Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday parties and Christmas kitsch

My family recently hosted a Christmas party for Jews—an opportunity for those of us left out of the joy of the holiday to celebrate the birthday of our most famous member in our own way. I thought this would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on Christmas and holiday parties.

As someone who is currently experiencing a momentous and tumultuous part of his young life, the transition between college and “the real world,” my role at a holiday party is to regale the guests with what I’ve been up to, what I plan on doing, etc. For me, such information was rather complicated. Since graduating from UGA in May, I’ve been on a three-week trip through Central America, a two-month trip through the American West, job-hunted for a month, took a month-long jaunt through South America, attended portfolio school for a quarter, served at a restaurant, and currently find myself considering a full-time job offer from a company where I’ve been a freelance proofreader for the past two weeks. Whew. Flesh it out with exciting travel stories, my feelings towards portfolio school, the experiences I’ve had as a server, and my indecision regarding the job offer, and we’re looking at one long monologue.

Situations like this—being the center of attention and having to tell the same story over and over again—are just not appealing to me. I’d prefer to gather all the guests and brief them all at the same time, maybe have a little Q&A afterwards. Having a series of completely one-sided conversations feels awkward and insipid to me. The unspoken, frankly depressing, assumption seems to be that the adults I am talking to have nothing to share; their lives are static and boring. But it’s exceedingly difficult to come up with questions for them, especially if they’re acquaintances I’ve only met a handful of times in my life. (So…how are your kids?)

Nonetheless, I am, in fact, intensely interested in these people’s stories; as a writer, I seek out inspiration from everywhere possible, and people are the most intriguing and compelling sources there are. Still, a cocktail party is hardly the place to delve into life stories. I have to be content with just sharing my side, even as I wonder how much these casual friends of my parents really want to hear about “what I’m up to.” (Will hearing about all my travels make them envious? Nostalgic for their own youth? Maybe they just want to play the role of wise, advice-doling adults.) I prefer “person-neutral” subjects that require a bit of conversational intercourse, rather than unicourse. Topics like art, philosophy, culture, etc. are my bread and butter. Talk of relationships, travels, and other experiential topics to me feels like a mere exchange of information, rather than a conversation.

As a side note, since this post was supposed to address holiday themes, rather than the digression I took, I wanted to briefly discuss the profusion of winter or holiday-themed inflatables that “graced” the yards of so many homes this month. Perhaps I was just oblivious to these monstrosities in prior years, but it seemed that they were suddenly everywhere. I’m all in favor of tasteful wreaths and even extravagant light displays, but these tacky plastic creatures cross the line. Especially when they start to lose their inflation, a seven-foot-tall Santa or penguin just looks ridiculous. I can only hope this form of decoration is merely a fad, and not the start of a Christmas tradition. Keep reading...