Ward Christmas Parties … Bah, Humbug!

December 20, 2004 | 23 comments
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This does not sound like fun. Then again, that’s to be expected at the ward Christmas party.

I enjoy most Church social functions, but I have an attitude about ward Christmas parties. In most wards I have attended, the Christmas party revolves around a meal, which is usually a pot luck, with perhaps some centrally prepared ham or other main dish. My pet peeve here: plastic plates and cutlery. This is pretty snobby, but I simply cannot pretend that I am having a nice meal when I am using plastic. So here is my standing offer to any ward activities committee: I will recruit some like-minded people in the ward and wash the dishes, if you will just avoid the plastic.

Now for my Scrooge moment: I do not like the live nativity, even when my children have roles. These productions are not intended to be interesting … we all know how the story turns out. And they are (almost) never moving. They are often silly and disorganized. Does the Church Handbook of Instructions require this ritual?

And, of course, the Santa issue: does Santa belong at a ward Christmas party? Perhaps Santa should be separate from the main activity, in the Relief Society room. After the closing prayer?

Aside from visiting with ward members, the only aspect of the ward Christmas party that I enjoy (sometimes) is the singing of Christmas carols. In most instances, however, the cultural hall is chaotic by this point in the evening, and many people are talking and not singing.

I hate to say this, but the only ward Christmas parties that have broken the mold for me are those we had in Oregon, where no children were invited (a fact that I found almost unbelievable when I first heard it) and the organizers insisted on preparing the food and serving it on china with metal cutlery. Those were fun parties, and we didn’t hesitate to invite our non-member friends.

23 Responses to Ward Christmas Parties … Bah, Humbug!

  1. Aaron Brown on December 20, 2004 at 3:29 am

    This year, my wife was asked to take charge of the Ward Christmas Party. She agreed, but only after imposing several conditions:

    (1) Absolutely no pot luck. The menu was to be planned in advance, was to be of high quality, and was to be prepared by a select committee. Individual members were invited to bring desserts, but the desserts were specifically assigned. For example, certain members were asked to bring “Mrs. Smith’s apple pies.” No other apple pies were allowed, for quality control purposes. If you couldn’t bring the brand specificed, you were invited not to bring any pie at all.

    (2) Absolutely no choir performance allowed.

    (3) No plastic or paper plates or silverware permitted. (This one wasn’t a problem, as the ward has tons and tons of cutlery and china).

    (4) No paper table cloths. (My wife convinced the ward to invest $180.00 in some permanent, quality tablecloths).

    The ward leadership agreed, and the party was a smashing success. Best ward Christmas party we’d ever had.

    Aaron B

  2. LoneWriter on December 20, 2004 at 8:37 am

    Our ward has a great Christmas party tradition.

    Our party is held on a Saturday morning, when we serve breakfast. Everyone is encouraged to wear their “jammies,” and about half of the members come in some form of pajamas, nightgowns, and slippers.

    To cook for the entire ward, we bring in a generator (our building can’t handle the dozen griddles that are going). The elder’s quorum cooks eggs and pancakes while wearing a variety of Christmas Elf hats. We also serve fruit, sausage, hash browns, and hot chocolate.

    Our entertainment is short — this year, it was a re-enactment of the Christmas story from the Book of Mormon, complete with a Lamanite Sam preaching from the top of a wall.

    Afterwards, the bishopric dress up as the Three Wise Men to pass out the goodies. Santa Claus was banned from our ward years ago, and nobody cares.

    Over 200 people attend every year. Our average Sacrament Meeting attendance is about 150, so we must be doing something right.

  3. Mark B on December 20, 2004 at 8:55 am

    Our ward canceled the Christmas party this year, citing “conflicts in schedule” (what? nobody realized it was Christmas?) and other unspecified “circumstances”. I’m waiting to hear if they’ve decided to cancel Christmas as well.

  4. Last_lemming on December 20, 2004 at 9:15 am

    I think one of the problems with live nativities is that the actors give us no reason to believe that they are anything but a bunch of Americans dressed up in bad costumes. One year, our procession of wise men was lead by a Korean brother whose comportment contrasted dramatically with the usual group of guys slouching toward the manger. He seemed to know something about being a wise man from the east approaching a baby worthy of his worship. We could at least imagine that we were seeing something the way it actually was. I suspect everybody present still remembers that one.

  5. Mary on December 20, 2004 at 9:26 am

    LoneWriter–that sounds like a fantastic Christmas tradition. What great ideas! Ham with hashbrowns is always better than ham with fake mashed potatoes.

  6. danithew on December 20, 2004 at 9:48 am

    I haven’t witnessed a live “nativity scene” for many years so I’m not sure what to think from an adult perspective. As a kid I participated in live nativity plays for several years in a row and my memories are pretty positive. Then again, we had a pretty great ward and a sizeable group of talented youth (I’m not speaking for myself here) to participate in the activity. And there was a song that the Mary character of the play used to always sing to baby Jesus that I thought was beautiful. I’d be very touched to hear that song today.

