even chat in the halls before or after because I have to set up nursery and then wait around until the kiddies are picked up) so when I go to a ward activity all I want to do is just sit down and converse with other adults. And I appreciate when they have activities planned for the kids at the far end of the gym. Our ward also does the “volunteer to set and decorate a round table” thing which leads to beautiful tables that seem to not be a burden to any one person.

  6. Wonderdog says:

    In our ward, the elderly go though the buffet line first and children MUST be accompanied by parents. Unfortunately, there’s the casserole brought by the sister who allows her cats to walk and sit on the counter tops. Santa is in the Primary room and is NOT part of the party.

    • Left Field says:

      I think everyone who has cats umm… “allows” them on the counter tops. Cats don’t recognize my authority to make rules. If you have a method of preventing cats from going wherever they please, I would love to know the secret. In fact, I think lots of people would buy your book.

      The elderly thing might work better, but I once went to a ward buffet when they insisted that the sisters go through the line first. That was an idea they didn’t think through very well. I think most sisters would have wanted the option of eating with their male family members, rather than being required to eat alone, have a separate Relief Society meal, or stare at their plate for 20 minutes while the food got cold.

  7. E says:

    My pet peeve is when someone decides that Santa must be banned because Christmas should be all about the Savior, and somehow Santa detracts from that. Ward parties should be fun and relaxed and very child-friendly. I don’t think it’s necessary to make it into a purely devotional meeting.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    A ward party where we all stay home in our pajamas? 🙂

    I’m kind of a snob about food and get a little sad when we have poor quality ham and cold canned green beans. That’s the one area of a Christmas party that I’ll go all out for.

    My favorite year was the year we had two culinary students in our ward who scored us all beef tenderloin at a great price, but barring that, I like the themed meals–pioneer food (ok, ham might have been involved in that one, too), the food that Christ would have eaten (yay for the hummus and feta!)–that go a little different from the usual Christmas meal.

    Get one of those members of the all-star ward who loves food to be in charge of the food, not someone who thinks of it as an afterthought.

  9. cfg says:

    My ward has opted for the Saturday brunch this year, and for once, I am looking forward to it. Last year bad weather prevented the evening event so they used the food for a brunch, and now it might be a tradition. The ward will provide pancakes and bacon, everyone else signed up for fruit, egg dishes, or bready things. Kids can come in their pjs, there will be an ugly sweater competition, Santa, nativity play. I like the casual sound of the plan and love the fact that it will be over by noon and no one has to drive on a dark and stormy night.
    In past years someone thought we should have Christmas in Zarahemla or something like that requiring us all to wear costumes and sit on the floor and eat pita in tents. I skipped that one. I also skip ones demanding we sit reverently in the chapel and listen to sermons. What kind of party is that?

  10. Em says:

    All of these parties sound awesome! But maybe that is partly because I think a lot of Exponent peeps would be in my all-stars ward.

  11. Melody says:

    Our current bishop owns a catering business. Please bless he is never released. Amen.

    Also, I love your outline and suggestions, Em. Thanks for taking time to put this great post together!

  12. Violadiva says:

    I like having a gathering activity for the kids while the adults mingle and drink hot cocoa. Our ward calls it “Santa’s workshop” and Santa is there taking requests and posing for photos, but there’s other things too: a funny photo backdrop for families to take cute pictures together, plus a craft for the kids (like an ornament, or small nativity scene), plus sometimes holiday greeting cards for the troops overseas, or making hygiene type kits for the local homeless shelter. Santa’s workshop can really have just about anything in it. We do that first, as people are arriving, giving them a chance to get in and get settled without their food getting cold. Then we close the door to the North Pole and that’s the last of Santa for the night. After a lovely dinner, sometimes ham, sometimes tri-tip, sometimes tamales, the Primary puts on a Nativity program (ahem…..the one I wrote….. http://www.the-exponent.com/primary-nativity-program/)

    I also like live dinner music, but that usually requires volunteering myself and my husband to play for it, so that’s not in my dream party. But if I was in the ward full of folks who would alternate doing the live music, I could go for that 🙂

  13. Cassie says:

    I have been the RS president for 3 Christmases now and I am less patient with each passing year. Christmas parties are a LOT of work!

    My ideal party would be potluck everything followed by a family dance and SANTA. My bishop disagrees. This year we will be hanging in the chapel after dinner for carols and videos, NO Santa 🙁

    We have solved the food problem though. We do it family style. Turkey, ham, potatoes, veggies etc. are put in 18 different bowls/ plates for 18 different tables. Every table sands a couple carriers to the kitchen for their tables’ food and voila the whole gym is fed at the same time and no one gets cold food!

  14. Margaret says:

    Our ward stopped having a Christmas party a few years ago. Once we lost the activities committee we lost ward activities. We onl y do state activities which I usually dont particpate in as the purpose is for community outreach and members are expected to work. Its miserable. Just one more reason I don’t care for my ward.

  15. You’ve captured this perfectly. Thanks for taking the time!

  1. November 1, 2015

    […] Having been inspired by the posts of spiritual strength (here and here), practical wisdom (here and here), and rhythmical words from the Exponent Christmas Series, I will likely bake cookies and deliver […]

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