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.