  7. Kevin Barney on December 20, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Our ward Xmas parties are dreadful affairs, just as you describe them. Ours was last Saturday night, but I had a longstanding conflict to sing in a do-it-yourself Messiah (oh, darn!). I’m sure I had a better time than most that evening.

    The best Church Christmas party I ever attended was, naturally, the one I was in charge of. This was almost 20 years ago in another ward. Some features:

    1. The bishop asked me with a long lead time, like in June or something. So I had time to plan.

    2. Our theme was An Englisc Chrystmasse. I did a lot of library research on old English Christmas customs. For weeks leading up to the party, we had announcements over the pulpit, using actual poems and such that I found in my research.

    3. The party was adults only. (For years, some people in my current ward lobbied the bishop(s) for an adults-only party, only to be rebuffed every time. But it made a huge difference in the enjoyability quotient.)

    4. We had a planned menu, featuring roast beef. But then, this was back in the days when we could actually charge (I think we charged $3.00 per person), and even at that it took an anonymous $600 contribution to make the numbers work out.

    5. We hacked into the building’s sound system, so the background Christmas music could actually be heard, rather than coming from a boombox in the corner.

    6. We had Firstfoot (a guy dressed up something like Robin Hood) come in and pass his hat for coins to be given to the poor. (I had gotten a bunch of English pence for people to give for the purpose). He was then the first to put his foot across a certain line, thus inaugurating the activities.

    7. Some of our youth sang in the local high school Madrigal Choir, and so we were able to get the choir to come and perform for us.

    8. We sang some English carols; and with this group, everyone sang.

    9. We popped Christmas crackers, which I had gotten a deal on from an importer.

    I don’t expect to ever again attend a ward Christmas party that was as fun or universally enjoyed as that one was.

  8. Adam Greenwood on December 20, 2004 at 1:51 pm

    I’m still holding out for the Austenesque country dancing (the Sir Roger, e.g.) to a live quartet and in full costume.

  9. Gordon Smith on December 20, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    Kevin, that sounds incredible. Leaps and bounds above more Christmas parties I have attended. If memory serves, we had an adults-only party and a party for the children. This creates resource issues, as well as exhaustion issues for those involved in the planning. But I think it is preferable to combining children with a nice dinner. (Of course, my children are always well behaved, but it’s the other children I worry about. ;-)

    LoneWriter, we had a similar tradition in Oregon for July 4th. Not sure where that came from, but the griddles were heated with propane, and it worked pretty well to have them outside — at least when it wasn’t raining.

    Aaron, your wife is brilliant!

  10. SFW on December 20, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    Our ward Christmas party was Saturday. What drudgery! The program was typical, the food was typical and my boredom was typical. And without a visit from Santa, things got pretty dicey with our 3-year-old. Then (what fun!) the entire thing was essentially repeated in church yesterday (sans food). How we wished that the Saturday program had emphasized the fun part of Christmas (read: Santa Claus, candy canes and Christmas carols) and that the reverent and quiet program had been limited to Sunday. I swear, if they ever call me to be the Bishop…

  11. Adam Greenwood on December 20, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    I never thought my affection for ward Christmas parties made me an eccentric . . .
    Live and learn.

  12. danithew on December 20, 2004 at 2:59 pm

    We just had our ward Christmas party as well this past Saturday and there was one really good thing about it (besides others). We have a Muslim neighbor who is here without his family. He had just finished visiting with them for a month. He called me up and asked me if I was going to the ward Christmas party and I said yes. He had also been invited and said he was eager to go. He basically came right out and said he was lonely and wanted to be with other people. I was a bachelor this past weekend so it was actually convenient for the two of us to hang out since everyone else was there with their spouses.

    Anyway, we sat there and ate our dinner (fortunately no ham was served) and traded jokes. I’d tell him jokes I read in Readers Digest years ago (since I couldn’t remember any) and then he was telling me jokes about Mubarak.

    The Christmas hymns that were sung really caught his attention. He wanted to know what they were and what they were about.

  13. Kim Siever on December 20, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    Our Christmas party was typical. Turkey supper, some carols, Santa. Luckily, our son puked to break up the monotony.

  14. SFW on December 20, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    Kim, consider yourself lucky!

  15. gst on December 20, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    This year, we had ours catered for $1550. Money well spent.

  16. Susan Malmrose on December 20, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    I really only remember two moments from any of the ward Christmas parties I’ve attended over the years.

    One is a young single adult sister singing “O Night Divine” in a beautiful, imperfect voice.

    The other is a youth performing some goofy song about how his grandfather is his nephew, or however that goes. He made it hilarious.

