The Best Ward Christmas Party Ever

The Executive Secretary made an appointment for me to meet with the bishop. It was the late 80s, and this was my first year in this ward, the Arlington Heights II Ward northwest of Chicago. I assumed it would be a calling of some sort. It was indeed a calling, but one of a very particular kind. The bishop wanted me to be in charge of the Ward Christmas party.

That was the last thing I expected, because it was months before Christmas; in the summer, I think. Usually doing the Ward Christmas party is just a check the box kind of pro forma affair, with little forethought given to it. But the bishop made it very clear to me that he wanted something special. And he was inspired because, I don’t know how he could have known this, but I absolutely love Christmas, so I was the right person for the job. This was to be an adult party (how common is that? I haven’t seen an adult ward party in all the years since). He told me the date and turned me loose.

First I had to come up with a theme, and early on I felt drawn to doing an English Christmas. To give it a little rustic charm I used an archaic formation, “An Englisc Chrystmasse.” I began to research old English Christmas traditions to get ideas for the party.

For about six weeks leading up to the appointed date, I would put accounts of traditions, history or poems in the ward bulletin, and I would have whoever was conducting present similar material over the pulpit as part of the announcement for the party. Since I had the bishop’s full support, I was able to get these things placed. I don’t have a record of them, but they were just nuggets about Christmas in Britain that I found in my library research and thought were interesting.

I prepared a program for the event. My wife drew a beautiful frontspiece for it; it showed an old man dressed in a robe holding up a Christmas pudding, with two small children looking on.

This was in the olden days, because to defray costs we charged $3.00 per person (verboten these days). That wasn’t even close to paying it all, so in addition to the budget allocation an anonymous angel donated $600 to make up the necessary difference in cost. The turnout was fantastic; I want to say about 150, which without kids was more than could be accounted for just by ward members; we had lots of guests in attendance.

To get things started, we had a guy dressed up in forest green (think Robin Hood), who danced around the room collecting coins for the poor. I had managed to get a collection of actual British pence to use for this purpose and put one at each place setting. When he came by, you put your coin in his hat. He then would be the first to put his foot across the threshhold (we made an artificial one), thus beginning the festivities. He was called “First Foot.”

The menu was roast beef, roast potatoes, some sort of vegetable (I can’t remember), and other things. The cooks paraded the food through the hall (IE the gym) before it was served to the guests (no buffet tables).

We also had Christmas crackers. That was a lot of crackers to purchase; I knew of a British importer I was able to get them from. Christmas crackers just automatically make it a par-TAY, with the pops and everyone wearing the silly hats.

I had also made arrangements for the local high school madrigal choir to perform for us. They don’t just do it for anyone who asks; the kids had to vote on it, but we had some kids in the choir, and they voted up our activity. They were very professional and very good, and they all enjoyed the evening.

Then we all sang some traditional carols, such as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Good King Wenceslaus.”

There was of course dessert at the end, but for the life of me I can’t recall what it was.

The evening went off sensationally. It was, if I do say so myself, the very best Christmas party I ever attended. And due to budget constraints, it’s unlikely that any ward will ever do anything like it again. I have the fondest memories of that magical evening.

Comments

  1. Kevin, thanks for a lovely reminiscence.

    (You can plan my Christmas party anytime!)

  2. Well done! Sounds like a party Old Fezziwig could have concocted.

  3. Kevin:
    Merry Christmas from my wife and me. You are a most creative person, and the party sounds like it was extraordinary.

    — Steve & Crystal

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks a lot, Steve! And give my best to Crystal.

  5. I’m sure it was lovely, but between the Good King and Merry Gentlemen and the old man, I would have twitched a fair bit.

    Mary gives birth, and all those men get the spotlight?

  6. What a lovely party — in the true sense of party. I’m sure that those who attended also remember it as the best Christmas Ward Party ever! I wish I could have been there.

  7. For thirteen years (starting in my early teens), I had a Scottish stepmom (until Dad divorced her) and I must say I enjoyed Christmas at her house. Roast potatoes, trifle and crackers. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  8. The Other Bro Jones says:

    I remember a party at a small branch in Canada with a few American members. We had a very low key casual party. We claimed that it celebrated Christmas, new years, and both american and thankgivings. To cut down on stress and expense we had every family bring their favorite flavour of home-made pizza. We danced the Macarena, and we enjoyed ourselves.
    In a branch of ~25 people we felt we could not easily pull off anything fancy. And we didn’t feel the need to, either.

  9. Can you explain how this party was a celebration of Christ’s birth?

  10. Adam, He was there, digging into the figgy pudding with a righteous zeal. Now shut up.

  11. John Mansfield says:

    Having over $1,000 to work with could make a difference. I think about things like this as I meet with my ward in a beautiful, unique building that was donated to the church by the developer of the surrounding neighborhood who fell into bankruptcy over the project. Don’t want another standard-issue meetinghouse? Find a wealthy patron. You wish the ward party could be something special? Pull out the checkbook and write a four-figure donation. Money adds so many possibilities.

    This bit quoted below also came to mind, since Kevin Barney was casting about for ward parties that could possibly match the one he prepared. This is from when LeGrand Richards was instructed by his father to sell his business and move to the Hollywood Stake and establish himself so that he could be used to preside the stake:

    It will be seen that in many different ways President Richards liked to challenge people to do better, to be better, and to work for the highest good. For instance, parties then being held by stake leaders reflected the social status of some of them. In the beautiful lounge of the Wilshire Ward chapel entertainments were held for which formal dress was required for men and women alike. In connection with this practice, the new president gave his view. He too enjoyed wearing a tuxedo, but until the least member of the most distant ward bishopric could comfortably afford to wear one, formal dress would be optional and he would wear his Sunday suit. Yet because he was a great believer in the value of parties and socializing among the members of the Church, he fostered and enjoyed them. Monthly, two high councilors and their wives were assigned to plan an entertainment for the stake officers and their companions, and at Christmastime a party was held for all stake and ward leaders and their spouses. These events did much to promote unity and closeness.

    (link)

  12. Struwelpeter says:

    Naismith,

    Point well taken, but I note you didn’t propose any alternative carols. Suggestions?

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