Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Spirits

Riding the wave of holiday merriment, my family throws an annual Christmas party. Usually between 60 and 80 people arrive at our house with food and drink under the cheerful guise of “The Sing Along.” Of the multitudes, and this is a generous number, only about twenty people sing while others strategically steal away, pretending to eat and involve themselves in urgent conversation. I have become a master at this technique. It’s not that I don’t enjoy singing, in fact I love singing; it’s just that others don’t enjoy me singing. Several partygoers pay their dues by lip-synching, by picking up a cowbell, or by joining in on the choruses which are always the loudest, most dissonant, but at least cheeriest parts of the song.

The Sing Along is a constantly evolving machine. What started out fifteen years ago as an impromptu celebration with close friends, quickly and uncontrollably metastasized into an unstoppable force.

I would liken The Sing Along’s “behind the music” success story to that of Nike, Google, and I dare to say, Oprah. In recent years we’ve upgraded to catered sushi, hired help, elegantly handcrafted boutonni√®res for each attendee, a jazz trio of Gainesville’s finest musicians (Richy Stano, Rebecca Brown, and Gary Langford), and even printed songbooks. Years of training and dedication have made this one of the most stressful times of the year for my mother though she swears, “next year will be easier.”

My favorite part of the sing along is the clash of characters. And I don’t mean in a violent way, but we have friends from all creeds and backgrounds. So to pack them all together in a couple of rooms always makes for great entertainment. To see the drama accrue and unfold over a series of years is also noteworthy. The husband who gets a little too merry one year will assuredly become the designated driver the next. The cousin who shows up with a girlfriend who unfoundedly pours a drink over another guest’s head will arrive bashfully single the following year. The German gluhwein that eventually took the blame for these faux pas will be substituted for a slightly milder Russian tea the next time around. The mayonnaise broccoli casserole left untouched will (hopefully) morph into another veggie dip 365 days later. Even the most well-oiled machines require slight tune-ups and tweaking. It’s funny though, how the idiosyncrasies of years past quickly become the fondest memories.

So in the spirit of mixing things up, this year my cousin, Catherin Healy, who you might recognize from a few episodes of Saved by the Bell, brought Burning Man to the party.

In our backyard she performed a sensuous fire dance, as her brother Art, stood close by outfitted and ready with a fire retardant blanket. Fortunately, the blanket was not needed.

I have seen fire dancing in Ecuador and Honduras as street talent but Catherin portrayed the dangerous act as an art.

She moved seamlessly with the music and kept the burning balls of fire in constant motion, closer and closer to her face.

After the show was over my brothers and I looked at each other and wondered how we were supposed to follow the act next year. It felt like we had reached the zenith of entertainment, although I’m sure, whether intentional or not, someone will step up to the plate for the Sing Along of 2010.

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