  17. Matt Jacobsen on December 20, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    My wife just finished planning our ward christmas party, so I feel obligated to swap my own story. I’m not much for parties in general, but I think this one went off pretty well. (At least if all the thank-yous to my wife are to be believed.)

    Santa made a visit at 5pm and dinner was at 6, so those families that wanted to meet Santa would show up early. Someone had a digital camera and one of those little printers that quickly prints photos.

    The food was purchased with our very limited budget and prepared by a small group. The tables for the food were in a room next to the kitchen, across the hall from the gym. So you didn’t see the hustle and bustle of all the servers while you were eating. Instead of being self-serve, there were several helpers who dished up the food cafeteria-style as you went by. Very very handy for those with small children. I could hold two plates and fill them up without spilling it all over the place. It went much quicker than the usual one-line-on-each-side-of-the-table approach.

    It seems that children always finish their food by 6:05 and start running around the church. Instead, we encouraged them to visit the children’s room that was set up in one of the larger classrooms. There was coloring and some other simple craft projects (like cloves in oranges), stories to read, or pillows to sit on while someone read to them. We did this kind of room last year and it was successful enough that we repeated the idea.

    The program was very simple. The choir started off with a carol. Then there was a staged narration of Pearl S. Buck’s story ‘Christmas Day in the Morning’. The primary kids got to sit on the floor and watch and then they closed the program with another carol. The program was over in 15 minutes.

    After the closing prayer the mc said we didn’t have to leave, we could still stay and mingle. But of course, everyone started putting away the tables and chairs and cleaning up. Party over.

  18. J. Stapley on December 20, 2004 at 6:09 pm

    Matt: I spent the bulk of the evening pushing cloves into oranges with my kids (I am an admitted misanthrope, so ward parties are not typically my cup of tea). I think it went well. And it looks as if you survived your trip to SLC – you are my hero.

  19. Chris Williams on December 20, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    Mark B,

    RE: Cancellation of ward Christmas party

    Trust me, it was the right move. Christmas is still scheduled to go ahead as planned. Have a good time in Utah, where I understand Christmas celebrations are also on track.

    Chris

  20. mary smith on December 21, 2004 at 9:16 am

    Our ward christmas party every year involves going to the local pool and having a b.b.q (of course this is in Australia where we are blessed to have christmas in summer!). We also have a sacred music evening where choirs, ward and others, and individuals sing christmas songs and hymns, it’s always fantastic, even the ward choir!

  21. Joel D. on December 21, 2004 at 11:54 am

    We actually had a fun Christmas activity. I was just called to serve in a branch presidency in a small urban branch in our stake. They are in a fairly new building, so the branch had planned to go Christmas caroling to the houses in the neighborhood to build up goodwill. We had about twenty branch members (average sacrament meeting attendance of 60) show up, including three sets of missionaries, and we went caroling and passed out little wrapped bags of treats with a pass-along card for a Joy to the World video. The little kids passed out the gifts and were so excited! I thought the activity was a big success: built ward unity, enjoyed Christmas music (my favorite part of the season), was in a spirit of service, and did some missionary work.

    No Santa, although I confess that we did have a ward dinner afterwards with plastic tableware.

  22. russ turner on December 28, 2004 at 7:42 pm

    Ward Christmas parties. How to try to make a counterfeit/quaisi religious celebration meld with those basest of all human qualities. A hard job. I would do away with the strategem to “keep the real meaning” foo foo and go ahead and have a “winter carnival” of sorts and reserve the “real meaning” for the “real day”–no put on angst, just good feelings for good reason!

  23. Kelly on January 3, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    Our Christmas Party is our least attended activity of the year… It is always a family event. This year we did a Journey back to Bethlehem. We decorated the entrance of the building like a old time village with bamboo poles with cloth roofs over the tables and had everyone sign in at the census. We divided them into 3 different rooms to start. The Toy Maker ( talked of the toys they had back then) each person was given a small dradle and taught how to play. Then there was Martha’s Kitchen where she had a beautiful display and talked about the food of that time. Had some samples and socialized. Then there was the Three Kings. The bishopric dressed up as the 3 Wisemen and told the story of The Other Wiseman. It was spiritual but hard for the little ones. We then had a messenger take around an announcement that a new star has been seen. We met out in the parking lot and walked over to a Ranch home next door to the church. You could do it in the parking lot. There we had a very short story told by Mary and a song. We sang a couple of carrolls and had the closing prayer. We then announced that refreshments and a special visitor would be back at the building. This is when Santa came and then we all went home. It went very smooth. As I am on the Acitivities committee I feel an obligation to have a Christmas party. But sometimes I wonder if it is really necessary. We have a very nice, Steak/Chicken dinner for the adults in February. We also find good entertainment and play a few games to get to know each other better. We have about 200 attend this one. I think there is something to be said for Adult only and free food.