The holiday party season has commenced and the celebration carousel is spinning—take hold, it’s going to be a long month of overindulging in excesses generously doled out by experienced, unflappable hosts.
We have seen it all, New Canaanites: elaborate drinks served by bartenders who overtly despise everyone; festive food stations that could satisfy the weekly meal requirements of a Division 1 football team; and merry-ish musicians who would rather you not submit special requests (or touch their microphones).
Everything is wonderfully over-the-top and I appreciate the extra effort.
Yet for me, the thought of hosting more than a handful of people in my home makes me anxious. Unlike most New Canaanites, I lack Ina Garten’s suave, stressless hostessing skills. The entertaining that I do looks and feels the opposite of effortless, which is why it’s so rare. I am the Halley’s Comet of hosting: After a massive amount of time passes, I come ‘round with an invitation to a sub-par event.
My entertaining phobia most likely results from my upbringing. My parents hosted standard family dinners and holidays, but parties with outsiders were infrequent. Occasionally, my father would suggest having someone over who piqued his intellectual interest, sparked a healthy debate, or brought something unique to the literal table. These were not the New Canaan parties that you have heard rumors about (or inspired risqué movies). Ours were embarrassingly tame, and most were not memorable.
Apart from one.
Cue The Exorcist. Yes, you read that correctly. My father had inexplicably, and to my delight, befriended an excommunicated Irish priest-turned-author who had been the lead consultant on the movie, The Exorcist. This new friend, and like-minded theologian, received the rare invite to our New Canaan home for supper.
Though I was too young to watch The Exorcist, I got the gist of the movie and knew some of the key head-spinning scenes, so I felt qualified to pepper the former priest with rapid-fire, multi-part questions about demonic possession, exorcisms, devil worshiping, levitation and Ouija Boards. Equal parts enthralled and terrified, I could have dined with that guy forever. Every story The Exorcist recounted with his thick brogue was like a splendid horror movie unfolding. While I didn’t sleep soundly for a month following his visit, that dinner party was still one for the books.
Once you’ve dined with the Exorcist, how does any other event compare? It wasn’t until a few years ago that I received an invitation to a holiday party that would rival my parents’ Exorcist Dinner in the category of quirky perfection.
A dear and much loved Darien friend had become so overwhelmed with holiday shopping, stockpiling gifts and finding adequate hiding space for Santa’s stash that she rented a storage unit for the month of December. Every few days, she would pack her SUV with unwrapped gifts and dump them in a climate-controlled storage unit that doubled as a personal oasis. As Christmas approached, I received the most intriguing invitation to a midday, midweek holiday gift wrapping party at the Westy’s Self-Storage Facility in Norwalk (Unit 2G59).
How could I say no? You had me at Unit 2G59.
I remember it like it was yesterday. After trekking through a secluded, light-sensored labyrinth of metal storage cells, I finally made a correct turn to find my friend beaming with pride inside cozy Unit 2G59. This holiday trailblazer had created a Santa’s workshop-slash-utopia in her designated storage cube, outfitted with holiday lights, decorations, lawn chairs and a folding table that showcased a spread of appetizers and festive beverages. As Christmas carols hummed from a portable speaker and echoed throughout the brutalist block of storage lockers, a small group of New Canaan and Darien moms huddled in their winter coats, sipping bubbly to help an overwhelmed (and ingenious) friend wrap her gifts.
Yet another top-notch, out of the ordinary party that I shall never forget.
Perhaps I am overwhelmed by the concept of party planning because one simply cannot top a dinner with an exorcist, or a pop-up Christmas party in a storage facility. The bar has been set so high (and strange) that I might as well not try. However, for those who insist on entertaining and find themselves obsessing over how to create an unforgettable evening, take a page from these hosting playbooks: Find the wackiest person you know to headline the event, or choose the most wildly absurd theme, or off-the-charts venue, so that nothing else will compare.
My hat is off to those who get it so wrong that it’s right.